Sep 17, 2015

[TV] Dark Matter: Season 1

Science fiction is a tricky genre these days. Without the excitement of the space race back in the 1960's, interest in the sciences and related speculative stories is somewhat limited in comparison. And so we've seen a good number of science fiction themed shows step up to the plate of network television only to disappear before they can really make a mark on the world.

And then you have SyFy, which may be better known for its monster movies like Sharknado versus actually, well, science fiction content (hence the strange rebranding effort). We haven't really seen them back a major science fiction show since the Battlestar Galactica days, and that has been quite some time already.

Dark Matter seems to be a step in the right direction, or at least a modest effort to put something together that might hold water. It's not a big epic space opera, but it remains to be a interesting enough concept to hook you in and some fairly interesting characters that hold the potential for some interesting stories as well.

Synopsis: Dark Matter is a Canadian science fiction drama series created by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie for the Space channel in Canda and SyFy in the US. The story is generally based on the comic book of the same name also by the same creative team.

The story begins on a starship, where most of the story takes place. The main quirk that is presented at the very beginning of the show - the people on the ship seem to have no memory of who they are. After a brief effort to bring the ship back under control with skills they instinctively had, all other individuals in stasis are also revived in the hopes that one of them might know something. But of course all of them have lost their memories, and so they start referring to one another based on the sequence of their awakening. The ship also has an android, that is able to directly interface with the ship's computer and help manage most of its functions.

And the show starts off with an interesting conundrum - the nearest planet is being threatened by a greedy corporation and they were hoping to receive a supply of weapons to help defend themselves. They speak oh a fearsome group of aliens that seems to work for the Corporation and have a reputation for leaving no survivors. But by the end of the first episode, the android's efforts to repair some of the damages memory files reveal the truth of the crew. They are in fact the dreaded mercenaries working for the corporation and all of them are guilty of various crimes. What they choose to do next is really where the story is.

The composition of the crew is a pretty interesting one. Two (Melissa O'Neil) starts out as the stereotypical strong female character, but she is a bit more complicated than that. As things progress, you'll find that she plays her cards very close to her chest and is more than capable of manipulating other members of the crew to suit her needs. I generally appreciate how she handles the team and how quickly she just assumes command once they are awakened.

Three (Anthony Lemke) and Four (Alex Mallari Jr.) are largely stereotypes that really don't get too far in terms of development. Three is your unsavory gunrunner who is eager to have a large weapon in his hands at all times. Four is literally a samurai/ninja character who spends most if not all of his time on the ship training and practicing in the gym for some reason. They're still fund additions to the crew, but also pretty limited.

It's the Android (Zoie Palmer) who really shines in this show as she's just human enough to often sound snarky or sarcastic but is still enough of a machine to miss a lot of the nuances of human behavior and such. She is a nice balance of those two sides, even though she's clearly more human than robot.

I appreciate how the show tries to explore the question of identity given the memory wipe that begins the series. Once they find out who they really are, the question becomes whether or not they should start new lives or just resume their old ones. And given the role that memory plays in defining one's sense of self and identity, it's easy to see why this actually does become quite the conundrum. They all first set out to be new people and start their lives anew, but over time it's clear that escaping the burdens and responsibilities of their past lives isn't as simple as walking away.

Sure the acting is a a little inconsistent at times and some of the episodes are rather silly, but on the whole Dark Matter is still an interesting show to explore. Don't expect too many epic space battles or anything since that would drive the budget up. So instead we have a lot more character-focused narratives and all that makes for some interesting TV time. So the show gets a good 4 secrets hidden on the ship itself out of a possible 5.

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