– By Paulie Spiceflow –
***Warning: Season 2 Spoilers Follow***
Season 2 of Dark Matter concluded Friday with another cliffhanger, just like season 1. The crew of the Raza is in grave peril, while sinister plots unfold. Like Killjoys, the writers of Dark Matter like to leave a big mess at the end of each season. Unlike Killjoys, Dark Matter was able to pull it off without throwing the series’ story arc into a tailspin.
Since this is the first time we have blogged about Dark Matter, here is some background: The show is based on a comic book by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, both alumni of the Stargate franchise. The two wanted to bring their own unique vision to life, filling the TV space opera void that has existed for quite some time.
The premise: six people wake up out of stasis on a derelict ship, all stricken with amnesia. They remember nothing of themselves or how they got there. To keep things simple, they name themselves based on the order they woke up (one through six). Early in season 1, they learn they were ruthless mercenaries, wanted by the Galactic Authority for murder, piracy, smuggling, and a bunch of other serious crimes. As they struggle to get themselves acclimated to their profession, they gradually learn more about their past selves.
Another Sexy, Bad Ass Crew
Yes, we have yet another space opera filled with sexy, ass-kicking mercenaries. It really is an effective formula. Melissa O’Neil (Two) and Jodelle Ferland (Five) definitely catch your attention, all without walking around the ship half-naked. Unlike its SyFy sister show Killjoys, Dark Matter rarely tries to appeal to the lowest common denominator (i.e. those who want to see a lot of tits and ass). There were a few episodes with some shameless semi-nudity but the show doesn’t rely on it to keep the your attention. On the male side, Marc Bendavid (One), Anthony Lemke (Three), Alex Mallari Jr. (Four) and Roger Cross (Six) are all pretty good looking guys who get plenty of chances to look cool with their guns and swords.
All six of them are bad asses in their own unique way, giving a nice balance to this motley crew. Two and Four got serious martial arts skills. Five is the techie, and Six is a skilled pilot. Three is a deadly gunman. Unfortunately, they can be real idiots. It’s like they have a knack for walking into traps. In a few episodes they demonstrate some cleverness but, for the most part, they get played and need raw firepower and some dumb luck to get out of trouble.
As season 1 progressed, a few cool elements got me hooked. First, they have a Commander Data character, who may be the most interesting member of the crew. Played by Zoie Palmer, it/she has the mechanical mannerisms but develops emotions. A common sci-fi trope that is surprisingly well executed. You can’t help but like Android. Second, their ship is filled with mystery, becoming the focal point of several episodes. Named the Raza (no idea where name comes from), the ship carries a nasty reputation throughout the galaxy. The crew are commonly referred to as “the crew of the Raza” or “the Raza.”
Piecing Together the Past
By far, the most interesting part of the show is the amnesia angle. These six criminals with records of villainy, awoke from stasis with a psychological clean slate. So what happens? Many of them show discomfort in returning to their old ruthless ways. Slowly, they realize they want to be different people. As they learn more of their past they see how it shaped them into monsters. Abusive childhoods, trauma, persecution, and loss fill their life stories. Free of their painful pasts, they drift towards becoming decent people. Exploring the role of memories in forming character, personality, etc. was a fascinating and surprisingly deep theme.
The bad guys become good guys, thanks to a memory wipe. Together, they evolve to become classic antiheroes in the mold of Firefly, bad people doing good things. Another common sci-fi trope but the amnesia angle gives it a unique spin. Unfortunately, season 2 did not explore this theme as much as the first.
Corporations Acting Corporationy
Both Killjoys and Dark Matter use the evil corporation as their stock villains. The galaxy is ruled by corporations, not governments. It is a neat take on the future but a lot of writers don’t seem to understand what a corporation is, they only know it has a bad connotation these days. A corporation is a business organization, which means it sells a product or a service for profit. If it is an entity that administers the law, exercises political power, and utilizes its own military for financial gain, it isn’t really a corporation any more. It is a government, and not all that different from the kleptocracies of centuries past. Different name, same story.
The corporations of Dark Matter act as nation-states, complete with seats on some sort of strange UN-style interstellar organization. To make things even more confusing, there are also autonomous worlds, a Zairon Empire, and a Galactic Authority. The season 2 finale included a vote on some controversial measure that is never really explained. I do not expect the writers to get into any of the intricacies of interstellar politics or corporatism. It would be more trouble than its worth.
Campy Sci-Fi Action
For a cable show, Dark Matter sports some pretty solid special effects. The set for the ship looks good along with some of the other locales. Like Killjoys, it likes to depict impoverished colonies like they’re all third world villages, complete with wood barns, tractors, and farmer’s markets. This is their way of showing poverty in the future but its also an obvious way of getting around building expensive futuristic sets. Still, the show gets points for getting the most out of a limited budget.
The action, both gun play and martial arts, is good not great. Two and Four, in particular are bad asses. It was also cool, albeit cheesy, to see the show find a way to include samurai swords and ceremonial daggers. They got all the cool toys but the tactical situations are all pretty cliché, even predictable. Also, it is ridiculously easy to breach security at the many numerous planets and stations. There are also numerous eye-rolling moments where the crew make absolutely stupid decisions, just so they can be put in peril.
There is a military special ops feel to Dark Matter, which makes it a bit dour in its tone compared to Killjoys. The crew of the Raza do not downplay the deadly nature of their work with witty one-liners and sarcasm. They are serious almost all the time, which demands more from the actors. Unfortunately, most of the dramatic scenes won’t tug at your emotional strings. Sorry, but none of the cast members are going to be winning any acting awards anytime soon. They just aren’t that charismatic or compelling.
Don’t get me wrong. They are likable, but they don’t have much range. They should probably stick to sci-fi action and stay away from drama or social commentary.
Season Two Finale
In the first season, we learned the backstory of the characters, watched them come together as a crew only to get betrayed by one of their own. Season 2 follows them after their escape from prison and the continuation of their evolution from ruthless mercenaries to compassionate antiheroes. Ryo reclaimed the throne of Zairon in what was a pretty straightforward coup attempt. The writers aren’t too keen on strategy or subtlety. Six was welcomed back to the crew despite his treachery, no surprise. We got a keener insight into the inner workings of Android as her programming became corrupted. For reasons unknown, Two and Five added illegal programming to make her more human before going into stasis. The crew adds a few new members who quickly disappear. The sexy bad ass Nyx lasted the longest but it looks like she might be done.
The corporations, Zairon Empire, and Galactic Authority (GA) made their move at the big summit on Eos-7, a remote space station with heavy security. Once again, our heroes, wanted by just about everyone, walk right onto a station crawling with GA officers and security. Can you guess what happened next? Yep, didn’t go so well. So much for disguises. Bombs go off and the evil, clever, sinister corporations are all caught off guard. They all talk a big game but are usually as clueless as the Raza.
In the finale, explosions rip through the Eos-7 station with four crew members still on board. So, it would seem that a corporate war has begun. Only the crew of the Raza know who is responsible for the blast, Ryo, while the corporations will accuse each other of the treachery. That wasn’t even the only bomb. Two were snuck onto Eos-7. I’d ask the GA for my money back. Their security services are awful.
With most of the backstories filled in, the show will probably focus on the Raza’s role in the corporate war. The blink drive is now in Ryo’s hands, which means the Raza may not be a big player, unless they work with Ryo to change the course of galactic history. We will probably see Alex Rook (Wil Wheaton) try to capture Two again. There is also a good chance we will see One return from the dead. Perhaps he has a pivotal role to play to determine what role the Raza will play. If Nyx is dead, it will be interesting to see Ryo’s reaction when he learns of it.
In my humble opinion, the show also needs a little more character development. Only Five and Android really developed during season 2. Five is becoming a stronger, more confident member of the crew. The crew decided to embrace Android’s altered programming, allowing her to explore her emotional side in several episodes. Ryo restored his old memories but it did not seem to change him. Missed opportunity there. There wasn’t much progress on the other character arcs.
Personally, I like the crew and the ship enough to be excited for season 3. Dark Matter can be cheesy and predictable, but it is a decent space opera following in the tradition of Stargate SG-1. It won’t win any awards but will entertain you.
Why You Should Watch
- Interesting theme exploring role of memory in shaping identity
- Quality sci-fi action for a cable show
- Attractive cast
- Plenty of familiar sci-fi tropes
- It’s about mercenaries
Why You Should Watch Something Else
- Predictable, loaded with clichés, few surprises or twists
- Can get campy
- Cast members can’t deliver performances needed for heavier themes
- Flimsy world-building
Paulie Spiceflow is a regular contributor, movie reviewer and unbelievable smart ass. He prides himself on his excessive knowledge of movies, TV, books, internet memes, and pop cultural references. During college, he spent minimal hours studying but took full-advantage of the free internet and lack of bills to broaden his knowledge in numerous genres including spoof comedy, fantasy, Shakespeare, military history, zombies, and cartoons.