Dark Matter premiered on Syfy last night, and we spent a lot of quality time learning the personalities of our brand new protagonists. Were there any huge surprises right out of the box? Not really. But it was fun.
The plot of the pilot can be dispensed with relatively quickly: six crewmembers of a ship wake up from stasis, only to find out they’ve lost their memories. The ship’s android is able to figure out where they were headed before the ship was damaged and the memories lost, so they go a small, independent colony that tells them that a big mining corporation wants the colony and has sent some mercenaries — the Raza — to wipe them out. They also mention that they were waiting on a shipment of weapons to help defend themselves. Weapons the amnesiacs have found on the ship. Of course, they’re not smugglers delivering weapons. The android manages to recover some data on the crew and the ship. They’re all murderers, kidnappers, and thieves and the ship they’re on is, of course, the Raza.
I don’t think that twist was that huge. It wasn’t really all that important, anyway. The important bit was meeting the crew. We initially meet them as numbers, after the order they woke up in. The only thing I was surprised by was that we learned their real names at the end of the episode.
But even that wasn’t so helpful, since the names and the list of crimes was all we got. Everything else about the characters’ identities comes from what we see them do. They may not have biographical memories, but they still have personalities and muscle memory.
One — who turns out to be named Jace Corso— is a bit of a conundrum. While I can totally see how the rest of the crew turned out to be mercenaries, he just seems an unlikely fit. Jace spends the episode motormouthing about what he sees on the ship and what it means to not have their memories — I had him pegged as a scientist and not someone engaging in “murder, assault, kidnapping, trafficking, theft.” Plus, he’s the one all gung-ho about giving the colonists weapons to defend themselves.
Two — Portia Lin— is very clearly set up as the leader. She makes the plans for exploring the ship and has an instinctual memory for the command console of the ship. She’s very practical — she pairs the crew up for exploration (I wonder if the pairings have any subconscious reasoning to them?) and is the one to suggest giving half the weapons to the colonists and keeping half to sell. Plus, she kicked Jace’s ass in the first scene because “he was in her way.”
Three — Marcus Boone — is so obviously a space pirate that it makes total sense that the recitation of the crimes start with him. He’s all for leaving the colony with the weapons. He’s all for brute force generally. He’s going to be the sarcastic dick that makes every scene funnier, you can just tell. Plus, I cannot get enough of Marcus versus the big, mysterious metal door. He keeps shooting it, and it keeps taking his ass out.
Four — Ryo Tetsudo — has swords. That’s it. He doesn’t talk much, but at least he doesn’t seem to fall into the honorable warrior trope. He sides with Marcus on taking the weapons and leaving the colonists to die. The most interesting thing about him so far is that he found a puzzle box behind a hidden panel in the ship’s lockers.
Five is the most mysterious. She’s basically a kid and, it should definitely be noted, is not given a name or a litany of crimes at the end. We know she’s got muscle memory for technology — she fixes a bunch of it — and a weird brain. Partly, it seems that her memories weren’t nearly as wiped as everyone else’s. She remembers the locked door that Marcus loses fights against, for example. And she has someone else’s dream — although, I guess that could be a metaphor for how none of theme are the same people? — about being a princess whose father is killed while she is out with her brother, so she gouges out the eyes of the men responsible and dumps them on her step-mother’s front door. Maybe fairy tales are closer to their Grimm incarnations in SPACE.
Six — Griffin Jones — is the down to Earth one. He looks like the center between the everyone else’s extremes. That’s going to take some careful handling to keep from being boring. But I think he may have also been a pilot, since he was so excited to see the shuttle.
And thus, we meet our little band of heroes. Or villains. No doubt, the show’s playing with identity as a theme. Whether who they were matters if they don’t remember it now. The colonists are an obvious vehicle for that, since helping or hurting means either remaking themselves or continuing on as they used to be. The theme is more interesting than the plot, which, at least in the pilot, is pretty pared down for the sake of introducing us to all these characters.
The colony isn’t even near the top of mysteries we need solved, either. Their missing memories seem to be deliberate, and we don’t know how it happened or who did it — there’s always the chance that someone on board did it and is faking. Five’s a big old bag of weird that has to have some backstory behind it. And if her dream wasn’t a metaphor and it was “someone else’s” on the ship, we’ve got to figure out who the “princess” is. There’s the mysterious door and the puzzle box, too. Plus, was that David Hewlett I spied being broken up by static in the ship’s logs?
The promise of these mysteries are what makes me want to come back for the rest of the season. And how the crew actually manages to help the colonists defend themselves after a powerful, multi-planetary conglomerate. (We’re all agreed they’re going to help, right? They’re going to be our heroes, we can’t have them abandon these people right off the bat.)
The other good news is that the chemistry between the characters is pretty good. The scene where they all vote on what to do about the colonists perfectly captures every character in a few minutes and how they relate to one another. Plus, Marcus insisting that Five can’t vote, putting her voting to a vote, and being the only person with his hand raised was brilliantly funny.
It doesn’t hamper the show that the characters are archetypes and the pilot’s plot is stuffed full of tropes. It’s fun. The writers clearly know these tropes and have assembled them on purpose — down to the comically inhuman, but human-looking, android. If anything, the show is a testament to the TV Tropes maxim that “Tropes Are Not Bad.” The tropes are well-written enough to be thoroughly entertaining. The fuel of the show is the identity theme, which elevates it above just a standard adventure plot. So while the pilot may have just introduced us to these things in a standard way, the threads are more than there for more.
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