Like so many modern television series, Dark Matter starts right in the middle of things. And right in the middle of a lot of things. The opening scenes involve 6 apparent strangers waking up from stasis on a ship with no memory of how they got there or even who they are. It’s a little like Memento in space, with the characters slowly finding out about themselves from clues they find while the audience often knows a little more than they do. Warnings, now, there will be some spoliers following.
Impressively, from those first scenes, things only get more complex. While the crew are suspicious of each other, at first, they quickly reach an equilibrium and become associates and companions, if not friends. Though they don’t trust each other, and have plenty of evidence to know that one of them is the reason why they’ve lost their memories, they have little choice but to work together. Their choices become even more limited as they learn more about themselves.
Some of the mystery is solved when they discover a 7th crewmember in the first episode. This 7th is an android linked to the ship a la Andromeda. Her memory is also partially compromised, but she is soon enough able to access the space internet. And, though they have tried to do good since awakening, they find out that all of them except one are bad people. Or at least all of them except for one are wanted criminals who have done bad things. This becomes an important part of the series, as well. In a question of nature versus nurture, the crew ends up doing good again and again despite their formerly evil backgrounds. Actually, they end up being on a spectrum from very good to pretty bad but end up helping more than hurting as a group.
Things actually get more complex from there, as it soon becomes apparent that each and every one of the members of the crew has some sort of secret that they learn about themselves then immediately hide from the others. Even the most straightforward and simple seeming member of the crew ends up having a surprisingly complex backstory and connections. And, the whole time, they are trying to figure out which one of them is the one who messed with their memories in the first place a task made all the harder by the fact that it seems fairly likely the person who did it doesn’t remember doing it.
Though the members of the crew slowly learn their own histories and those of their fellow crew members, they continue to call each other by numbers that correspond with the order in which they awoke. This is a method for the characters to distance themselves from their pasts. It’s a nice story telling element but it gets confusing sometimes. None of them feel any real link to the person they were before the series began and many of them don’t want to be those people. It gets a little annoying as a viewer sometimes since I don’t always remember who they’re talking about when they say “1” or “5.”
Much like Killjoys, Dark Matter occurs in a sort of dystopian corporate ruled future, a common theme with recent SyFy series as the future in Continuum is also one where the average man is beholden to corporate masters. This is no doubt a commentary, whether intentional or not about the state of modern American society.
The series constantly plays with the balance between the crew trusting each other more and growing ever more suspicious of each other as they make more and more discoveries about their histories. It reaches a peak in the season finale when one of the crew members betrays the rest but no one knows who, though, of course, it is revealed to the audience by the end of the episode.
The tech levels and suggested narrative world are close enough between Killjoys and Dark Matter that it is not unreasonable to believe that they occur in the same universe and at the same time.
There is faster than light technology and some energy weapons but one of the more interesting forms of technology in the show is their take on “teleportation. “ In the Dark Matter universe, this involves having a person’s DNA and memories scanned while they’re in a stasis tube that looks a lot like a tanning bed. This data is then beamed across space to another station with a matching setup and a new body is constructed based off the DNA and the memories are downloaded. The person can then walk around for up to 2 days in this new body in this new place before the new body breaks down. Assuming the person gets back to the station before then, the new body is broken back down and the memories it has accumulated are sent back to the original body. Of course, the vagaries of this particular tech are capitalized on and form important plot points, if only for one episode.
One of the nice things about Dark Matter is seeing some familiar faces. The first of these old friends is Zoie Palmer, who gained fame as Lauren on the SyFy series, Lost Girl. Palmer plays an android with the very clever name of “Android” in the show. This character is actually not a huge divergence from her role as Lauren in Lost Girl. Both characters are somewhat emotionally detached, though the Android much more so than the woman who was seduced by Bo in Lost Girl. The two characters are something of the comedic relief on their respective shows, likely because they seem so straight laced. On Lost Girl, Lauren was often the damsel in distress and the human who the Fae were tricking or taking advantage of, often in humorous ways. On Dark Matter, the Android is arguably the most powerful and dangerous member of the crew, yet, she ends up incapacitated in a surprising number of episodes. Of course, there are the standard bits of humor that revolve around her inability to fully understand human emotions. What is most interesting about her character though, is how they handle the other standard bits of android storytelling, namely an artificial being questioning what it means to be human. While she never questions whether or not she is a machine, she does question what the unusual feelings she experiences mean. In a nice twist, she considers her human leanings to be flaws in her programming rather than a core of yearning to become human.
The other familiar face is Roger Cross, or Travis Verta from the series Continuum. His character in this series also diverges very little from what he played in Continuum. In fact, in both, he is a terrorist with a conscience, a man who will go to extremes to do what he considers right and to make the world (or universe) a better place, but who has a very well defined sense of morality that he will not step beyond. In fact, his character often ends up being the moral compass for the group and he is far less self-serving and violent than many of the members of the crew.
Dark Matter, in its first season, has struck a nice balance between having a complex, character driven plot and a coherent, easy to follow direction. Each of the characters has not only distinct personalities and goals but also divergent story arcs. Any one of them could prove the focus in the next season and following each of them would take the series in an entirely different direction from their fellow characters.