Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dark Matter, Season 1 (live action TV series), via Netflix

Dark Matter is a sci-fi TV series. The first season is 13 episodes long.

This post includes a few small spoilers.

Review:

Several people wake up on a spaceship with no memory of who they are or how they got there. They name themselves the numbers One through Six, based on the order in which they woke up, and try to figure out what's going on. They have to work quickly: they're running out of money, it seems like everyone in the universe either wants them dead or in prison, and one of their number might have been a traitor.

When I first started watching this show, it felt an awful lot like a lesser version of Firefly, with maybe a hint of Farscape. I'm not talking so much about the premise as I am the characters. Three, in particular, was practically a carbon copy of Firefly's Jayne, from his lack of trust, to his violent tendencies, to his habit of naming his guns. Five seemed like a cross between River and Kaylee, because of her young age, possible psychic powers (which weren't as woo-woo as they first appeared), and love of messing about with electronics and machinery. Two was the series' Aeryn Sun, only with more insecurity. Story-wise, there was a zombie episode that made me think of the Reavers.

I kept watching for several reasons. One, I wanted to know what each character's secret was. Almost all of them were wanted by the law, but they weren't always guilty of all the crimes they'd been charged with. Two, I enjoyed the Android character, up to a certain point. When the characters first met her, she treated them as a security threat and tried to kill them. They managed to disable her and remove the part of her programming that identified them as a threat, but there was no explanation for why the situation happened in the first place. Although the first season did eventually explain who erased all their memories and why, the reason for the Android's programming was never mentioned – I hope the show's writers don't forget to get back to that little detail at some point.

I liked that the Android could occasionally be a bit snarky (not that she'd admit to demonstrating emotion). Unfortunately, episode 7, the one most focused on androids, made me very angry. In that episode, the crew discovered a pleasure bot in the ship's cargo. After they activated it, viewers got the usual cliched “sexy character who makes others jealous by hanging all over certain members of the crew” stuff. The part I found most painful was when the Android tried to show some cleavage in the hope that that would make the crew like her as much as the pleasure bot.

One, Two, and Three had had an annoying love triangle going. Two slept with Three because she'd be less likely to get emotionally involved with him, but she'd demonstrated instances of possible chemistry with One, who was the hurt nice guy trying to figure out why Two preferred Three over him. At the beginning of episode 7, Two was trying to deal with having been dumped by Three after events in an earlier episode and was flirting very heavily with One (I think she might have either been dressing or undressing in front of him? I can't remember). When One took that to mean she might be willing to have sex, she shot him down. Later in the episode, One had sex with the pleasure bot because he was miffed that Two wouldn't have sex with him, which of course didn't sit well with Two. After things went sour with the pleasure bot, Two caved and had sex with One.

I'm not sure how I would have preferred all that to go. Right from the start, I thought it was a bad idea that Two was having sex with anybody on the ship – things were complicated enough without adding that to the mix. I wasn't thrilled with Two purposely teasing One, but I was even less happy when the writers handed Two to One at the end of the episode. It was like they were saying she'd been the one who'd screwed everything up, she'd made the wrong decision by not having sex with him earlier, and One was being rewarded with sex.

The series annoyed me again when, later on, the crew was held captive. One was being tortured but wouldn't (couldn't) give his torturer the information the guy wanted, so the guy brought Five in, hoping that torturing her would be a better incentive for One. The fact that they were going to torture Five, a fifteen-year-old (?) girl, was bad enough, but then they implied that maybe they'd rape her instead of cutting her fingers off. So apparently we couldn't go a whole season without one of the female characters being threatened with rape as a lazy way to emphasize that the bad guys were bad.

Another thing that annoyed me about this show was its habit of bringing up certain things and then not explaining or dealing with them until many episodes later. That happened with a vision (memory) Five had of Three threatening to space her. One minute she was remembering Three about to open the airlock, and the next she was in another character's happy memories of his childhood. The explanation for how she managed to survive didn't come until maybe 8 episodes later, even though it would have made sense for her to at least think about that scene sooner. That also happened with Two's injury. In one episode, she was badly bitten. She proceeded to wear a bandage for all the episodes after that, much longer than it should have taken for it to heal, and not one character asked her how well it was healing until nearly the end of the season.

Considering all these complaints, you'd think I'd be abandoning this series. However, Season 1 ended with such a whopper of a revelation that I'd like to continue on, if only to figure out how and why that particular character betrayed the rest of the crew. I just hope that Season 2 demonstrates more focus than Season 1, which had zombies, a prince trying to get his kingdom back, rebellion, warring corporations, a mysterious key card, violent androids, a guy trying to avenge his dead wife, and more, with no indication of which threads were part of some greater storyline.

Watch-alikes:
  • Firefly (live action TV series) - Like I said, Dark Matter and this show have a lot of similar characters. As far as the premise goes, the ship is filled with crew members who were on the losing side of a rebellion and who now do illegal stuff for money. They take on some passengers in order to make a bit more money, and a few of those passengers turn out to be a lot of trouble.
  • Farscape (live action TV series) - Another sci-fi TV series about a crew of motley characters who are on the run, although most of them aren't as universally hated as the crew in Dark Matter.
  • Eden of the East (anime TV series) - If you'd just like something with amnesia and a good deal of action, you might give this a try. In this case, it's only the one character who can't remember things. The series takes place in a Japan and has elements that make it feel like near-future sci-fi, although I think it's actually contemporary-set. I've written about the TV series and one of the follow-up movies.
  • Cowboy Bebop (live action TV series) - Another sci-fi series featuring a motley crew with a past. In this case, all the crew members are bounty hunters. Some like each other better than others. I've written about this series. If you're not big on subtitled stuff, no worries, because the English dub for this show is fabulous.

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