Giving ‘Dark Angel’ Another Look

Okay, I was in middle school when Dark Angel started airing. The admission, I’m sure, makes me look like an infant or incomprehensibly ancient to most of the people reading this (that’s how people outside of their mid-twenties seem to me as soon as I get context (“You were already in college on 9/11? Were you born in the Great Depression?”). It was the first time that I ever saw Jessica Alba (who is/was super gorgeous, of course—a a super cute classmate in eighth grade had a picture of her on the inside of his locker), and it was apparently created, in part, by James Cameron.

Whose name now gets the James Cameron Song in my head. Thank you, South Park, for being brilliant.

Anyway, at the time, while I was an intelligent middle school student, I was, well, a middle school student. Certain things totally went over my head (which can happen at many ages—when I was eight years old, I did not recognize the gay men or the prostitutes on Batman: The Animated Series). I appreciated some aspects of Dark Angel, but others, well, either did not seem like as big of a deal at the time or escaped my notice.

As an adult, I’ve gone back and watched a few things that I enjoyed when I was much younger. In some cases, things that I treasured when I was younger have turned out to be comically bad. In other cases, they were even better than I had thought. On a whim, I decided to watch Dark Angel (probably just an episode or two) about a month ago, to see what it was like, though I was fairly certain that it would turn out to be just a pretty-lead-actress-beats-up-men-and-shows-some-skin show.

My prediction was incorrect. Like, hot damn, it was incorrect. I ended up watching the entire first season in a fairly short amount of time.

And I’m not going to give you a summary of the show. It’s good. Watch it. If you need to know more than this, read the Wikipedia entry or something.

Dark Angel was surprisingly feminist. Even now, it’s unusual to hear a straight male character on television referred to as a “slut.” It’s accurate about plenty of male heterosexual characters, but a straight guy who sleeps around is still typically referred to as a “stud,” if anything at all. In the pilot, the protagonist casually refers to her straight male friend as a slut—it’s no big deal. Like it should always be in real life.

Dark Angel is filled with feminism, racial diversity, and a kind of awareness that is still unusual now—and was pretty unusual for a show that aired when Clinton was President (not that any of that was President Clinton’s fault, obviously). One of the main characters is a lesbian, and not only is she not characterized as man-hating or butch, she is also not treated—at all—as a sexual object for male viewers. The protagonist, Max (Jessica Alba) is a bit reserved about her sexuality (or, rather, she is hesitant to have meaningless sex), which may be some internalized stigmatization about sex, but this is a character with an awful background. I do not think that she is supposed to be the “role model” for viewers, with her two best female friends (a lesbian and a heterosexual slut) as the “bad examples.” I think that her disposition makes sense for her character and fits into an “it takes all types” world-view.

Which is awesome.

Max (again, the protagonist, played by Jessica Alba) does kick ass. Which is fun to watch. Seriously. I could watch her beat up soldiers and one-handedly choke pedophiles all. Day. Long.

Her male costar is way handsomer on this show than he is on NCIS (Michael Weatherly), and he is wheelchair-bound for most of the first season. He is also a ten-years-early prediction of Anonymous—in the form of someone who hacks television feeds under the pseudonym “Eyes Only.”

And that’s not the end of the predictions (of a show that aired in 2000 but is set in 2019). Law-enforcement (in this sort of post-apocalyptic setting, which is the result of a major terrorist attack) is assisted by “hoverdrones,” which are unmanned aerial surveillance drones. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Look, watch the show. It’s not perfect, but it is brilliant. There are two seasons. Plus, you get to have fun identifying actors on it who are much better known now (Jensen Ackles, who plays Dean Winchester on Supernatural, is on an episode, and so is the actress who plays his mother. Also, Pam from True Blood gets dangled off of a balcony by her ankle in the first episode).

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Kym Worthy Is Freaking Awesome

Kym Worthy is the prosecutor in Wayne County, Michigan (where Detroit is located). If you are on Tumblr, then you have probably read about her. If you read “prosecutor” as just whichever attorney is prosecuting someone in court, I do not blame you. The position is known as district attorney in most counties (who head departments of assistant district attorneys or deputy district attorneys). In Illinois, the title is state’s attorney. It’s kind of silly how some states wanted to be hipsters and come up with their own names for these things, but whatever.

Kym Worthy is, well, awesome. One might even say that she is giving that wretched county the prosecutor it deserves.

I’m not praising her for prosecuting Detroit’s absurdly corrupt mayor a few years ago. I’m not even praising her, specifically, for being a strong black woman doing a difficult job in a difficult place.

I am praising her for being vocally outraged and calling attention to the fact that thousands upon thousands of genetic samples gathered after rapes are simply kept in storage rather than being processed in a timely manner.

This is not a problem specific to Detroit. Federal crime labs and, well, basically every other crime lab in the country has this problem. The genetic material gathered in rape kits by those few rape survivors (or, even more tragically, from those who did not survive their sexual assault) is not given priority and is not processed. Over time, genetic material degrades when not properly stored. Over time, evidence storage buildings flood.

Women (and men) who come to the police and undergo invasive medical exams immediately after suffering, in most cases, the worst traumas of their lives do so because they want justice and because they want to stop their attacker from attacking anyone else (there aren’t “one-time rapists,” you guys. There are rapists who are stopped or, better yet, die after their first rape. That’s all that keeps them from continuing to rape).

When a rape kit is put on a shelf, a rapist remains free. And finds other victims.

Kym Worthy (herself a rape-survivor) is making processing rape evidence a priority (as it should be). We may not, at the moment, live in a civilization that is particularly good at deterring rape or supporting rape-survivors or giving rapists what they deserve, but even a prosecution and a few years of incarceration (along with the “sex-offender” label) is better than letting these sickening monsters run free.

Kym Worthy’s efforts have already put a spotlight on the systematic failure to move forward in rape investigations. And they have, of course, already identified serial rapists—at least one of whom has also committed murder since original samples were taken from someone whom he had raped.

Kym Worthy’s cause is just. We need more people who are willing to get things done.

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Watch This: Once Upon A Time

photo of once upon a time pictures
You guys, my Super Best Friend has only recently started watching Once Upon A Time. He and I tend to watch a lot of different television shows and put off watching others or giving others a try. When we finally do, the result is usually similar to Squidward’s first time tasting a Krabby Patty on SpongeBog Squarepants: “All the wasted years!”

I mean, he’s the guy who first got me to watch Gossip Girl, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Dante’s Cove, Titan Maximum, and Gundam Wing. And, soon, Revenge, which I know is totally up my alley. “This is not a story about forgiveness.” That line could be the blurb under my biography.

Right, so, the show comes on ABC on Sunday nights and, honestly, I was not all that impressed when I watched the first few episodes. Well, the first episode. It’s one of those shows that has an awkward beginning but gets better and better until you can no longer remember a time when you were not in love with the show. Every week slows to a crawl as you anticipate the arrival of the next episode.

Yeah. This show also has a very rabid fandom.

I want to talk about the women on the show. Women have not, historically, had the best roles in fairy tales. They tend to be the villains or the helpless damsels. And while Disney “villains” are typically the most interesting parts of the films (and ABC is a part of Disney, so there are overt references on the show to Disney’s interpretations of a few fairytales. Jiminy Cricket is a character, the “Evil Fairy” from Sleeping Beauty is called “Maleficent,” etc), the princesses did not really possess a great deal of agency until more recent years.

Regina Mills is, as far as I am concerned, the main character. In season one, the writers try to make her out to be the primary antagonist, but …

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Strong Women, Terrifying Women

photo of sue sylvester pictures
I often use “terrifying” as a compliment when describing women. That’s not a compliment when describing a woman’s hair or breasts or complexion (or any aspect of a woman’s appearance, really), but it is a compliment when I say that a woman herself is “terrifying.” I would probably say “awesome” if people would understand that I mean it in the archaic sense—awe-inspiring in nature.

It is not the dream of every young woman to be described in such a manner, but it is a role to which to aspire. A powerful woman whose personality can dominate a room. One who can eviscerate men and women with a few words or with just a look.

These are your Sue Sylvesters (I may not still watch Glee, but I’ll put on imaginary hipster glasses long enough to say that I watched Glee before people wouldn’t shut up about it). Remember Portia DeGeneres’ character on Better Off Ted (one of the best comedies that I have ever seen), Veronica Palmer? She is definitely in this category.

Both of these are comical parodies of this type of character. But the real world is full of these powerful, inspirational female characters (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?). And so is the fictional world. Women do not need superpowers to be terrifying badasses, even in fictional universes that are filled with superpowers. Amanda Waller* from DC Comics is an excellent example: she is female, significantly overweight, and black—in the world of comic books, even more so than in real life, these are three tremendous disadvantages. But she has such a powerful force of personality that she intimidates supervillains into obeying her.

Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. Brenda Leigh Johnson on The Closer. Sharon Raydor on The Closer and Major Crimes. The amazing Dr. Elizabeth Weir on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis (who ranks among my favorite fictional characters of all time). Adele DeWitt from Dollhouse. Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek Voyager. Nan Flanagan on True Blood. Ivanova on Babylon 5. Sumiregawa Nenene on Read or Die! Maxine Gray on Judging Amy. Avery Jessup on 30 Rock. . . . Fox on Gargoyles, because I am all kinds of nerdy and have the best taste. Elizabeth Donnelly from Law & Order SVU.

Also, Elaine Barrish from Political Animals. But I think that “marvelously terrifying” describes just about every character whom Sigourney Weaver has ever played. Hot damn, I love Sigourney Weaver.

Beyond highlighting examples, do you guys think that women with powerful personalities have a greater psychological and social presence in a room or in a book or on television than male characters who have just as powerful and domineering personalities?

I remember reading in a how-to-draw-manga book when I was in high school (spoiler alert: I have never drawn manga) that, if you did not draw a female as being noticeably shorter than a male character, she would visually dominate any scene with just the two of them.

As you may have guessed, a powerful woman, in real life or in fiction, seems more “real” to me than a powerful man. But, then again, my first role model was Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.


*For these purposes, I am referring to the real Amanda Waller from DC Comics, who has been voiced on Justice League: Unlimited and in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies by the magnificent CCH Pounder. I am not referring to the skinny sociopath “Amanda Waller” in the most recent Suicide Squad issues who is just . . . no. Just no.

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