by Sarah Stegall
Series: Dark Angel
Episode: Blah Blah Woof Woof
Writer: Moira Kirkland Dekker
Director: Paul Shapiro
Airdate: December 12, 2000
Interesting, that in an America legendary for its rootlessness and fragmentation, the driving force behind so many contemporary SF dramas is the search for family. Why does high-tech so often go hand in hand with high-touch? Edgy, ensemble work like “NYPD Blue” or “Law and Order” do not succumb to the siren song of high soap opera nearly as often as the more cerebral, white-collar fare offered to science fiction fans. Yet from “Andromeda” to “The X-Files”, characters surrounded by high tech wizardry and high concept storylines all seem to be searching for basically the same thing: a tribe. Yet we somehow never manage to address the vital question: what do we do with that tribe/family/group when we find it?
Tuesday’s episode of “Dark Angel” hammers this point home rather thoroughly, bringing back Zack, a former member of Max’s training group at Mantichore, to lock horns with her new main man, Logan Cale. When big daddy Leydecker frames Max on a cop-killing charge to enlist the help of the Seattle PD, Logan and Zack team up to get Max outta town. But when Max learns that Logan is undergoing life-threatening surgery to remove a remaining bullet fragment, she risks her life to go back to Seattle to be with him. Having at last found a long-lost Mantichore brother (who incidentally saved her life), she abandons him literally without a backward glance to return to the side of a man whose crusade she scorns. To save her butt, Zack surrenders himself to Leydecker and the Seattle PD, thereby delivering a weapon into the hands of their common enemy in order to free Max. Max watches him leave, sheds one tear, and then vaults a fence in the blink of an eye and is gone. So much for family values.
This story is full of sound and action and yet offers us very little. We get running and jumping scenes (which gloss over the fact that armed men are shooting at a woman worth $50,000 alive), we get Zack-fighting-Max scenes, we get cute escape-and-evasion games, we get the now standard elbow-to-the-face routine Max drops on every third male she sees. We get the zappy dialog, the too-colorful characters, and long soulful looks between Max and Logan. We get a lame subplot involving Normal and his attempt to turn stoolpigeon. What we do not get is a plot with any meat to it. Leydecker’s little scam with the Seattle PD wouldn’t fool any savvy street cop for more than a minute, and if it did, he’d be ridden out of town on a rail no matter what kind of badges he flashed. Pulling a gun on a cop in a cop shop is about the stupidest stunt I’ve ever seen anyone pull, let alone a supposed mastermind. I think Leydecker got an elbow to the face once too often during the time he was training his wunderkind. As usual, John Savage looks like he’s fighting sleep throughout the episode; where is Seattle’s famous coffee? This man needs a triple expresso stat.
Production values were much better than the plot on this episode: excellent atmospheric music, street scenes that had “Blade Runner” stamped all over them (in a good way), snappy editing to keep the pace from dragging, and plenty of drippy rain to cast a melancholy pall over the too-bright chatter of the JamPony Express children. The ubiquitous checkpoints, the hovering police spy-eyes, and the drab clothing give us just a flavor of early twenty-first century to go with what otherwise looks way too familiar for a series allegedly set two decades in the future. With talk of a recession in the American economy this year, some of these scenes may start looking a tad too familiar in the coming months.
Jessica Alba continues to pout her way through scenes rather than act through them, and even Michael Weatherly seems to skate his way through this limp script. The only real sparks were a sizzler of a liplock at the end of the third act, and an awkward, tongue-tied non-discussion of it in his hospital room afterwards. In the teaser, we get Mad Max putting some witty (chess) moves on Logan. There’s even a moment of repartee between Zack and Logan that makes them both appear human (albeit adolescent). Apart from that, there is no warmth, not much flavor, and little impact in this episode. It starts and ends at square one.
Perhaps, in the end, that is the real problem with this series–it has no goal. Max’s only goal in life seems to be collecting a paycheck every week from JamPony, and keeping her head down. At least Logan has a higher purpose in life. It’s hard to have much respect for a heroine with so little ambition and so little empathy for what are, still, her fellow beings. It’s even harder to believe she is somehow desperately searching for her lost “family” when we have yet to see one single example of bonding between her and another member of the Mantichore team in any of her flashbacks. Dark Angel is, still, too clearly based on a two-dimensional comic book. It has the potential to grow up and become an interesting series, but it needs to find a direction and a foundation very quickly.