Episode Review of Dark Angel Season 1: "Pilot"

Warning: all of my reviews contain spoilers.

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Episode Information

Title: "Pilot"
Writer: James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee
Director: David Nutter
Rating (out of 4 stars): **1/2
Reviewed on: October 17, 2007

Synopsis from TV.com


The pilot (a double-length episode) suffers from the same problems as many pilots: a lot of exposition and a slow start. But once it gets going, there is a lot of material for future development.

The opening scene set in 2009 shows Max as a child, escaping from the government lab in Wyoming where they were developed, along with the other genetically-enhanced children. Although they are all about 9 years old, we see their excellent military training and their enhanced physical abilities. The children get separated; we see that some are captured, but apparently others escape. Max escaped, with the help of a civilian who was just driving by, but she doesn't know how many of the others escaped nor which ones.

Then we jump forward to the "present day", which I believe is 2019. We meet Max in her current life as a Jam Pony bike messenger. In various scenes, we get a look at her close relationships with the other people living in her apartment building, such as Kendra, her roommate, and her coworkers, including Original Cindy, Calvin, and Herbal. They all look to Max for friendship and advice, and have no clue about her unusual background.

We also get a look at Seattle, which has fallen to pieces in many places, and has become quite a dog-eat-dog world. The electromagnetic pulse that destroyed much of the US's electronic infrastructure and records took with it a lot of the US's wealth, and now a large fraction of the population has to struggle just to make ends meet. We also see the corruption is rife in the city government: in one example, we see Max and the other tenants in her building paying off a policeman so they don't get kicked out of their condemned building.

The are some people working for good, however. We see a TV transmission by "Eyes Only", an underground rebel who hacks into the TV transmissions in the city and broadcasts the truth about various government officials. One of the big stories currently is that one politician, Edgar Sonrisa, is diverting incoming shipments of drugs for local hospitals and selling them on the black market, after replacing them with sugar pills.

Max and her friends' attitudes toward the current state of the US is typical teenager: apathetic. What can they do about it, anyway? As Max says, none of them really remember the time before the pulse, so "whatever".

Max does have a few other activities on the side. She has an impressive-looking motorcycle - I wonder how she keeps it from getting stolen? She has employed a private investigator to try to track down any other children that escaped with her, and the civilian woman who helped her escape. And, she turns cat burglar at night, stealing valuables from wealthy people and fencing them, presumably to finance the previous two activities. She calls it "commerce".

Things start cranking when Max breaks into the apartment of Logan Cale to steal some objets d'art. Logan inherited wealth, which he uses to finance some impressive computer and hacking equipment, as well as his role as Eyes Only. Max witnesses him making one of his transmissions, but is not impressed. Logan also has bodyguards, which try to take Max into custody. She single-handedly defeats one huge bodyguard, and then dives out the window to the roof of the adjoining building (but still 2 - 3 stories down) to escape. This makes an impression on Logan.

Logan uses his hacking skills to track down information on Max, including where she lives. He drops by the bar she frequents for a chat; he is unable to convince her of the merits of his work fighting the corruption in the city government.

Later, Max discovers a statue in her room: one she had tried to steal from Logan. She goes to his apartment to confront him, and finds him making dinner for them. She is not amused. In this scene, we learn a lot about Logan's resources and scruples. He flatters Max inordinately, both her physical abilities and looks; during this, he manages to get a read on some more of her enhanced abilities and the barcode on the back of her neck, signifying her Manticore origin. After this soft start, he then lays several whammies on her in succession. First, he knows that she is a genetically enhanced human from the Manticore project. He tots up the evidence: her abilities, her barcode, and the fact that she must take some medicine to prevent seizures (so he was rummaging around her apartment), which are a side-effect of her enhancement. Then he tells her he knows she want so find the other escapees, and reveals that there were 12 others that escaped. Max hadn't even known that.

While she is still reeling, he then tries to convince her to help him. He has a woman who was an eyewitness to some of Edgar Sonrisa's crimes, but it's almost certain that Sonrisa will have her (and her daughter) killed before the trial. He wants Max to get the woman into witness protection. Max refuses and flees.

This scene does wonders for Logan's character. Previously he seemed to be a rather geeky-looking do-gooder. Sure, he was good with computers, and he made a good speech, but we didn't know how far he was committed. Now we know that he has no problem using his resources to dig up someone's past, even when that past is dangerous and hidden. He also apparently has no qualms using some psychological manipulation to first get Max relaxed and off-balance, and then to try to convince her to help him. How much of Logan's professed fascination with Max (and her "most exquisitely beautiful face ever" or something like that) was true?

But Max cannot keep her head in the sand for much longer. Her private investigator is roughed up by some operatives from Manticore, the government agency looking for Max. Lydecker, who is leading the search for the rogue children, found the private investigator because of the searches the investigator was doing for Max. It's ironic that one of the major factors keeping Max safe - the disappearance of most electronic records during the pulse - is also now foiling her search for her siblings. Manticore bugs all of the private investigator's communications, but he manages to warn Max off. I thought that was rather big-hearted of him, considering how afraid he obviously was.

One of the other tenants in Max's building, a man with a wife and young child, is seriously ill. His illness can be cured with the drugs that have been replaced by sugar pills, so his repeated (and presumably expensive) hospital visits do not help. He eventually dies.

On the TV news, a live police action is shown: an escaping vehicle is chased down by police, who open fire. From the vehicle, one-by-one we see: Logan's main body guard, who is shot; the woman who Logan was protecting, who manages to run off and escape; and Logan with her child - Logan is shot and the child is taken by the police. Then the police shoot up the watching camera.

Max is hit hard by these events. Logan is hospitalized from his wound; Max visits him and prevents him from being shot in the hospital by one of Sonrisa's men, Bruno. Then she goes to Logan's apartment and uses his computers to look up information on Sonrisa and Bruno. The woman Logan was protecting has returned there, and she begs Max to find her daughter.

Max finally decides to take action. She crashes a party held by Sonrisa, taking the place of a prostitute at the party. (This is the first display of one of her most remarkable abilities: the ability to fit into any set of clothing. The prostitute who's dress she steals is much taller and chubbier, yet the dress and knee-high boots fit perfect. I will admit she looked awesome in the dress.) She gets close to Sonrisa and offers to deliver the woman to him in exchange for a large sum of money. During negotiations, she ascertains that the daughter is alive and where she is. The deal is set that Bruno will accompany Max to another location, where the woman will show up and their exchange will happen.

Max takes Bruno to a hotel room. There she taunts him with her enhanced abilities, working him into a rage, but he can't catch her. She ties him up in a purposely shoddy manner and convinces him that Sonrisa hired her to eliminate him because he failed to kill Logan in the hospital. While she waits for Bruno to escape, she pretends to go forward with her preparations to kill him. When he escapes and pulls his gun, she runs off and pretends to be shot, until he leaves. He is heading straight to take his revenge on Sonrisa.

Max then implements the second part of her plan: deliberately letting Lydecker know where the daughter is being held and that she is going there. Lydecker has his operatives surround the building. Max waylays one of the operatives and dons his swat gear and gas mask. The operatives storm the building looking for Max, but all they find are the child and her captors. Max carries the child directly past Lydecker and back to her mother.

We jump to three months later, when Max visits Logan in his apartment. Logan is now bound to a wheelchair, because the gunshot shattered his spine and paralyzed his lower body. Nevertheless, he is keeping up his Eyes Only transmissions and using his money, hacking abilities, and connections to continue to fight corruption. He tries to convince Max to help him, but again she refuses. Logan is also not above a little bribery, and he tells her he found records of one of her siblings from shortly after their escape: Zack. Clearly, he hopes that she will choose to help him in return for him helping her find her siblings. At the end of the episode, Max's decision on this issue is undecided, but it seems obvious that she's realized that she can no longer sit back and do nothing in her society.

This pilot episode does a good job of setting the stage and establishing the world of the series. We get a good feel for the run-down nature of the city and how little people have to live on. And yet, we do see that human communities do continue on through adversity as we witness all Max's friendships; as Max says, no on really seems depressed, despite the depression they are in.

We get some brief looks at Max's past at Manticore: how they were trained as soldiers, how they were brainwashed to have certain values, and how they were governed with an iron hand. We see Lydecker personally shoot a child-soldier who tried to rebel, and we get other suggestions of experiments that were performed on sick or rebellious children. Clearly, Max's childhood was not pleasant. Frankly, it's a wonder that she has become as well-adjusted as she seems to be. The timing of the EM pulse helped the escapees, not only in erasing records, but also in creating chaos during which the escapees could make new lives for themselves and not be noticed. One wonders how quickly they would have been captured if the pulse hadn't occurred.

The writers do a good job of setting up things before they are used in the plot. Max's party trick of determining a phone number from its speed dial beeps is used later on to good effect. We learned almost immediately of her extraordinary ability to hold her breath, which she uses to fake out Bruno. Even the prostitute she took the place of was used, since Max stole her insulin to later threaten Bruno with.

Max said that she was improvising in her plan to rescue the woman's daughter, but she sure did a good job. At first, I thought her plan seemed overly convoluted, but then I realized how she was manipulating things to get others to do all her work for her. First, turning Bruno against Sonrisa, so the two of them would surely kill each other; second, using Lydecker's forces to recover the daughter, since she didn't know how many captors there would be to fight through.

I already talked a bit about Logan's character. After his somewhat duplicitous talks with Max, I was not too pleased with him. But I couldn't help being impressed by his willingness to put himself on the life to try to get the woman and daughter to safety, and he didn't seem to regret doing it. How will he continue to be effective in his fight against corruption? Without the use of his legs, he will no longer be able to do the kind of actually physical operations he did before, so he really does need Max. I'm also thinking that Seattle after the pulse is not very ADA compliant, so he may have a lot of problems in general. Luckily, his wealth should help him out. It is certainly unusual to have a show with one of the top stars being in a wheelchair.

I don't think I have too many more comments. Watching the series again starting in 2007, I got a chuckle from the actor sightings. The actor who plays the policeman who shakes down Max and Kendra for rent is the same one that plays Col. Chekov in Stargate SG-1. The actress who played Theo's wife played a woman named Theo in Jeremiah. And I'm pretty sure that one of the incidental bike messengers was the same actor that plays Lt. Gaeta in the new Battlestar Galactica.

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