PASADENA, CALIF. — "Dark Angel," Fox's breakout hit of last year that returns tonight (9-10 p.m.), is an edgy sci-fi show about a genetically engineered woman created by the military to be a "super soldier."
Set 20 years in the future, it explores life after a massive worldwide failure of the technological infrastructure of modern life.
While events of the past few weeks certainly lend new resonance to the show's theme of insecurity in the wake of unknown threats, the show's creators always intended to deal with this issue and others in current thought.
"It's very much based on the technology that we know about now," says executive producer Charles Eglee.
"You read about a tomato that has flounder DNA in it to make it more resistant to cold. Well, what would happen if that were transposed into the human genome, as is really what is happening now?"
"It's always been a science-fiction show," says executive producer James Cameron.
"But, it's been a very kind of low-key and subtle approach to science fiction, as opposed to lasers and starships and some of the usual trappings," says the director of "Titanic" and sci-fi movies such as "Aliens" and "The Terminator."
"It's interesting, because it makes a different kind of science fiction," Cameron says.
"In a way, [it is] a kind that's more thoughtful and is more about the effect on humans, psychologically and sociologically. Because that's what science fiction is about. It's holding up a mirror to our present existence and letting us kind of explore our hopes and our fears for the future."
While this past season focused primarily on the personal explorations of Max (Jessica Alba), the new season will expand her world.
"The character of Max was really a Frankenstein," Eglee says, "but the stitches were microscopic. Having explored the mythology of Manticore [the military facility where Max was created], and the mythology of Max's past and her character, [we] looked at each other and said, 'What would happen if the stitches were macroscopic?'
"In other words, everything that was internal in Max was externalized in some of these other characters that were coming along."
In exploring the dark underside of technology put to military purposes, the show's creators say they are consciously referencing earlier times of technological shifts in the military.
"In the larger universe [of Max], there are other facilities in other countries that are exploring the same type of research, in the same way that different countries were racing for development of the hydrogen bomb in the late 1940s and '50s," Eglee says.
"Once the toothpaste of this new technology is out of the tube, it can't be put back. So, it's really starting to transform life everywhere."
The central theme of the show, Cameron says, is how human beings prevail in situations of adversity.
"We're really trying to resurrect the kind of Depression-era America, when the gangsters ruled the street and the little guy didn't have much of a chance and needed some help. And it was a time when we needed heroes, and it was a time when people's moral fabric was tested."
Big picture aside, the show is also about a young woman coming of age.
"It's really a show about a girl trying to make her way in the world," says writer René Echevarria, "and figure out who she is and what she's about."
Adds Cameron, "Her character becomes a kind of symbol of every teenager or young adult that reaches a certain age where there isn't somebody telling them what to do and what's right and wrong anymore, or they're not listening.
"It's really got to come from within. They've got to find it for themselves. They've got to find their own moral compass. And that's really what Max's journey was."