[This is a review of Dark Matter series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Syfy is living up to its promise to get back to genre content by offering up a new space mystery for audiences. Dark Matter, created by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie of Stargate, jumps right into the thick of it, introducing the audience to a drifting and malfunctioning ship deep in space that's filled with passengers in stasis. While the concept was originally planned for television, Dark Matter became a graphic novel for Dark Horse Comic first. A few minutes into the new series and you can see why Dark Matter was meant to be on screen.
As the derelict ship's depleted life support system counts down, six strangers awaken from stasis to the same mystery the audience is. Are these individuals crew members, passengers, or are they captives? Right off the bat it’s revealed that each has had their memory wiped, meaning they have no idea why they are on board or where they are headed. While waking up with no memory on a strange ship currently breaking down in the middle of unknown space would be tantamount to a life-ending panic attack for most, these six quickly settle on a game plan: fix the ship and explore for other members onboard. A sure indication that they belong there, even if they can’t remember why.
Without names, the ship's occupants settle on calling one another by a number that corresponds to the order in which they awoke. Each member intuitively drifts into roles that seem familiar. Light on the action, the first half of the episode is all character building, where we meet the team as they are discovering each other. One (Marc Bendavid, Degrassi) breaks down the situation — how can they have no memory but still have technical knowledge of their surroundings? Two (Melissa O’Neil), with her ability to control the ship, easily slides into the leadership position, even if rough Three (Anthony Lemke, Lost Girl) wants to strong-arm for her spot. There’s Four (Alex Mallari Jr., The Strain), a man of few words, who is also scary-good with swords. Teenager Five (Jodelle Ferland, Twilight Saga) takes to the wires and circuits, while Six (Roger Cross, Arrow) appears to be the diplomat. And don’t forget an ass-kicking android (Zoie Palmer, Lost Girl) who single-handedly takes down Three and Six until she’s powered down. She becomes a life-raft of information as she can neurolink with the ship's computer system. Moreover, Palmer's ability to make monotone replies sound sarcastic add some flavor to the premiere's dialogue.
Looking like they all wandered off the Lost in Space set, the strangers gel into a team awfully quick, but with incoming enemy missiles and the need to get the ship running, what option do they have? The Android maneuvers the ship but not before some heavy jostling that knocks Five in the head, shaking loose ominous memories of a dreaded metal door that just happens to be onboard. Bit by bit, the crew find little telling discoveries everywhere, like pieces to a puzzle with no clear picture. Whatever secrets are onboard present the clearest danger, but none seem too concerned as of yet.
What’s working in the pilot of Dark Matter is the characters are just as much in the dark as the audience is. Little bits of character are revealed that manage to surprise on both sides of the screen. For example: when Five describes a creepy dream about a palace, a family murdered and the little detail of carving out the eyes of the killers, Two gets the same cautious shivers we do. Three takes naturally to the guns and blowing things up, to his delight and his comrades’ unease. The flipped of this, of course, is that the game of keeping them (and us) in the dark will only work for so long until we’ll need something more substantial to grab onto.
We do get a small piece of the riddle and a bigger picture of this universe, as it is discovered the ship is heading towards its original destination of a mining planet. From here, the episode spins off some world building, as it's revealed an independent colony is under pressure from ‘multi-corps’ to abandon their habitable planet due to its proximity of a jackpot of resources on a nearby asteroid. Corporations rule the day and have the ability to make innocents disappear at the hands of their Raza, or enforcers of urban legend who maim, murder, and destroy on the Corporations’ payroll. The colonists tell Team Amnesia that an incoming gun shipment could save them. Can you guess who just so happens to be holding an army-size store of guns and ammo that was meant to rendezvous with this planet? More character lines are drawn as the crew debates whether or not to help the colony or take the guns and turn a profit.
The big reveal in the final moments regarding the crew’s true identity packs a small punch. Just enough of a stinger to make things a little more interesting, now that we’ve gotten to know these characters without external circumstances. It’ll be a testament of nurture vs nature as the characters deal with their real identities. Dark Matter is a space odyssey that’s light on the odyssey so far. It’s sci-fi in the genre sense, but not so down-in-the-weeds non-sci-fi fans can’t get on board. Overall, Dark Matter is a fun ride through space. It also dangles enough mystery early on to potentially keep audiences tuned in next week. After that, the series is going to need to push the envelope a little more if it intends to stay on viewers' radar throughout the summer.
Dark Matter continues next Friday @10pm on Syfy.