Wednesday, May 4, 2016

James Cameron’s Dark Angel: a sinister scenario

I watched James Cameron’s Dark Angel series when it was first shown on UK TV, 15 years or so ago. I thought that it was very good indeed, despite the violence and a few other things such as gruesomeness and overuse of the evil twin meme.

I got the DVDs as part of an exercise to recreate the best of the past. After watching them just for the stories a few times, I came to realise that some elements of the underlying scenario could apply to more people than just the X5 group of genetically enhanced people featured in the series.

Many aspects of the lives of the X5s will seem familiar to some people, especially those who think of themselves as being different in some way.

Such people may have been brought up without caring parents and in Spartan surroundings for example; they may have been brainwashed and tested to the limits of endurance in childhood; as children, they may have been isolated, essentially hostages and prisoners in a harsh and brutal environment albeit not necessarily a physical one.

Such people may feel that they were selectively bred, raised and trained for a mission – even if they don’t know or can’t remember what it is.

Such people may feel that they have escaped from the past but are separated from others like them. All the time, they are pining for the company of their own kind. Unlike the X5s, they don’t know who their people are.

They may live among the normals, passing as one of them and apparently integrated into society but knowing that they are very different on the inside. Their wiring, abilities, experiences, outlook, requirements and goals are just not the same as the normals’.

Like the X5s, those people may be flawed.

They may fear giving themselves away; they may live in fear of discovery, of exposure, of rejection, of capture, of exploitation, of persecution and destruction, often without knowing exactly who and what they are afraid of. It may seem as though the Sword of Damocles is always hanging over them.

This is not paranoia: the X5s who broke free are being hunted by people who want to exploit and use them; they are also hunted by people who want to destroy them. Their enemies even include other X5s, the ones who didn’t escape.

These other X5s have been told all kinds of lies about the world that normal people live in, and brainwashed into seeing their free colleagues as traitors. Same old same old.

Similarly, many people in this world who never break free from the programming that they experienced in their formative years – this also includes cult members and people from dysfunctional families - may behave as if they are under orders to prevent escape and are on a mission to seek and destroy anyone who gets away. Those who do manage to escape need to beware of others of their kind who are still under the influence of the past, and expect some form of attack or sabotage.

Shunning is a possibility too, very painful for people who don’t have many of their own kind in their lives. But if the brainwashed ones won’t listen and don’t want to escape, if they try to corrupt, reclaim and drag escapees back, iron must enter the soul. It’s their loss as much as it’s the free people’s.

The X5 children are raised in a grey, barren environment. They live in barracks under military discipline. They are amazed when they first see a coloured balloon. The child Max looks in wonder at the furnishings in a house after she escapes - she has never seen such things before.

People who feel different may also have to learn about normal life from first principles after facing the excruciatingly painful realisation of how deprived and badly treated they have been and how far away from normality they have been living. They may be amazed and confused and very angry when they first encounter free, decent human beings and see what they have, how they live and how they treat each other – and their children.

They need to overcome their early programming and replace it with a more realistic, less brainwashed, view of life and the real world. They also need to get the balance between mission and normal life right.

They may come to realise that their genetic inheritance and upbringing have given them extra-ordinary self-discipline and other attributes and that they can use these attributes to help others.

There are also the failed experiments, the transgenics who could never pass for normal. They must stay hidden. They belong nowhere. Similarly, some people live their lives in an underground, twilight world, avoiding all others where possible.

Something about the relationships in Dark Angel
There are many relationships in Dark Angel, some conventional and some less so. Many are sad and touching, Joshua the dog- man and the blind girl for example. The episode where the transgenic Brain sees that death is waiting behind the door and sacrifices himself to save Max is another example. It is very touching to see her tell him that he looks magnificent, just before he dies.

The on-again off-again relationship between Max the Dark Angel and her romantic interest Logan Cale aka Eyes Only is one of the main themes of the series. It involves a lot of conflict of interest on both sides. Although there are some sad moments, nothing about it affects me very deeply.

The relationship between Max and Zack is another matter. Zack is the leader of Max’s group. She is desperate to find him, but when she eventually does meet him he thinks that they should stay apart for safety reasons. He is also mistrustful of normal people. It is harrowing to watch her beg him to stay. It stirs up all kinds of painful memories and feelings. To find one of your people at last only to have them walk away is unbearable.

Logan is a nice guy and he works to fight corruption, expose evil doers and save the world, but he comes from a privileged background and can’t possibly understand what the X5s have been through and how they feel about each other. Sometimes Max has to choose between duty and loyalty to Zack and the others and her inclination to be with Logan.

One relevant factor is that the free X5s attract can affect, cause trouble for and endanger the normal people around them. ‘Different’ people can experience this effect too.

I can’t bear to watch the episode in which Max sees Zack for the last time as he goes off to start a new life, having had his X5 memories removed. This is wrong, wrong, wrong and I can’t forgive the scriptwriters for it.  Perhaps they just wanted to write the character out. It does reflect the way that some people abandon their mission and their people, refraining from using their special gifts and doing their best to live only normal lives, but to do so was not Zak's own decision. 

Finally, some synchronicity.
I stopped working on this article to go out for a while. As I stepped off the bus, something made me look down. I saw a small folded piece of paper with the word ‘Alba’ printed on one side lying on the pavement. Max is played by Jessica Alba.