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Oct 06, 03 at 9:26pm ^11th hour
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Alba's pouty lips
Couldn't save the jumbled plot
Boy, did this show suck.
Logan discovers new information that helps Max to find Hannah, the woman that rescued her on the night of her escape from project Manticore. He warns Max that all the people who link to her past are parts of a puzzle that need to be put together piece by piece. If she goes after Hannah before she knows what the bigger picture is, she risks losing everything. Max doesn't seem to care much about strategy and goes after her anyway. This inevitably puts both Hannah and Max in jeopardy, as they spend most of the episode running away from the evil clutches of Lydecker.
I realize that Dark Angel's budget has been chopped down from the $10 million two-hour pilot, but I never would have thought that the first thing they decided to skimp on would be on things like, say, decent storytelling! "Heat" is basically an episode weaved around leftover footage from the pilot. We are cheated into watching scenes we've seen before, particularly the repeated overkill of Max's flashbacks as a mini-Sinead O'Connor. The vague future world, consisting inexplicably of brute squads and sector passes, are just there for the sake of being obstacles. There is no clarification as to why they are even there in the first place. And this too, feels like repeated footage. I'm convinced we were shown the exact same establishing shots of Max riding her bike through the ghetto streets as last week.
Writer Patrick Harbinson seems to have forgotten that age-old rule of show don't tell. The only new stuff we learn comes out of a boring conversation between Max and Hannah in her living room. Hannah vomits out heaps of information, essentially telling Max all she ever needed to know about her own escape. And when your actors aren't all that convincing and there's nothing there between the lines that they've memorized, the results are an awfully mechanical, uninteresting scene.
These two women are apparently in danger, even though Max had no qualms just going up to Hannah's door and knocking. Their escape together off Sedro Island is meaningless action because they have faceless, unworthy opponents. You never for a moment believe that they're not going to get away. I mean, what's this Lydecker guy all about anyway? He just sends his henchmen out while he sits back with a walkie-talkie and scratches his butt. Lydecker is basically a cartoon. They might as well use some CGI effects to make John Savage's face turn flaming red and have steam blowing out of his ears every time his men inform him that Max has escaped.
But let's back pedal a bit to a few small things I actually liked in the pilot, and see how they've all been bastardized. Take for example, the supporting cast of Max's hip, multicultural co-workers and friends. I appreciate the series for trying to diversify, but not when do so just to make buffoons out of them all. Among them, Jamaican courier Herbal Thought is showcased just so we can laugh at his accent. Now he's just an incoherent weirdo. Wisecracking black lesbian Original Cindy seems to exist only for the sake of being a wisecracking, black lesbian. How do these people fit into a show about Max, who is supposed to be this damaged, moody loner? It might help for them to actually get involved in her quest to find the others with whom she was imprisoned in the genetics lab, don't you think?
No. Instead, we are introduced to a sweet, dumb white boy named Eric, whom Max has only known for about 24 hours and entrusts him with her house keys and pager. And for all her x-ray vision, super-hearing and athleticism, Max still needs to be bailed out by both Logan and Eric, which is his sole reason for being in this episode in the first place. As a guest star, Eric won't be around to do the same next week.
So, is Max cool or not? I'm now leaning towards the Not column. She is a trained James Cameron-style killer in character, but Alba really cannot hold her own in her fight sequences. You can tell this from the vast amount of editing it takes to choreograph a fight. You are trying so hard to absorb what is actually going on with these quick cuts, that it distracts you from asking, "Is that Jessica Alba or is that her stunt double?" Compare this to someone like Linda Hamilton, who received the same training from Tony Cortez for her role in Terminator 2. Sarah Connor is cool because you can see with your very own eyes that that's her, all pissed off and beating orderlies with mops, or loading a shotgun with one arm to blow away the T-1000.
What does Jessica Alba have? Well, with that pretty face of hers, she'd have soared to great heights as a silent star in the '20's (only to crash and burn during the advent of the Talkies). Quite honestly, Alba performs best when she doesn't speak at all. That may sound like an outright insult towards her, but think of it more as a backhanded compliment. She has a very expressive face when it comes to the quieter beats -- usually moments of understated reflection. Like her hundred-mile stare when she witnesses the shootings that she inadvertently caused on the yacht; her sneer of deep concentration, while hatching out escape routes in her mind. And of course, those teary eyes and pouting lips reminiscent of Angelina Jolie, when she discovers that she has a mother. Who knows? Maybe I should be complimenting the editor for juxtaposing events with expressionless reaction shots. It worked for John Wayne. But I'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt, at least on this count. 'Cause that's her only saving grace at this moment! Most of these quiet moments are canceled out by Max's lame, incomprehensible inner thoughts, which the poor viewers must be subjected to in poorly delivered voice-overs. It appears as though this is going to be a token, weekly ending to every Dark Angel episode. They are so unbelievably bad, they give me an uncontrollable urge to want to push her catwalk-posing ass off that Space Needle.
Then I think about it this way. This whole search for Hannah thing, which I initially thought might be the arc of the entire series, was resolved quite swiftly in one hour. So that leaves, what? Eleven other prisoner children who escaped, plus her newly discovered mom. At this rate, all this show needs is twelve more episodes! After seeing "Heat", that sounds like plenty for me.
-- Julie Ng
Dark Angel airs at 9pm EST/8pm MNT, Tuesdays on FOX.
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