There are two things that recommend Syfy’s new series Dark Matter even without knowing anything else about the series. One, it comes from Stargate writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, and two, that it’s adapted from a comic they also created. That creative continuity gives Dark Matter a clear sense of itself from the start, and that confidence in its storytelling allows for the series to march along at a good clip.
Dark Matter focuses on six space travelers who wake up from stasis unable to remember who they are, or what their mission is. To keep things simple, they name themselves One through Six, but their lack of a distinct nomenclature doesn’t mean they don’t have distinct personalities, even if they do fall under reliable sci-fi tropes: One (Marc Bendavid) is the group’s moral compass, while Two (Melissa O’Neil) steps up as their tough but diplomatic leader. Three (Anthony Lemke) is a sarcastic antagonist who loves his gun, while Four (Alex Mallari Jr.) is notable for his quietly deadly demeanor. Five (Jodelle Ferland) is a young girl gifted (or cursed) with visions, while Six (Griffin Jones) is loyal and brave. And an Android (Zoie Palmer) also helps guide the group and the ship through a variety of perils.
There’s nothing about Dark Matter at first that seems particularly exceptional. It hovers closely to a typical science fiction series setup, and doesn’t do much to break out of that mould. When the crew visits a mining town on a nearby planet that was part of a mission they don’t remember, there is some vague talk of intergalactic corporations trying to bring down the working man though their greed, even sending legions of enforcers to help enact their terrible plans.
This leads to a lot of fight sequences that amount to Heroes vs. Faceless Drones, who might as well be Stormtroopers. But what makes Dark Matter an interesting series is not its sci-fi elements, or its overarching battles among the mega-corps. Dark Matter’s world feels familiar, and there’s weirdly (maybe thanks to budget) not an over reliance on tech. The Android is helpful as a zippier (and friendlier) Google search, but the crew members all have practical skills, both in fighting styles and in engineering. Five even draws figures from her dreams with pencils and paper, for heaven’s sake.
As the crew members seek to find out who they are, they also have to start making choices about whether they want to continue being those people, or the new personalities they’ve cultivated since waking. Two episodes in, the show only begins to scratch the surface of these kinds of quandaries. Even if you seek to change yourself from who you were before, will your natural tendencies and habits formed from before you can remember still shape you into that same person? Or can you break the chain?
Early into its journey, Dark Matter is purely exploratory. It introduces its characters and gives a brief sketch of its world, but doesn’t (yet) give a sense of where it’s heading. A number of mysterious objects on the ship will surely add up to something eventually, but the biggest question at hand is who wiped the crew’s memories, and why. Dark Matter creates enough intrigue, and does so stylishly enough so far, that its other problems can be overlooked for now. Like its crew, Dark Matter has the opportunity to potentially erase some of the sins of sci-fi (and Syfy) series past, and become something better. Whether or not it will is another matter entirely.
Rating: ★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism
Dark Matter premieres Friday, June 12th at 10 p.m. on Syfy