A friend got me hooked on Dark Angel recently. It’s a show I’d always wanted to watch, but back in the days, when I was still in Germany and still watching TV, its airtime clashed with X Files, so of course Dark Angel never stood a chance. But when my friend recommended the show, along with an offer to lend me her season one DVD set, I immediately hit “pause” on my current J.A.G. DVD marathon and jumped headfirst into a post-apocalyptic Seattle in the year 2019.
And, having finished watching the first season, I can honestly say, what a freaking fabulous show!
It’s got a kick-ass heroine, a ridiculously handsome male sidekick, a story that is thoroughly interesting (and stays interesting), an amibiguous super rogue, ambiguous good guys, a range of minor characters you’d totally want as friends, settings created with a loving eye for detail, a rocking soundtrack, it’s dead funny at times and makes you cry at other times.
So why did I not head off to buy the second season as soon as the credits on the last episode rolled?
Because, for all that’s great about it, Dark Angel has one big, fat, annoying flaw. And even without having seen the second (and final) season, it’s easy to see how this flaw became its downfall.
The problem with this show (as with too many, sadly) is The Romance™. Of course, sparks fly from about half an hour into the pilot between genetically revved-up babe Max and her new partner in crime, the super-geeky cyberjournalist Logan. As the two get to know each other, things, of course, go from cheeky banter to cheesy heartache. And then they get complicated. And then a little more. And then the whole situation just gets really annoying.
And that’s because of the age-old drama series dilemma. Boy and girl meet, boy and girl fall in love, but boy and girl can’t get together because then all the viewers would switch off. So, the creators have to come up with a whole range of delaying tactics to keep up the promise of a happy ending for the lovebirds without ever actually providing said happy ending. Popular plot devices to delay the romance include higher powers or fateful events separating our heroes*, antagonists drizzling seeds of doubt over the unfortunate lovers’ budding relationship, other love interests being half-heartedly injected into the story (which seemed to be Donald P. Bellissario’s method of choice to get people to switch off J.A.G – it worked for me, at least), and all sorts of other way-out-there plot twists that are generally so obvious that they could as well be replaced by a banner saying “This is our sorry attempt to keep you watching this show”.
Dark Angel has plenty of those delaying devices, and although, to be fair, some of them actually work in the plot, they mostly have you grumbling in frustration in the last third of season one. Apparently, in the second season the creators solved the romance problem by infecting the heroine with a virus designed to specifically kill her sweetheart, so the two have to spend the entire season apart. Which is just about the dumbest romance delaying plot device I’ve ever heard of. And that’s exactly why I hit the “close window” button rather than the “add to chart” button on the Dark Angel – Season 2 Amazon page.
It’s a shame really, how all this drama about Max and Logan dragged down the appeal of Dark Angel episode by episode. Because that aside, it’s a really great show, and from the foundations that were laid down in the first season it could have gone on to tell a whole lot of original stories. If only they had cut the emo bullshit of the star-crossed lovers eating their hearts out for each other.
Early on in the season, the chemistry between Max and Logan was actually cool. If the creators had left it at that, it could have turned out as a convincing partnership-friendship, without all the pining and pouting and angst and jealousy. Kind of like on X Files, where our two heroes never got it on (well, until the end, where it gave the show some sort of really nice closure), and where the character/relationsip development served as a basis to tell great stories rather than to send the viewer round in circles until the creators found a way out of the romance plot trap they have maneuvered themselves into.
So, after this little excursion into Dark Angel – which was actually good fun overall, if only it had lasted longer – I’m going to return to my J.A.G marathon in an attempt to last until the end this time. But I’m just getting near the point where the delaying tactics kick in, so I might be selling off my remaining DVD sets in frustration really soon. If anybody’s got any recommendations for good shows that don’t annoy the hell out of you with all that romance crap, drop them right here!
*Yes, I’m looking at you, Chris Carter. We all know Mulder only got abducted because he and Scully had just started to make babies!