Episode Review of Dark Angel Season 1: "Pollo Loco"

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Episode Information

Title: "Pollo Loco"
Writer: Doris Egan
Director: Thomas J. Wright
Rating (out of 4 stars): ****
Reviewed on: November 18, 2007

Synopsis from TV.com


This is an excellent episode, but by no means a happy one. Max has to deal with an X-5 brother gone wrong.

Logan informs Max that an X-5 has been found dead, murdered brutally; the bar code identifies him as Ben. Logan's medical examiner contact at the morgue (previously seen in "Art Attack") gets Max in to look at the body. While Max is waiting at the morgue, we see flashbacks of her memories of Ben. Apparently he was relatively creative for the strict environment the children were raised in, and made up ghost stories involving the "nomlies" at Manticore who would come and eat them. (The "nomlies" are "anomalies", genetic experiments that didn't work quite right; our glimpses of them certainly uphold a child's belief in them as monsters.)

When Max sees the body, she assumes it's Ben, although she hasn't seen him since the escape and the medical examiner says the tattoo looks recent. Lydecker and his men arrive suddenly, and Max narrowly avoids being captured.

When Max returns to Logan's apartment, he says that another body has turned up. This one also has Ben's bar code. Clearly both cannot be Ben, and Max realizes that neither one of them was Ben - Ben is who killed them. Logan also notes that there have been similar murders in other cities, and in every case Lydecker has arrived to shut down any investigation and take the bodies. Logan suspects Ben might be the murderer, and he tries to discuss it with Max, but Max shuts him down. She says she's going to deal with it, and takes off.

Max's memories also show that Ben was given an image of the Virgin Mary, which he used to create elaborate stories of a Lady who was watching over them. He led the other children in some made-up ceremonies honoring her; as Max's memories continue, we see that Ben was probably a bit mentally unstable even as a child. These memories lead Max to Ben's likely location: the Church of the Sacred Heart. She waits in the church for a day. While she is there, she meets a young priest, Father Destry, who tries to engage her in conversation.

Meanwhile, we see some scenes of what Ben has been doing: kidnapping men, tattooing them, then setting them up with some weapons and releasing them, only to chase them down and kill them. Ben shows up in the church to honor the Lady, and Max confronts him. He runs off, and she loses him.

Later, Ben joins Father Destry in the confessional and admits that he has killed. Destry leads the conversation to the fact that killing is sometimes necessary in defense, for example, if one is a soldier, and Ben jumps on the fact that he is a soldier. He grabs the Father and takes him to an abandoned factory where he has been living. He gives the Father a loaded gun and tells him that he will continue to kill unless the Father shoots him right now. I have to give credit to Father Destry: he does the math very quickly and realizes that Ben is clearly a psychopath, and not only does the Father have to kill him to survive personally, but also to save future victims. The Father shoots, but Ben's quick reflexes save him, and he disarms the priest. Satisfied the that priest will be a worthy adversary, he applies the tattoo.

Max returns to the church and learns that Destry has been kidnapped. From her memories of Manticore, she knows Ben will be going soon to the "high place", the Space Needle that Max herself frequents. Sure enough, he shows up and she subdues him and handcuffs him. Then she demands the reason he has been killing. He responds that he's just doing what they are meant to do. Then he prods her to remember when they first learned what their training was for and how exhilarating it was. He's referring to one of their Manticore training exercises: Lydecker had brought a convict from death row and told him that if he evaded the children and could get to the perimeter fence, he would be released. The convict was given a gun, a knife, and a head start, but once Lydecker to the children to go, the convict was quickly neutralized. Then something about the convict set off the children, and they became enraged and beat him to death. Max has tried to forget that day.

Even with this explanation, Max points out the flaws: Ben is not really fighting the enemy, but innocent people. And by putting his own bar code on them, he's revealing his self-hatred. She also realizes that Ben still believes at least a bit in the Lady, despite everything that happens to him.

In the meantime, Lydecker gets a visit from one of his bosses, Madame X (played by Nana Visitor of Deep Space Nine), who urges him to find Ben more quickly. She obviously thinks Lydecker is too soft on his "kids". She is concerned that the other X-5s might also become psychopathic like Ben, and so she wants them all tracked down as quickly as possible. She reminds him about how the entire X-2 series were "anomalies" and had to be terminated (except for a few for study). She is clearly a very cold and ruthless person.

Logan had contacted Lydecker about a meeting between him and Eyes Only. Lydecker agrees to the meeting, which involves a video camera system like Logan employed in "C.R.E.A.M.". Logan obviously is worried about Max and wants to help her, but I'm not sure what he hoped to accomplish with this meeting. He threatens to reveal information about Manticore to the public if Lydecker doesn't stop Ben, but that's what Lydecker is trying to do anyway! Instead, Lydecker uses the meeting to try to make Logan distrust and fear Max by saying that she's a born killer and is much more violent and dangerous than Logan realizes. I'm always impressed at Lydecker's ability to turn nearly any conversation to his advantage. Soon after this, the medical examiner who ran some tests on the first body reports evidence that leads Lydecker and Logan to the abandoned factory.

Max forces Ben to take her to the factory where he has trapped Father Destry. Ben manages to trap her, while setting Father Destry loose for the chase. Max manages to escape in short order and follows after them. Ben has caught the Father and is awaiting Max's arrival for the kill. Max distracts Ben and the Father manages to escape and flee. Max realizes that she must subdue Ben, and Ben realizes Max will never let him escape. They begin an all-out fight, with none of the punch-pulling that we saw between her and Zack in "Blah Blah Woof Woof". Max gets the upper hand and breaks Ben's leg. Then they hear the Manticore helicopters and realize that Lydecker will be there any moment.

Neither of them want their fight resolved by Lydecker, but Ben is no longer mobile, and Max cannot carry him quickly enough for them to both escape. Ben begs her not to let Lydecker take him back to Manticore. In tears, Max quickly breaks his neck and then flees.

Back at Logan's apartment, Max fills Logan in and apologizes for refusing his help. Lydecker's insidious words have begun to make Logan look at Max in a different light, and his worry is not eased by photos Lydecker has sent Eyes Only: the body of the convict the children murdered, plus photos of the children, bloody from the attack. Max is oblivious to Logan's attitude. She pays a visit to Father Destry at the church to inquire about how confession works.

Wow. This episode got going and didn't slow down for one instant. There was no fluff here, either.

The idea of a psychopathic X-5 is a scary one, but frankly I'm surprised that more of the escaped X-5s haven't taken a similar turn. I've remarked before in my reviews about how hard it must have been for them to adjust to a free society after the strict discipline and controlled environment at Manticore. Ben obviously couldn't handle the freedom, so he gave himself a "mission" and structure. He also obviously loathed himself for his killing abilities, but instead of just killing himself, he transferred that hatred to his victims.

This episode also brings in a religious angle. First, we have the "lady" that Ben was given a picture of; he used this single picture to manufacture an entire religion. He apparently believed in it since he was a child, but although the other children went along with it at Manticore, they seem to have grown out of it. Somehow Ben got the idea that the Lady required sacrifices of some kind, which was another aspect of his murders.

Max faced a horrible decision in this episode. She knew she had to stop Ben, and she was hoping at first to be able to talks some sense into him. Once she realized how crazy he was, she apparently decided to stop him at all costs. Their fight in the woods was cut short by Lydecker's imminent arrival. At that point, Ben had a broken leg. What would Max have done then, ideally? Tried to get him to go to a mental institution? Tried to talk him out of his delusions? I doubt that once he was disabled and no longer an immediate threat that she could have executed him. Lydecker's arrival changed things, however.

When I watched the series in first run, this episode made the most impression on me, because of the shock that Max would actually kill Ben in what amounts to cold blood. She does it so professionally, getting Ben distracted by asking him to tell a story. Max has now obeyed the wishes of her siblings twice in regards to returning to Manticore: in "Cold Comfort", she and Zack let Lydecker take Brin back to Manticore at Brin's request, and here she killed Ben so that he could not go back to Manticore, at Ben's request. In both cases, she was heartbroken. She still hasn't answered the question for herself: would she rather go back or die?

Logan doesn't play as big of a role in this episode, but I think his parts will be crucial later in the series. He has let Lydecker's insidious stories get under his skin so that he has started to doubt Max. After all that he's seen Max do, I'm not sure how he can possibly believe that she's a hair-trigger killer; yes, during training at Manticore, all the children did some awful things, but how much have they matured and changed since then? Of course, the parallel with Ben the murderer gives credence to Lydecker's dire warnings. On Lydecker's part, I'm sure that he is trying to remove any support Max might have so that she will be easier to capture.

Madame X really put the screws to Lydecker concerning the mental stability of the X-5s. Later, when Lydecker arrived in Ben's "base of operations" at the factory, he saw all of the Manticore propaganda of duty, mission, discipline spray painted on the walls. How much does he feel personally responsible for Ben's insanity? We'll probably never find out.

Is Max going to get religion? I assumed that she went to confession at the end to check up on Father Destry, but she really seemed interested in the process. I can't see her actually following a religion, although I think she might appreciate the overall philosophy. During this episode, she clearly had respect for the church and Father Destry as a priest.

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