Penultimate episodes have a tricky job – their obvious role is to set the stage for a season finale, but they also have to accomplish that without seeming like a major exposition dump AND standing on their own feet. Thankfully, Love Among The Ruins pulls off all the above with flying colors.
Interestingly, the episode begins with Max already embracing transgenics and practically running things in Terminal City. It’s a long way from Boo where she was nowhere capable of assuming a leadership position, or even admitting that she was different than humans.
With the introduction of Sandeman’s son CJ (who is also revealed to be White’s brother), we get a ton of mythology this week and it’s all remarkably compelling. Apparently Sandeman was part of the breeding cult, but when he realized his son CJ would never survive the initiation ritual (see Exposure), he ditched the whackjobs and dabbled in gene splicing which lead to the founding of Manticore (before it fell into government hands). He’s also responsible for the bizarre ruins (much like the symbol on Joshua’s necklace) that begin appearing on Max’s skin. Logan deduces that they’ve been engraved into her genetic code, and they’re a message that was designed to appear at a specific point in her life. Whew. That’s a whole lot of info, but it’s mythology that’s both confident and extremely absorbing. Moreover, building up Max as a sort of chosen one with 5,000 year old destiny really adds a touch of epicness to the proceedings (something you couldn’t say about the season when it first started out).
Much like the introduction and death of Annie, we meet a new X5 this week (Biggs) who is utilized as nothing more than a plot device. Yes his death is horrifying, but wouldn’t it have been even more affecting if we’d known the guy for a couple of weeks? Nevertheless, I can not deny that the episode’s most powerful scene is Max and Alec arriving at the flaming X with Biggs hanging upside down (“a good old-fashioned lynching”). It’s dark and so very disturbing, positioning humans as a greater threat to transgenics than White and the cult ever were.
On the relationship front, Max finally tells Alec how she used him in a lie to keep Logan away. I love that his immediate reaction is feeling insulted because he won’t be the “bad guy”. However, he doesn’t actually tell Logan the truth as he also decides that it would be better for him not to know. Hmm.. Also it’s worth noting that both scenes with Max and Logan’s video calls are stupid and angsty. Thankfully they’re over quick.
I’m also pleased to report that Original Cindy actually gets something to do this week. In fact, she gets what is probably her standout moment of the entire series when she quickly thinks on her feet and sneaks into Normal’s office to steal Max and Alec’s files (after Otto arrives at Jam Pony). However, this move captures Sketchy’s attention, and when he asks why she took them, her response is epic: “Why do you think?” Later on, she proceeds to school Sketchy on Max being “the best person he knows” and it’s beyond amazing. I absolutely love how Max’s exposure affects the original Jam Pony gang. If only Herbal (and Kendra) were still here.
– The teaser is so very bizarre, with the cult orchestrating their ritual outside a mental institution from which CJ escapes (and takes one of their snakes with him).
– For the first time ever, the full Dark Angel theme is used as Max, Alec and Biggs save the albino transgenic on their bikes. The action is a bit awkwardly-staged though, and it’s yet another excuse for White to throw one of his tantrums (and his gun at Otto). Still I do love the moment when Max proclaims “Welcome to Terminal City” and the song transitions into the credits. Pretty cool.
– The utter irony with Normal urging people to “rat out transgenics” in fear of the X-series while Alec is running transgenic central right under his nose in Jam Pony.
– Logan has moved into Joshua’s house; that’s pretty perfect.
– I can’t decide if I think Mole and the other transgenic arguing and discussing real word events that they were involved in (like Saddam) is brilliant or lame.
– White’s weapon to ID the X-series through their increased body temperature is quite brilliant.
– Joshua’s reaction to CJ and his fake-X5 martial arts show kills me. Thankfully Max casually knocks the moron out.
– How do you know things are getting bad? Max tells the transgenic to order guns. Damn.
– Exposition-dump trick #1: Have your heroine chase a freak (CJ) around a lab as he spouts of the show’s mythology. Hilarious.
– Another standout scene: Alec and Joshua getting their revenge on the gang that killed Biggs. It’s so very satisfying. Plus it’s nice to see those two together in a non-comedic subplot.
– The moment when Max discovers White is CJ’s brother and finds herself surrounded by all his men is pretty thrilling.
– Exposition-dump trick #2: Tie up your heroine as the Big Bad slowly strips her and reads the funky Minoan language on her skin. That is, until the freak realizes she’s “the one” and saves her.
– Not much action this week but Max does kick ass to take hold of the truck. She then crash-drives it out of the warehouse after CJ takes a bullet for her.
– The ending is admittedly a bit weak with CJ back in the loony bin and White more determined than ever to find Max now that he knows what she is. No badass cliffhanger?
Barbs & Barcodes
Max: What is it with these snakes? It’s like Ames White and his Familiars are following me around.
Alec: “Ames White and his Familiars.” Kinda sounds like a rock band, you know?
Max: “Huh” as in, “Strange, but I know exactly what it is, huh,” or “Huh, what the hell is going on?”
Logan: Closer to the second one. So they just popped up? You didn’t do anything – come into contact with anyone…drink anything?
Max: Yeah. I drank a bottle of something that said “Tattoos From Within.” Was that wrong?
CJ: Didja see that? The way I blurred?
CJ: Exactly. That’s ’cause I’m so fast.
Max: (to CJ) Don’t make me slap you around.
A first-rate penultimate episode that does an excellent job of setting up all the chess pieces for one heck of a killer finale.