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I don't know if you've noticed, but she ain't bad lookin' either...
—From a Sky 1 promo before the show's UK debut. No prizes for guessing the "she" it refers to.

Heaven... must be missing an angel...

A dramatic show set in a future of political, economic, and moral collapse that results when a shadowy terrorist group wipes out America's economy with a massive electromagnetic pulse. A genetically enhanced Super Soldier X5 prototype named Max escapes from military confines and dwells amidst the decadent underground street life of 2019 Seattle while making minimum wage at a bike messaging service called Jam Pony and occasionally stealing. Searching for her brothers and sisters who were scattered in the aftermath of their escape from Manticore in 2009, Max encounters Logan Cale aka Eyes Only, an idealistic cyber-journalist battling repression and corruption in post-apocalypse America. All this with Jessica Alba running about in leather pants.

Eventually, Logan calls her to the highest part of her being and she becomes his samurai, taking on the ruthless power-brokers of the new millennium. Max and Logan's odyssey leads them closer to the secret of her past, deepening and complicating their relationship in the process.

At the beginning of the second season, Max frees more of Manticore's experiments, and the show goes from being focused on Logan and Max to more of an ensemble show. For some fans (especially those coming back to watch it for Jensen Ackles), the story of Alec (a recently freed clone of Max's Serial Killer brother Ben) in the second season was more interesting than the main plot. Fans of the first season and the original characters resented the dramatic transformation of the show's format and the focus on new characters over the series leads. There is still heavy tension between the two factions.

After the show's cancellation, its intended plot was continued in the novels Skin Game and After the Dark. There was also a prequel called Before the Dawn and a book called The Eyes Only Dossier with extra information about the show's universe and new subplots.

Co-created and produced by Aliens and Terminator director James Cameron (Cameron also directed the final episode, the only scripted work he shot between Titanic and Avatar); what causal relationship exists between this series and Cameron's intent to turn the similar anime Gunnm into a live film is unclear. As well as Gunnm, the series has also been accused of excessive similarities with Robert A. Heinlein's Friday, also about a genetically engineered woman in a future where the United States has broken up.

Side note: This series got dropped (by Fox) in its second year in favor of Firefly, causing some fan-wars on the internet. The fact that Firefly was also dropped/mishandled by that network is a lesson in Executive Meddling. What's more, the Dark Angel cast & crew were told by Fox that they had been picked up for a third season only two days before it was officially announced that they were cancelled instead.

Tropes used in Dark Angel include:

  • AB Negative: An example of Did Not Do the Research, as AB-Negative people can receive blood from anyone with a negative blood group.
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer
  • Acting for Two: some X5s have clones, such as Ben's clone Alec (both are played by Jensen Ackles) and Max's clone Sam (both are played by Jessica Alba).
    • Joshua had a younger brother named Isaac, who was also played by Kevin Durand.
    • Geneva Locke played both Max's younger self in flashbacks and her X7 clone in the present.
  • Aerith and Bob: The names of Max's X5 "family" run the whole gamut: Zack, Max, Tinga, Brin, Ben, Seth, Vada, Kavi, Krit, Syl, Jondy, Zane, Jack, Jace, Eva, Alec (twin of Ben), Sam (twin of Max), Devon (twin of Krit), Jewel (twin of Tinga), Keema (twin of Brin), Lane (twin of Zack).
    • Possibly justified, given that they gave themselves those names. Their official names are barcode numbers (for instance, Max is X5-452)
  • The Alleged Car: Logan's Pontiac Aztek.
  • All Just a Dream: The Halloween episode, "Boo", is mostly Max's nightmare about the worst that could happen with her fellow transgenics being on the streets. The Aesop is that the worst that could happen wasn't all the wackiness, it was Max denying who she was.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: A Cult which has been breeding supposedly superior humans that feel no pain for thousands of years. Their members include government agents, politicians, and even nurses, and they plan for the extinction of the rest of humanity via a viral apocalypse.
  • And This Is For: The light-hearted episode "Fuhgeddaboudit" climaxes with the "Curvaceous Killer" (Max) giving her cage-fighting opponent "Monty Cora" (Alec) a whole load of these in a bid to get him to fight back ("That's for whatever stupid thing you do next"). He does, but she kicks his ass anyway.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin - Averted by Alec, who never even met Ben and isn't impressed by what he's heard. Played straight with Joshua at the end of "Two", but he gets better.
  • Artificial Human: The X series
  • Artificial Limbs: The Steelhead Bird obtains a cyberarm between "Two" and "Some Assembly Required". No matter how much he tinkers with it, he still can't beat Zack at arm wrestling.
  • You Fail Biology Forever: The genetics technobabble on this show is hilariously bad. May be combined with They Just Didn't Care.
  • Backup Twin: Alec is introduced after Ben bites the big one. We got to see Max and Sam together, but not Ben and Alec. Shame.
    • The X7 children could be this in-universe for the X5 adults.
  • Beast Man: Joshua and the rest of the "freaks".
  • Becoming the Mask: Alec as Simon Lehane, "The Berrisford Agenda". The My God, What Have I Done? variety.
  • Big Bad: Lydecker (later Renfro) and Manticore in Season One, Ames White and the Familiars in Season Two.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Zack
  • Black Best Friend: Damn, girl, Original Cindy's got some irreverent observations to make in third person!
  • Blind and the Beast: Joshua's romance with Annie Fisher.
  • Bound and Gagged: Max in "Designate This" and "Some Assembly Required".
  • Brainwashed: Manticore loves to mess with people's minds. With a laser in the eye.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Jace (she got better) and Brin in Season One, Zack (he got better...sort of) in Season Two.
  • Bus Crash: Max's X7 clone, who also played her younger self in flashbacks, protracted a sudden case of progeria and was never seen again.
  • California Doubling: Takes place in Seattle, filmed in Vancouver.
  • Can't Have Sex Ever: The show reveled in throwing up literal barriers to Max and Logan getting intimate.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Max's ability to recognize a phone number on speed dial in the first episode is essential in her plan to get Sophie back to her mother later on.
  • Child Soldiers: The X5s in flashbacks and the younger series in the present. Complete with uniforms and shaved heads.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Sketchy's girlfriend Natalie. Herbal Thought.
  • The Chosen One: Max is the one special X5 whose DNA holds the key to thwarting the afforementioned Ancient Conspiracy
  • Classy Cat Burglar: Max (and Alec)
  • Cloning Blues: Ben/Alec, Max/Sam, younger X7 clones of Max, Zack, et al
    • The blues kick in when Manticore decides the clones of the '09 escapees are the most at risk to make their own escape attempt, and makes with all with the eye-lasers and psychological torture at its disposal to make sure that doesn't happen.
    • And when you're Alec and your twin is not only an escapee but a Serial Killer, necessitating a spell in Psy Ops for observation. Or getting you arrested.
  • Clones Are People, Too
  • Creepy Child: The X7s
  • Colonel Badass: Colonel Donald Lydecker. Villainous version.
  • Conveniently Unverifiable Cover Story: Alec's cover as Simon Lehane.
  • Cool Bike: Max's Kawasaki
  • Coolest Club Ever: Crash
  • Cyberpunk: Most definitely. Economic depression, a massive wealth gap, widespread corruption, and advanced technology that doesn't seem that far off. Season Two even features a Cyborg street gang called the Steelheads in a couple of episodes.
  • Depending on the Writer: Max and Logan are destined to be together and nothing can stop The Power of Love TM, or Max and Logan are wrong for each other and should spare themselves the heartache of being Star-Crossed Lovers. Seriously, watch "Fuhgeddaboudit" and then "Hello, Goodbye". You'll get whiplash.
    • Alec's jerkiness or scatter-brainedness also goes up and down like a yo-yo, but his happy go lucky nature is implied to be a facade anyway.
    • Max's power level, especially in first season, similarly varies wildly - sometimes she can deal with a whole bunch of cops, other times two fairly dozy security guards can take her down.
  • Disabled Love Interest: Logan, wheelchair bound and so very attractive.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: In "Exposure," Max escapes from a telekinetic boy cultist holding her captive (long story) by showing him her breasts, which cause him to lose concentration - and one blow from Max later, consciousness ("Made you look!").
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Max refuses to use guns since her sister Eva was shot during their childhood.
  • Dystopia: Crime and poverty are up. The police are supposedly more Big Brother-y (they have hoverdrones), but are frequently bought off by crooks. Finding a job is hell. Seattle, at least, is divided into sectors and you need a sector pass to move freely. Everything looks dirty, except the mansions. There are still rich people and they still have mansions. Many of America's national treasures and works of art have been taken by countries that are more well-off. But, as Max points out in the Pilot, although it's a depression, most people aren't that depressed. Rap/hip-hop culture is also up.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Normal's running crush on Alec, Played for Laughs.
  • Everyone Can See It: Max and Logan.
  • Evil Brit: British Eddy, the leader of the Steelheads.
  • Executive Meddling: Part of the reason for the sudden change in the show's thematic elements between the first and second season, supposedly an attempt to tone down the show's dystopian atmosphere in the wake of 9/11.
  • Extraordinarily Empowered Girl
  • Face Heel Turn: Brin
  • Fake Memories: Zack, "Some Assembly Required"
  • Fantastic Racism: Mostly on the part of ignorant humans towards transgenics. There are flaming Xs involved. Also the Familiar Breeding Cult thinks everyone else is inferior.
    • In the second season, we get to see a woman on TV who speculates that transgenics shouldn't be allowed to live, as they are the creations of man and so have no souls. The creepy smile on her face just makes things all the worse.
  • Fan Service: Jessica Alba. That is all.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Trannie" for transgenics. Where have we heard that before?
  • Flash Step: The X5s, occasionally. It's called "blurring".
  • Foot Focus: The closeup of Max's bare foot in "Meow".
  • Framing the Guilty Party: In "Art Attack", a gangster commits murder by defenestrating his victim, thus making it look like suicide. Logan conspires with Dr. Beverly Shankar to put a cap in the corpse's head, then has Max plant the murder weapon on the gangster as he attempts to leave the country.
  • Friday Night Death Slot: Shipped here in its second season. The show that replaced it in that particular timeslot? Firefly. Cue fan-war.
  • Functional Addict: Max's roomies think she's one when they find her stash of pills. She's never told them about her neurological condition that means she depends on tryptophan (an amino acid), so they throw the pills away and stage an intervention. It doesn't go well, especially since she walks out rather than explain herself.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke
  • Genius Cripple: Logan and his Stephen Hawking-esque friend Sebastian both fit this trope.
  • Gentle Giant: Joshua
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: Alec says that "Ames White and His Familiars" sounds like one.
  • Government Conspiracy
  • Half-Human Hybrid: X5s and humans are interfertile, though there are mentions of difficulties with the crossbreeding experiments at Manticore - the offspring were "of spectacular mediocrity" and "those were the successes". Those not conceived as part of experiments don't seem to have any such setbacks.
  • Heel Face Turn: Alec. Lydecker splits the difference between this and Enemy Mine.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Eyes Only is considered a cyberterrorist by the corrupt authorities. Max herself is the key to saving humanity from the Familiars, and she and her fellow transgenics are the targets of public hatred after being outed.
  • History Marches On: 2009 came and went, and no computers got fried. The economy did turn sour, but not to such an extreme degree as in the show.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Subverted with Bruno Anselmo, who Max reluctantly has to protect in "Red". He's a disgusting, morally repugnant douchebag who is only testifying against the corrupt mayor because he wants his daughter to have one reason to remember him as something other than a disgusting, morally repugnant douchebag. And he still sells out Max to the Red Series soldiers afterwards.
  • Hive Mind: The X7s
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: "Pollo Loco"
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Mia is a transgenic with hypnotic powers. One of the things that draws her to her human boyfriend Doug is that she can't influence him that way, due to the brain anomaly that makes him narcoleptic. "What fun is being in love if everything's easy?"
  • I'm Okay!
  • The Immune: The transgenics were made to survive the breeding cult's virus, which only members of the cult were supposed to be able to survive. Max doesn't even feel ill when exposed, unlike other transgenics, and both the post-series novels and the writers' aborted Season Three plans state that her genetic code can be used to immunize regular humans. The cult aren't too happy to discover this.
    • The transgenics settle down in "Terminal City", a part of Seattle where biocontaminants were accidentally released from a lab when its containment was immobilized by the Pulse, because they can survive there and humans can't.
  • In Love with the Mark: See Becoming the Mask.
  • Information Wants to Be Free: Logan's shtick as Eyes Only, except of course when it comes to his own identity and those of his operatives.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Alec's reason for telling Asha to forget about the possibility of a relationship with him.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Zach and Max employ this on Lydecker in a first season episode. He does them one better and breaks his own finger to convince them he's telling the truth.
  • Jerkass: The nerdy-looking, George H.W. Bush-loving, "bip-bip-bip"-ing dispatcher Normal at Jam Pony. He hates the messengers in his employ (with the notable exception of Alec), they hate him, it's a puzzle how he even got in this business. He gets better eventually.
  • Mix-and-Match Man: All the transgenics have DNA culled from various humans and animals (which animal depends on the type) so that they have peak physical and mental abilities. As far as is known, none looks exactly like any human donor.
  • Monster of the Week: Season 2. But only rarely a villainous monster. Season 1 also had "monsters of the week" in the sense of criminal threats that were dealt with in the space of one episode.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: It's Jessica Alba with enhanced strength.
    • "Pollo Loco" writer Doris Egan relates on her livejournal that one of the producers objected to casting Jensen Ackles as an X5 because he wasn't very muscular. Egan pointed out that they were following this trope for X5s, and the producer obliviously advocated a Double Standard.
  • Neuro Vault: Episode "The Kidz Are Aiight". The X5s were taught how to do this at will. Zack buries the locations of his siblings in his mind so that Manticore torturers can't extract the information.
  • Never Found the Body: Lydecker, after "Proof of Purchase". He survived, as seen at the end of After the Dark.
  • Nice Guy: Although Logan can be a bit cocky at times and is very bitter about his paralysis, he is usually kind-hearted and has principles.
    • Logan's physical therapist Bling is quite possibly the nicest guy on the show, and Only Sane Man when it comes to Max and Logan's relationship issues.
  • No Name Given: Most Jam Pony employees go by nicknames, it seems. Original Cindy (Cynthia McEachin), Sketchy (Calvin Simon Theodore), Normal (Reagan Ronald), Herbal Thought, Druid.
  • No Social Skills: The X6 teenagers seen in "Bag 'Em" display this, having been released into the world in 2020 after spending their whole lives in Manticore.
    • Alec, despite being in a similar situation, was much more worldwise because he had been trained for infiltration and assassination missions. Still, flashbacks in "The Berrisford Agenda" show that while he could converse normally about most things while undercover, he had no clue about romance until he experienced it firsthand. Which is funny because in the present day he's a Handsome Lech.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Subversion, Max and Zack are only siblings in the sense of being from the same unit at Manticore, but she's still squicked when he makes a (Brainwashed) move on her. Doesn't stop fans from Shipping Max/Zack or Max/Ben. Or Max/Alec. Although Alec isn't from Max's unit, he's a clone of Ben, who is.
  • "Not Wearing Pants" Dream: Max has one in "Boo" in which she is naked just before she wakes up.
  • Not Wearing Tights
  • Obfuscating Disability: Once used by Logan. He's a real paraplegic most of the time, but an easily hidden exoskeleton allows him to walk.
  • Off the Wagon: Lydecker, when his plans start going to hell.
  • Only One
  • Only One Name
  • Par Kourier: The Jam Pony bike message service.
  • People Jars: Tinga dies in one.
  • Perma Stubble: The wealthy and otherwise clean-cut Logan Cale wears this, apparently as a sign to the viewer of his single-minded dedication to righting the world's wrongs, even when he is supposed to have "cleaned up" for his cousin's wedding. The three-day pause every time Michael Weatherly shaved is said to have complicated the shooting schedule.
  • Photographic Memory
  • Phlebotinum Rebel: Series premise
  • Phrase Catcher: Several times Logan is told a variant of "I will kick your ass, wheelchair or no wheelchair."
  • Poor Communication Kills: Very nearly. Kendra and Cindy don't know about Max's neurological condition, and they throw away her tryptophan tablets, thinking they're recreational drugs that Max is addicted to. Then they confront her about it. Rather than coming clean about her condition, Max leaves without a word. Logan has to set them straight later.
  • Put on a Bus: Kendra, who moved into her boyfriend Walter's home, allowing Original Cindy and Max to become roommates.
    • At least her disappearance was explained; what happened to Asha?
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Alec, in "The Berrisford Agenda". Ben also has a moment where he glares at his reflection, but he doesn't punch it.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Detective Ramon Clemente in the finale.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Lydecker kept some of his dead wife's DNA alive in Max, though she is not an exact clone - "More 'inspired by'. You have her eyes". Creepy.
  • The Resolution Will Not Be Televised: Since the show ended mid-plot, two novels ("Skin Game" and "After the Dark") were published to finish the story, in addition to a prequel novel ("Before the Dawn") which feeds into both the Pilot and "After the Dark". "Skin Game" wraps up the siege of Terminal City, while "After the Dark" provides closure to the Myth Arc. Completing the set is a compilation of in-universe documents called "The Eyes Only Dossier".
  • Romance on the Set: Jessica Alba (Max) and Michael Weatherly (Logan). They were engaged.
  • Room Full of Crazy - Ben had written words from Manticore indoctrination sessions, like Duty, Discipline, and Mission, all over the walls and boxes of a warehouse.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Original Cindy. Please see Totally Radical, below.
  • Scannable Man: All the transgenics except Joshua, who was first.
  • Secret Project Refugee Family: Max, Joshua, and Alec develop into one. Intentionally averted by the 12 '09 escapees in that Zack had them split up to making capturing them all harder. Max and Jondy were paired off, but got separated.
  • Separated at Birth: The X5 twins. Separated before birth, really. The embryos from the same test-tube were divided and then implanted in different surrogate mothers.
  • Serial Killer: Ben, Isaac.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend / He Is Not My Boyfriend: Max and Logan keep insisting this in both seasons, even though the other characters see right through it and refer to them as a couple.
  • Shirtless Scene: Alec has one after coming out of a shower.
    • Also when he is fighting in that cage.
  • Shooting Gallery: with Eyes Only targets, for Zack when he was Brainwashed and Crazy
  • Shout-Out: When Original Cindy is moving in with Max, one of her belongings is a XENA LIVES! poster. This is either because Xena was being cancelled that year or that a show that possibly aired before Cindy was BORN was still popular decades later. Now, what are the odds of-- oh, wait...
    • Also, the resistance group S1W (Security of the First World) is a direct reference to the rap group Public Enemy (Which should come as no surprise since Chuck D was one of the writers of the theme song.
    • Max gives Joshua a copy of Stephen King's "IT" in "Two".
    • In "Before the Dawn", Max steals a jewel from a Titanic exhibit. This is also a James Cameron gag.
    • In "Borrowed Time", Max and Alec steal the original film reels from either one of the Star Wars or Star Trek movies (it's never really clear which, since both of them get the two series confused).
    • During one of Alec's flashbacks in "The Berrisford Agenda", Rachel starts playing the theme song from the Peanuts TV specials during one of her piano lessons.
    • The female Steelhead, Lux, has retractable razor blades under her fingernails, similar to Molly Millions from Neuromancer.
  • Similarly Named Works: There is a video game Dark Angel based on this series, which should not be confused as having anything to do with the video game Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse.
    • There is also an adventure supplement for Shadowrun with the title Dark Angel, and though both the game and the show are set in near-future Seattle, the adventure was released about a decade before the TV show first aired.
  • Sitting on the Roof: Max, Ben, Alec, Logan, etc. have done this on the Space Needle.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: More cynical, but with fair amounts of humor.
  • Smug Snake: Ames White, Renfro, and Lydecker's subordinate, Sandoval.
  • Star-Making Role: For Jessica Alba
  • Stealth Hi Bye: Max to Logan, constantly.
  • Stoic Spectacles: Alec when pretending to be Simon Lehane
    • Logan. All the time.
  • Sugar and Ice Personality: Max
  • Super Breeding Program: The purpose of The Familiars.
  • Super Soldier: What the X5s and most of the Manticore "mutants" were designed for
  • Superhuman Transfusion: To Logan.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: CeCe and Biggs were supposed to be return appearances by Syl and Krit, but the actors' schedules didn't work out.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Max and Sam. None of the other twins fit.
  • They Look Like Us Now: The Familiars intentionally provoke this reaction in the populace by revealing that there are not only obvious "monster" transgenics but also the human-looking X-series living among them.
  • Third Person Person: Original Cindy and Diamond.
  • Tomboyish Name: Max, obviously. And her twin Sam and sister Jace. And an X6 who chooses the name Ralph, which Max points out is a boy's name.
    • Max, however, could be short for Maxine, like Chris, from Christina, Sam from Samantha, and Alex, from Alexandra, whereas Ralph isn't usually short for anything.
  • Totally Radical: Watch with the sound off. This is an incredibly beautiful, very cinematic series, whose dialogue tries so hard to be Young and Hip that it may actually cause brain damage.
  • True Companions: Max, Original Cindy, and Sketchy.
    • Max, Alec and Joshua in season 2.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future
  • Tyke Bomb: The X5s again. Abused TykeBombs.
    • Also the X7s.
  • The Unmasqued World: by the end of the series, the existence of transgenics is known to the public and the identities of the X5s who could pass as humans are exposed. This leads to Fantastic Racism.
  • Urban Segregation: most of Seattle (and any other American city) is slum, but there are still nice areas. They tend to have more security now. Additionally, citizens need special "sector passes" to move in between the different areas of the city.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Ben and Isaac.
  • Voice of the Resistance - Eyes Only. This is a Streaming Freedom video bulletin. It cannot be traced, it cannot be stopped, and it is the only free voice left in this city.
  • Wunza Plot: And often enough, They Fight Crime.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Max (and all the rest of the X5s) doesn't manufacture enough seratonin due to flaws in the genetic engineering, requiring her to buy supplements of pure tryptophan (milk is only a stop-gap measure) or her seizures could get bad enough that she'd shut down every month or so. Her brother Jack died of this before the escape. This lead to some Worf Had the Flu moments when she wasn't able to get the medicine in time in the first season, but was later dropped.
  • A World Half Full
  • You Are Number Six: Max is 452, Sam is 453, Ben is 493, Alec is 494, Zack is 599, Tinga is 656, etc.
  • Your Door Was Open: Max and Zack often appear in Logan's apartment without warning. They are basically ninjas.