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Dark Angel: Season Two (2001-03)
Created by James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee

review by Steven Hampton

This SF TV show is about mutants. Not the (supra)naturally occurring next step in human evolution as mutants are depicted in movies like X-Men and its sequel X2, but genetically modified children with selected bits of creature code spliced into their DNA, to create a new breed of 'super-soldiers' with animal characteristics endowing them with superior strength, speed, agility, endurance and recuperative powers. The transgenic kids of Dark Angel are a barcode branded X-series, comprising seemingly monstrous failures - like Joshua, the dog-faced artist, introduced in season two's first episode, Designate This, and the uncannily prescient strategic mastermind (but obese and socially invisible) Brian in Brainiac. Another psychic, a Manticore alum working undercover as a giddy floozy with mind control ("tele-coercion") powers, makes a notable impression on the short-term memories of all the main characters in gangster comedy Fuhgeddaboudit.
   Ironically, despite the show's general narrative emphasis on transgenic underdogs and outlaws portrayed as persecuted heroes unjustly rejected or hunted by normal society (the frequently repeated mantra is: "people become scared when things are different") for their special physical or peculiar mental abilities, the scientists who made all these super-mutants couldn't help but imbue some of them with typical human failings and foibles. Only our heroine, Max (Jessica Alba) appears to be Manticore's perfect specimen - beautiful, athletic and wise beyond her years. Although she often struggles with higher moral principles than her peers, Max is certainly the most forthright rebel against Manticore's indoctrination and psychic re-programming. She has a depth of simple compassion lacking in most of the characters whose daily lives are stressed by the economic blight caused by after-effects of the Pulse (a continent-wide EM terrorist strike that wrecked US techno-infrastructures), and she is usually first to recognise the truth behind interpersonal misunderstandings, and the saving graces of her apparently irredeemable adversaries in this futuristic American dystopia.
   That does not mean Dark Angel is pretentious at all. There are clear moral and social problems on both sides of the good/bad or human/transgenic equation, but the show's amusingly underwhelming philosophical trajectory addresses civilisation's timeless issues of racial, religious and cultural tolerance with a lively, often comedic tone. The eternal battle of the sexes is also well represented, albeit with sometimes less successful degrees of humour. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this action-orientated SF show is the way that mutants, and questions about their existence and significance, become a 21st century replacement for UFO lore. Sightings are reported in tabloids and, although some are later discredited as scaremongering, a typical Dark Angel story intelligently and wittily investigates the grey area between science and superstition (Joshua is, at one point, described as a werewolf) and fact and fiction (references to real life cloning experiments and actual medical gene technology).
   This second season brings an almost confusing multiplicity of story elements. There is the destruction of Manticore, precipitated by Max as a straightforward prevention of cruelty measure, and the establishment of a homicidal government agency to cover-up the secret project; the emergence of an underground society of superhumans spawned by the advanced breeding programme of a bizarre snake worshipping cult; and various adventures bringing Max into contact with weirder Manticore 'products' than she knew existed. These, and other important story arcs dominate the season up to, and including, the two violent sieges of Dawg Day Afternoon (the hulking Joshua gets caught outside in broad daylight) and the hectically paced and revolutionary themed finale Freak Nation - written by the series creators, and directed by James Cameron himself. Episodic incidents of particular interest here: the targeted virus that makes any proper romance between Max and Logan impossible; Max's personal struggles to accept responsibility for the safety of endangered Manticore escapees now attracting very unwelcome media attention when they are seen in public, the wholly unexpected return and departure (an admirable happy ending, there) of Max's gene-brother, Zack; Max getting shot during an attempted street robbery, and the discovery that Max has a transgenic sister...
   Regrettably, the bad news is that Dark Angel has - reportedly - been axed, despite the promising new direction for the show, as suggested by season two's final episode.

Related item:
tZ  Dark Angel: Season One - review by Debbie Moon
Dark Angel Season 2

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DARK ANGEL
Season two -
episode listing:

Designate This
Bag 'Em
Proof Of Purchase
Radar Love
Boo
Two
Some Assembly Required
Gill Girl
Medium Is The Message
Brainiac
The Berrisford Agenda
Borrowed Time
Harbor Lights
Love In Vein
Fuhgeddaaboudit
Exposure
Hello, Goodbye
Dawg Day Afternoon
She Ain't Heavy
Love Among The Ruins
Freak Nation

Season 2 DVD Region 1

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