TV Review: DARK MATTER (season 1)

A new post celebrating The 2016 Sci-Fi Experience, an event hosted by Carl  V. Anderson over at Stainless Steel Droppings (follow the links to know more!).

DARK MATTER -- Season:1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Zoie Palmer as The Adroid, Alex Mallari Jr. as Four, Anthony Lemke as Three, Melissa O'Neil as Two, Mark Bendavid as One, Jodelle Ferland as Five, Roger Cross as Six -- (Photo by: Dennys/Ilic/Syfy)

The SyFy Channel recently started its own highly publicized “renaissance period” by producing and airing new science fiction series, among them the much awaited for The Expanse and Childhood’s End (both starting this December), or the work-in-progress The Ghost Brigades, from John Scalzi’s successful Old Man’s War book series.

Dark Matter is part of this new course of the network, that in the past few years seemed to have forgotten the genre it drew its name from: together with Killjoys (a review of which will be forthcoming) this show went on air during the summer, in my eye a sort of test of what SyFy intends to do in the near future.  And as a declaration of intents, it was quite promising…

The show itself is not exactly “stellar”, suffering from an evident lack of high budgets and – this is my very personal opinion – a sort of tentative approach from the production: it’s based on some tested tropes and characterizations (some might call them clichés), but at the same time it’s not afraid of subverting them a little, now and then, so that the viewers can enjoy the occasional surprise along the way.  If the end result is not earth-shattering, it’s however a good, interesting story that blossoms into its full potential in the last 4 or 5 episodes of its 13-episode run: I had fun with it, and sometimes this is all one can ask from a tv show.

The story, in short: six people wake up from stasis on a ship, their identities wiped clean – they don’t remember who they are, and what they are doing there, but are still able to apply their individual skills to the situation. As they assign each other a number in the order of awakening, the six meet an android in defense mode who attacks them and needs to be de-activated and reprogrammed. Through the help of the android the crew starts to access the ship’s data storage – partly damaged or inaccessible – in search of clues about who and what they are.  The first findings seem to point to their identity as ruthless mercenaries employed in the dirtiest, bloodiest kind of work…

From here the story develops – sometimes predictably, sometimes not – along some interesting paths, with the main thread about who started the mind wipe, and why, being the most compelling one. Suspicion and posturing create a great deal of conflict among the six, who however need to stay together for mutual support and defense: here I was reminded of one of Farscape‘s core concepts, that of the bunch of strangers forced to cooperate to stay alive. The ship itself represents a mystery, with its closed doors and dark corridors that mirror the situation of the group’s collective memories.

At the beginning, the six main characters do look a bit like clichés: One is the Good Guy who tries to be group’s conscience; Two is the Warrior Princess, lethal and tough; Three is the archetype of the Mercenary Without Conscience (Firefly‘s Jayne, anyone?); Four the Oriental Martial Arts Expert, moody and silent; Five is the Wizard Girl, versed in all things mechanical; and Six the Pilot and overall nice buddy.  Yet, over time, they all reveal unexpected facets that sometimes subvert the first impression given to the viewers and even manage to turn them on their heads – especially in the very last scene of the last episode.

I’m reserving a special mention for the Android: she seems to walk the much-beaten path about the Android Reaching for its Humanity, but does so with a flawless execution veined with humor that soon made her one of my favorite characters. Granted, we’ve seen this countless times, but when it’s done well, it can be enjoyable…

What kept my interest focused on the show was the moral dilemma of the group: the mind-wipe has removed any personality trait that made them what they were, and when they learn something of their past they are all more or less appalled, so that the question about going back to their old selves or taking a new path surfaces more than once. The dilemma is not resolved of course, and there is no clear-cut choice, either, because – let’s face it – if muscle memory can enable you to fly a shuttle even if you don’t consciously remember how, what happens when your inner nature takes the helm? And what happens if the killer inside you is needed for survival?

This first season of Dark Matter worked pretty well as an introduction, and I believe there is great potential to be explored here, both in story-lines and characterization: if the creators will not be afraid to take some new, unexpected road, to dare a little, we might not be disappointed with the new installments.

And I want to be optimistic…

My Rating:

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Posted on December 16, 2015, in Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This does sound really quite intriguing and I like the sound of the android. Nice to see you’re keeping an optimistic and open mind about it too. First books can sometimes leave some room for improvement but that’s not always a bad thing.
    Lynn 😀

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    • The problem with tv shows is that sometimes they are not given time enough to grow to their full potential, and that even the promising ones never reach maturity, thanks to network executives’ short-sightedness – Firefly being one of the saddest examples…
      I will keep my fingers crossed 🙂

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  2. I noticed this being advertised (like everyone, I’ve been paying more attention to the Syfy channel in their renaissance period that you talked about). Still not sure about it though, as I’ve got other priorities…like The Expanse 🙂 I also caught the first two parts of Childhood’s End. And then there’s The Magicians. I’m afraid something’s gotta give! Unless I hear better reviews for this, I may continue to pass.

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    • I know what you mean: I was lucky enough to catch this in a period when there was not much else on offer, and the shorter season did help – if I had noticed it now, with all the wonderfully shiny things making doe eyes at us, I would probably have reacted as you did. Because, you know… EXPANSE!!!! 🙂

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