They say a show has to change to keep on growing, but how much change is too much? In its second season, Dark Angel is a completely different beast, and that’s been a point of contention amongst its dedicated fan-base for over a decade now. Some prefer season one’s more “realistic” tone with Manticore at the forefront, others prefer season two’s straight up sci-fi approach. I myself love both seasons equally, as they each have strengths and weaknesses that meld together to create an unforgettable TV experience.
Whatever faults this season might have, you can’t deny how many risks this premiere takes. Much like Alias‘ Phase One, it completely flips the show’s premise on its head by swiftly obliterating Manticore, the show’s Big Bad and reason for being. It’s admittedly rushed within the span of 40 minutes, but thrilling to watch unfold all the same. Much has been made about FOX’s interference after the show’s first season. While the ratings were quite good, the network wanted to make the show bigger while anchoring the Friday Night death-slot (yup, those executives aren’t the brightest bunch). The plan failed, and the show never recovered ratings-wise, but you can certainly see those changes in this premiere. The show is shinier and glitzier, right down to the new opening credits. It also helps that Alba looks completely different this year – long hair, significantly thinner (she reportedly went through a bout of anorexia in between seasons) and all leather-wearing (particularly in those promos).
But we’ll get to the rest of the season eventually. Designate This sets up a great deal of momentum for the second year and it’s pretty intriguing. The biggest development is Manticore’s destruction and Max letting all of its creations out into the world. Many of them don’t look the slightest bit normal, and the move promises a significant shift in the show’s direction as Max assumes responsibility (much like Zack did after the initial escape). In addition, the mythology deepens when Max’s X7 clone (bye bye Geneva Locke) begin displaying signs of progeria (see Brin) and Renfro discovers that Max is “the one” she’s been looking for. I’ve always been a sucker for the “Chosen One” theme so I have no quibbles here.
Designate This also introduces a number of new characters to the Dark Angel mythos – chief among them being Ben’s twin, Alec. It’s a stroke of genius really as Jensen Ackles is probably the best thing about the season. Whether he’s bantering with Max (their chemistry is electric), or insulting Joshua and calling him Sasquatch, he’s a delight to watch on every level. Plus, he’s got a dark side to him as he basically helps Renfro deliver the virus to Logan. As for Joshua, he’s introduced as “Father Sandman’s” first creation and he’s pretty out there where the show is concerned. Nevertheless, he has an amusing dynamic with Max who immediately embraces him (and his fangs). The least successful addition to the show’s cast is Asha, one of Logan’s contacts in a rogue fighter group called the S1W. She doesn’t leave much of an impression, and feels a bit too much like a network mandate to create a love triangle.
TV shows love to keep their endgame couples apart, but I honestly don’t see the appeal. I get that people love to ship couples for years on end, but some shows have done a perfectly fine job of keeping their central couple together without forcing drama (Nikita does this very well). Nevertheless, I have to admit that the genetically targeted virus keeping Max and Logan apart is a brilliant move from a plot perspective; it literally prevent the two from touching which is a pretty powerful statement. Naturally Max manages to acquire the antidote and cure Logan in the premiere, but there isn’t any of it left so it raises a significant predicament for the rest of the year. I’m just pissed they never really got their moment after Meow.
– From this point on, Max never experiences another seizure or heat cycle. Devout Dark Angel fans have decided that Max got cured at Maticore although the show never mentions it. I wish they had acknowledged such a big part of her genetics at some point. All it needed was a throwaway line.
– I get that Logan lost the love of his life and is more hellbent than ever on exposing Manticore, but is that any excuse to look so scruffy and beat-down?
– Pretty nifty touch with the picture of Max on Logan’s screen transitioning to her training in Manticore and kicking ass. That spin-kick? Badass baby.
– Alba really does look like a completely different woman this year. Many people prefer her season one look but I think she looks even better this year (if that was humanely possible).
– Renfro’s torture methods are harrowing to watch: she tries to break Max by putting her in a cell that closes in on her (for a whole week). Of course our Maxie doesn’t give in, and there’s a bone-chilling moment where we discover she’s been digging an escape hole in her cell as she proclaims “Max, my name is Max!“
– We’ve got new opening credits this year and they’re marvelous. Lots of perfectly-picked shots of Max kicking ass and a slick new voiceover that I of course know by heart.
– I love how Max’s training in the present day (hooked up to a treadmill, crawling on the ground) is edited with her doing the same drills in the past. The parallels are just awesome.
– So there’s really no surveillance in Max’s room? Let’s blame it on all hell breaking loose in the finale.
– How hilarious is it that Manticore now assigns breeding partners as a result of the DNA lab getting blown up? Nothing like getting things done the old fashioned way.
– “Failure to achieve mission requirements” = no erection. Ha!
– Love Renfro’s response to Alec saying he copulated “twice” with Max: “What would your boyfriend say?”.
– The X7s guarding the grounds have bat in their cocktail. Also, they’re the same X7. “Lots of one” as Joshua points out. Interesting.
– Lydecker doesn’t get much to do this week but he does get Logan accidentally shot. Also, it’s interesting to note that he’s genuinely hurt by Tinga’s loss.
– Horrifying visual with the laser in Max’s eye; it’s just like Zack in The Kidz Are Aiight.
– Max’s escape from Manticore is amazing; I get chills when I see her doing that huge jump over the fence with the Dark Angel score blaring.
– My favorite moment in the hour is probably Max and Logan getting reunited with the kiss of death as Alec shows up and we realize the escape was part of the plan. It was too easy wasn’t it?
– Max and Alec’s fight scene in Logan’s penthouse is one of the show’s strongest action sequences. It’s brutal and incredibly choreographed. This is Ackles and Alba’s second skirmish by the way, and it’s terrific.
– I love how Renfro shoots the doctor and makes a mysterious phone-call to someone outside Manticore while babbling in french (the language of the devil apparently).
– I’m a bit confused, why did Logan need Manticore’s location from Lydecker? He was THERE during the attack in the finale!
– Max’s casual high kick to the guard while walking is hilariously similar to the one Brin did in the finale.
– So what happens when Renfro calls Max by her barcode number one final time? Our heroine slams her against the wall. Too good!
– I kind of wish Renfro didn’t die. Nana Visitor was simply astounding. Interesting to note that Nana Visitor complained that FOX wanted to make the show “younger” so they swiftly fired everyone over 40 (which also explains Lydecker’s reduced role).
– Max’s smile as Manticore burns is an immensely satisfying and vital moment for the show. A life’s purpose complete.
– It’s awesome to see Max on the Space Needle again (back where she belongs). But wouldn’t she have preferred to check on Cindy and change out of the army gear first? But then we wouldn’t have gotten that ominous final moment with the camera panning down to the street as that creepy anomaly blends into the crowd.
Barbs & Barcodes
Renfro: State your designation.
Max: Kiss my transgenic ass!
Renfro: How long can an X5 last without food or water?
Lab tech: Six days, maybe.
Renfro: Call me in a week.
Alec: (after Max kicks him) What the hell was that?!
Max: The only kind of physical contact you and I are gonna have.
Alex: Don’t “freak out” on me. (Max stares at him). I took Common Verbal Usage when I got cleared for my solo missions.
Max: Oh, you mean assassinations.
Max: So what happened? They put too much canine DNA in your cocktail?
Joshua: Cat. Cat in your cocktail.
Max: Don’t hold it against me.
Max: Okay with you if I slap an exit sign on this?
Max: I’m gonna call you Alec.
Max: As in smart alec.
Alec: I can live with that.
Max: Good. ‘Cause my second choice was Dick.
Renfro: I’m not leaving without her.
Max: (grabbing her from behind) What a coincidence ’cause I’m not leaving without you.
Max: (after the guard shoots Renfro) I won’t tell if you don’t.
Logan: Keep your head down.
Max: Always do.
Max: The whole time I was at Manticore, all I wanted was my strange little life back. Never figured it could get any stranger.
Bold and ambitions, Designate This is a game-changing season premiere from Dark Angel.