The Golden Man (Philip K. Dick, 1954)

I am obsessed with this story.

The Golden Man

Art by Ken Barr

I am obsessed with Anita who looks like Mamie Van Doren and wears a silver foil dress and a long cape.

I am obsessed with the robot bar that serves cocktails and plays lounge music. The bar that is inside the government lab so the scientists don’t have to mix with the people.

I am obsessed with Wisdom whose idea of science is to fire lasers at random to see if Cris can dodge them. He shot at random. He can’t speak for Jamison who maybe didn’t shoot at random. There is something about Jamison.

I am obsessed with Wisdom’s moustache and his brutal face.

I am obsessed with computers that have tape reels that buzz and click and robots that hand deliver paper messages.

I am obsessed by the townsfolk at the diner who know all about mutants and death camps and who try and protect the Johnsons from the stranger in town

I am obsessed with Nate Johnson who hides his family on a farm protecting the son who can’t speak and never shows emotion, Nate Johnson, who hides with his family without hope or possibility of redemption, whose son is a golden god, whose son doesn’t care about him, whose son sacrifices himself so that no one has to die.

I am obsessed with Jean Johnson who may be in love with her brother.

I am obsessed with Cris Johnson. Cris is furred like a lion. Cris can see the future. Cris is irresistible to women. Beside Cris men seem like dwarfs. Cris is a threat to our species.

I am obsessed with George Baines who looks like Rock Hudson but wears a sweat stained fat suit outside the lab. George is engaged to Anita but carries around a crumpled photo of a six-breasted woman he murdered in a concentration camp in Denver. George drives an old car and knows all about the mutants they have in New Zealand and Siberia and England and Sweden but would rather talk about the ones in Denver. George laughs about euthanasia and tells Anita she will have to be sterilised. George noticed the waitress, the schoolgirl on the date, he noticed woman in the yellow silk dress and the way it clung to her body moist in the summer heat.

 

The Main Players

I’ve realised I need to cover some of the basics before I start summarising the episodes so here is a brief Who’s Who of Dark Angel Season 1

Manticore

Manticore is a government or para-government (shadow government?) organisation that is involved in the creation of human animal hybrids with the specific aim of building an army that would not be subject to the same ethical laws or physical limitations as a human army. Manticore are shown to have authority over municipal and state government law enforcement agencies indicating that they are deeply embedded in the post-Pulse US government power structure.

In Persian mythology the manticore, or manticora, is a beast that lives in the desert and has the body of lion, the face of a man and the tail of a scorpion with four rows of interlocking teeth in its mouth. It is a cannibal.

manticore-edwardtopsell

X5-452 aka Max (Jessica Alba)

Max is one of a number of escapees who fled Manticore before the pulse. She is part of the X5 group intended for espionage, assassination and leadership. She has superhuman vision, hearing, strength, agility and intelligence. She is also charismatic which may be a function of her genes or her training. Max has been on her own since she was nine and supports herself through theft and working as a bicycle courier. She adopts a cynical view on the world but still evinces the core tenets of her training “Discipline, Duty, Teamwork.”

Her name literally means the best. Despite this she has two flaws in her genetic make-up; she has a neurological condition that causes seizures and is fatal if untreated and several times a year goes “in heat” a by-product of being part cat.

Zach (William Gregory Lee)

Zach is the leader of Max’s fellow escapees. He is the stronger of the two and less outwardly emotional but his fatal flaw is his unrequited crush on Max. This clouds his judgement and was the reason he led the escape in the first place.

The name Zach comes from the Hebrew Zechariah and means God remembers. This is possibly ironic as the children of Manticore are the creations of humans usurping the role of God however the Old Testament prophet Zechariah was a leader during the Israelite exile in Persia and preached a return to the Promised Land a role similar to the one Zach carries out.

Colonel Donald Lydecker (John Savage)

Lydecker is in charge of the training of the Manticore children and also in charge of the pursuit and capture of the escapees. He is ruthless, the first dialogue lines of the series are him ordering the killing of children, but is also shown caring for his charges and believing in the mission of Manticore. Throughout the first season Lydecker moves from being a nightmare figure from Max’s childhood into a respected enemy who is acting out of duty and not malice. He is Max’s abusive father figure who she needs to learn to view in perspective.

The name Lydecker implies building layers of lies on top of each other and is appropriate for a career black-ops agent. It is also an early indicator that that the house Lydecker has built for himself is on a shaky foundation.

Logan Cale aka Eyes Only (Michael Weatherly)

Logan is the second lead in the show. A hacker and journalist he sends out broadcasts across the cable network exposing criminal activity among Seattle’s political and business elite. He is from one of the richest families in Seattle and lives in a fancy penthouse apartment. Logan is in a wheelchair as a result of a gunshot in the first episode. Throughout both seasons of the show Logan goes through different levels or acceptance and coping with his disability.

The name Logan could be read as a reference to Logan’s Run a 70s science fiction film set in a post-apocalyptic future where everyone is killed at the age of thirty. The Logan in the movie switches from being a member of the elite to becoming a rebel. It could also be an reference to the X-men character Wolverine who, like Max was subject to government experimentation. Wolverine is invulnerable so naming a character with a disability after him is a bit ironic.

The Eyes Only name that Logan uses when he is a hacker is believed by everyone except Max to refer to a secret network of hackers. Logan pulls the trick of pretending to be one of his own sidekicks.

Kendra (Jennifer Blanc)

Kendra is Max’s roommate and plays the Charlotte Lucas part, both by being the slightly less than sparkling friend of the main character and by leaving the story early after marrying the wrong guy for deeply pragmatic reasons. Kendra does demonstrate the constant hustle required to live in on the poverty line seemingly having a different temp job in each episode and provides an interesting contrast to Max’s consistent employment at Jam Pony. Max has an advantage over Kendra in being able to do physical labour.

The lack of a descriptive nickname in Dark Angel is the equivalent of a red shirt in Star Trek.

Jam Pony

Jam Pony is the company Max works for when she’s not being a superhero. The name is reminiscent of Silicon Valley and also an evocation of the Pony Express. This overlap between late-stage capitalism and the Wild West is typical of the shows apocalyptic world building. Jam Pony is useful as a way of understanding the economy of post-Pulse Seattle. It is not a fix to the loss of the Postal Service or the internet but it is a cheap work around. Jam Pony exists to exploit a gap in the market while contributing nothing that would replace lost and damaged infrastructure. In the show’s structure there is usually a Jam Pony b-story running parallel to the main action. Max’s Jam Pony ID allows her to pass through Sector Police checks.

Reagan Ronald aka Normal (J. C. McKenzie)

Normal is the Jam Pony manager. He is the sort of low-level annoying boss that TV executives assume run minimum wage businesses. He is shown throughout the series as having a great deal of affection for the workers that despise him. In the first episode he tries to warn Logan off Max and doesn’t give him her home address but does tell him where Max hangs out after work.

The name Reagan Ronald tells us a lot about Normal’s parents (sadists) but Normal’s politics are more small c-conservative than Reaganite. He believes in doing your job and doesn’t worry about what his employees get up to in their off hours. The nickname Normal has a layer of irony to it because he is the only normal one at their work so is therefore not normal.

Cynthia McEachin aka Original Cindy (Valerie Rae Miller)

Max’s best friend, Original Cindy acts as Max’s conscience and sounding board as she learns about human behaviour and relationships. Cindy is a protector and also a co-conspirator in some of Max’s scams and schemes. Cindy usually has her own thing going on and, in the Jam Pony plots, she often takes the lead over Max.

Original Cindy is a reference to the Christian doctrine of Original Sin. For people who believe in it Original Sin is a universal characteristic of all humans born of the line of Adam. Max represents a break in that line of descent. By naming her best (human) friend Original Cindy the writers are drawing attention to a number of ethical and religious questions about Max and her humanity. Is she superhuman/divine, or subhuman existing outside the moral universe that governs humanity?

Calvin Theodore aka Sketchy (Richard Gunn) and Herbal Thought (Alimi Ballard)

Sketchy and Herbal are two of Max and Cindy’s co-workers at Jam Pony. While Herbal is the spiritual member of the group Sketchy operates on the plane of base drives and impulses. In the pilot Herbal gets in trouble for deliberately returning a pair of expensive underpants that a client has sent to his mistress to the man’s wife. At the same time Sketchy is in trouble because he is cheating on his fiancée with a married woman. This difference is never mined for conflict rather the two men are united by the fact that they are (usually) both in trouble. They generally turn to Max for help and Cindy for leadership.

Crash

Crash is a bar where the employees of Jam Pony like to hang out. It has a screen that plays a loop of car crash videos anticipating in a low-tech way the advent of youtube while actually being a throwback to the extreme sports VHS culture of the 90s (nothing is ever really new.) The Road Movie would be popular at Crash.

The Sector Police

The Seattle of Dark Angel is an intrusive security state with individuals movements tracked constantly as they move through different neighbourhoods. There are also drones flying overhead recording activity. Max and Kendra are squatters in an abandoned but fully occupied apartment building. The Sector Police are happy to take bribes to allow people to occupy the apartments meaning the enforcement of the laws which govern the lives of citizens is arbitrary and corrupt.

Hope is For Losers (or, How to Survive the End of the World)

Dark Angel Episode 1: Pilot

Written by James Cameron and Charle H Eglee

Directed by David Nutter

The end of the world brings with it a kind of ecstasy. It is a release from care. It is the dropping of the other shoe. This is why we love stories of the end times, we love to imagine how our lives would be better if they were reduced down to our primal needs; the struggle for survival. In most post-apocalyptic movies this release is shown in an orgy of violence, a libertarian fantasy where stockpiling guns and distrusting your neighbours are valid life choices. It is even better if it is zombies because then you get to shoot the people who you think want to eat you.

Angel

In The Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen (played in the movie by Jenifer Lawrence) dreams of living alone in the wilderness but is instead forced to take part in a child sacrifice ritual where her fears and anxieties (caring for her younger sister, struggling for food, having to be a leader) are literalised. The pressures that were killing her in the abstract are suddenly survivable when they are made concrete. The same could be said for The World’s End a genre parody of alien invasion movies where the suicidal Gary King (Simon Pegg), who is unable to function in normal society, finds the peace he needs when aliens start replacing people with robots. Suddenly that internal feeling that everyone else has access to a programme you never got aligns with reality – and, again, you get to shoot people.

This is the post-apocalyptic fantasy; our lives will no longer be mediated by rules, by society, by things we can’t see. The daily grind of work and chores that help us feed our family and keep a roof over our head will suddenly stop and we will instead spend our days, working, doing chores, feeding our families and keeping a roof over our head but the difference will be that it is us who are doing it. We will hunt the food and build the cabin, we will be happy in our work, our families will appreciate us. The popularity of these stories implies a belief in what therapists call an external locus of control. For some people aliens, or fascists or zombies are welcome because their presence justifies the stress and anxiety they already feel.

One common trope is exemplified by Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) in War of the Worlds. Before the Martians attack earth he is a struggling working class dad living in a depressed urban neighbourhood unable to connect with his kids and divorced from the woman he loves. When the attack happens he is able to prove himself as a strong male hero worthy of his kids love and is welcomed back into his wife’s suburban McMansion (even if this makes no sense). There are numerous others, Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day, John Cusack in 2012, though if I start listing movies that show how the end of the world fixes the male hero’s dysfunctional relationships I’ll be here all day (even if I restrict myself to Roland Emmerich movies).

The dark side of the fantasy is that it depends on the hero surviving and on a lot of other people dying. The unspoken wish of the survivalist is for a catastrophe or a holocaust to happen (just not to them). They want something bad enough that it gives their life meaning but not so bad it kills them and the people they love.  It’s not just a dark side the apocalypse genre has a smug anti-human streak. The high kill count is seen as a positive and usually justified on moral grounds; the people who get turned into mindless zombies are usually mindless consumers, the people killed by environmental collapse were polluters. An important scene in most movies of this sort involves the hero having Casandra like visions of the coming conflagration that are dismissed by the folks around them, think Dennis Quaid in The Day After Tomorrow, the good Christians in Left Behind, Will Smith in I, Robot, the role of these predictions is to justify the suffering – if you had listened to me you would have changed your wicked ways.

In Dark Angel, a show whose two seasons straddle the anxiety ridden turn of the millennium, this desire for the end is put under the microscope. The apocalypse occurred in 2009 in the form of the Pulse; an EMP set off by some “terrorist bozos.” The Pulse destroyed the electricity grid, internet, banks and records, and was used as an opportunity by the government to clamp down on rights and freedoms. Logan (Michael Weatherly), a hacker and free speech activist who also happens to live in a fancy penthouse surrounded by art and luxury goods, provides the perspective of someone who was well off before the Pulse. In his view the people blinked, they invited in their new overlords. “Overnight, the government, the police, everything intended to protect the people had been turned against them.”  Logan is trying to reach out to the people who chose fascism and show them how even if they think they are better off they are deluding themselves the popularity of the post-apocalyptic narrative suggests he might find it difficult.

Max (Jessica Alba) comes from a different class, race, gender and educational perspective to Logan. At the time of the Pulse she was a child on the run from a para-governmental organisation who had created her in a lab. She already had to struggle to survive and in many ways the destruction of records made it easier for her and others on the fringes to get by. From her perspective what actually disappeared in the pulse was the illusion of stability and fairness. The old days Logan wants to return to were a time “when people spent obscene amounts of money decorating the house to match the cat.” There is still wealth disparity in the new world, there are still poor people, like Max’s army vet neighbour Theo dying from lack of healthcare, there is police brutality, corruption and all the bad stuff that existed before now however it is exposed. Wanting to go back is as bad as choosing the easy solution of men with guns providing order. Max represents a class of people who probably wouldn’t go see the latest Roland Emmerich or watch The Walking Dead on TV because they don’t need the deaths of millions to justify their irrational feelings of persecution or the threat of ravening hordes to justify their stockpiling of wealth, land and guns.

Apocalypse doesn’t mean the end of the world taken literally it means a revelation of the truth. It is a spiritual exercise, a meditation on death and destruction, a way to discard what holds you down and reaffirm what is important to you. For religious communities end times prophecies work to reassure and comfort the afflicted and persecuted. State religions rarely emphasise this eschatology which tends to be anti-statist but it increases in importance the further one gets from the centre. In mature religious communities the apocalypse, whether it is Ragnarok or the Rapture, is understood to work in tandem with the idea of salvation or rebirth. It is a stage in historical or personal development that must be withstood and moved through.

Immature religions and cults can often get caught up in the fire and brimstone without moving beyond. This is also true of the worst of the survivalist/zombie/killer alien invasion stories which revel in the violent chaotic, the liberation from the material, without moving forward into the reconstruction phase. Even mainstream movies like War of The Worlds usually end at the moment of reunion and ignore the fifty years to come after that. The Walking Dead spin-off Fear The Walking Dead is a prequel returning to the initial period of destruction and avoiding the hard (but much more interesting) questions that would come in a sequel set ten, fifty, a hundred years after the zombie outbreak. We cannot stay in the ecstatic moment of revelation or it will transmute into nihilism. To keep it going we will need to escalate the violence and the killing like so many Resident Evils (or burn down our compound while taking fire from the ATF) until there is nothing left.

Bible_Gustave-Dore-Dore_The_Angel_appearing_to_Joshua

Dark Angel isn’t set in 2009 it takes place in 2019. By making the ten year leap over the period of violence that is only occasionally alluded to (but which definitely followed the Pulse) it becomes a show about building a new community. It is about the freaks and the people who slipped through the cracks finding each other. After the apocalypse, after the survivalists and the power- fantasists have wandered across the wasteland firing their guns and burning their fuel there needs to be a new way forward. Max needs to be a different kind of hero who will make friends and care for people. Even her name makes this point. The Mad Max franchise is the most iconic representation of the society breakdown fantasy. By calling their lead character Max the show’s creators building a strong contrast. Our Max has a Kawasaki Ninja and not a V8 Interceptor but unlike Max Rockatansky she is happy to restrict her driving to the late night hours when she is unlikely to hurt anyone.

In the pilot Max is not yet the hero she will become but she is getting there. She is a thief (sorry, a cat burglar) but she steals to pay a private detective who is helping her find her missing siblings. She has a job to pay her rent, a housemate, work friends, a jerk of a boss. Max is already unique in genre television for holding down a day job, especially a minimum wage service industry job, and this is a deliberate early rejection of the usual tropes of post-apocalyptic fantasy. She has training and the superpowers; there is literally nothing but her own will power stopping her from being a cool existentialist samurai wandering the Badlands but Max chooses to embrace what most end of the world stories offer to free us from; the daily grind. “Hope is for losers,” Max says in her opening narration but she only half believes it. Instead she seeks the stability and community she never had as a child and in making herself into a normal human, in getting involved and investing in the people around her she makes herself into someone capable of hope – a loser.