James Cameron seems to be the most comfortable (and artistically successful) with the cyberpunk genre. Oh sure, he has had far more commercially successful works. But Dark Angel represents what Cameron can do if he really enjoys his work. Plus, he hires other writers and directors to interpret his material. That was his main problem with Avatar. I would rather watch this show than see that multi million dollar epic ever again. But does that mean that Dark Angel is some sort of misunderstood classic?
The show centered around Max (Jessica Alba in her first real role) who is a genetically engineered soldier. The first nine years of her life were spent in a Manticore training facility. After she escaped (with 11 other genetically engineered soldiers), terrorist released an EMP blast that sent the entire U.S. into a blackout, effectively destroying all technology. The nation is trying to regain its technology while Max finds a cyber journalist named Logan Cale (Michael Weatherly) who frequently interrupts broadcasts with his own signal. The two try to track down the remaining Manticore super soldiers while avoiding detection.
That’s as simple as I can make the plot sound. It also involves a lesbian roommate, a boss that seems to be interested in berating staff, discussions of stem cell research, discussions of pregnancy, and one memorable episode in which Max hits the casino.
Now, first, was this a good show? Yes, although it was not the greatest hour of television. Consider it more akin to a guilty pleasure; it was a property that appealed to the senses far more than the mind. I wish there had been more of an explanation, particularly about the EMP that supposedly destroyed all technology. That is what they claimed, yet it appears that the U.S. has done a great job in restoring some of it. Sometimes, we see slums. Other times, we see well lit office buildings and high rise apartments. Consistency? No. Second, Logan is paralyzed in the first episode. Yet there is a story arc in which me may regain the use of his legs. This is abandoned far too quickly; besides, if it relates to Max’s blood (that is the explanation given) why not use more of it? This sort of thing happens a lot. It is nothing enormous, however, and does not really hurt the show.
The show also does certain things right. Jessica Alba is as good here as I guess she ever will be – she plays the character like someone pretending to be normal and doing a fairly convincing job. Not as convincing as some other characters, but still convincing. And the cyberpunk aesthetic also works. It takes place in a future ruled by a corporation in which every single civil service is corrupt. It kind of looks like the world of Max Headroom mixed with what I am sure Microsoft wishes the world looked like. Finally, the sexual tension between Max and Logan is actually well done (and kind of brave). This is a show in which an attractive woman has feelings for a man in a wheel chair. I am sure this is some sort of commentary about how, in the future, sexual attraction will be toward man and machine and that the ultimately object of desire is a combination of both. Or, maybe she just likes his eyes.
Should the show have continued? Well, this was the one that continued the longest of any of the shows I will probably review, this lasted the longest. And it is easy to see why; the set up was good, the payoffs excellent, the relationship between the characters was strong, and there would have been an opportunity to explore a vast world and introduce new characters. Now I must confess, I have not seen the second season as of this writing. However, I think the show could have lasted far longer than it did. I would not care to bet on how long. Then again, if someone told me that Buffy the Vampire Slayer or 24 would last seven or eight years, I never would have believed them.
Highlights: The aforementioned episodes with Max in heat. Also, I did enjoy the episode “Haven” (sort of a Straw Dogs set in the universe of the show) as well as any scene involving the boss.