Dark Matter can be a rather polarizing story. There are a lot of things about the show that I like, such as the nitty-gritty feel, the characterization, and both the internal and external conflicts our protagonists have to deal with. I absolutely adore what Dark Matter has to tell us about redemption and identity, and I look forward to what will hopefully be more worldbuilding in Season 2. But specifically, I love how Dark Matter takes common tropes and attempts to subvert them.
Unfortunately, as I talked about in an earlier review, the show doesn’t always know what it’s doing, and sometimes while subverting one trope, it simply gives into others. This can make watching Dark Matter a bit of a chore at times. Some of the better examples of this can be seen through the characters Five and One.
Spoilers up ahead.
When our ragtag team wakes up aboard the damaged spaceship Raza without their memories and no idea who they are, they decide to identify each other in the order in which they awakened. Five is the fifth person to come out of stasis, and unlike everyone else, she is the only one who isn’t one of the most wanted criminals in the galaxy. She’s also much younger than everyone else, and as she doesn’t have a criminal record, her backstory is a complete mystery—it’s hard to research yourself when you don’t even know your own name, and no one else knows it either. Immediately, Five’s presence on the ship does cause some concern. Not only is she the odd one out, it turns out that the reason no one can remember anything is because somehow all of their memories ended up inside Five. Unfortunately, though Five has everyone’s memories, including her own, she cannot recall them at will and only gets glimpses of all of their lives through her dreams.
Although each character has their own backstory they must deal with, Five’s remains a bit of a mystery. We learn eventually that she stowed away aboard the Raza because she was on the run from people trying to kill her. Five used to live on the streets, and she got by through stealing. One day she stole something important—a metal card of some kind—and whomever it belonged to murdered all her friends in an attempt to get it back. This plot thread has thus far remained unresolved, but it’s not hard to get the impression that something really big is going to happen because of it.
Five’s character is certainly one of the more interesting characters. Unlike the others, she doesn’t have to deal with coming to terms with her past or feeling guilty over severe crimes she cannot recall. Instead, her internal conflict comes from not feeling like part of the team and trying to fit in with the other crew members. Due to her smaller size, Five is able to navigate her way through and hide in the ship’s ventilation system when she’s upset—this is something she does multiple times and her ability to do so helps save the team on a few occasions. Additionally, Five is both an artist and a technical genius. Not only do we see her drawing pictures, she likes to collect odd broken knickknacks and repair them. As she puts it, wires just make sense to her. It’s through her abilities that she’s able to gain a sense of placement among the others and a purpose for herself. When Six takes it upon himself to look after Five and becomes upset that she wants to stay with the crew since she is the only one who can walk away, Five sticks up for herself and stands by her reasons for staying. Like she says to Six, the people trying to kill him and the others have endangered her as well, so she’s already involved and she wants to stay involved.
Five’s character is pretty wonderful, but like all things, her storylines aren’t perfect. In Episode 10, the crew of the Raza is contracted to steal some valuable technology for a powerful corporation. In order to succeed, they have to team up with a group of mercenaries lead by a man called Wexler. Wexler and the other mercenaries are some of the most over-the-top villains I’ve had the displeasure of watching. We learn early on that Wexler is a misogynistic asshole who takes issue with Two’s leadership and wants to bang her—Two beating the shit out of him in response to this is rather amusing—and his crew mates aren’t much better. Not only do they also display misogynistic tendencies, weirdly enough, they might be incestuous. Two of them are in love with each other, and the show takes the extra step to heavily imply that they are siblings. When asked if they are, they respond, “we prefer not to let our relationship be defined by arbitrary categories and outmoded social distinctions.” Eventually, Wexler and his group betray our protagonists and attempt to torture One for information on a secret stash he didn’t even know he had.
When One doesn’t tell them anything, Wexler decides that’s he’s going to torture Five instead until he talks. Right away we have the “hurt a girl to get to the guy” trope that was completely unneeded, but it doesn’t stop there. I guess being a torturous, backstabbing, misogynistic, and pseudo-incestuous group wasn’t enough to convince us that these mercenaries are evil, because Wexler eventually decides that he’s going to molest Five instead.
Thankfully, this doesn’t happen, but it was one of the more unnecessary moments on Dark Matter, and that includes the sexbot.
The episodes with Wexler both subvert and adhere to common tropes, which makes watching them both fun and fucking annoying. At one point, Wexler shoves Two out the airlock, probably in part due to his hurt ego, since she rejected his advances and beat him up earlier. This part of the episode is a subversion. Two survives all this due to her enhanced abilities, and we spend a whole episode being tricked into believing she’s been fridged.
Wexler then locks all the guys in an airtight room while he has Five. One, Three, Four, and Six naturally want to get revenge for Two and save Five, but hypoxia starts kicking in and they spend the episode effectively damseled. Once Two reveals herself to be alive, she and Five become the heroes of the episode. Scenes switch back and forth between the men talking about how Five is all alone and incapable of taking care herself to scenes of Two kicking ass and Five using her awesome technical abilities and stealth to save the day.
That was all rather awesome to watch, but it doesn’t make stomaching Wexler any easier. Furthermore, while all this was going on, we get yet another common trope. In an earlier episode, One learns that the reason he joined the Raza was to murder Three. One used to be married, and Three was the suspect behind his wife’s murder. One has trouble coming to terms with this. He doesn’t like Three by any stretch, but he struggles with thoughts of getting revenge for his fridged wife. Learning about his own history certainly colors his view of Three, but though One feels as though he should want revenge, he can’t even remember his wife. As he tells Two at one point, how can he seek out revenge for someone he doesn’t even remember? It’s only during Wexler’s takeover that he seems to really come to terms with how he feels about all this, and in the end decides he’s not going to kill Three. This is a similar treatment to Two’s history, which I talked about in the other post. Both Two and One have stereotypical backstories that are uninteresting and offensive—women have to be hurt to motivate men, and women have to be hurt themselves to have their own motivations—yet these backstories don’t drive these characters since they don’t know about them in the earlier episodes. After learning the truth, One’s motivation is still less about getting revenge for a fridged wife and more about identity and whether or not revenge is okay, especially when neither he nor Three even know what happened.
I said in my last post that I really appreciate what Dark Matter is trying to do with its characters. Unfortunately, it still walks a fine line between commenting on sexist tropes and being sexist itself, and it doesn’t always know where that line is. Season 2 isn’t out yet, and I really want to see how the show plans to address all of its loose plot threads and conflicts in the future. If you want to check Dark Matter out, I would go ahead and do so. But I would also keep in mind that the show doesn’t succeed in everything it sets out to do, and because of that, numerous episodes can be rather problematic and annoying to watch.