Dark Matter (Season 1)

If you squint really hard when you watch Dark Matter, you can pretend you’re watching a crappy remake of Firefly, because there are some similarities.

In a time when humans have colonized many worlds across the galaxy, in which the little people’s concerns are ignored by a heartless government, a crew of misfits attempts to unravel not a few mysteries while struggling just to survive.

That could describe either show. This “formula”, while intriguing—entertaining, even—means comparatively little if you haven’t got Joss Whedon writing the scripts, though.

On the other hand, two seasons have already been made and they’re working on Season 3, so it would seem audiences decided the characters have at least a modicum of enduring appeal. I, too, like the show enough to keep watching. I am curious where the plot’s going.


See below for more thoughts on the show, including SPOILERS.

More thoughts on Dark Matter
(No spoilers yet.)

I don’t know why they call the show Dark Matter.

As far as I know from watching Season 1, the phrase doesn’t refer to a literal substance, and is not spoken by any of the characters. Since the crew’s memories were wiped, and since the brain consists of gray matter and white matter, it could be that they are trying to say that some areas of the brain are unknown and therefore “dark”. My best theory is that it’s a vague, sciencey-sounding metaphor for “issues that are extremely bleak or obscure”, chosen primarily for its tone.

The choice of a non-central phrase for the title of the show is typical of the show’s writing.


I often feel as if the scripts were written as pure dialogs, and whatever the characters are physically doing has been added in later just to make the actors look busy. The fight scenes are suitably choreographed, but practically everything else is filler. You could get all the plot and characterization by just listening to the show without watching it because the characters don’t rely on facial expressions and body language for communication. If you are watching the screen, when a character communicates with a non-verbal reaction and a line of dialog, the scene comes across as overwritten.

The canonical example of unnecessary dialog is from Legend of the Seeker. One of the main characters says to another: “They’re gone! And they took the horses!” The visual beat, which shows the empty clearing that the two characters have just reached, would have been sufficient. Since we, the audience, have already seen the fugitives leaving with the horses, the empty clearing is no surprise. The scene is there to show us that the characters know everything we do, and that’s what it does, twice over, without doing anything else of value.

Dark Matter has some funny lines and impassioned speeches, but they’re hard to enjoy. The funniest character is the one who’s unbearably mercenary. The everyman character is unbearably idealistic. You want to laugh at what the mercenary says, but you can’t do it without feeling slimy. You want to agree with the good guy, but you can’t because he’s so earnest he’s awkward and so well-meaning he’s naive.


The crew of the Raza, the ship in Dark Matter, consists of four guys, a woman, a girl, and a female android. They all wake up not knowing who they are, and name themselves after the order in which they emerged from their stasis chambers. Thus, the characters are called One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Android. I’d have preferred something like Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc., and in fact Joss already did Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc. with the characters in Dollhouse.

One is the open-hearted everyman with whom viewers are meant to identify most closely. Two, the woman, becomes the leader in part because she intuitively knows how to fly the ship. Three is a callous, uncouth mercenary. Four is the inconsistently laconic Japanese guy who likes to practice expertly waving swords around in his free time, as we are shown ad nauseam. Five is the geek girl with green hair who can fix things. Six is the friendly black guy who looks out for her. The android interfaces with the ship digitally, but seems to use her hands and eyes a lot, too. In fact, she seems to have some human emotions (jealousy, affection, pride), though they don’t seem to be a normal part of android programming.

It’s convenient that the characters wake up knowing nothing, since then we get to discover their identities and issues along with them, like Robert Langdon in Inferno (2016). Like Dan Brown’s plots, the plots of Dark Matter episodes are generally plot-driven and sometimes rather contrived.

Science Fiction

Dark Matter has lifelike androids, warp drives, and a doomsday device that destroys a planet, for example. The unique tech that’s introduced, though, is a process by which you can effectively teleport by means of a short-lived 3D-printed genetic clone, which absorbs experiences that are technically not yours but are reintegrated with your own as in Total Recall (1990) and Total Recall (2012).

I very much appreciated the moment early on in the season when the artificial gravity on the Raza is temporarily deactivated. My admiration for the show’s attention to such details was undermined when, later on, the ship goes into some kind of emergency mode and the artificial gravity remains on.

Season Finale of Season 1 of Dark Matter
(Here there be spoilers.)

At the beginning of the last episode, someone incapacitates the android. For the rest of the episode, the crew tries to figure out who did it. When they search the ship and discover that the culprit was not an enemy stowaway, they all start pointing fingers (and guns) at each other. It’s tense, as you know if you’ve read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, especially when the traitor starts taking out more of them, disables the ship’s FTL drive, and summons Galactic Authority police. The end is a cliffhanger, because we see who did it, but the culprit’s motive is not explained. Nothing falls into place. Gotta watch Season 2.

I was disappointed at the lack of any sort of gratifying “aha” moment at the end of the episode, and because I had what I thought was a good theory about what was going on.

My theory involved the secret diagnostic program that the android set up when she became worried that her human emotions would interfere with her duties. The program is represented by an emotionless holographic red android.

In the previous episode, we learned that Two is an illegal synthetic human with nanites like an android. When she found out, she worried that her actions and emotions were not her own, that she had no free will but was being used as someone’s tool, that she could be unexpectedly subjected to another’s control, as indeed she was when the crew was lured to the research facility where she was created.

Wouldn’t it make sense if the red android decided the android was corrupted and took decisive action, believing that the android would destroy her rather than follow her recommendation to perform a reset? The red android, though not corporeal, might be able to take control of Two and incapacitate the android without Two’s knowledge. That would mean all the crew were innocent, and yet explain the attack and its motive, using clues already in the audience’s possession. The subsequent attacks could have been either the red android using Two or other crew members attacking each other out of paranoia.

That’s not at all what happened. Oh well.