Revisiting Dark Matter

Over the past few weeks I’ve been rewatching Dark Matter from start to finish. It had been a while since the show wrapped up, and I was missing it.

A promotional image for Dark Matter season threeFor the most part, it’s as fun as I remember. The rewatch hasn’t changed my view of the show in any big ways, but there are a few insights I’d like to share.

On the off chance you haven’t watched Dark Matter yet, do note there are spoilers in this post.

My view of individual episodes changed:

This rewatch did not significantly change my view of Dark Matter as a series. My opinion remains about the same as it always was. It’s smart enough to be engaging, but simple enough to be relaxing. It’s the perfect “comfort food” show.

However, I did find my opinions of many individual episodes changed a bit. When “Built, not Born” first aired, I felt it was possibly the best episode of the series. On the second time through, I still liked it, but it didn’t seem nearly so brilliant. More of a B-.

On the other hand, I wasn’t exactly blown away by “I’ve Seen the Other Side of You” on first viewing, but now I feel like it maybe deserves to be remembered as the high water mark for the series. The ending scene from which it derives its title is just so powerful, and it cuts to the heart of the show’s themes perfectly.

Two and Victor in the Dark Matter episode "Built, not Born"I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the fact that Portia willingly surrenders at the end. It’s not just that she’s beaten; it’s that she wants the redemption that Five is offering her. It shows that there was the seed of goodness in her even when she was at her worst. Portia and Two aren’t completely different people; each has the potential to be the other.

Also, Five is just the best in that scene (more on that in a bit).

Losing One made the show better:

I find it funny that One’s death is something that happened despite the creator’s wishes, because in all honesty I think it’s one of the best things that ever happened to the show.

This is not a diss at One. He was never my favourite of the crew, but he’s a solid character, and I don’t have any major problems with him. But I think his loss moved the story and the other characters forward in important ways.

Two, for example, grew a great deal as a result of his death. Before then, a lot of her screen time was taken up by being One’s love interest, which always felt a bit forced to me. Once he was gone, she really came into her own as the leader of the crew and a force to be reckoned with.

Left to right: Alex Mallari Jr. (Four), Roger Cross (Six), Anthony Lemke (Three), and Melissa O'Neill (Two)Three also developed after One’s death. His constant sniping with One made both characters seem childish, but after One was gone, Three seemed to mature and become a more three-dimensional character.

In general, One’s loss upped the stakes of the show in a big way. Losing one of the core crew made the dangers the crew faces feel much more real, and the story felt more intense as a result.

Maybe all this growth and evolution could have happened even if One had survived, but from my perspective it seems his loss was a net gain for the show. If nothing else, I do feel that One was a bit redundant as a character. His role seems to have been to be the conscience of the crew, but Five and Six also fill that role, and I’d argue they do it better. They seem more sincere in their desire to do good, whereas One tends to come across as someone who wants to do the right thing because it makes him look good.

But the other cast changes hurt it:

This isn’t a new revelation as it bothered me at the time, but it does deserve repeating. The biggest problem with Dark Matter — really its only major flaw — is its constant, jarring cast changes.

As I said, I think losing One was a good move, but the revolving door of new cast members being added and then removed after that did drag the show down. Nyx and Devon were both interesting characters who added something different to the crew, and they were killed off far too soon.

Sally no longer?Adrian annoyed me, so I wasn’t sad to see him go, but that does raise the question of why he was ever there in the first place. His whole role in the story feels unnecessary. Meanwhile Solara had potential but was gone before we really got to know her. Again, why include her at all?

Even with that instability, though, the cast remains Dark Matter’s greatest strength, and one character in particular stands above the rest, which brings me to my final point.

Five is an absolute triumph:

Five was always my favourite part of the show right from the start, but I think it needs to be acknowledged that she’s not just fun or likable or entertaining, but a really important character of a sort we almost never see in fiction and desperately need more of.

Characters like Five are not uncommon. Lots of stories like this have characters that are lovable and compassionate. Lots of stories have nerdy genius types. It’s not too rare to see nerdy geniuses are also lovable and pure of heart.

But they’re always sidekicks. Always. They might be a useful part of the team, but they are rarely if ever the focus. They’re never the ones riding the proverbial white horse to save the day. When the big events are going down, it’s down to the more physical and violent characters to save the day with brute force.

On the rare occasions the nerdy or good-natured characters do get to save the day, it’s usually still by picking up a gun or a sword and turning into an action hero.

Jodelle Ferland as Five in Dark MatterFive is special not just because she’s a smart, compassionate character who gets to play the hero on a regular basis. She’s special because she gets to play the hero by being smart and compassionate.

She doesn’t solve her problems with brute force. She wins by thinking circles around her enemies. She solves problems through kindness and decency.

To go back to “I’ve Seen the Other Side of You” again, it is Five’s compassion — her willingness to see Portia as human and worthy of love and sympathy even at her worst — that saves the day more than anything else.

The world desperately needs more heroes like Five, in fiction and in reality. I love a good onscreen shootout or fist fight as much as the next guy, and I’m certainly not of the opinion fictional violence encourages real violence, but I do think we as a society need to spend more time lionizing people for thoughtfulness and humanity rather than simply their capacity to cause destruction. I love a good power fantasy, but there’s more than one kind of power.

If I had kids, I would make them watch Dark Matter just for the sake of Five. She’s the kind of role-model young people should have in their lives.

A Fly on the Wall to the Save Dark Matter Campaign

As there so often is when a good sci-fi show is cut down too soon, there is of course a fan campaign to try to save Dark Matter.

A promotional image for Dark Matter season threeThis has been a bizarre thing for me to watch, stirring up odd and vaguely nostalgic feelings. As longtime readers may remember, I was very heavily active in the campaign to save Star Trek: Enterprise for many years, until it became glaringly obvious that the last hope was gone.

For that reason, I haven’t been able to bring myself to be too heavily involved in Dark Matter’s campaign. My days of crusading for sci-fi TV are behind me, I think. I simply don’t have the heart for it anymore.

But I have been following the campaign here and there. Most of the efforts seem to be focused on Twitter, which does bring out my inner curmudgeon a little bit. “Back in my day, we had to track down the email addresses of CBS executives and send them personally written letters. Uphill! In the snow! Both ways! And we liked it! Now all you have to do is use a bloody hashtag?!?”

But in all seriousness, I do wish them the best. I’d love to see Dark Matter survive for another season or two, or at least get a mini-series to wrap up the story as happened with Continuum.

It does seem the campaign has a lot of momentum, so they’ve got that going for them. They’ve even received support from a number of media figures. The one that really surprised me is that Ed the Sock has apparently been quite outspoken in Dark Matter’s support. Did not see that coming.

Five being badass. Again.But then again he has been championing the cause of Canadian TV for a while now, and he’s always had an interest in nerdy stuff, so I guess it isn’t too strange now that I think about it.

If you’re not Canadian, Ed the Sock is… Actually I have no idea how to explain Ed the Sock. You’re on your own there.

The best place for updates seems to be Joseph Mallozzi’s blog, and if his most recent post is to be believed, today will probably be the day we know for certain whether the Raza will rise again or be silenced forever.

I’m expecting bad news, but I hope to be wrong about that. It’s a show that deserves to continue.

I’ve been thinking about Dark Matter a lot over the past couple weeks, and while it’s easy to write it off as a simple but fun action-adventure, I can’t escape the feeling there is something special about this show.

For one thing, while Dark Matter doesn’t go out of its way to beat the drum of diversity the way, say, Star Trek does, the fact is you’ve got a show with a multi-racial cast of characters with a more or less even gender split led by a badass queer woman. That’s pretty impressive when you think about it.

Left to right: Alex Mallari Jr. (Four), Roger Cross (Six), Anthony Lemke (Three), and Melissa O'Neill (Two)And of course, the characters are all excellent, displaying some real sophistication to the writing that belies the show’s pulp feel. As always, being I’m a dude you can take my view on such things with a grain of salt, but I think Two does a great job of being a strong female character without being written as a “strong female character,” if you get my drift.

The thing I really about Two is not so much that she’s the leader, but why she’s the leader. She just sort of naturally assumed that position through the sheer force of personality. She’s a natural born leader. It’s rare for a show to be able to sell that concept entirely by showing and not telling, and far rarer still for that kind of role to be given to a woman.

And of course Five is simply a triumph, for all the reasons I’ve enumerated whenever I’ve gushed over her in my various episode reviews. It’s so rare that the geeky, smart characters get to play the hero every bit as much as the fighters. That deserves so much respect.

The others are excellent, too. Really the cast doesn’t have a weak link. In the past I might have said Three, but after the latest season even he’s wormed his way into my heart. But Two and Five are the ones who deserve the most recognition, in my view.

So yes, I hope against hope that Dark Matter will somehow survive.