So, after two mostly unrelated final episodes, Syfy’s other new outing is behind us. And while it looked poorer, it was significantly smarter than Crinjoys’ napkin-scribbled childish mess. Sure, it had some particularly weak spots and didn’t indulge in large-scale worldbuilding, but in its Raza-shaped bottle, it managed to stay consistent and juggle several delayed revelations.
Dark Matter is a character-driven show. This, however, is achieved by relying on an overused cliche of memory loss: the six protagonists wake up from cryo-sleep onboard a busted spaceship (named “Raza”) and try to figure out who they are, where they were going and what for. Apart from that, they’re fine and able to do some decent asskicking right off the bat. Which may seem at least a little cringeworthy (since we had to bear with two big-screen adaptations of The Bourne Identity already), but the show mercifully doesn’t wait too long with revealing the first details.
Due to lack of name tags or even signed underwear to prevent stealing it from the communal laundry room, the protagonists name themselves in the order they got up from cryo-sleep.
One is the supposedly nice guy with the gift of gab. He’s supposed to be space pirate Jace Corso, but that is quickly disproved when in the tail-end of Episode Three we see the real Jace Corso (distinguished by his penchant for eyeliner) bitching about someone who ruined his day by ratting him out and posing as him. Only after an escapade involving terrorists, disposable clones and overblown accusations of homophobia we find out that One is, in fact, a vigilante millionaire named Derrick Moss, who used plastic surgery to pose as Corso and join the crew 0f the Raza for some misguided vendetta.
And despite his first impression and the gift of gab, One is a douche (but, luckily, he’s consistent enough at it to make me suppose it was intended). He’s punchably smug (for which he’s quickly called out - and punched often) and childishly petulant after learning that he’s supposed to get revenge for some stuff he doesn’t remember, and his behavior is only toned down by our next crewmember.
Two is the show’s designated Strong Female Character. Luckily, she’s nowhere near the awful Mary Sue Killjoys’ Dutch was - sure, Two can kick ass wholesale and command a spaceship, but there are moments where she understands that she has to hand the matters off to someone with more expertise in a particular field. Also, she’s the Team Mom - pretty much all of the idiot-herding among the crew is her responsibility. Finally, despite the amnesia, Two despises her former identity, hired killer Portia Lin, for reasons that are only hinted at as late as Episode Twelve.
That’s because Two is a genetically engineered, nanite-infused, artificially created human. Which sadly makes her the least well characterized member of the crew, due to the writers withholding pretty much her entire background until as late as Episode Eleven, with Episode Twelve being full of disturbing, distracting and, in the end, misleading advances the villain, a Weasely Crusher played by none other than Star Trek’s Wil Wheaton, makes at her. Because nope, Two isn’t meant to be Weasely Crusher’s lab-grown sex slave - she’s supposed to be a body donor for Old Man Overmind, bedridden old fart communicating with Weasely through a voice synthesizer that sounds, go figure, like Starcraft’s Zerg hive consciousness. But, somehow, she butchered her way out of the lab after being awakened, became a space pirate, and when Weasely finally captured her, she again butchered he way out of the lab and went back to being a space pirate.
“Three is an asshole.” This quote, spouted by One when he’s manhandled during the disposable clone escapade, seems to be the only thing the entire crew agrees on. Three, AKA Marcus Boone, is the show’s gun-toting jackass, a riff on Firefly’s Jayne Cobb - just without the silly hat. He’s dismissive, contrarian, complaining a lot and when you need a crew member to be violently thrown against the wall by the villain of the week - Three’s there. Unless it’s One’s turn.
Three enjoys being a goon, but it’s mostly posturing. When the crew stumbles upon his cryogenically frozen, terminally ill lover in a secure container in the cargo hold (that is an early season enigma in itself), Three’s all mush. It turns out that he spent a year with her after being marooned on a backwater planet, and took her, cryogenically frozen, in search of a cure. Which would make you wonder whether he really killed One’s wife, as the in-world media claim... And makes One an even bigger douche when he petulantly tries to kill Three, at least until Two reminds him that he doesn’t even remember who his wife was.
Four is the brooding Asian guy with a shitty-ass $30 Master Cutlery katana. In case you wonder who the hell uses swords in space, here’s the answer: Ryo Ishida, crown prince of Zairon, wanted for regicide after he supposedly murdered his dad the Emperor in his own bed. Our swole samurai spends time either practicing flashy katas like my buddy Alan, or being very zen. Until he stabs his kenjutsu teacher to, uh, make a point.
It takes an Inception for Four to figure out that media are spouting the official bullshit, and he was in fact framed by his cartoonishly evil stepmother, who wanted to put her son on the throne instead. Apparently having no better ideas on how to get his throne back, Four stabs the only person in Zairon who might have believed him and intends to go against the Empire with any help he can get. Or, most likely, no help.
Five is the bubbly teenage tech wizard, a blue-haired copy of Firefly’s Kaylee Frye, down to the flower-print outfits. Which is hilarious when you realize that she’s played by the go-to creepy child of budget cinema, Jodelle Ferland (Silent Hill’s Alessa Gillespie). Everyone wonders how the hell a kid with no criminal record got on board, but since she’s handy with a wrench and fits in an air vent they decide to keep her around. That and she’s adorable. Even after she reveals that she has strange dreams that turn out to be the crew’s missing memories.
It quickly turns out that she’s a stowaway, running from some pissed-off people she stole a technologically advanced keycard from. Also, there’s a reason for her to possess the crew’s memories - the finale reveals that it was her who wiped them, in order to save an unknown crewmember from getting murdered because reasons. The context points at One, who oddly has the least to do with her throughout the entire season.
Six is the Team Dad and shuttle pilot, also (again for Roger Cross, who plays him) a terrorist. As the Team Dad, he does some idiot-herding and wants a better future for Five, who thanks to her lack of a mile-long rap sheet could be better off away from a bunch of trigger-happy mercenaries.
As the terrorist, well, he unwittingly blew up ten thousand people and stole a destroyer as a distraction. That’s what he learned when Five used some mad science and medical supplies to get a better look at the crew’s memories and liked someone’s simple farmboy childhood so much she decided to stay in that memory. Six had to get through his own memory of responding to murdering ten thousand people badly (by murdering his four terrorist buddies) to snap her out. Armed with that knowledge, he goes on a badly thought escapade involving disposable clones in order to murder his former leader... who also turns out to be a disposable clone.
Finally, there’s The Android. She serves as a handier version of the ship’s interface, and also does some medical diagnosis. In order to avoid being boring, though, she develops an awareness of being a little too friendly with the crew. That after she wipes the floor with half of them in the pilot episode, and gets reset to factory settings for her trouble.
Just as Killjoys were hired bounty hunters, the crew of the Raza do the other sort of stuff space megacorporations won’t send their own employees to. In the first two episodes we learn that they were supposed to murder the shit out of some hapless miners refusing to leave the only habitable world in the vicinity of a mineral-rich asteroid field or other, and the other things they get hired for are also of the villainous sort. However, as opposed to Killjoys, job of the week never takes precedence over character-related plots, allowing Dark Matter to flesh the protagonists out more, along with enough of the universe to put everything into some context.
Honestly, I’m sitting here for two hours now trying to say something about the plot. And I still got nothing besides the fact that it exists and there are barely any things dumb enough to get my attention (and unbridled outrage) in it. Remember how I shit fire and pissed brimstone all over the sheer dumbfuckery of “political intrigue” of Killjoys? Ain’t nothing like that here. Sure, the final episode was very stupid and contrived in its stupidity, but it wasn’t as flat-out nonsensical. Six went on another suicidal guilt trip, assuming that Five would be let go as soon as the Galactic Authority had no file on her and that would be the best solution to keep her safe from the fallout of any Raza-related antics, a concern he repeatedly stated throughout several episodes. The girl walks, fuck the rest.
Episode Seven was dumb too, but more divisive. On one hand, it rounded Three’s character, showing how much posturing his jackass mercenary attitude is (if using some cheap melodrama to do so), but Wendy the Android? “Dunking the cosmic donut” was arguably the most cringeworthy line in the entire season, and the attempt at rounding the Android’s character by hamfistedly implying she was jealous wasn’t any better. Seriously, that Chekhov’s gun with Cyrus King’s name on it really wasn’t necessary.
Episode Nine was unveiling pretty nicely, with Four’s kenjutsu teacher Akita being shown as pretty much the only person in the Principality of Zairon who actually believed in Four’s innocence. And then wham, Four killed the poor guy for pretty much no reason. Showing and telling contradicted each other in favor of telling, which was particularly bad after eight episodes of Four speaking up last, hanging back and keeping to himself, completely out of line with his supposed impetuousness.
On the other hand, Episode Twelve posits an interesting question in regard to Two. Did the memory wipe “fix” her, and what caused her to murder her way out of the lab the first time around? Considering that Wil Wheaton’s weasely crusher villain constantly attempts what a psychopathic stalker would call romantic advances and the head scientist acts like a colossal dick, it’s hard not to see a fast-tracked pathological upbringing here - in a glimpse of pre-memory wipe Portia, she acts like a dick towards Five, a completely different behavior to the one we were shown throughout the season. The same episode has a fun call back to Episode Two, with the roles inverted - this time, it’s Two who is left behind while the rest bails out to come back with a rescue plan.
Showrunner Joseph Mallozzi clearly stated on his blog that his plans involve fifty episodes, with each season tackling different issues. And the writers have shown both consistency and the ability to work with limited resources, so as long as they avoid suicidal guilt trips and dunking the cosmic donut, they have a chance.