You guys. I decided to fangirl about this because I just recorded a podcast with fellow spec fic writer Lise MacTague about this and since I’m currently binge-ing the hell out of this series, I just needed to share the luv with all y’all and encourage you to have a looksee. And Lise, too, will throw in her reasons for doing so in the forthcoming podcast.
First, I need to totally come out, here, though I might have in the past about this. But here it is again. I FREAKING LOVE SPACE OPERA. If there were a space opera support group, I’d be all up in that with the “Hi, I’m Andi, and I’m addicted to space opera” every week. That link on “space opera” above is a post I did about what space opera is and how it works. It’s an older post, so some of the links don’t work, but the gist is there. Star Trek is a space opera. Battlestar Galactica. Star Wars. Think larger-than-life plotlines, adventure, political intrigue, and battles. IN SPACE. That’s space opera. And I love it. So much.
So a series like Dark Matter is, of course, something I’m gonna check out.
And here’s yer standard SPOILER warning, but nothing major. 😀
Let’s get the particulars outta the way. DM, a Canadian science fiction series, is still running and airs on the SyFy network. Season 3 cranks up June 9 (THERE IS TIME FOR YOU TO BINGE!), but you can stream the first two seasons on Netflix US and Canada. It’s also available via other venues. In other countries, hit up Dr. Web Search and see how you can access previous seasons.
DM premiered in June 2015. It was developed by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, both of whom wrote for Stargate: SG-1, which ran for ten years (1997-2007). That was another space opera, in which a secret military team was formed to explore recently discovered stargates. The series was part of the Stargate franchise, and spun off the award-winning 1994 sci fi film of the same name. In that film, an interstellar teleportation device is discovered in Egypt — a stargate. It’s a ring-shaped device that creates a wormhole that allows passage to other parts of the universe, and what drove the film as well as the later series, was this idea that people could use this wormhole to search for alien technology and defend the planet from threats. The stargate in the TV series was housed in a military installation in Colorado (which still cracks me up; shades of 1983’s WarGames), and the team would get their assignments and go galaxy-jumpin’.
Point being, Mallozzi and Mullie have major sci fi cred. DM is based on their comic of the same name, which ran from Jan.-April 2012 through Dark Horse. The series was developed for TV in conjunction with Canada’s Space TV.
The premise of the show is that six people wake up from stasis on board a largely abandoned spaceship (the Raza) and they have no memory of who they are or how they got there, which forces them into the position of trying to figure out not only their own identities and how they know each other, but also how to work together to achieve these goals.
In the first episode, they each take a number — literally — as a name in the order in which they woke up from stasis. So they’re numbered 1-6 and even though the ship’s databanks have files on each of them that they access so that they can figure out their names, they also find out that they are major galactic criminals. However, in an interesting twist, they all decide to continue using the numbers for themselves and each other. In another great twist, the seventh crew member is Android (some of you may recognize Zoie Palmer of Lost Girl fame), who is woken up after the other six are out of their sleep pods and she proceeds to open a can of whup-ass because of some internal security directive. She’s shut down and restored to her “default” settings, which means she, basically, ends up like the others: no memory, and she has to start from scratch with her interactions with the crew.
The series thus tracks the development of each character as he or she starts learning bits and pieces of their own pasts and the alleged deeds and misdeeds of the rest of the crew. They learn that they’re wanted not just by the Galactic Authority, but also by fellow criminals for various reasons and also, they’re being used by the mega-corporations that basically run the galaxy and are constantly jockeying for power with each other. So they have to learn to work together because they literally are all each other have.
Here’s your character run-down:
Played by Mark Bendavid. At first blush, he seems to be the “nice guy” of the group, the one who automatically acts out of altruism, which raises some red flags given that he’s supposed to be a major bad criminal dude but he’s actually kind of a goody two shoes.
Played by Melissa O’Neil. Two automatically assumes the role of captain (and you’ll see why within, like, 3 minutes of the first episode) but what’s interesting is how the other crewmembers fall in line with that, which made me think that she had been captain before, and these were just automatic reactions on the part of everyone else. Anyway, she’s the enigmatic badass who has some seriously mad physical fighting skills and the smarts to go along with it all. She, One, and Three have a complicated relationship.
Played by Anthony Lemke: He’s the smart-ass gun-loving bro who rubs everybody the wrong way. Just a total self-serving douchebag who loves to push One’s buttons. But don’t worry. During the course of S1, you’ll notice some subtle shifts in his character.
Played by Alex Mallari, Jr.: He’s the super-quiet and even more enigmatic-than-Two crewmember. Trained in martial arts, he spends a lot of his time in the training facility working with swords and other weaponry and practicing kata. He doesn’t say much, but you get the feeling that he has some deep shit he needs to work out. He’s a mixture of badass and monastic, seeking solace in his training, but preparing for the worst.
Played by Jodelle Ferland. She’s 16 on the show and got on board as a stowaway, but nobody knows how she ended up in the stasis pods. She’s a scrappy, kind of goth-y survivor who is super good with gadgets, tech, and hacking. So she makes herself pretty useful right away, though part of her tension with the crew is that they don’t treat her as a full crewmember because “she’s a kid.” At first. That shifts. She also FEELS. You know — teenage angsty stuff, but she has big, genuine emotions and survivors’ instincts and smarts.
Played by Roger Cross. He’s the diplomat/peacemaker and forms a tight friendship with Five. He, too, has big feelz and when he finds some things out that he allegedly did, he feels really awful about it, which raises some flags about whether he’s as bad a dude as his file suggests and also raises questions about the files in the databanks and their accuracy. OR, alternatively, it could be an interesting examination of the human psyche, in which we automatically feel remorse/altruism in the absence of memory. #deepthoughts
ANDROID: she’s the neural link ninja of the ship, so she runs diagnostics and serves the crew. She’s also programmed for serious ass-kicking beneath a bland, pleasant demeanor. But watch her carefully during the season, because you’re going to notice some really interesting things about her.
And now, the top things I enjoy about DM:
Great premise, which allows for a lot of exploration in terms of group and individual dynamics. Who are we in the absence of our memories? When we don’t have access to those files, basically, we operate on instinct in some ways — e.g. Two’s knowledge of flying the ship, Four’s knowledge of martial arts, and Six’s knowledge of flying a shuttle. And in the absence of our memories, we are forced to deal with people without any preconceptions of who they are, since we don’t know what role they played in our lives, which means we build alliances and trust out of mutual recognition of the best chances for survival. And even though some of these characters don’t like each other, they learn to work together. Fascinating stuff, and really cool to watch how the dynamics of interpersonal relationships shift within the larger group dynamics and vice versa.
Android’s role. Zoie Palmer does a masterful job capturing the stiff, controlled body language and voice patterns of this non-human entity, but what she did that’s even more interesting is that she humanizes her. You don’t notice it at first, but then you watch — especially in her interactions with Five — and your realize there’s something going on with this android, and at first, as Lise MacTague and I have talked about, you wonder if maybe you’re just anthropomorphizing her as a viewer, as humans often do. But no, there’s definitely something going on and you will see more of that journey in S2. Regardless, Android, too, makes us think about memories and how they determine who and what we are, because she, too, had a memory wipe so she, too, is starting from scratch and, like the humans, is figuring out how to interact with this both old and new crew.
Strong political intrigue. I’m a damn sucker for well-written political intrigue, and I love watching it play out framed by a premise like this, in which you’re basically plopped down into a giant-ass creepy game of multi-dimensional chess and you have no freaking idea who the other players are but they sure as hell know YOU. So you have to be a master of bluffery (made that word up! WOO!) and improv, and the crew of the Raza is learning not only how to do that, but also how to do it as a unit. Here you’ve got all the criminal elements the crew was dealing with before, some of whom come calling for perceived slights, AND you’ve got the dangerous mega-corporations using the crew in their own nefarious schemes. The crew can’t really do anything about it because the corporations will turn them over to the Galactic Authority or disappear them or other equally horrible things. All that plus the individual enemies each of the members has as part of their personal baggage. LAYERS, people. LAYERS.
Hairpin twists that I didn’t see coming. Most of the time, I’m able to guess where a particular plot goes because I have a long familiarity with this genre and its tropes and I’m pleased to say that a couple of times, episodes totally left me going, WTF JUST HAPPENED OMG THAT WAS SUCH A GOOD TWIST. There’s one in particular that really smacked me upside the head and made me completely revise my thinking and feelings about one of the characters to the extent that it was almost as if I was part of the crew and feeling it first-hand. WELL-DONE, writers!
I love the examination of the nature of identity. That is, who are we, really, without our memories? This is an overarching theme, and I love that it’s explored in a space opera setting because you’re able to engage in the adventures of the crew of the Raza, but you’re also watching how they work with and against each other, and how tenuous relationships can be in the absence of a sense of self and a sense of who others are. Season 1 is an exercise in trust issues, and we watch as each person at first engages in behavior like people in the show Survivor do — forming relationships with individuals and trying to leverage those against other crewmembers. But they realize that this isn’t an effective way of dealing with the array of outside forces against them, so in spite of themselves, they begin to coalesce into a crew, but one that you suspect is very different than it was before their memories were wiped. And you also see them developing a sense of respect and caring for each other, which, as S1 ends and S2 cranks up, you see probably isn’t how things were prior to the memory wipe.
Diverse characters. The crew of the Raza is ethnically diverse, and also diverse in terms of age, because Five is on board, and she’s sixteen. I also enjoyed the relationships that formed between some of the crew. Five forms a bond with Two, and Two takes on kind of a mentorship/protector role with her while Six is sort of a wise uncle type to her. Five’s relationship with Three is more contentious, because he behaves kind of like an asshole big brother toward her, but even that relationship has some interesting developments. Five also forms a bond of sorts with Android, who at first is a little bemused, but the interactions between these two are fun to watch. It’s also diverse in terms of the personalities of each character, and it’s cool to see how they each have different strengths and weaknesses and learn to work with both aspects of each person.
Women and girls kicking ass. Passes the Bechdel test, friends, the majority of the time (though in some instances, not). But also, Two and Android kick so much freaking ass in this series that I lost count. Five kicks ass, too, at first in her own geek way, but when the chips are down, she’s on it to protect her fellow crewmembers. And Two is the captain of this band of rebels. And she’s just so freaking…captain-ly.
I mean, can I just say, HELLO, TWO. I’ll just let you ponder this for a minute. Or more. Because thigh holsters…
This first thing is just a quibble, friends. Because this show isn’t really about this, but it is still kind of weird that in whatever century this is, there aren’t any queer people. Not even when the crew is traipsing around other planets/settlements/space stations. The absence of queerdom, though, isn’t enough to make me stop watching, and there is good ‘ship material, especially in S2.
The other quibble I have is that again, here we are in whatever-the-hell century and dudes are still being douchebro-ish to women, using really tired sexist tropes. Two doesn’t get any of that from her own crew, but it appears in a few episodes in the general population and it’s also used as a plot device in a few instances, which left me going, really? I hope in 300 years we’ve learned differently, but then again, my colleague Lise might have a point. After all, it’s been how many thousands of years and women are still dealing with this bullshit? Sighhhhhhh.
But again, neither of these is enough to make me stop watching because for the most part, the badassery of the women outweighs the few instances that I rolled my eyes. So go forth and view!
And stay tuned to the Lesbian Talk Show Channel. My colleague Lise MacTague and I have a Lez Geek Out! podcast coming up next month in which we talk about DM and all the things we dig about it. Yee-ha!
Have a fab weekend and week, and may the odds be ever in your favor.