Show Reviews

Retro Review: “Dark Angel”

Before I go into this series review, I’d like to take a second to get one thing off my chest, and it’s directed at you, James Cameron. As a Creative Writing major, I envy your creative mind. I don’t know how you do it, but I want your talent.

Now that I have your attention....

Engineered to raise hell…

The concept for Dark Angel came about after Cameron’s failed attempt to make a film adaption of Spider-Man. After a number of backstabs from Columbia (which resulted in the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire treatment of the comic book character), Cameron turned his sights to television. Together with co-creator and co-producer Charles H. Eglee, they created Dark Angel–a biopunk/cyberpunk science fiction series which Cameron described as bringing the tough, female warrior back to TV screens. The character of Max was inspired from characters such as Sarah Connor from Cameron’s Terminator films and Ellen Ripley from Aliens.

Promoted as James Cameron’s next big project since Titanic, Dark Angel premiered on Tuesday, October 3, 2000, at 9:00 PM on FOX . The show was an instant success, with its first season averaging 10 million viewers. It had an audience and the perfect time slot, so it would seem reasonable the show would thrive for a long while.

Apparently the executives at FOX didn’t get that memo.

For the show’s second season, FOX decided to move Dark Angel to Friday nights as a lead in for their new show, Pasadena, in efforts to buck the curse of the Friday night death slot. FOX also shifted Dark Angel to the 8:00 time slot and the second season premiered on Friday, September 28, 2001. This proved to be an unwise decision. In typical FOX fashion, they took another show from a winning time slot and moved it to another night, resulting in Dark Angel losing many of its viewers from the previous season. When Pasadena was canned, FOX moved Dark Angel back into its 9:00 time slot, still on Fridays, in an effort to salvage the ratings, but this proved unsuccessful. The total season average of viewers dropped from 10 million in Season 1 to about 6 million, with the 18-49 demographic dropping from 7 to somewhere between the 3-4 range. With the show on the cancellation bubble, James Cameron stepped in to co-write and direct the Season 2 finale, “Freak Nation.” Despite the episode written as a series finale, it also doubled as a potential spark for FOX to renew the show for a third season, and this was reflected in the episode’s explosive and optimistic end. After “Freak Nation” aired, FOX informed the producers that they were cancelling the show in favor of Joss Whedon’s Firefly (and we all know what happened to that series).

Now that the background of the show has been addressed, let’s shift this review by looking into the history of the show. This review will overview of both seasons, addressing what I think worked and what didn’t work, the best and worst episodes, and my overall rating for the show.

WARNING: this review may contain spoilers.

Series Overview: Set in Seattle, Washington in the year 2019, the show introduces X5-452, a.k.a. Max Guevara (Jessica Alba), a genetically engineered girl created by a secret  U.S. government organization called Manticore where she and 11 other individuals were created in the early 2000’s to become soldiers and assassins. In an effort to create the perfect soldier, Manticore uses gene splicing technology to combine human DNA with feline DNA, resulting in the X5’s having enhanced strength, speed, quick reflexes, high stamina, enhanced vision such as telescopic vision and the ability to see at night, enhanced agility, durability, enhanced immune systems, and regenerative healing.

After years of brutal training, torture and brainwashing, the X5’s dream of attempting some kind of normal life outside of Manticore. That dream starts to become a reality when one of their own, an X5 named Jack, dies from a seizure due to a genetic defect in the X5’s DNA. Soon afterward, Max begins to suffer similar seizures as Jack. Fearing of what Manticore would do to Max, Zack, the C.O. of her unit, declares to the rest of the X5s that they would begin planning to escape. They are successful but their victory does not last long as the world around them changes. Four months after their escape, a group of terrorists detonate an EMP weapon into the atmosphere above the United States. This event, referred to as “The Pulse,” destroys the vast majority of America’s computer and communication systems, throwing the country into chaos. One of largest effects of the Pulse was bankruptcy, as the majority of America’s banks used computers to monitor transactions. When the Pulse hit, all the data was wiped clean and many individuals were thrown into poverty, turning the United States into a third-world country.

Dark Angel: Season One

Dark Angel: Season One

Ten years after the escape of the Manticore X5s and the effects of the Pulse, the show jumps its main time setting of 2019. Max has made an attempt at a normal life, working as a bike messenger for a courier company called Jam Pony under her neurotic, right-winged and highly opinionated boss/dispatcher Regan “Normal” Ronald (J.C. MacKenzie) and alongside her friends Original Cindy (Valarie Rae Miller), Calvin “Sketchy” Theodore (Richard Gunn), and Herbal Thought (Alimi Ballard). Aside from trying to live something of a normal life and evading being re-captured by Manticore, Max moonlights as a cat burglar, scouting out potential items on her deliveries to steal and fund money in her search to locate her other 11 “brothers and sisters” that escaped from Manticore.

During one of her burglaries, she crosses paths with Logan Cale (Michael Weatherly), who catches her in the act of burglarizing his apartment before making her escape. After their encounter, Logan tracks down and contacts Max with hopes to recruit her to his cause. Max then discovers that Logan is “Eyes Only,” a renegade cyber journalist that gathers information to help put an end to corruption in Seattle, hacking TV broadcasts with messages about the wrong doings of the government. Logan requests her assistance in a case he’s working on, but Max wants nothing to do with Logan and rejects his plea, even as he offers his own contacts to try and find info on her lost Manticore siblings. Shortly afterward, Logan gets shot working on the case he attempted to recruit Max for. Feeling guilty that she caused Logan’s lower body paralysis, they strike a deal:  Max secretly works assignments for Eyes Only and Logan agrees to help her track down her fellow X5 escapees.

The main themes of the first season largely consists of cat and mouse games between Max and Manticore, led by Colonel Donald Lydecker (John Savage), the man who trained the X5s and has spent the last 10 years tracking them down to re-capture them. The first season also slowly develops the attraction between Max and Logan, and periodically introduces the other X5 escapees. Season One was a big success for FOX and the season finale aired on May 22, 2001, ending with an intense cliffhanger that would not be resolved until the Season 2 premiere.

Dark Angel: Season Two

Dark Angel: Season Two

The second season premiered on September 28, 2001. In addition to the day and time change, Season 2 featured a drastic shake up, seeing the departures of Herbal, Lydecker, and Kendra (Jennifer Blanc), Max’s roommate early in Season 1, and a complete shift in the tone of the show. Picking up three months after the events of the Season 1 finale, Max has been re-captured by Manticore and plots her escape. When she breaks out, she re-unites with Logan and the two expose Manticore via Eyes Only. But Manticore has one last trick up its sleeve: prior to her breakout, and via torture techniques, they infect her with a genetic DNA virus targeted to kill Logan. She goes back to Manticore to obtain the cure, only to discover the shady government organization is attempting to destroy all evidence of their base, including the other Transgenics within. Facing a moral dilemma, Max releases all the Transgenics within the base. This causes a problem because not all Transgenics have a pure human appearance; some are mutated anomalies as a result of different animal mixes and experimental humans with advanced powers such as memory manipulation. As a result of her actions, two of the escaped Transgenics join the main cast, including fellow X5 Alec McDowell (Jensen Ackles) and Joshua (Kevin Durand), a human-canine experiment with a dog-like face and canine like habits.

The drama unfolds throughout the course of the second season as Max and Logan attempt to find a cure in order to be together after their best chance at curing the virus goes down in ashes with the entire Manticore facility. The majority of the season also focuses on the Transgenics that Max released into the world, constantly risking exposure to herself and her fellow Transgenics from a society that radically judges people for being different.

To make matters worse, a government agent named Ames White (Martin Cummins) is assigned to eliminate the escaped Transgenics and cover up all traces of Manticore. At first White is another threat to Max, much like Lydecker in the first season, but as the show progresses, White’s role evolves into a more menacing presence as he is a part of a sinister cult called the Conclave. Similar to the Illuminati, the Conclave is a long standing breeding cult whose objective is to rule the world through genetic breeding, creating the most superior human beings. The members of the cult, known as the Familiars, possess superior strength and endurance, and have eliminated most, if not all, sensations of pain. In essence, they are like the X5 soldiers, only they achieved their phenomenal skills through selective breeding rather than genetic engineering, including some Familiars who are able to perform supernatural feats such as telekinesis. Throughout the second season, it’s gradually revealed that there’s a connection between Manticore’s and the breeding cult, including the revelation hinted throughout that something in Max’s DNA is a threat to the Conclave, placing Max in the crosshairs of a much more dangerous foe.

Unfortunately, the revelation of what Max’s role was in taking down the Conclave was never revealed as the show aired its final episode on May 3, 2002. According to co-creator and executive producer Charles H. Eglee, had the show continued for a third season, her destiny would have been revealed. Season 3 would also have tied together the themes from Seasons 1 and 2 to reveal why Max was created differently from the other Transgenics, as well as the true agenda of the Conclave.

While many story threads were never resolved on screen, the answers for the hardcore fans of the show were resolved through a series of novels. Author Max Allan Collins wrote a trilogy of Dark Angel books consisting of a prequel to the series and two follow-up novels that take place after the series finale.

Jessica Alba as Max Guevara

Jessica Alba as Max Guevara

Favorite Character: Max Guevara.

This was a tough decision, but in the end, I had to choose Max. Some readers may consider this a cop out, but as much as I wanted to choose Logan Cale, it was really hard not to choose Max as the best character in the show. Jessica Alba was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama Series during the show’s first season, and this was the role that made her mark in Hollywood. She made such an impact in the role, that the August 2004 issue of TV Guide listed Max at #17 of the “25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends.” If that still doesn’t convince you that she’s the best character, then I suggest getting a psychological evaluation.

Many critics and movie viewers dismiss Alba for her roles in moderately good to bad movies such as the Fantastic Four films, Sin City, Good Luck Chuck, Awake, The Eye, and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World. All I can say is just to watch her in Dark Angel. As mentioned before, James Cameron said that Dark Angel would bring the tough, female warrior back to TV screens, and he was dead on in that assessment. Max was a unique, strong character that fascinated me from the beginning, and she’s more than just a hot number dressed in tight leather; she’s a strong, individual character, and she does not completely fit the ‘hero’ role. Even though she’s genetically engineered to be perfect, Max is far from perfect, and that’s not because of her design flaws such as her seizures and falling into heat. Aside from a barcode tattoo and physically enhanced genetics, she’s as flawed as a normal human being. She’s a closed individual that slowly opens herself to others throughout the show, and in the process undergoes personal growth from a loner to leader of the Transgenics.

It’s hard to argue against it, but Jessica Alba shines in Dark Angel. It slays me that her acting talent has been wasted in moderate to badly written films, however I seem to be in the minority that didn’t mind her as Susan Storm/Invisible Woman in the Fantastic Four films. I would love to see her get back into the ass kicking, strong female lead once again, but ultimately it’s up to her on what she decides she wants to do with her acting career.

Honorable Mention (tie):

This was a difficult choice but ultimately I could not choose one character over the other. Because of this, I chose these two characters for the honorable mention category.

Michael Weatherly as Logan Cale

Michael Weatherly as Logan Cale

Honorable Mention #1: Logan Cale.

The character of Logan is about as complicated as Max, and can be considered to be the Batman of cyberspace. Michael Weatherly played his part very well; he’s fighting a war for justice in a world that has become corrupt and his hope is to inspire others to join the cause. But in the twisted post-Pulse world, that task is difficult to achieve. For someone without enhanced abilities and hindered at times by his paralysis, he is a strong character that’s willing to go to the extreme to make sure that Max is protected. For instance, his shining moment comes in the Season 1 episode “Haven,” which finds Max and Logan seeking an Eyes Only informant in a small town called Cape Haven. Max and Logan stumble upon a group of menacing men with a terrible secret that sets up a climatic shootout at Max & Logan’s cabin. Max is out of commission due to her seizure problem, forcing Logan, still in his wheelchair, to attempt to fend off the attack. It was a major step for his character, showing that even with a crippling disability, he’s able to step to the plate and defend not only himself, but Max as well.

Throughout the series, I found all the majority of scenes with Logan and Max to brilliant and the chemistry between them was clearly visible. Alba and Weatherly were fantastic working together, and what impressed me the most was how both actors at times could say a line of dialog in near perfect synchronization.

Jensen Ackles as Alec McDowell

Jensen Ackles as Alec McDowell

Honorable Mention #2: Alec McDowell.

Arguably, this was the role that broke Jensen Ackles out into the spotlight, a few years before his brief stop on Smallville and his eventual starring role in Supernatural. Known only as X5-494 at Manticore, Max later names Jensen’s character Alec (short for ‘smart alec’), and the name fits his personality well.  Alec was a bright spot during the show’s second season, bringing sarcasm, cockiness, charm, and subtle humor to the show through its dramatic and dark moments. Alec and Max have a love/hate relationship with each other and it shows in the early part of Season 2. Originally conceived as a romantic interest and a rival to Logan, Alec’s relationship with Max became more of a love/hate sibling relationship, and both learn to be more open minded and appreciative of the other throughout the season.  His relationship with Joshua, the transgenic “dog-man,” was another bright spot in the show’s second season. Originally, Alec would use Joshua to his money making schemes, such as having Joshua doing his messenger job at Jam Pony or taking Joshua’s paintings and selling them to art dealers. However, as the season progressed, Joshua and Alec began to bond, eventually becoming best friends and spending more time hanging out with each other, (but he still manages to convince Joshua to do some of his dirty work).

Ackles’ best performance as Alec came in the Season 2 episode called “The Berrisford Agenda,” where Alec is haunted, in flashbacks, by an undercover mission that went wrong and resulted in the loss of his first love. His performance stands out the most, as for the first time we see how vulnerable the cocky and overconfident X5 can be, even when on a mission for the government organization he serves.

After watching Ackles in Dark Angel, I can understand why he is a likable actor. I have a greater respect for him and the next time I watch the 4th Season of Smallville, I’ll be more appreciative of his portrayal as Jason Teague. However, just because I respect Jensen doesn’t mean I plan to watch Supernatural anytime soon.

Least Favorite Character: Ashley Scott as Asha Barlow.

Some readers are probably thinking “Wait, who’s that? Why wasn’t she mentioned before?”

Well, the character of Asha Barlow appeared in the Season 2 premiere as a member of a movement called the S1W Resistance. The S1W aspires for justice and because of this, they are allied with Eyes Only’s vast movement. One would have assumed that Asha would be the human version of Max, kicking ass and pulling off various tasks to match the goal of their movement. Unfortunately, Asha serves only one purpose in the show: romantic competition for Max in regards to Logan. Asha clearly has an attraction to Logan, which he brushes off as he is in love with Max. Her only purpose on the show was to spark drama between the characters and create a rift between Max and Logan, which had already been damaged by the virus Manticore put into Max that could kill Logan simply by touching him.

Other than an added drama element, Asha was a worthless character. Even in the few episodes where they tried to make her character matter, she contributed nothing significant that affected the other main characters. It felt like the writers just threw her in for the drama element without any careful planning of how to develop her character. Even Kendra, with her brief time in the first season as the airheaded roommate of Max, stood out more with her presence than Asha. When a ditzy roommate that lasts only half a season has more impact than Asha, then you realize how one dimensional her character is. Her presence in the show wasn’t enough to make me care about what happened to her, and I did not miss her absence toward the end of Season 2.

I should also point out that from the two books that take place after the series feature the return of Asha and her presence is about the same as it was in the show.

Don't piss Max off.

Don’t piss Max off.

The Good: One of the appeals of the show was how much action was involved. Max got into a lot of physical fights, and for the most part she kicked the other person’s ass 9 times out of 10 (I’m exaggerating the number, but she did kick a lot of ass). The show, especially throughout the first season, has exciting moments that take you along for a wild ride, and when a television show can successfully pull that off, then you know the program is worth watching. Season 1 had a lot of those moments, especially early on with Max narrowly evading capture by Lydecker and his minions from Manticore. Season 2 also had some of the suspense and mystery of Season 1, but the way it was executed in Season 1 much more impressive.

As much as I loved the series as a whole, I found myself more partial to Season 1. Each episode in that season felt like the writers took their time and thought out what was going to happen next. Off the top of my head, the episodes “Heat” and “Flushed” are prime examples of making suspense, humor, and action work without interrupting the pacing of the story.

There also was subtle humor throughout the course of the show, and both the writers and the actors pulled it off. I won’t say much about specific examples of humor but if you watch the episode “Heat,” you’ll see what I mean, especially with a one-time character named Eric. For the most part, and the humor didn’t feel forced, leaving me with a grin on my face several times throughout an episode.

The entire concept of the post-Pulse world was intriguing, and I give credit to Cameron and Eglee for coming up with the idea of a future society that’s not like Star Trek. In fact, the environment they created for a post-Pulse Seattle (which is even cooler for me being from Washington state) reminded me of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner with the dark, dirty streets packed with people just trying to make it day by day without the super advanced technology of flying cars and high tech computers. Despite the lack of flying vehicles, there is the use of hover drones, but they’re more just like slow moving surveillance drones rather than manned vehicles. Even though the future is a bit dated with the use of older cell phones and early 2000’s hip hop and R&B music, the Pulse essentially made our civilization go backwards, so the use of older technology is still plausible viewing it in 2013 as opposed to its original airing in 2000.

Although some of the special effects and fighting scenes are somewhat dated by today’s standards, it still makes for good quality entertainment, even for early 2000’s TV, and some of the special effects still hold up today. Even when 2019 comes around and Cameron’s depiction of the future in this medium will be an outdated idea, it’s still an excellent show to watch.

The Bad: Expanding the Transgenics to have more ‘freaks’ was really campy and odd at times, and it took away what the first season had built up. It’s understandable that some early experiments were rejected in order to create the perfect soldiers such as Max and Alec, but having lizard men, memory manipulating Transgenics, and bizarre mutant creatures was a stretch at times. There were moments where I wondered what the writers were thinking by shifting the show for the second season, but for the most part I remained impressed and entertained with the series.

There was an episode in Season 2 where Zack, the former C.O. of Max’s unit who is presumed dead at the end of Season 1, returns with some robotic upgrades that replaced damaged body parts that Manticore harvested for use in injured X5s. One of these upgrades was Zack’s left eye; in place of the missing eye was a metallic plate and a large, mechanical red eye that made Zack look like Dark Angel’s version of the Terminator when Arnold Schwarzenegger got half his face blasted off. Whether this was a tribute to Cameron’s Terminator films or if it’s purely coincidental, it felt cheesy and unnecessary.

There were also some continuity issues, specifically in the episode “The Berrisford Agenda.” It was the 11th episode of Season 2, and the seasonal setting appeared to be fall, as evidenced by a guest character’s death being depicted as in October 2020. However, this screws the show’s timeline up as the Halloween episode aired as the 5th episode of the season. One could assume that the episodes were just aired out of order, but it wouldn’t make sense as Logan changes his glasses and hairstyle early in Season 2 before going back to his original glasses and getting a haircut by this episode. This was most likely a goof by the writers or this was intended to be aired earlier in the season but they shifted it to take place in early 2021 and forgot to change the date. Despite being a good episode, the continuity errors drove me nuts.

Max’s ‘defects’ such as falling into heat and having seizures due to her brain not producing enough serotonin was never brought up in the second season of the series. It’s reasonable to assume that during her imprisonment at Manticore between Seasons 1 and 2 that the scientists modified her genetics to correct these problems, but I felt it would have made for some potentially great subplots in Season 2. This isn’t a bad choice, but I consider it to be a missed opportunity.

"Now look what you've done." - Logan Cale; "Freak Nation"

“Now look what you’ve done.” – Logan Cale; “Freak Nation”

Best Episode: “Freak Nation” (2×21)

This was tough. As much as I’ve been critical of Season 2 and more favorable of Season 1, I had a hard time trying to come up with a ‘best episode.’ After much deliberation, I had to choose “Freak Nation” as the best episode of the series. It left such a big impression on me after I watched it. I loved the Pilot and I loved the majority of Season 1, but “Freak Nation” was a well constructed episode that blew me away. It had the right amount of suspense, action, and uncertainty that kept you wondering what was going to happen next.

“Freak Nation” ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger, and it made me feel like I got off a wild roller coaster ride. It kept you glued in from the start and ended with a bang to set up for an intense 3rd Season that would never happen. The finale was brilliant and it left me hungry to watch more despite knowing that it was the end.

Although this isn’t an episode a person with limited knowledge of the show should just jump into, I can say that it pays off after watching the entire series. It was one of the best series finales I’ve seen in a long time, and I wish more shows would end with a bang (but without the gut wrenching cliffhangers).

Worst Episode:  “Boo” (2×05)

When I was drawing up the review in my head, I was midway through Season 1 and had a difficult time coming up with what episode to put in this category. I assumed that if there was a bad episode, it would be an episode that wasn’t written very well and not terrible. When I entered Season 2, the first four episodes were good but nothing worthy of making this list.

Then I watched “Boo.”

From the episode descriptions I read on the Internet, it sounded like an interesting episode. It takes place on Halloween and the Transgenics are able to freely move about Seattle without risking exposure since the regular human beings would assume that the Transgenics are just wearing really good costumes. The episode fits the description, but turned out to be drastically different. Instead, the episode shows a night when Max tries to have a normal night out and comes across a deadly assassin that Logan has been trying to track down. In pursuit of the assassin, the killer becomes decapitated–and lives. It turns out the assassin is a Transgenic who was infused with DNA of a starfish. While the headless body runs about the Seattle streets intent on carrying out the mission, Max and Joshua are left with a severed talking head. They then encounter two more Transgenics: a woman with rather feline characteristics in not only appearance but in behavior, and a lizard-like man hiding beneath a retro Seattle Seahawks helmet who ends up tagging along to track down the headless transgenic.

Yeah... No.

Yeah… no. Just…no.

“Boo” as a whole was terribly executed. One of Dark Angel’s strengths was the use of subtle humor that didn’t sound or feel forced. This episode was filled with more humor than usual, but it wasn’t the creative humor that won me over; the humor in this episode was forced and sloppy. The jokes in this episode ranged from the decapitated body getting kicked in the groin to Max taking the severed head into the bathroom, shoving it into a toilet and giving the decapitated assassin a swirly to get information out of him. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, there was a moment where Logan is supposed to be looking for information about where the assassin’s target is located. Logan exclaims, “Bingo!” and Max rushes to his computer asking what information he got. It turns out he didn’t get the information–he literally won an online game of Bingo. This was where I had the sense I was watching some kind of a Three Stooges short than an episode of Dark Angel. None of the characters acted like themselves, including Max, who constantly comes up with pathetic excuses to the person she was going to spend Halloween with, including why the Transgenics in their company act so strange. Normally, Max would come up with a better, more thought out excuse and stick to it, however in this episode, she’s so disorganized and not careful in public that she risks her own exposure.  And to add more salt to the wound, it is revealed at the end of the episode that the majority of the events never happened; they were all a part of a weird dream that Max had while laying in a bath.

When the episode ended, I stared at the screen for a few moments and said aloud to myself, “What the hell did I just watch?”

I have no idea what the writers were smoking when they came up with this episode. Moira Kirland Dekker was one of the main writers who had written some good episodes in Season 1 and even wrote the Season 2 premiere.  She wrote this particular episode alongside the show’s co-creator/co-executive producer, Charles H. Eglee. What surprised me was that Eglee had written six episodes in Season 1 that were very well done, even superior to Dekker’s, and yet they came up with this garbage. The episode stands out from the rest of the series and not in a good way.

Now,  it stands to be said that there may be people who argue that all shows need an episode to be drastically different from the norm. There’s nothing wrong with different, but I feel if the writers wanted to have a more humorous episode, they could have executed it better.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • Jessica Alba and Michael Weatherly were dating and became engaged at some point during the show. They broke up in 2003 without much of an explanation, but with the knowledge that they were dating during the show’s run, I felt the authenticity with their characters’ romantic feelings towards each other.
  • The show was set in Seattle, Washington, but was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia.
  • Jensen Ackles guest starred in Season 1 as one of the original X5 escapees named Ben. Ackles would become a regular in Season 2 and portray Alec, who was Ben’s genetic twin.
  • Jessica Alba’s brother, Joshua Alba, would portray another X5 escapee named Krit in the Season 1 finale “…And Jesus Brought a Casserole.”
  • Ashley Scott would return to television in the fall of 2002, portraying Helena Kyle/Huntress in the WB series Birds of Prey. Presumably, her casting was what led to the absence of her character, Asha, in the latter part of Season 2.
  • Several actors in Dark Angel would play important roles on Smallville, which was also filmed around the Vancouver area. While there were various guest stars seen on Smallville, the most notable actors included Jensen Ackles, Martin Cummins, Sarah Carter, and Sam Witwer, all of whom had series regular or guest roles on Dark Angel. Ackles would eventually star as Jason Teague throughout the show’s fourth season, while Cummins would portray the evil Dr. Lawrence Garner in Season 3. Sarah Carter, guest starring as an early feline transgenic experiment, would later be cast as fan favorite Alicia Baker, the teleporting girl in Seasons 3 and 4. And finally, there’s Sam Witwer, who guest starred as a transgenic whose purpose was an organic blood bank for other Transgenics, starred as Davis Bloome/Doomsday in Season 8. It’s also worth noting that the child actor who portrayed Clark Kent at 3 years old in a few early Smallville episodes was a guest star as a human/X5 hybrid child in Season 1. I enjoyed seeing these guest stars get their start on Dark Angel and playing different characters than the ones I became familiar with in Smallville.
  • Author Max Allan Collins wrote a trilogy of Dark Angel novels, consisting of a prequel and two ‘sequels’ to “Freak Nation” was released between 2002 and 2003. The novels are Before the Dawn, Skin Game, and After the Dark, and are still in print. Before the Dawn is a prequel to the series, depicting Max’s life between her escape from Manticore in 2009 and the circumstances leading to her arrival in Seattle in 2019. Skin Game takes place immediately after “Freak Nation,” and is followed up by After the Dark, which takes place six months after the second novel. These novels tie up the loose ends brought up in the show’s 2nd Season, such as if Max’s virus is cured, the fate of the Transgenics, and the intent of the breeding cult.

Bottom Line:  “An innovative series that ended too soon.” – Max Allan Collins, author.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I wasn’t sure of how exactly I’d feel about the series when I started watching it, but after I finished the Pilot episode, I was thoroughly impressed. After I watched the second episode, I knew I was hooked.  It was a brilliant show to watch, and every evening I looked forward to watching an episode or two before I went to bed. After I finished watching the series, it left me feeling as though my evenings were lacking something because I no longer had something to look forward to. Reading the novels help, but it doesn’t completely fill the void left by watching the show. I found myself with much more respect for Jessica Alba after watching this, and she even found a way to break into my list of top five celebrity crushes.

The 'core' cast of Dark Angel.

The ‘core’ cast of Dark Angel.

I would have given this a 5 out of 5 had it not been for the god-awful Halloween episode. The show potentially could have gone four or five seasons had FOX decided to use their brains and not interfered with a good product. Some may cite the change in tone for the second season as why the viewership dropped, but the finger always points back to FOX for changing the show from a successful time slot to the Friday Night Death Slot.

If you need a short series to watch and to nerd over, don’t hesitate to give Dark Angel a chance. It may very well end up on in your DVD collection.

Grade: 4.5 out of 5.

Want to know how the series ends? Check out the Dark Angel novels.

Novel Reviews:

From Screen to Print: “Dark Angel: Before the Dawn” (Book 1 of the Dark Angel trilogy)

From Screen to Print: “Dark Angel: Skin Game” (Book 2 of the Dark Angel trilogy)

From Screen to Print: “Dark Angel: After the Dark” (Book 3 of the Dark Angel trilogy)

5 replies »

  1. Hey there 😉

    Just rewatched the whole series and stumbled over your review. Back then 2001 (first aired in Germany) I was so hooked up with this show and really, really sad that they cancelled it. However, I kinda favored the second season (although I agree with you about the Halloween episode). There was more from… everything, I guess. Season 1 had its good parts, too. But the way how it turned out with Max’ escapees… I don’t know, it wasn’t as satisfying as I hoped. And I was never fond of Logan, even before season 2 and the introduction of Alec. I couldn’t really connect with Logan’s character. Something kept me at distance. That’s also why I never understood the attraction Max and Logan had for each other.

    The second season with its whole storyline, the Conclave, that bunch of Transgenics out there, Max’ special DNA… And I agree, the finale episode was one hell of an episode and left everyone hunger for more.

    Funny thing, Jensen Ackles was a noticeable character in Dark Angel and stayed in my memory for a very long time as Alec. But it took some time for me to recognize him again in another show. There were already 3 or 4 seasons of Supernatural out when I started to be interested in the show and had to catch up with the missed first 2 or 3 seasons. Well, I recognized him immediately at that time. But although I watched Smallville till the end of season 4 I somehow never got the idea of him being the same actor as in Dark Angel.

    I do respect that some people don’t get hooked up with Supernatural (everybody has different likes and dislikes), but I can assure that since you acknowledged Ackes’ acting in Dark Angel, he’s as good as and even better in Supernatural. Everything that’s shown in the ‘Berrisford Agenda’ episode… there’s alot more of it in Supernatural. The show’s not only about monsters, demons, spirits and whatever. It’s about family and sacrifice. It wouldn’t work without Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki, not today anyway. But back then, if it weren’t for those two in the first season, it wouldn’t have get as successful as it is today. (I hope this last part doesn’t sound like I’m upset or something. I’m just displaying my thoughts about it :’) And I’m not trying to convince you or something.)

    But whatever it is, I enjoyed your review 😉

    • Hello there! Thanks for taking the time to read my review. Did you re-watch Dark Angel on DVD or did you happen to catch the 43 hour marathon that was on El Rey Network?

      I enjoyed reading your feedback and sharing what it was that you liked/disliked about the show. Obviously, my opinions of the show aren’t going to be the same for everyone but it’s nice to hear the same sort of enthusiasm from other fans who have watched the series. I still kinda kick myself for not watching Dark Angel when it originally aired, but I remembered the commercials for it so it wasn’t like I was oblivious to the show’s existence. I can’t imagine the gut punch “Freak Nation” must have been after it aired and finding out Fox cancelled it a few days later. I know when I watched the series a few years ago that I was bummed, especially when I watched the final moments with the knowledge there weren’t more episodes after that.

      You make a very valid case for recommending watching Supernatural. Most of the people that tell me to watch it are the girls that crush hard on Sam and Dean (sometimes borderline obsess), so I tend to take their opinions not very seriously, but you presented a persuasive and thoughtful reasons why I ought to check it out. I’ll probably watch the series at some point, but I’m leaning towards when the show ends its run so I can binge watch on Netflix or whatever.

      Again, I’m glad you enjoyed my review. I originally wrote the review as a way to express my enthusiasm for this short lived series in hopes that others would watch and share the experience I felt when I watched it.

      Oh, and if you haven’t done so, I highly suggest checking out the novels by Max Allan Collins. The 1st book is a prequel to the series and the 2nd & 3rd novels act as a 3rd Season that tie up the loose ends. I did write reviews on all three, but if you haven’t read them I suggest you do. All three are worth reading (in order) and they’re still in print, so check out or Barnes & Noble’s website.

      • Hello again! ^^

        I watched it on DVD. I live in Germany, so I didn’t know about the marathon as I can’t receive that channel 😉 But it’s a funny coincidence that there actually was something like that at the same time.

        I can’t exactly remember how I felt when the show was cancelled. I guess I was frustrated or something. I was 16 back then, all hyped up and all. If I’d known about fanfiction at that time, I would have read those, I guess. I never heard of the novels though. In 2002 my English wasn’t that great, so I didn’t even consider looking for eventual novels and therefore, as I’d had to, for translated versions. But it’s nice to hear that they are still in print, so I think I might check them out this year.

        Haha, omg, yes, the hardcore fans of Supernatural (and the hardcore shippers :/ I will never understand them, at least in this show…) Well, I would never try to persuade a guy to watch a certain show by telling him how hot the actors are. The eye candy thing is a nice plus for girls/women. But in the end what matters is that the story itself is just great. It’s deep and complicated and sometimes really heavy stuff and the characters have to suffer alot. But in the end it all depends on the decisions they make, why they make them and the consequences they have to bear after that. And they are not perfect, they have to deal with their own faults. They often have to choose between the greater good and their own needs and desires. As you may suspect, it’s not always working out the way some would expect. Well, what I want to say is that if the story and the acting would be crap I wouldn’t watch it at all, since eye candy alone can’t compensate for a crappy script. But in this case the actors can display all that stuff their characters are confronted with and can transport (bring over?) it to the audience. (urgh, too much explaining?)

        Oh, btw, if you liked Alec’s character in Dark Angel then you might also like Dean Winchester in Supernatural. He’s like an older version of Alec. Just cockier and more sarcastic and charming, but deep down he has many issues to deal within himself.

        Well, if you want to wait until the show airs its last season, you may have to wait a long time. Some weeks ago it was just renewed for an 11th season 🙂 But whatever, take your time and decide for yourself.

        Wish you a nice day and thanks for your answer! Most times I don’t get an answer at all after commenting something.

  2. I really liked this review and agree with it all. My favorite episode is not Freak Nation but it is a top favorite of Season 2. The reason that the tone is so different in Season 2 is because FOX forced James Cameron to appeal to a younger crowd. They wanted younger actors to start, so they canned Nana Visitor and John Savage for Martin Cummins. They wanted there to be a love triangle, which makes no sense given that one of the best things about Season 1 was the chemistry between Max and Logan, so they invented the virus to keep them away (lazy writing) and to create a dynamic between Max and Alec (which, in my opinion failed miserably).
    Still my absolute favorite show to date, watched it as it aired back in 2000-2002 and have watched it at least twice a year ever since!
    Love to see that someone else has a hard time choosing between Max and Logan however you just barely chose Max as your fav, where I barely choose Logan as mine! I’d love to see a continuation one day just to give us a bit more closure than the books did, but I never want to see this rebooted with new actors. lol.

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