Dark Angel

Dark Angel 2×20 – Love Among The Runes

"Poor Sandeman. One son's a loon, the other's a psychopath."
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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.

Post-Pulse Bits

– 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?

Logan: Huh…
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?
Max: No.
CJ: Exactly. That’s ’cause I’m so fast.

Max: (to CJ) Don’t make me slap you around.

Conclusion

A first-rate penultimate episode that does an excellent job of setting up all the chess pieces for one heck of a killer finale.

Nad Rating
A-

12 comments

  1. Too much happening in one ep for me! I didn't like it as much as the last few. But maybe if I see it again…

    “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”

    Like you said, there was a *lot* of new information in this ep, so I might've missed it…but was it explained how exactly CJ ended up a prisoner of the Breeding Cult? I mean, when Sandeman left the Cult, didn't he take CJ with him? Were they separated later? I'm also wondering why the Cult bothered to keep CJ (and any other prisoners) alive all this time? If they knew he “wasn't good enough” to survive the initiation…why not kill him now? Maybe White intervened to keep his brother alive, and locked up/out of the way, but there was at least one other prisoner in the cell… I dunno, the situation seemed a bit contrived to me. Like CJ only existed to deliver necessary exposition to Max and the audience. πŸ˜› And to provide a little comic relief of course..

    “CJ: Didja see that? The way I blurred?
    Max: No.
    CJ: Exactly. That's 'cause I'm so fast.”

    Hehe…CJ *was* pretty funny. I felt bad for him, getting recaptured at the end. Well, at least he's alive. Better off than most guest stars!

    “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?

    Oh you know I'm gonna agree. πŸ™‚ Biggs' death was horrifying, just on principle…but it was like, whiplash! Hi, Biggs! Bye, Biggs. Never got to know you enough to really care. The Alec/Biggs friendship got even less development than Joshua/Annie. Come to think of it, the writers were doing that sort of thing even in season one. In the same ep, introducing then killing off people who are supposedly important to the regular cast… like Herbal's friend who we saw with him for 10 seconds, and Original Cindy's girlfriend. At least we learned more of Cindy's backstory because of it…not so much, for Herbal. It becomes a bit repetitive. Reminds me of an ep of Clone High (which made fun of so many TV tropes and cliches, it was awesome) that spoofed the idea of a Very Special Episode where the “best friend” we've never met before, is killed off. Hehe.

    “Later on, she proceeds to school Sketchy on Max being “the best person he knows” and it's beyond amazing.”

    I really liked that scene too. Glad they didn't assassinate Sketchy's character and make him turn on Max & Alec. He's just a little dim, so Cindy had to guide him to the right conclusion. πŸ™‚

  2. I was hoping I could fit my response into one comment this time, but Blogger determines my destiny. πŸ™ No! I *choose* to be wordy and not concise!

    “building up Max as a sort of chosen one with 5,000 year old destiny, really adds a touch of epicness to the proceedings”

    I still prefer characters making their own destiny, to the Chosen One trope. Guess I'm in the minority there, 'cause it sure is popular on TV. Ooh, the mystery and excitement of discovering what your purpose is supposed to be! Yeah, except, it means letting someone else control you/decide your purpose in life. Ooh, the drama and inner turmoil of the Reluctant Hero finally embracing their destiny! But they usually whine a lot before they accept it, which isn't much fun to watch. (Buffy on BTVS and Clark on Smallville) I'd rather see a character embrace it right away, if they *must* have a predestined path to take. We don't see enough heroes enjoying their superpowers either. It's always so angsty and “waahh, I want a Normal Life!” I get the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing, but sometimes you just want to watch TV characters have fun and live vicariously through them, y'know?

    The mystery of deciphering the runes…I defiantly declare…who cares what they mean? All I know is, Max doesn't even get to be in control of her body and choose her own tattoos, dangit. The barcode was bad enough. Stop violating Max and treating her like an object instead of a person! I was outraged when White ripped her shirt to study the runes. Anyway, I must be contrary and obstinate, because I'd be all, “You're not telling me what to do, Sandeman! I'm not letting you Rune my life!” πŸ˜‰ I know…she's needed to save the world somehow. I wouldn't *really* want her to say “screw it, I'm not playing along!” and let us all die. πŸ˜› Still, after all of Max's efforts to escape Manticore and make her own life/friends/choices in season one, I'm sad to see her ruled by her genetic programming. :/

    “The teaser is so very bizarre, with the cult orchestrating their ritual outside a mental institution from which CJ escapes”

    See, I thought the Cult *owned* that place, and that's why they were doing the ritual right outside. Otherwise… what the hell? They're not worried about the doctors/wardens seeing their crazy ritual and putting *them* in straitjackets? πŸ˜‰ Okay, it's probably not as easy as that to declare someone insane and institutionalize them, but you know what I mean. Why weren't they worried about being seen? Why do it *there*? I'm gonna keep assuming the Breeding Cult run the looney bin, just like they own that school for their Special Children. They must have lots of money. It doesn't really make sense though 'cause I still don't know why the Cult would bother to keep CJ or anyone else alive and locked up in an asylum. What do they need him for? So maybe you're right and the Cult had no connection to the place. Let's just dance around here with snakes and hope nobody thinks we're inmates who've escaped and need to be locked back up…la la la! πŸ˜‰

    “Logan has moved into Joshua's house; that's pretty perfect.”

    Aww, he lost his old art collection, but it's okay…Logan can sell off Joshua's paintings now to pay the bills! Hope Rita's not too jealous to buy them, when she sees all the ones of Annie. πŸ˜‰

  3. I totally get your point of view on Max losing the power of choice with all this predisposed chosen one shtick (complete with tattoos and prophecy). The way you put it is actually very convincing πŸ™‚

    The cult definitely owns the hospital now that I think about it! Haha your last line about the Rita paintings and Annie killed me! I would pay to see that!

    And great catch with the show introducing new characters and killing them off since season one. How cheap! Don't they ever learn? Ugh.

    By the way I always hated Love Among The Runes. I used to feel it would ruin the flow and that it's the weakest of the final stretch. Weird how I watched it a few days ago and loved it huh? But I had the same impression the first time I watched it that you did. I guess you'll need a few more rewatches down the line to fully appreciate it πŸ™‚ You're still a bit overwhelmed with all the info dump and all! Hehe.

  4. Pretty rare to find a place on the interweb where you can discuss and disagree in a friendly way, and people are open to different points of view. I like it here. πŸ˜€ Thanks for understanding! I didn't want to be a killjoy… I'm glad to hear you weren't crazy about the ep the first time either. I'm confident it'll grow on me too. πŸ™‚ Even reading your review made me like it a bit more, reminding me of good dialogue and so on.

    About the killing off… I'm gonna try to be philosophical now and say…better this newly-introduced Redshirt should die than one of the regulars! πŸ˜‰ TV shows are a bit too kill-happy these days for my liking. On the one hand, you want them to kill off better developed characters, so there's more emotional impact (and so it's less predictable who'll die). On the other hand…if you get to know and really like those characters…you don't want them to leave the show! So I guess there's no pleasing a cranky critic like me. πŸ˜‰ Yet another new Redshirt dies in the finale, but I *am* relieved that the main characters make it. I mean, thank god they didn't kill Original Cindy for instance, which I was kind of fearing, especially with her reduced screentime this season.

  5. You know you got me thinking that maybe there is a benefit to introducing and killing characters so quickly. I used to think it was such a bad thing, but at least this way we don't get too attached hehe, and it's still effective from a plot perspective (although maybe not AS affecting). Interesting….

    If Cindy was killed off, I would have gotten violent! Still writing the finale review, it's SO challenging because there's SO MUCH I want to say. Be patient with me πŸ™‚

  6. Yeah, that would've hurt …I know we should be (and I like to be) emotionally invested in stories and characters, but I don't need TV to upset me *that* much. Life is stressful enough. πŸ˜›

    Take as long as you need to write, don't worry…I will not abandon you! I'll keep checking back, but not in an obsessive way, just in an emotionally-invested-in-a-healthy-way…way. πŸ˜‰

  7. This is what the show should've gotten a chance to be. I really liked the stuff at Terminal City and the whole transgenic network. It was very, very cool.

    The “old fashioned lynching” was truly chilling. I'm guessing the burning cross-like shape was a conscious choice…

  8. Well, that was just perfect. I'm so, so frustrated the show had to become so serialized and badass entertaining NOW, just in time for it to end πŸ™ I'm still trying to find a way to cope with the fact that there won't be anymore Dark Angel for me..

    Cindy and Sketchy's scene at the bar was EVERYTHING I EVER WANTED. In an episode full of crazy stuff like transgenics hanging upside down (what a thrilling scene that was, indeed) and CJ/White bantering and giving us all kinds of new information, this show needed a “human” subplot like Cindy and Sketchy's. Their conversation is utterly PERFECT, the way she tells him “so what if she was cooked up in a lab? She's the best person you know”. WOW. It was both extremely heartwarming and heartbreaking because the sad look on Sketchy's face says everything: shock, betrayal, and then some more shock. I even love how he found out. Cindy's “what do ya think?” was everything he needed to hear to confirm his doubts. I just loved this subplot so much.

    Not that the main subplot wasn't intriguing either. It was great too but I could've lived without the Logan/Max drama. Way too angsty indeed, Nad, and it still feels too random to be acceptable by the audience.

    I kinda liked CJ I guess and I really thought we were going to meet Sandeman in the cliffhanger. Now I'm wondering if we even get to meet him int he finale or if it's something the writers wanted to explore in season 3 (sniff).

    Okay, I'm officially prepared for the finale. YOU prepare yourself for one hell of a comment there. And obviously a few angsty words because I know in advance I'm gonna be pissed. Here we go!

  9. HHahahah I agree I love Cindy nd Sketchy and everything between them in this hour. A pity they didnt get more screen time this year because they had so much potential.

    Ahhhh I want the longest comment for the finale! Your last chance to express your Dark Angel thoughts!

    And yeah let me tell you from now, no Sandman in the finale. He was supposed to be in season three surely!

  10. CJ’s introduction at terminal city was hysterical. I am a Max/Alec fan & I don’t like the love triangle either, it just seems awkward. However, I do love Logan & Alec still being cool with each other like Asha & Max were. I also like Logan admitting to Alec that he was selfish toward Max. It’s a good thing Biggs wasn’t introduced earlier because it would’ve made his violent death even more hard to watch & I like Alec & Joshua standing up for him. All this brutal hate on the transgenics is so heartbreaking, especially since Max tried so hard to fit in & be a normal girl; that’s so similar to peer pressure. Thankfully, Max is now proud to be a transgenic, different from others & I love that about her. I think that helps people who aren’t popular or feel depressed with themselves based on appearance or because of their geeky interests in entertainment & seen as weird, or in this case, freaks, with self-acceptance & proud of who they are. Wish more shows had lead characters like this. Best part of this episode is hearing the full dark angel theme!

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