What is Dark Angel?

Dark Angel (2000-2002) is a Fox TV show created by James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee. It is a genre mash-up of paranoid conspiracy thriller, workplace sitcom, apocalyptic urban survival story and ‘monster of the week’ procedural. The show follows bicycle courier Max as she tries to track down her siblings – a group of genetically modified super soldiers who escaped their creators as children. Max is aided in her task by Logan an upper crust white liberal journalist playing revolutionary hacker under the nom de guerre “Eyes Only”. Logan helps Max track down others like her on the condition she helps him by using her advanced strength and intelligence to carry out missions as he fights against corruption and organised crime in near future Seattle. The third point of their triangle is provided by the sinister Lydecker a government agent responsible for the capture of Max and her fellow escapees. If Max is attempting to learn the truth of her past and Logan is attempting to expose truth to the masses then Lydecker is their evil opposite, he operates in secret and destroys and covers up the truth.

Like its lab created central character Max the show drew its DNA from a wide variety of pop culture sources including The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, La Femme Nikita, The Fugitive, Frankenstein, Ghost in the Shell, X-Men comics, cyber punk and, of course, Cameron’s own Terminator franchise. It was progressive for a television show of its time in its politics and in its cast which included people of colour, people with disabilities and queer characters in the main roster and among the extras populating the streets of post-Pulse Seattle. This diversity fits the theme of the show in which hybridity in both individuals and communities equals strength. Max the chimera is made up of human and animal DNA and despite her cynical loner pose she craves people and draws people to her. It is only by building networks of friends and people who care for each other and have each other’s backs that survival is possible.

There are a number of reasons to re-watch Dark Angel in 2018. The show itself takes place in 2019 and describes an America where the rule of law has broken down, the economic system has collapsed and poverty and corruption are standard. It is a curious artefact. Created before 911, Enron, the Iraq war, rendition, Guantanamo Bay, the 2008 financial crisis, Occupy, WikiLeaks, Martin Shkreli and the tech bros, Russian collusion and the rise and rule of Trump, Dark Angel nevertheless encompasses all of these in its vision of the future. Engaging with this voice from the past throws up a mirror against which we can see our own monstrous reflection gazing back. From drug shortages to overcrowded prisons, from the militarisation of police to drones to the post-human we can see a time when this was the stuff of fantasy and entertainment. It’s also a good show that has been neglected in the discourse around early 2000s pop-culture and deserves to be given its due. At only 42 episodes Dark Angel was cancelled too soon (just as it was getting really weird) but it easily holds up against any 42 episode run of Buffy, Angel or The X-Files and especially well against the first 42 episodes of any of those shows.

In this series I will do a deep dive, recapping the episodes in order and breaking down the world of Max and Logan, pulling on the themes and parallels that make it work and examining the ways it bleeds across into our timeline. At the heart of the Dark Angel mythos is an act of original sin; the creation of people for utilitarian purposes. Max, Zack and Alec and the rest were created to be weapons and tools of the ruling class but the world for which they were made was itself destroyed before they were ready to be deployed in it. Dark Angel is about the search for identity and worth but strips us of the comforting idea that we have a place in the world. Our creators are imperfect, even our genes are fighting against us, if we are going to fit in anywhere it will not be because we belong or because we have a destiny or because nature has made space for us it will be because we have changed the world to fit ourselves into it. Dark Angel promotes a concept of heroism that is active and that requires connection and compromise with other people. Heroes stick together and build communities and for that reason alone the show is worth reconsidering.