Episode Review of Dark Angel Season 2: "Designate This"

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Episode Information

Title: "Designate This"
Writer: Moira Kirland
Director: Jeff Wollnough
Rating (out of 4 stars): ***
Reviewed on: January 25, 2008

Synopsis from TV.com


This compelling season opener changes things completely in the Dark Angel universe.

It's not clear how much time has passed since the season 1 finale that left Max trapped in Manticore. Certainly it's been enough time for her to have completely healed from her heart transplant and be healthy enough for her to participate in hand-to-hand combat training. Somewhat disappointingly, we don't get much of a look back at these months when she was re-indoctrinated into Manticore - just a few flashbacks. She has decided not to rock the boat and to be the obedient soldier, for the moment. Renfro doesn't believe her act for a moment.

Meanwhile, we see that Logan is still on his crusade as Eyes Only. We see him pull off a protest/heist at the Veterans' Administration with the help of a young woman named Asha. Their conversations throughout the episode tell us that they have worked together before on "missions" for Eyes Only, but certainly we never saw Asha in the previous season. We learn that Logan still believes Max is alive for some reason.

At Manticore, Renfro continues her campaign to break Max mentally. She tells Max that Max has caused the death of everyone she's cared about, listing Ben (the serial killer X-5 from last season's "Pollo Loco"), Tinga, and Zack. Although Zack isn't technically dead. In a bizarre part of this scene, we see his body, with numerous surgery scars from harvesting his heart for Max and other organs for other X-5s. However, the eyes are still blinking and Zack seems to be alive and aware, although most of his face is covered by medical equipment, so it's hard to be sure. How could this be possible? I could see that Manticore might be able to keep him alive for awhile, but I can't imagine that he's not brain-dead. And how are they replacing the functions of the organs that are missing?

Renfro continues on to say that Max is also going to lead them to Eyes Only, and then he'll be dead, too, and she'll be alone. Apparently Renfro believes that even if Max doesn't ever come to love Manticore, if she's stripped of her non-Manticore friends and support, she will "convert" to Manticore out of desperation. Renfro continues to dehumanize Max by assigning her a "breeding partner" (I'll get to this more later); certainly requiring the X-5s to publicly state the results of their assigned copulations is humiliating and calculated to demonstrate Manticore's absolute control over the soldiers.

Max meets her breeding partner when he is brought to her cell one night. It turns out that he is the twin of Ben from last season's "Pollo Loco". With a judicious kick, Max quickly makes it clear that his mission for the night is not going to be accomplished. After their conversation, Max decides to name him Alec. Alec is a bit of an interesting character, because he likes Manticore, but he's not a "true believer" that blindly follows them. He just thinks that the outside world is a mess, so he's lucky to have free room and board. He doesn't cause problems, and so he's been able to get a little slack. He doesn't understand why Max is so eager to escape, but for the moment he doesn't feel like making problems for her. He even reports to Refro that their copulation was successful.

Max is desperate to escape, and now Renfro's threats against Logan have made her doubly so. She has been working on removing a cinder block below an air vent under her bed (to make the vent's opening large enough for her to fit through). The first time she sneaks out, she finds herself in a forgotten room in the basement, filled with junk.

In the first sign of things to come this season, she immediately meets Joshua. Joshua claims to be the first of the transgenics ever created. He even has memories of "father", who is named Sandman. Supposedly Sandman made him and some others and then left, for reasons unknown to Joshua. Joshua has a large amount of canine DNA, and his appearance is much more bestial than the later generation X-5s. Actually, I think he looks rather more like a lion, but he certainly growls like a dog. At first, Max is taken aback by Joshua's appearance, but true to her personality, she quickly makes friends with him, even admiring his fangs.

Max asks Joshua if he knows a place where she could access the outside. Joshua takes her down a long corridor lined with cells, whose inhabitants are other, even stranger, transgenic creations. (I think that Ben's stories of the "nomlies" in "Pollo Loco" might have had some truth to them.) We have no idea about the abilities of these creatures, or their sanity. Joshua leads Max to a barred window. She'll be able to saw through the bars in time, so she visits every night.

On the outside, Lydecker is being lured back by Renfro and the South African agent from last season's finale. If he gives them Eyes Only, they will let him back into Manticore. Lydecker appears to agree and sets up the meeting with Logan. However, before Logan is captured, Lydecker kills the guards and the South African, who was leading the mission. Lydecker then tells Logan that he'll reveal Manticore's location so that he can announce it as Eyes Only.

During the brief fight, Lydecker had winged Logan's arm. When the Manticore agents investigate later, they use some of Logan's blood to test his DNA. Renfro then orders Max to undergo a special procedure against her will. We will learn later that Max was infected with a retrovirus specially engineered to attack Logan, since he can be identified by his DNA.

On one of Max's last trips to visit Joshua, Alec catches her. He agrees not to report her, and instead, just to get her out of his hair, he helps her finish her escape. He is pretty weirded out by Joshua and doesn't managed to be as open-minded about him as Max is. Nevertheless, Alec and Joshua agree to a diversion to that Max can get by the X-7 guards. Joshua wants to escape with Max, but Max tells him that he'd just scare people and they'd lock him up.

Finally, Alec and Joshua race outside and distract the X-7 guards. Alec is "captured" by them, but Joshua escapes. Meanwhile, Max manages to leap the fence and escape. I was thinking of Leia's line in Star Wars: "There's only one explanation for the ease of our escape. They let us go." This just seemed way too easy.

Max silently appears in Logan's apartment. They kiss, and almost instantly Logan begins to fall ill from the retrovirus. Alec arrives, on assignment, to deliver a message: Renfro has the antigen for the virus. If Max returns to Manticore with Logan, he'll be cured. Although Max successfully subdues Alex and ties him up, what choices does she have? First, she finishes the job Logan was doing when she arrived: sending the Eyes Only broadcast that revealed Manticore's location. Then she leaves Logan guarding Alec, but Logan weakens and drops the gun. Alec is going to finish off Logan, when Asha arrives. Asha is no match for Alec, but he decides to just leave Logan to his fate.

Max is going to Manticore. Renfro had warned her that if Manticore's location was revealed that she would be ordered to lock all the transgenics inside and burn the place to the ground in order to simulate a "tragic accident" at a hospital. That's exactly what has happened, since when Max arrives the fires have just started and alarms are blaring. Max manages to get to a control room and unlock all the doors, including the ones holding in the strange creatures in the basement. All of the trangenics flee into the surrounding countryside. Renfro is still around, but cannot stop this action.

Then Max finds Renfro and forces her to retrieve the antigen for Logan's retrovirus. Just after she does so, a guard sees Max holding Renfro and starts firing. Renfro takes a fatal bullet pushing Max out of the way: she reveals to Max that she did this because Max's DNA test shows that Max is the "one we've been looking for" and then also mentions Sandman.

Max returns to Logan's apartment, and Asha injects the cure. After some time, it becomes clear that Logan will in fact recover completely. However, Max is still infectious to him, so they cannot touch. Max is obviously terrified of re-infecting him, so she flees the apartment almost immediately. She collects her thoughts on the Space Needle, and clearly believes she is responsible for all the transgenics now free, so she's going to have to do something about them. This sets our new direction for the series.

This episode really turned things upside down. Manticore is gone, not just in purpose (which was the idea behind destroying the genetic material in last season's finale), but physically burned to the ground. The tremendous loss of equipment and facilities virtually guarantees that the project will not continue or be re-started for a long time, if ever.

The consequences of the release of all the transgenics could potentially be dire. Some of the transgenics, such as the X-5s like Alec, will probably cope OK with their freedom. But the other, more drastically modified, soldiers will have a lot of problems.

The X-7s operate in a hive mind, which is completely different from other humans. We learned in this episode that they communicate at ultrasonic frequencies. We haven't heard any of them speak (that I can recall). Can they actually speak normally? How can they fit into society? Regardless of their enhanced abilities, they are still children and now they will lack structure, guidance, and morality. What will they do to survive?

Potentially even more dangerous are the very strange-looking characters that were locked in the basement with Joshua. Joshua seemed rational enough (although we don't have that must to go on), but are the others also sane? We know that some of the early generations of the transgenics had mental problems. Besides any issues of sanity, all of these individuals have extremely usual appearances that are not likely to be accepted anywhere. How will they survive?

Max is probably right that someone needs to try to look out for the transgenics. Not all of them are likely to be happy with her, either. Alec, for example, is likely to be ticked at losing his easy meal ticket. Other "true believers" might want revenge.

I had one comment about what I thought was a plot hole, but in retrospect perhaps it was not. I originally thought it was extremely naive of Max to think that she could dig her way out of her cell - surely with Manticore's controlling philosophy, there would be some type of video monitoring in her cell. I suppose she figured that if she was punished after the first night, she would know.

It's not clear whether that monitoring existed or not. It's beyond my comprehension to think that it didn't. After all, in the last season finale, we saw a camera view into the X-7 barracks. Surely someone confined to isolation like Max would warrant the same surveillance. However, Renfro inquired the soldiers about the success of their breeding the previous night, which might imply no monitoring. This is not conclusive, because a technique of a controlling commander certainly could be to order the subordinates to state the obvious.

This issue is muddled additionally by the fact that it seems that Renfro wanted Max to escape. She infected Max with the retrovirus for Logan - it wouldn't be effective if Max didn't have contact with him. In addition, I think that Alec was ordered to help Max, or at least to not interfere, since he immediately followed Max to Logan's apartment to deliver Renfro's ultimatum. I think Renfro was gambling that Max's escape would ultimately bring Max back again, with the additional prize of Eyes Only. However, her she lost that gamble since Manticore couldn't keep Logan from connecting and sending his Eyes Only broadcast.

Finally, the last big issue: what's up with Max apparently being so special? We know that whatever Renfro found out about Max from her DNA test was important enough for Renfro to kill anyone else with knowledge of it. This mystery has something to do with "Sandman", who I assume was the first Manticore scientist. Did he have some kind of purpose other than creating a super soldier? What kind of purpose could that possibly be that would compel the ruthless Renfro to take a bullet for Max? This is another issue that I assume will be key throughout this season.

Some smaller issues that bugged me. I wish we had seen more of Max's recovery from surgery and reindoctrination at Manticore; it would have been nice for that to have been an episode, then push these events back to the second episode. Skipping over this left a big question for me: why should Renfro think that Max was faking her compliance? After all, the reindoctination worked perfectly on Brin. Also, I think the emotional effect of seeing what Max had to go through would make the viewers feel for her even more, plus be understanding of why Max decided to stop fighting overtly.

Another issue is the introduction of Asha. Although she is supposedly not new to Logan, it's a bit odd to throw her in. I suppose her function in the plot was to be a sounding board for Logan before Max returned, but it seems like perhaps Logan's old assistant, Bling, or his police friend might have served. As it is, it seems like Asha's presence is a cheap way to try to force some jealousy out of Max. After all, Asha can touch Logan and Max can't. Asha and Logan seem to have some of the same goals in their crusades, but also some differences. Will Logan regret helping her out?

On another topic, Renfro said that what's left of Zack is being tranferred to another facility. Did that happen before the fire? Could we possibly see Zack again? It would certainly stretch belief without a really good explanation.

Last comment: what will Lydecker do now? His "kids" are dispersed and Manticore is gone. Will he try to track down all his kids again?

Actress sighting: Grace Park, who played the soldier whose breeding was unsuccessful, is now on the new Battlestar Galactica.

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