The premise of Dark Matter is a compelling one: six people wake up on a spaceship adrift in the cosmos with no memory of who they are or what their mission is – very concise, mysterious, and easy to pitch. And those who have been lucky enough to grab a copy of the Dark Horse comic written by executive producer Joe Mallozzi know it’s headed into much richer, deeply developed territory. Judged alone, however, this pilot felt a bit like eating a nice, well-cooked steak without enough seasoning. Delicious, but a bit flat.
It makes sense, though, right? The characters don’t know who they are, so neither does the audience; no one is fleshed out. Like the shipmates, viewers are left to conjure up nicknames for everyone such as “Boss Lady” and “The Kid.” Actually, though, these two female members of the crew are the true standouts in this premiere episode. Melissa O’Neil, a television newcomer, gives an impressively convincing performance as the de facto leader of the ship, and Jodelle Ferland provides a cute-but-creepy vibe for her young tinkerer character.
Unfortunately, I can’t include Zoie Palmer in the list of strong women – not yet anyway. Obviously an android character isn’t going to have much of a personality right up front, but I guess I was hoping for the more human-like Rommie from Andromeda or the self-assured Cortana from Halo; instead I got the voice of Data from Star Trek mixed with the ruthlessness of Ash from Alien. Not that I was expecting a sexy fembot, but there’s a fine line between authentically robotic and awkwardly wooden. Preconceptions aside, though, I probably just have to get used to Palmer away from her very sensual Lost Girl character, and I’ll likely look back on this review and shake my head at such impatient first impressions.
As for the men, aside from one being a brusque troublemaker (Anthony Lemke) and another being a quiet swordsman (Alex Mallari, Jr.), there’s not much to distinguish them. Again, knowing someone like Roger Cross is doubtlessly going to bring his A-game later in the season doesn’t change the fact that there’s not much to say about him here in the premiere. I’m definitely anxious to see all of these characters develop more, though, since the ingredients are there to make a kick-ass crew.
It’s interesting to note which characters decide to use their cargo of guns to help the inhabitants of the planet their ship was apparently headed towards. If they are, as the recovered records indicate, hardened criminals, it poses a powerful question: are people born bad, or are they good at their core? At least some of the characters became sympathetic to the miners’ cause when the reset switch was hit on their memories. This seed, planted subtly in this initial episode, gives me hope for some thought-provoking storylines to come.
Likewise, the secret door and the kid’s strange dreams introduce the promise of future intrigue. However, these moments are, for me, understated and muted, as is the attack from the mysterious ship. Although the “hero ship” is put through its paces in impressive fashion, maneuvering as only a vehicle in space can, the identity of the attacker is unknown. I’m sure that’s intentional, but it makes it difficult to place the danger in any context.
So how can I fault a premiere that’s vague by design? Well, mainly it’s this: because it didn’t suck me in. I’ve really been looking forward to this show and was ready to be wowed; I just wasn’t. That doesn’t mean I won’t continue to anticipate Fridays on Syfy during the summer, and I’m optimistic the show will have its payoff, perhaps quite soon. Once they get that narrative tractor beam up and running, I’m sure to be pulled in as a willing captive… I hope.