Crafting a proper series finale has to be one of the most daunting tasks in the business. No two fans can ever agree on how their favorite show should end, and trying to please them all is a downright impossible task. Dark Angel‘s series finale generated enormous backlash back in 2002, since the show was renewed on a Friday, then infamously cancelled the following Monday. It was an aggravating move by the network (thank you FOX), as the show was left standing with a colossal cliffhanger and a bunch of loose ends. But if you look closer, Freak Nation is not only a sensational hour of television, it’s a very satisfying conclusion to Max Guevara’s groundbreaking journey.
When Freak Nation’s director dropped out at the last moment, acclaimed filmmaker and Dark Angel co-creator James Cameron stepped in to helm what would end up being his baby’s final hour. The finale wastes absolutely no time dropping us right in the middle of utter chaos when Joshua and a pregnant transgenic get exposed and turn to Jam Pony for cover. It’s in this very location, that Max’s personal life and the show’s entire mythology collide in epic fashion. Cameron is a master of suspense, and his stamp is all over the 90-minute production. He brilliantly escalates the tension and builds to one hell of a riveting climax, elevating the show into a whole other level of awesomeness. It’s just a shame he didn’t intervene earlier in the season when the show was floundering between standalone hours and atrocious freaks of the week.
There aren’t many words to describe the finale’s epic 20-minute faceoff between good and evil. It’s an exhilarating achievement on a technical level — the blood-pumping music, the incredibly-staged choreography, the way the good guys slowly gain the upper hand against their attackers – the whole thing is worthy of blockbuster status. The real jewel here is Max meeting her match in the ultimate girl-fight of the series as she clashes with Thula, the Phalanx leader. Our heroine endures a major beating before finally getting empowered and using her wits to flip off a wall and chain her opponent to a pole (as the end of the Dark Angel theme rousingly kicks in).
But it’s not just Max who gets to kick ass, Joshua finally gets his vengeance on White and it’s immensely satisfying to watch him go berserk and throw the baddie around like a rag-doll. Naturally, Max stops Joshua from taking the baddie’s life because of the message that would send to the public, but it’s still gratifying. Alec on the other hand doesn’t get to kick too much ass (after getting shot and all), but his almost-defeat gives Logan his hero moment of the series as he sends a Phalanx warrior flying thanks to an exoskeleton-charged superkick. Too cool!
Interestingly enough, Normal is the perfect embodiment of Dark Angel’s central theme. Throughout the last couple of episodes, his bigotry and hate were never more apparent, but it’s here after he delivers a transgenic baby that he finally understands Max’s cause. This is showcased when he pops up on the news at the end and proclaims that transgenics are no more monstrous than the rest of us. It’s a beautiful message, and I’m grateful that the writers managed to afford Normal, a character who was often relegated to comedic relief, such a pivotal moment.
Moreover, Freak Nation‘s final sequence is just plain stunning. The reporter from the teaser returns and assesses the situation: the transgenics are barricaded inside Terminal City while the police wait outside the fence. And as the transgenics raise Joshua’s freak flag up high, Max and Logan stand side by side. Logan then utters the final line of the series “Now look at what you’ve done” – a powerful, all-encompassing statement that conveys Max’s amazing journey. Her response? She doesn’t say a word (much like Buffy in her series finale). Instead, she and Logan squeeze each other’s (gloved) hands and stare out into an uncertain future. It’s just magnificent.
Max’s final speech to the transgenics is also a thing of beauty, and Alba delivers her strongest performance ever. There’s a distinct air of confidence to Alba’s portrayal this week, (probably due to Cameron’s direction) that really befits her finally assuming the leadership role that represents her entire two-season journey. Max’s evolution is a beautiful allegory for anyone who’s ever felt different. In the end, the girl who was always “looking over her shoulder”, finally stepped up to the plate… and that’s pretty profound.
– I could never find it, but apparently when the finale originally aired on FOX, it started with Max on the Space Needle recapping the series for first-timers tuning in to check out James Cameron’s TV directorial debut. (If anyone can find the clip, please share it, as I’ve been searching for it for the longest time). Here’s the voiceover transcript which I found online:
“Here in post-Pulse Seattle, my home, my friends, and my family are under fire. See I was cooked up in a gene-splicing lab by an outfit called Manticore. They trained us to be soldiers, but really, we were slaves. Nine months ago, I torched the place and set everybody free–let them out into the world. Government’s been trying to catch us ever since. The public is afraid; we are hunted, hated, and living in fear. Thank God for Logan. Even though we can’t be together, on account of this virus Manticore put in me because they want him dead–long story, don’t ask–he’s still there for me, and he’s helping me figure out what this black-ops government guy in charge of hunting me down is really up to. Turns out he’s part of some weird ancient cult dealio–several thousand years of selective breeding, so they got some pretty nasty tricks up their sleeves. For some reason, they want me dead in a big way, and I’ve got a bad feeling they’re not going to give up until they get what they want.”
– The teaser is one of my absolute favorites with a gorgeous leather-attired Max pulling up in front of a group of thugs, throwing a zinger, and crashing through the gang’s flaming X before landing in Terminal City. Cameron’s touch is all over this sequence with a Terminator-esque panning shot starting with Max’s leg to those kickass shades. And it’s really the hottest Alba has ever looked.
– Lovely moment with Joshua explaining the symbolic meaning behind the flag he painted. It’s so very poignant.
– The introduction of Thula and the Phalanx – the cult’s “elite warrior breeding line” – is exciting setup for the finale. I just wish Lita (who plays Thula) was a better actress. She’s sort of cringeworthy to watch.
– Logan slowly undressing Max and inspecting the ruins on her body as she she reacts to every touch is a surprisingly erotic scene. Sadly, it’s the closest these two ever got to actual sexual contact (since the season one finale dream doesn’t really count).
– Max has a new catsuit this week. It’s different than the iconic from season one, but it’s still gorgeously befitting of her.
– Joshua says FUBAR, which White previously mentioned in Dawg Day Afternoon.
– Love the moment with Max sliding her bike, then driving off with purpose. “Go for Max”. Wow.
– Chilling moment with Joshua and company entering Jam Pony in slow-motion as Normal watches on, completely horrified.
– Alec’s best moment: saving his own kind and disarming Normal (who idolized him). His move is similar to Max disarming Normal in She Ain’t Heavy.
– Watching Max ride the hoverdrone and crash it into Jam Pony feels like a bonafide full-circle moment for the show. It’s an empowering and symbolic moment for the character as she’s been avoiding these pesky devices since the pilot. She doesn’t just impose her power over it in the finale, she surfs it! Sadly, the CGI is somewhat cheap as you can see Jessica’s face pasted on the stunt double’s in some shots. Still it doesn’t take away from an awesome development. “Who ordered a pizza?” I’ll have a few.
– Cindy once again steps up this week in defense of her friends when the Jam Pony crew begin judging her. I particularly love her offering herself up as a human shield during the hostage crisis.
– When Logan sees the hoverdrone footage on TV, he immediately put on the exoskeleton and jumps right into action. Later on, he literally jumps to save Max during the hostage situation. Why wasn’t Mr. Eyes Only more involved in the action throughout the show’s run?
– It’s worth noting that Freak Nation sees the introduction of Detective Clemente, a sarcastic yet determined detective who was surely going to be an integral part of the show going forward. His dynamic with Max is immediately absorbing, as a mutual respect is born between them, and he commends her efforts to reach a peaceful resolution. I particularly love the way he handles White and his “lady friend” (Otto).
– I kind of want to try Thula’s funky pull-up training trick. She’s a tough mama ain’t she?
– The various news clips showcasing various anti-transgenic rants really ratchet up the tension. The old lady is particular is horrifying as she states that transgenics are worse than animals and they “don’t have souls.” It’s also heartbreaking to watch Joshua protectively hold Max as they watch.
– White pulls off a devious move as he foils the peaceful negotiations between Max and Clemente to escalate the situation. This leads to the death of an X5 called Cece. Much like Annie and Biggs, we didn’t get to know her previously, thus lessening the impact when she dies in Max’s arms.
– Max and Mole butt heads quite a few times throughout the episode. I imagine their dynamic would have been a huge part of season three (with Joshua being torn in the middle).
– There’s one really bad line in this episode (it might be the worst of the entire show’s run). “The thing about freedom is, it’s never free.” Really Logan? Oy.
– Normal’s dad was a diary farmer. Ha, why am I not surprised?
– One of the show’s most marvelous moments ever: the slow-motion buildup as Max watches Logan and Mole argue about her being the chosen one while their voices begin to drown out. Then she has an epiphany and there’s that spectacular dolly zoom as everything goes quiet and she utters the prophetic line: “They’re coming”. Mega chills.
– After Max communicates with her team via sign language, there’s a great twist with them landing from above onto the Phalanx and starting the fight.
– For the last time ever, I’ll compliment Alba yet again: I love how drop dead gorgeous she looks with the moonlight shining through Jam Pony as she rips the helmet off Thula. I think I still have a crush on her because of this episode.
– Max’s “Just Bring It” line is The Rock’s catchphrase, a subtle nod to Lita’s WWE affiliation. Alba’s delivery of this zinger (coupled with that glare) is spot-on.
– Interesting note: WWE wrestler Lita (who plays Thula) broke her neck during filming when Alba’s stunt double dropped her on her neck. She had a terrible experience (I read her biography) as the crew were very careless with her.
– Lita performs a number of her signature WWE movies throughout the fight including the hurricanrana and the moonsault.
– How many glass panes are there in Jam Pony? I can’t deny that seeing so many people get thrown through them really emphasizes the final battle’s collateral damage.
– I adore Max flicking White on the nose after uttering “Fenos tol bitch” – a line we’ve been hearing the Familiars babble on for at least half a season. Too perfect.
– Gem’s shining moment: punching the Phalanx out in the midst of giving birth. Plus, we discover her baby has no barcode, which as Max points out… makes her “free”.
– Brilliant resolution with Max faking capture as the non-transgenics pretend to be Phalanx agents (even Sketchy), and Clemente hilariously finds White and the gang in their underwear.
– Max is such a badass when she refuses to get down on her knees at the end. It’s here we realize that bringing Clemente and the police to Terminal City was part of her plan, as the transgenics surround them (much like what happened in She Ain’t Heavy).
– I love that Max gives her final speech not just in front of transgenics, but in front of Logan and Cindy – two ordinary people who proudly watch her step into this role, and who join in raising their fists in unity (with that goosebump-inducing score). Gives me chills every time.
– Logan and Max never mention the Alec debacle, and while it feels like a grave loose end, maybe the show is better for it.
Barbs & Barcodes
Max: Ever notice how drug dealers have no sense of humor when it comes to money?
Logan: (putting on gloves) Basic CDC procedure.
Max: Yeah, to protect you against your biohazard girlfriend.
Logan: If Sandeman put these in your genome from day one, like your barcode, then it’s part of a plan.
Max: Yeah, well, instead of turning my skin into a JumboTron, why didn’t he give me something I could use, like X-ray vision or something?
Mole: (to Joshua) We don’t run, we fall back.
Normal: Okay, you’re safe now.
Alec: No…(he disarms him) …I’m safe now.
Normal: My golden boy’s a mutant.
Alec: We prefer “genetically empowered.”
Normal: Take me, Jesus.
Mole: Careful what you wish for.
Max: What’s that?
Alec: It’s a hole in my body made by a bullet.
Max: Been there, done that. Check the news.
Sketchy: Hey, Max. I was hoping you might possibly be interested in having me interview you about your life as a hot transgenic female on the run in post-Pulse America?
Cindy: Please tell me that he is not the baby daddy.
Gem: He was another X-5. We were breeding partners.
Cindy: That sounds real romantic.
White: Look at them. When we carry her out in a body bag, they’ll be clapping and cheering. They’ll never know that she was their only hope.
Max: Wait for my signal. We hit hard, we hit fast, and we don’t back off. This is for all the marbles, people.
Max: Bring around your muscle queens anytime. I’ll be happy to kick their ass.
White: We are not finished.
Max: Fe’nos tol, bitch. (She flicks him on the nose)
Clemente: I think you better get down on the ground.
Max: Actually, I think you should probably go.
Clemente: I’m not gonna tell you again.
Max: I’m not gonna tell YOU again. (The transgenics surround him)
Max: Where are we gonna go? I can’t stop anyone from leaving, but I’m through running and hiding and being afraid. I’m not gonna live my life like that anymore. Aren’t you tired of living in darkness? Don’t you want to feel the sun on your face? To have a place of your own where you can walk down the street without being afraid? They made us, and they trained us to be soldiers, to defend this country. It’s time for them to face us and take responsibility, instead of trying to sweep us away like garbage. We were made in America and we’re not going anywhere. So they call us freaks; who cares? Today I’m proud to be a freak. And today we’re gonna make a stand, right here. Who’s with me?
(Max raises her fist into the air. Everyone does the same).
Reporter: So you’re saying they’re not all monsters, then?
Normal: Monsters? No. No more than you and me.
In the season two DVD commentary, writers/producers Moira Dekker and Chris Eglee revealed Dark Angel‘s mythology along with their plans for season three. Here is the transcription:
Many thousands of years ago, a comet passed closely through the atmosphere of the Earth, and deposited viral material that killed 97% of the human race. Some people survived thanks to a genetic predisposition, some kind of antibody or immunity. The great pyramids in Egypt were actually genetic repositories, preserving the DNA of the survivors. This cult was an ancient blood cult that passed on this genetic immunity to selective members to keep this antibody against the return of the comet (which was set to happen in Season 3) so that they’d survive for being genetically select. Everybody else on the planet would perish and the members of the cult would be there to rebuild civilization, and thus inherit the earth.
Sandeman, Max’s creator, was a man who jumped from this cult to implement this immunity genetic technology into the rest of human society through Manticore. He believed that everybody deserved the cure. The other cult members deemed Sandeman a heretic and a threat, undermining their goals of rebuilding humanity in their own image.
Max was going to be the savior of the human race. Sandeman finally found out how to give this genetic immunity to everyone through Max. There were multiple ideas of how to spread Max’s immunity to humanity, including: an air burst that would spread the antibody and disperse through the human race, saving everyone from the comet, or the immunity would be attached to the virus spread through the common cold (for example Original Cindy sneezing would be part of the beginning of the immunity spread).
The irony is that transgenics would save the human race even though they were hated by them. The alternate irony is that no one was even going to know that it happened (if Cindy sneezed and spread the immunity for example). Other developments in season three? Logan’s body would start rejecting Joshua’s transfusion, the virus would be cured, and Sandeman would be found.
When Dark Angel first got cancelled in 2002, I was heartbroken. Truth be told, FOX’s moronic decision still makes me bitter to this very day. However, something interesting has happened; I don’t feel like Dark Angel is an unfinished story anymore. Sure the show could have gone on for quite a while plot-wise (the transgenic-human war is a premise that could have been mined for seasons), but Max’s journey IS complete. In the pilot, we were introduced to a girl who could care less about the status quo of a dystopic world; she was on the run, and she was hellbent on hiding who she really was. But by the end of the finale, she’s at the forefront of a transgenic revolution, having established a freak nation right in the heart of Seattle. Her journey is monumental. So yes, it does take the sting out of an unjust cancellation, because fans can find solace in the notion that Max’s character arc did come to a close. She wasn’t going to just save the world from a “biblical” apocalypse, she was going to bring real change to a broken world as she finally accepted her destiny as a leader.
Yes Dark Angel ended too soon; there’s no way around that. But Freak Nation rectified a messy season, and still managed to come out on top with a bold and thrilling series finale that few shows can rival, and which works as a thematic bookend to the series. Thank you Cameron, Alba, and the entire cast and crew for creating one of my most favorite things in the world. I have no doubt that I’ll continue to revisit this breathtaking world for a long time to come.