Dark Angel

Dark Angel 2×09 – Medium Is The Message

"So what is it you're meant to be? Besides ugly."
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And here’s where season two finally kicks in.

Dark Angel had a few stumbles this year with a multitude of freak-of-the-week shenanigans and irritating standalone plots. Thankfully, Medium Is The Message capably revitalizes the season with a distinct focus on the show’s mythology and the burgeoning threat that White’s cult represents.

It’s worth stating that in order to properly enjoy Dark Angel‘s second season, you have to let go of the show’s first year. What was once based on some semblance of a realistic tone with genetic engineering and government cover-ups, has now been replaced by breeding cults and a more noticeable sci-fi flavor. If you can manage to give in to that monumental change as a viewer (a big portion of the DA fandom couldn’t), then this season certainly makes for intriguing television.

It all starts with Logan taking on a missing persons case, only to discover that the kidnapped boy in question is none other than Ames White’s son (Gill Girl). As the conspiracy grows thicker, Max and Logan soon discover that White orchestrated the whole shebang, and that he in fact hails from a cult that’s been selectively breeding superhuman individuals for generations (using the Manticore symbol no less). Shockingly enough, these warriors rival (and even surpass) transgenics in terms of their abilities. It’s a compelling and mysterious storyline, and it’s immediately unsettling seeing as how Max loses both fights she engages in this week (something we’re definitely not used to seeing). It’s definitely refreshing to have a Big Bad properly take center stage for the second half of the season, as the show lost a lot of a focus in its opening stretch.

As a contrast to this creepy plot, Joshua discovers the artist within, and Alec begins selling his masterpieces for a fortune. Enter Rita, a loving and inspiring art collector who surprisingly doesn’t run for her life when she comes face to face with Joshua. On the contrary, she caresses him, and spurs his extraordinary talent. It’s a wonderfully uplifting subplot, and it’s the best storyline Joshua’s had since his introduction. Also, it gets dog boy interacting with Alec which is an enormous plus.

Post-Pulse Bits

– The notes which Max tries to decipher are the ones the Manticore tech gave her before running off.

– The creature White abuses in the teaser is the same freaky one we saw at the end of Designate This. It’s hard to forget those eyes.

– I love that Alec doesn’t even notice Joshua’s art; he just wants to sell the frame.

– Logan is still trying to contact Lydecker. Too bad we never hear from him again.

– It’s fascinating that art galleries are still prevalent in a Post-Pulse world. Even with all the poverty, there are still people willing to pay a fortune for art.

– Interesting callback: Wendy mentions that she’s had two miscarriages, while Lydecker had previously stated in Proof of Purchase that the breeding cult’s modus operandus consists of killing the first two children.

– The scene with Alec egging Joshua on as he paints is pretty darn epic (especially that Alec hands him Max’s virus papers in the process). Plus Ackles’ delivery of “I got a headache” is spot-on.

– I love Max’s reaction to Logan telling her about White’s kidnapped son. She’s not some idealistic hero, and she actually doesn‘t care at first. “Bad things happen to bad people too.” Indeed.

– Who else wanted Max to snap White’s neck when she got the chance to subdue him in his house?

– The kidnappers have RCF cards; that’s the same ID badge Renfro had which effectively proves she was part of the cult.

-Max is back to wearing sunglasses at night while riding her bike; and that’s why she’s a loveable badass.

– Since we haven’t gotten proper fight scenes this year: it’s satisfying that we get two this week. The first is Max against the two kidnappers and it’s impeccably choreographed. In fact, it’s the best fight of the season so far. It gradually intensifies with the revelation of the villains not having barcodes, and ends with Alba’s priceless face as she falls down the chute (and stumbles onto the burial site).

– The scene with Max discovering the conspiracy with Logan on the phone, and Ames shooting himself in front of his wife is wonderfully atmospheric and unsettling. The way Max crashes through the glass in the nick of time always gives me goosebumps. Surprisingly, White turns out to be a competent fighter who lands several blows and ultimately leaves our heroine with a bloody face. “Pain is a phantom of the mind”. Brilliant!

– When White bids his kid goodbye, does anyone else get the feeling that the old man in the limo could be Sandeman?

– The ending with Joshua painting Max is strangely fitting, although I detest the song choice.

Barbs & Barcodes

Max: Maybe when Father was mixing you together, he put some Picasso in your DNA.
Joshua: Picasso in my cocktail.

Logan: Organic chemistry?
Max: Bedtime reading.

Max: Yeah, well, you spend ten years of your life running from someone, you kind of miss not having him around.
Logan: At least you still have White.
Max: Good old Ames. Somehow it’s not the same with him.

Alec: Look, Josh, you’re a great artist, apparently. But you’re also, to be frank, a dog-boy.

Max: (choking White) I should take you out – break your miserable neck and pretend you never existed. But I’m not that kind of animal.

Alec: Can we, uh, crack one of these windows open? ‘Cause I think the paint fumes in here are turning your brain into oatmeal.

Alec:(to Joshua) Now, look, as soon as we start selling paintings again, you can get Max a new doctor. Heck, you can buy her a whole hospital, okay? You know, but just tell her you lost the papers. Tell her, uh, I don’t know, tell her your dog ate ’em. Tell her you ate ’em. Max will get over it, all right? You know why? Because underneath that–that sadomasochistic leather and that–that tough-girl image, she’s nothing but a big softie.

White: (to Max) You think you and your little Manticore progeny are special? (He punches her). Transgenic scum… You think those geeks with their chemistry sets and their gene banks and their greasy little paws are the future? You have no idea what you’re up against.

Conclusion

Brimming with forward momentum, Medium Is The Message is the strongest episode since the premiere and the most impressive hour of the season thus far.

Nad Rating
A

23 comments

  1. So I've decided I pretty much hate Joshua. I tried not to, but I can't help it. He annoys me.

    I found the cult stuff intriguing but maybe a little confusing. I'm sure later episodes will clear it up 🙂

  2. Nooo…don't say we never hear from Lydecker again! 🙁 What a waste. I love it whenever Max disparages White as an inferior villain, and “misses” Lydecker. Is that dialogue some form of writers' rebellion because they were forced to get rid of the actor by the network?

    In an earlier review you described White as a 12 year old throwing a tantrum, and that's how I'll see him from now on! I can't take him seriously. I'm sorry to say I didn't like this episode as much as you did… I'm uneasy about this breeding cult thing. Women being forced to have children who end up superpowered? Here comes another Buffy similarity (or am I reaching this time?) Kinda reminds me of the Metaphorical Rape of the Slayer which gave her Powers on BTVS. White's wife was used unknowingly and thought they were a loving couple, but the cult was founded by a group of men kidnapping and raping a woman, right? I definitely prefer season one's government conspiracies.

    White's plan to kidnap his own son seemed unnecessarily convoluted to me. If he's so willing to kill his wife for trying to find their son (seriously, why would he be surprised/disappointed in this reaction…what did he expect her to do…not care?) – why didn't he just kill her in the first place. Instead of acting like *she* betrayed *him* somehow? I know, he's a psycho cult guy – I shouldn't question his reasoning. 🙂 But seriously, the scene where White's saying goodbye to his son and they're tsk tsking over how Mom just couldn't accept or understand their Crazy Cult Ways! bugged me too. It's not like you bozos even tried to explain anything to her and give her a chance to “join” your cult. You lied to her your entire marriage, then laid some cryptic rationalizations on her at the last minute before trying to kill her. Sheesh. Women! They just don't understand. The Menfolk, they have Important Work to do!

    At first I thought it was …nice…that Rita didn't care about Joshua's appearance. Shipping Joshua/Rita now! Not really. 🙂 Upon further reflection, I'm thinking she's a bit odd for her non-reaction and insta-acceptance of him. Plus, a little creepy in her insistence in wanting to meet him. Joshua came across creepy too, when he was gazing at his Muse Max at the end, and painting her while some love song (?!) played along. What the heck? I know that practically every guy has a crush on Max this season, or remarks on her beauty, but please, show, let dog-boy be the exception to that rule.

  3. Ah that's too bad you didn't love it. Maybe it's because I've seen the show so many times and thus appreciate this episode more knowing the negative reaction towards the season and a lot of the horrible episodes. The concept of the breeding cult is SO different than season 1, but at least it's well executed here if you can swallow that whole mythology switch.

    Excellent call about the slayer rape in BTVS. The two shows are more similar than we thought! Season two of Dark Angel aired during BTVS season 6 (before the rape in 7), so this came first for once 🙂

    And the thing about the writers letting Max make fun of White. It could definitely be possible especially in line with Nana Visitor's interview about Fox firing the old cast. A pity.

    Haha and dog-boy being the exception also made me smile. It's true, every guy on the show HAS to love Max and find her gorgeous. To be fair, Alba did look stunning this year (I know you don't agree but I prefer her look this year).

  4. It's okay, I don't want to be a killjoy – you keep on loving this ep! It's just my initial reaction after first viewing. Makes sense you grow to appreciate nuances and things over time… Maybe I'll feel differently after I've seen the whole season. A great ending can make up for a lot.

    Like, if Wendy's latent superpowers suddenly bust loose due to extreme stress/desire to save her son, and she kills White and avenges the murders of all the other Breeding Cult Wives, that'd be cool. 😉 Then Max finds Lydecker who was being interrogated by the Cult (they found his car before, not his body, so he's alive, so there) – but despite the torture, Lydecker told them nothing about Manticore or “his kids”. Aww. Max will free Lydecker if he agrees to help with that virus bitch. He does. Max & Logan hold hands and dance a lot and maybe even kiss on the cheek. 😉 Yay! Max hands over her maternal mantle to Wendy who adopts Joshua as a pet for her son, y'know, to cheer him up now that his dad's dead. 😉 They move to a spin-off called The Adventures of Wonder-Mom Wendy White and Dog-Boy. Lots of wacky hijinks ensue such as Joshua redecorating Wendy's mansion by flinging paint and food around. Meanwhile we enjoy season 3 of Dark Angel with Max and the rest of the gang. Oh, if I only had time to write fanfiction, but I barely have time to watch/read/discuss the show. (I'll catch up with the rest of your reviews, I promise. You might regret encouraging me to post more though. :))

    I'm glad Dark Angel influenced Buffy sometimes…well, as glad as I can be about rape storylines. Now I'm wondering if Joss Whedon had friends/fans at FOX who were willing to kill Dark Angel to make room for him and Firefly! Joss does so enjoy killing. 😛 If there were network suits instructing DA to be more like BTVS in season 2, maybe because Buffy attracted that “hip, young” audience they wanted so much, then I'll leap to the conclusion that these callous suits would jump at the chance to grab Buffy's creator.. and sacrifice Dark Angel to the Cult of Joss. 🙁 Conspiracy theories are fun. And sad. I watched the first few eps of Firefly back in the day but it didn't really grab me. I'm on Dark Angel's side.

    Yeah, I liked her hair curlier, but Jessica Alba doesn't look bad in season 2… I just get distracted at times by the scary thought that the camera adds weight which means she was even skinnier than she looks onscreen… Still she doesn't look as unhealthy as SMG did in those last few seasons of Buffy. Many suspect SMG has/had anorexia, but I don't think she's ever admitted it? Gotta hate Hollywood for pressuring actresses who looked fine the way they were.

  5. Actually your joke about friends at Fox is more accurate than you'd think! There are many hardcore Dark Angel fans who strongly believe that Gail Berman, A FOX executive, really wanted the show to fail to make way for Firefly (as she had a very pivotal relationship with Joss Whedon). Add to that the fact that Whedon hated how Fox (which produced both Dark Angel and Angel) allowed Dark Angel to air in the same timeslot as Angel with practically the same name. (I read that interview somewhere years ago on online).
    So conspiracy? I think not…

  6. Geez, I had no idea about the timeslot competition and all that. So Joss really was keeping tabs on Dark Angel in a not-so-friendly way… maybe he hired Jose Molina for Firefly, partly out of a guilty conscience? And partly 'cause Jose was emulating Joss' style, which must've flattered his ego. Why was Gail so desperate to woo and please Joss? She in love with him personally, or just a reeeaaally big fan of his writing? You don't have to go into it if it's a long story and you're busy and all. 🙂 I'll look it up sometime. Damn shame all the talented people who worked on Dark Angel really *were* sacrificed to the Cult of Joss. 🙁 I'm mad at Joss! I already was, for various Buffy-related decisions. My anger had subsided over the years. But as a new Dark Angel fan, it seems I must curse the name Whedon once more.

  7. Here check this out too:

    Was Jessica Alba surprised when Dark Angel, the very successful TV program was cancelled? At a recent press conference for her new starring role in the Universal film Honey, Jessica spoke about the James Cameron project.

    “Yea, we were picked up on a Friday and on Monday we were cancelled.” Her explanation, “Politics.”

    Would she ever go back to the character Max one day? “Jim talked to me about doing a movie… I don't know. I think it's done. It was so hard trying to keep up the integrity of the story and the character with the studio and the network. I don't know. I don't think so. I want to work with Jim again but I think Max is done.”

  8. Ok sorry but I'm on a roll: there's also this from the season 1 dvd commentary. You're going to get SO depressed when you watch the season 2 finale by the way because it's great.

    Their abiding devotion is understandable, especially for this first season, which probes some dark ideas with nuance and purpose, as ambitious SF tends to do. All the commentary tracks remark that during these first months, the crew felt left alone by the studio. As Nutter says to Eglee, their “problems” started after the show was picked up for a second season: “They started telling you guys how to drive that car that you just created.” Alba elaborates, “It’s such a passion project. It’s just a lot different than being part of something that’s manufactured by a studio. The network and the studio really didn’t understand the show in the beginning. And either the studio caught on but the network didn’t, or the network caught on but the studio didn’t.”

    According to Alba, the first season’s thematic innovation was its focus on a girl who “wasn’t trying to find her identity through men,” a point enhanced by sharp writing (often by by Eglee and Cameron), as well as rich visual textures and lighting schemes, decent character development, and fierce fight scenes (as between Max and he clone of her young self, which Alba describes so: “This is definitely not a wet t-shirt contest”).

    As Alba asserts, “The first season was definitely the show. It was hardcore and people didn’t run away from it. People got it.”

  9. I'm back! Sorry I didn't respond sooner… I wish I could be like Max and function on no sleep. 😉 Thank you for sharing all this fascinating behind-the-scenes stuff. I had avoided most interviews because I was trying to be careful not to spoil episodes I haven't seen yet. But your blog is a safe place. 🙂

    I feel so sorry for the DA cast & crew, thinking they were renewed at first! That's just cruel. I love Jessica's attitude. No wonder she was so good at playing a blunt badass heroine…sounds like she really is one. I admire her fighting for her character's/show's integrity, instead of only caring about the paycheck. I'm guessing she's made some enemies in Hollywood for not being more docile and uncritical. Is this why she doesn't get better/more roles? Oh me and my conspiracy theories…I just can't stop. 😛

    It seems strange that James Cameron wouldn't have more clout than Joss Whedon. Big time movie guy with all these box-office blockbusters, vs. cult TV writer. But I guess Joss really had Gail/FOX under his spell. The guy can be witty & clever, , but I don't think he's an infallible geeenius. I don't get the Whedon Worshippers who think he can do no wrong. Joss must have some crazy cult leader-type charisma in person…the quotes on Firefly's wikipedia page, from those who worked with him, are embarassingly gushy. To be continued…

  10. So I did a little of my own research on Gail Berman and there's a fair bit about her & Joss' history in Alan Sepinwall's 2012 book “The Revolution Was Televised”. To summarize: Seems she was one of the first to believe in his talent and takes pride in that. Buffy was the script that got away, and she wanted to get the TV rights when the original movie happened, but she couldn't convince her bosses. Later she tried to get FOX to air BTVS but they passed so it ended up on The WB. (Yup I can see her trying to mold Dark Angel in Buffy's image, and then casting it aside for Joss' sake, considering she seems kinda obsessed.) Anyway, Berman got on Whedon's good side by supporting his desire to direct the Buffy pilot, but he wasn't really ready/experienced enough, so everyone else thought the Unaired Pilot sucked and needed to be reshot. Joss studied hard and got better at directing, quickly, says the book. But what I get out of this is that Gail seems to be so gung-ho for Joss that it clouds her judgement about the quality of the finished product (the original scrapped pilot). Blind worship is a bad thing. Although I'm sure Joss loved it and was glad to have someone like Gail on his side. But don't feed the Ego-Monster! Joss needs someone more critical to keep his arrogance in check, in my opinion, not more sycophants. Don't give him what he wants…give him what he *needs*. 😉

    Anyway, check out this quote:

    Firefly should have been a happy reunion with Gail Berman, who by this point was Fox’s president of entertainment. Berman says that once she stopped being a hands-on Buffy producer, “I spent every day of my life” pondering when and how she and Whedon might work together again.
    Instead, it was, as Minear (who produced it with Whedon) bluntly puts it, “demoralizing.” Fox executives(*) refused to air the two-hour pilot as the first episode and scheduled the series in a dead-end Friday timeslot. Firefly was the first (and, to date, only) Whedon series to come out of the gate fully-formed, but on a network that didn’t seem to want it.
    (*) “I obviously had a boss at the time,” Berman says delicately (during this period, she reported to both Fox entertainment chairman Sandy Grushow and News Corp. president Peter Chernin), “and I obviously didn’t want to be disappointing to Joss, having been his partner for a long time. It was all done on eggshells.”

    I weep for Joss, whining about Firefly's timeslot. Dark Angel died to make room for you there, you ingrate! And Gail spent every day of her life pondering how to work with Joss again? Yeah. Obsessive. DA never had a chance. 🙁

    About Firefly's cancellaton and the Serenity movie, Gail says:

    “I was happy for him that he had the opportunity. By this point, he was very very angry at me, so it wasn’t like I was communicating with him anymore at that time.”

    Hmm, a lesson for us all. Ultimately, nobody respects a suck-up. 😛 Also, once Joss stops getting his own way all the time, he's a petulant child.

    Then GB praises and congratulates JW on his recent success adapting Marvel's Avengers. It sounds like she's saying “I'm sorry! I still love you! Call me!!” 😛 Have some dignity, woman. I almost pity her, except she was too stupid to see how lucky she was to have Dark Angel at FOX, and kept pining for supposedly greener pastures…blind to the awesomeness right in front of her. I mean, come on, DA's first season was *much* stronger than Buffy's (and I say this as someone who enjoys the cheesy fun of BTVS s1), and it deserved better treatment. If only Dark Angel's writers were left alone…if only they had the freedom and lack of interference (and 7 seasons) that Joss had on BTVS. Sigh.

  11. Amazing episode!! I love the tease about Lydecker, I was literally on the edge of my seat hoping for him to return. Damn it! It's so clever to bring him back like this, especially with Logan calling him.

    I really forgot everything I was coming here to say when I read those comments. Really depressed me and makes me think of what kind of a beast this show could've become if it weren't for all the network/studio interferences. If only those brilliant writers were given the chance to write their own goddamn show..I would've really loved to see what they could've cooked up for us here.

    And I really believe that some of the lines here are part of the writers frustrations: “I kinda miss Lydecker” she said with a snarky smile. It was such a beautiful moment that really addresses the audience's feelings.

    Now I know I'll never think of watching Firefly 😛 How dare they take this away from us!

  12. Good episode! Never lacked any action or drama. We’ve got more to think about & I love that there’s finally a human not afraid of the transgenics.

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