Dark Angel 2×01 – Designate This

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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 AliasPhase 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.

 Post-Pulse Bits

– 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 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 achievement 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, 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: You know, this isn’t exactly a plum assignment for me either. You spent half your life out there in filth and degradation; I could catch something.
Max: Whatever you need to tell yourself just as long as we understand each other.
Alex: Fine. Don’t “freak out” on me. (She stares at him). I took Common Verbal Usage when I got cleared for my solo missions.
Max: Oh, you mean assassinations.
Alec: It was my job. If you’re gonna “bust my chops” about it, go ahead.

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 exist sign on this?

Max: I’m gonna call you Alec.
Alec: 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: Funny how from up here, it looks like nothing’s changed. Only everything’s changed. Not just me and Logan… everything. The whole time I was at Manticore, all I wanted was my strange little life back. Never figured it could get any stranger.

Conclusion
Bold and ambitions, Designate This is a game-changing season premiere from Dark Angel.

Nad Rating
A-

10 comments

  1. So I really liked this one. I don't know what changed besides Max's hair, but something did and I like it better now. I agree that taking down Manticore in one episode was painfully rushed, but besides that the episode was very good. And there was less Logan than usual. I usually don't like those as much.

    Sorry to hear about Jessica Alba's anorexia. 🙁 Her hair looks much better. A little too dark, but a very nice length on her. But what was up with Logan's hair? Dude. Just because your girlfriend is dead, doesn't mean you have to stop using product! And I don't like the new glasses either…

    Max and Logan can't touch lest he DIE!? Great twist! It reminds me of Pushing Daisies (which, I know, came after this). Very tragic. It's almost a little meta, like it's referencing the way shows won't let their will-they-or-won't-they couples be together.

  2. I have a feeling that unlike most fans of the show who hate season two, you might love it more than the first! I'm a big fan of both but I'm so intrigued to see your thoughts going forward (particularly if you're an Ackles fan who also really brings out the best in Alba).

  3. Hi, I just discovered your blog…looking for reviews to read 'cause I'm marathoning this show now for the first time…I'm up to 2×14, actually, same as you! (Based on your laat review) I've gotta say I'm one of those who prefer season 1…for so many reasons. I like the addition of Alec/Jensen, but I'm not crazy about Joshua.. it feels like they're trying too hard to make him cute and comic relief-y and he feels kinda forced on us. I usually end up resenting how much screentime he gets because it means we don't get to see as much of Original Cindy or the rest of the Jam Pony gang. I miss them! I'd rather hear Original Cindy refer to herself in the third person again, or say “Boo” a million times than hear Joshua repeat his “catchphrases” about Max and Logan getting busy, that virus bitch, Father this and Father that, or how people are afraid of what they don't understand. His dialogue feels way too repetitive, although I'm sure it doesn't help that I'm watching a bunch of episodes in a row. 🙂

    Season 1 seemed to have a stronger “girl power” message, and I also miss the more “realistic” tone of season 1, although I have nothing against fantasy/sci-fi… it's just… hard to accept the change when I fell in love with the show's original premise/tone, y'know? Now I'm noticing a lot of similarities to Buffy …the things I *didn't* like about BTVS, unfortunately! Like The Chosen One trope, which I'm pretty sick of in fiction. Max coming back from the dead, like Buffy, more depressed and angsty and generally missing her sense of humour. Max and Logan can't touch/have sex or something Very Bad will happen to him… reminiscent of Buffy & Angel's angst, even if the end result would be different… death vs. lost soul/evil rampage. In season 1 I was so pleased that Max wasn't *too* whiney and self-pitying about wanting a Normal Life and being a Regular Girl, but now in season 2 there's quite a bit of whining and moping about that.

    Max also seems more …bitchy now or something. I don't really enjoy seeing her bickering with Alec or Logan all the time. Alec insults people in a more humourous way…like he's not actually *angry*, usually, but Max just seems… super-angry-gonna-snap-your-head-off! Maybe she has good reason, but I still wish she'd relax a bit. I mean, I understand why she can't be as relatively carefree/laidback considering all that's happened to her since the series began, like losing Tinga, etc. But she was more likeable before. Alec is kinda similar to the way Max used to be in season 1… seemingly self-interested but with nobler impulses…hiding pain under a guise of not caring. I'd like to see Alec and Max bond over this somehow. Is she so over-the-top angry at Alec *because* he reminds her of herself and she seems to be full of self-loathing and self-recrimination nowadays? Whoa. Deep! 😉

    On a more superficial note, I think Jessica Alba looked much better in season one. Personally I prefer curls to limp straight hair. I prefer a little more meat on one's bones as well. She's distractingly skinny. I also think she was prettier when she used to smile more often…another reason I wish the character wasn't so depressed all the time!

  4. Hello songspin!

    It's been a pleasure reading all your comments. I love to meet other passionate Dark Angel fans and I do hope you'll continue commenting (on the season 1 reviews as well). Your thoughts are extremely insightful and entertaining to read so thank you!

    I love your comparison to Buffy. I never noticed but they're quite accurate. Both Buffy and Max got waaaaay too depressed and whiny – it's a real pity. And yes, the more “realistic” tone of season one is a big reason why so much of the fan-base prefers that season. Love your analysis concerning Alec!

  5. Nadim, you're too kind. 🙂 It is really nice to be able to talk to someone about this show I only recently discovered. I thought I missed the boat, as far as joining the fandom discussion. Pretty lucky timing, you re-watching and writing these reviews right now! I'll go back and read your season 1 reviews as soon as I can… Of course I might not have as much to say about that since it's easier for me to rant about what I *don't* like. 😉 So I started reading/commenting on season 2 because it's most fresh in my mind and I was curious to see your analysis of the changes to the show…

    The Buffy thing…yeah, even the silly nature of some of the Freaks of the Week…like the Gossamer in “Borrowed Time”… somehow reminds me of the Scooby Gang dealing with demons and so on. I checked Wikipedia and found out the writer José Molina joined Firefly after Dark Angel was cancelled! I'm guessing he was a Joss Whedon fan who watched Buffy and tried to emulate Joss' style? So I'm gonna direct my ire at him for the BTVS similarities in DA season 2. 😉

    Anyway, “Designate This” wasn't bad. I was happy for Max when she freed everyone and watched Manticore burn, with a smile on her face. I only wish that *she* stayed happy about that decision!

  6. You know, Dark Angel was picked up on a Friday by Fox, then cancelled again on Monday after Joss Whedon pitched Firefly to them. Then of course Firefly flopped and the rest is history. I so wish we got a third season!

  7. I definitely see the show changing a bit and maybe I'm just a LITTLE worried. I loved season 1 because it constantly balanced the Jam Pony / Original Cindy / Max-Logan banter with good, badassery action. I love the addition of Alec and I find myself already a big fan of the actor (not enough to go watch 10+ seasons of Supernatural though!) but did I miss Cindy and the Jam Pony crew? Heck yeah. I was slightly mad we didn't get at least ONE scene of Max reuniting with her boo.

    But on another note, I kinda love Joshua so far. I hope his scenes don't become as repetitive and annoying as someone else noted in the comments, but I liked Max's genuine scenes with him. Especially when she told him that if he ran away with her, he'll just be going from one basement to the other. Sad but true.

    Logan and Max's scene sent chills down my spine! The way they just stared at each other before the kiss of death…because of course the show had to pull one big twist on us! Gee, that was HUGELY unexpected. I just love how the show consistently toys with our brains. Freakin' amazing. Also amazing was the beginning with Max getting trained. Broke my heart seeing that thing squeeze her in! And I love the new credits, but I do have to slowly get used to the voiceover.

    “Failure to achievement mission requirements” hahahaha cracked me up! So long, Manticore! I didn't really like the blonde lady so much, I don't know what annoyed me about her (other than the too much makeup) so I'm glad the bitch died lol. But ohhh yeah I can already see Jessica Alba becoming twice as hot as last season!

    Still loved this premiere. The no Cindy/Max scene pissed me off but it's okay, at least I know that the show is heading into more sci-fi themes now. And the final shot was amazing. Can't wait to see what kind of trouble those fellas bring to the city!

  8. Yup there wasn't any Jam Pony in this one and I totally get what you mean about the balance. I'm still glad you enjoyed it a lot as well. and the fact that you already like Joshua is a HUGE plus as many ppl LOATHED Him from the first second. I guess that means you're prob gonna love this season 🙂

    Max and Logan and the VIRUS! Whew! What a crazy-ass twist! It's pretty smart from a plot perspective isn't it? And Alec is comedy GOLD!

    No words needed about Alba. I fell in love in this season! And you'll a Cindy Max immediately 🙂

  9. I’ll be honest, the first time I watched the season 2 premiere I wasn’t intrigued & found it so different from season 1, which I missed. But after waiting a long while & watching it a second time now, I really enjoyed it & didn’t think there was anything different so far. It’s a really action-packed episode & the music is always spot on.

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