Episode Review of Dark Angel Season 1: "Prodigy"

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Episode Information

Title: "Prodigy"
Writer: Charles H. Eglee and Rene Echevarria
Director: David Jackson
Rating (out of 4 stars): ****
Reviewed on: October 28, 2007

Synopsis from TV.com


This excellent episode hits on all the strengths of the series: the moral quandaries surrounding the super soldiers, the unsettled society, the conflict between Max and Lydecker, and the developing relationship between Max and Logan.

Max's roommate Kendra has found a temp job helping out at a scientific conference where Dr. Tanaka, a Japanese geneticist, will be presenting his work. This is nice continuity with Kendra, since we saw her tutoring school children in Japanese in a previous episode. Max is intrigued by Dr. Tanaka's work, which uses gene manipulation of living persons to "fix" chronic problems they have. She sweet talks Logan into getting her fake press credentials to attend the conference; she's hoping to learn something about how her genetic flaws, such as her seizures, might be fixed. She tries to tell Logan the research might be able to help him regain the use of his legs, but Logan is in a pissy mood and will have none of it.

Max arrives at the conference as Rachel Glasser, a journalist for a biotechnology magazine. Dr. Tanaka begins by presenting his most amazing achievement: a 7-year-old boy named Jude. Jude had been born extremely premature and with numerous problems, one of which included being addicted to crack via his birth mother. Tanaka used his genetic manipulation techniques to not only keep Jude alive, but to help him become a thriving boy with excellent physical coordination and high intelligence. Jude comes onstage, speaks Japanese and English, and then plays the piano. He does seem perfect, although I think he looks a little vacant somehow.

Max's heart immediately goes out to this boy, who was genetically manipulated just like her. She relives a particularly brutal childhood memory, where she and the other children were tied underwater (to test their lung capacity?) and were not released, even if they panicked, until they reached four minutes. Max is so involved in this memory that she doesn't notice Lydecker, who sits down next to her. He doesn't know who she is - he's also attending the conference.

Max considers fleeing, but then remembers one of the maxims Lydecker drilled into her: know your enemy. So she purposely chats him up, asking him why he is there. He says that he works with gifted, but flawed, children, and he's hoping to learn how their flaws might be fixed. Initially, he comes across as pretty reasonable and almost fatherly, and one wonders how much Max's memories are exaggerated. But as their conversations continue, his true colors start to show. He doesn't really think the EM pulse that caused the downfall of the US was a bad thing: the people that survived are stronger and smarter. He believes that in order for humans to become better, the weaker and inferior individuals should be sacrificed. This is not unlike the philosophy of the Shadows in Babylon 5, which was taken to its extreme and used as a cause of galactic war. Lydecker can't go that far, but one wonders if he believes a world war, for example, would be "helpful".

Events become serious very quickly when the terrorist group May 22nd takes over the conference. They are based on the "philosophy" of the Unabomber (May 22nd is his birthday), and have built their reputation on sabotaging centers of technology. They may have been behind the EM pulse that happened 10 years before. Currently, they are led by Jon Darius. They intend to "free" the child Jude from his captors. Their original plan was to grab Jude and run, but their escape is cut off, so they are stuck in the hotel with some 35 hostages from the conference. In the initial confusion, Lydecker has Kendra hide his gun in her purse, in the hopes that she won't be searched. He then pulls the fire alarm, getting whacked in the head for his trouble.

The hostage situation quickly makes the news, and Logan recognizes Darius as someone he interviewed several years before. Logan decides to head to the scene in the hope that he can communicate with Darius and arrange some kind of deal. Meanwhile, Darius has been contacted by the police detective on scene (who is Logan's friend) and makes his demands for transport away and that Jude will go with them. Darius says he will kill one hostage every hour until the demands are met, and since the first hour is already up, the first hostage will die. His henchmen take Dr. Tanaka to the roof of the hotel and throw him off. Besides the tragedy of the loss of Tanaka's life, Max's hopes for helping herself are also destroyed.

By the time Logan arrives, the army has taken over the situation. They are clearly much more interested in getting rid of the terrorists than they are in saving the hostages. Logan talks to Darius on the phone and arranges to exchange himself (and the promise to air Darius's views in the press) for the female hostages. Watching Logan wheel himself into the hands of the hostages is sobering. One might hope the soldiers would understand what he's hoping to accomplish, but they probably just think he's being stupid.

Darius lets the women go; on the way out, Max fakes a twisted ankle and manages to secretly stay in the building. The women exit the building safely, but when the terrorists escorting them come into view, army sharpshooters take them out. Darius is enraged and orders Logan thrown off the roof. This action shows that Darius is not thinking clearly; besides the additional loss of life, he would lose a lot of public support by being willing to kill a handicapped person. After all, didn't he just release the women in order to look good?

Max hears the order and races to the roof. She hooks up a rope to the roof and when Logan is thrown off, jumps off after him and grabs him. The terrorists quickly cut her rope, but fortunately they break through a window and land back inside the hotel, some floors down. This is a great trick, but unfortunately it's impossible. Max tied the rope around her waist. When she is jerked to a stop at the end of the rope, the deceleration would be huge: it should at least break bones, if not virtually cut her in half, especially since at that point she had Logan's weight on her as well.

Their recovery is great, though, as they each accuse the other of being there. Max accuses Logan of trading himself for the women, thereby putting himself at risk, and Logan accuses Max of not leaving with the rest of the women, after he put himself at risk for her. Max quickly heads off to put the rest of the terrorists out of commission.

The situation with the terrorists is coming to a head. Lydecker has gotten his gun back from Kendra and decides to make his move. But he has no luck, as another terrorist clubs him on the back of the head (again!), and he falls to the floor unconscious. This is great timing, because just as one of the terrorists is about to kill Lydecker, Max bursts into the room and uses her enhanced abilities to take them out. We see her kill someone personally for the first time (that I can recall), breaking his neck with her bare hands. Lydecker surely would have recognized her as one of the escaped children if he had been conscious. Darius manages to slip out with Jude; Max goes after him, knocks him out, and slips out of the building with the boy.

The army special ops forces storm the hotel, only to find all the terrorists already neutralized. It appears that only Darius is alive, and they begin kicking and beating him. Lydecker comes to and orders them to stop. He realizes that if Darius is taken alive, he will have his day in court and be able to publicize his views nationally, so Lydecker shoots Darius dead.

Max and Logan quickly arrange for Logan's police friend to get Jude away and to a good home. Later, Max muses over her decision to save Lydecker's life. She doesn't want to believe that she just did it for some goody-goody reason, like all life is valuable, but decides it was because Lydecker is the only one that knows her whole history and what other genetic surprises she might have in store.

This episode had a lot of ethical meat to it, plus it had a lot of solid action. I'll discuss the weightier issues first. The genetic manipulation by Dr. Tanaka was the bait that drew both Max and Lydecker. They were both hoping to fix some specific defects in the transgenic super soldiers, but Dr. Tanaka implied that the technology could be used to fix a wide range of problems, using bad eyesight as an example. Fortunately, the episode did not go into a lot of detail about how the technology worked, because that kind of explanation would probably go out of date almost immediately. However, it raises a very serious question: should genetic manipulation be used on living persons? If so, to what extent?

I don't think many people would argue that Tanaka's manipulation of Jude's genetics, thereby saving his life and improving it immeasurably, was wrong. If Tanaka had not intervened, the length of Jude's life probably would have been measured in weeks, if not days. But what other kinds of uses are morally acceptable? Fixing handicaps, such as multiple sclerosis, paraplegia, or blindness (for example)? That seems OK. How about more minor "defects", such as poor eyesight or coordination? This kind of modification seems unnecessary, but one might expect that if a patient can afford it, they might do it. What about "fixing" someone's nose shape, eye color, or breast size? This things seem completely frivolous. But is any of it morally right or wrong? In real-world society, we are starting to have to deal with some of these questions.

The child Jude seemed a bit odd to me. The terrorists claimed he was just a human guinea pig, and frankly, there was some truth to that. Jude didn't seem to have the energy and playfulness that are usually apparent in little boys, but I have to think that comes from being in such an institutionalized situation for his whole life. This is something that Max clearly identified with. Also, when the terrorists took over, Jude never really showed fear. I chalked this up to him never being in a truly scary or hurtful situation before, so he had no idea of what the bad outcomes could be. The most reaction he showed was covering his ears from the the loud noises of the gunshots.

The actions of the terrorist group in this episode show how this kind of unrest still exists in society, possibly exacerbated by the breakdown of the US government after the pulse. This part of the plot also highlighted how the changes in society have caused individual lives to be less valued, which we see when the army commander considers the hostages to be completely expendable, as long as the terrorists are neutralized.

Max, of course, had her personal demons to deal with in this episode, as she got to relate to Lydecker on an equal basis. Did she learn anything about him that will help her out in the future? I'm not sure about that. She obviously got a better idea of his motivations; while she (and I) don't agree with them, he is obviously very earnest and does not come across as a psychopath. We got a fun tease throughout the episode about whether or not Max's identity would be revealed to Lydecker. She got lucky her, but their incidental meetings can't go on for too much longer. If Lydecker hadn't been unconscious when Max returned at the end, would she have made her assault?

Max and Logan's relationship continues to deepen as they potentially sacrifice themselves for each other without a second thought. True, Logan also saved the other female hostages, but one gets the feeling that he might not have been willing to go to such lengths if Max hadn't been one of them.

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