Dark Matter Review: Apple TV+’s Next Constellation

Dark Matter, Apple TV+'s doppelgänger drama starring Joel Edgerton, is refreshingly straightforward science fiction.

Episode 2. Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly in "Dark Matter," premiering May 8, 2024 on Apple TV+.
Photo: Apple TV+

This Dark Matter review contains no spoilers.

The best-selling science fiction novel Dark Matter by Blake Crouch has been adapted into an Apple TV+ original series, bolstered by an all-star cast. With Crouch himself staying on as the showrunner and executive producer, Dark Matter unfolds at a brisk pace that leans more into the thriller elements of the source material than the science fiction premise. And while many of the familiar stylistic and thematic tropes in a number of Apple TV+ original thrillers are on display, the performance by the series’ leads elevates the material and helps make Dark Matter stand distinct from its contemporaries on the platform.

Dark Matter follows Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton), a physics teacher at a local university in the suburbs of Chicago who lives a happy, if unassuming, life with his wife Daniela (Jennifer Connelly) and their teenage son Charlie (Oakes Fegley). After reconnecting with an old friend Ryan (Jimmi Simpson), who found greater success in the private field with his physics work, Jason is mugged and incapacitated by a mysterious figure. Regaining his senses, Jason finds himself in an alternate dimension that, while superficially similar to his own, has significant differences. As Jason scrambles for a way to return home, he realizes his doppelganger from his world is now back in his dimension menacing his unsuspecting family.

The most riveting thing about Dark Matter is Joel Edgerton’s dual performance as two very different versions of Jason throughout the series. Though many of the principal actors, most notably Jennifer Connelly and Jimmi Simpson, get to play two different variations on their respective characters, Edgerton gets the widest range between his cross-dimensional roles. Edgerton approaches the primary Jason that we’re first introduced as one fueled by constant desperation as he’s hunted in a world he barely recognizes as his own. However, when Edgerton plays the other Jason, it’s all eyes on him, with Edgerton giving him an unpredictably sinister edge.

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Connelly is great to watch as always, with her performance as the prime universe’s Daniela more intriguing than her parallel universe counterpart, managing that tricky balance of being initially oblivious to the grand deception taking place in her own home and being the strong woman that she is. But the real standout from the supporting cast is Jimmi Simpson, who serves as a great foil to Edgerton’s characters, no matter which universe we find ourselves in or version of Ryan that Simpson plays.

In watching Dark Matter, it was hard not to draw comparisons with Apple TV+’s recent thriller series The Changeling and Constellation. The latter series, in particular, focused on a couple affected by parallel universes converging, with variations of characters displaying different dynamics despite their physical similarities. Whereas Constellation poised this premise as an overarching mystery on what exactly was going on, Dark Matter is relatively upfront with the audience in the kind of story it’s telling. This really works to its advantage, both in terms of accessibility and pacing rather than needlessly trying to prolong its telegraphed twist as Constellation had.

The cinematography always echoes closer to a lot of prestige television thrillers these days, with washed out colors in the daylight and interior sequences and constant shadow and warm light during its many nighttime scenes. Visually, Dark Matter is reliable though not especially distinct from many of its contemporaries, staying grounded even with its science fiction premise and core concept of parallel universes. This extends to the sound design, something that had crucially elevated Constellation, with Dark Matter keeping things relatively low-key in its aural presentation.

Apart from the more antagonistic side of Edgerton’s performance, the thing that’ll keep audiences coming back for more with Dark Matter is its sense of pace and well-crafted cliffhangers to most of its eight episodes. Crouch, along with the other writers and directors he’s working with to adapt his novel, fit a lot of story in each episode and know just how to bring each installment to a tantalizing close, daring viewers to tune back in to see how things unfold. It’s here where the narrative sensibilities of the story shine the strongest and, fortunately, it never feels like an episode of Dark Matter overstays its welcome.

Dark Matter is very smartly made and buoyed by its strong ensemble cast, using its sci-fi premise as a springboard into solid thriller territory that Edgerton plays to the hilt. Anyone aware and appreciative of Apple TV+’s growing library of original thrillers will find Dark Matter right in the streaming service’s wheelhouse, albeit with a slight sci-fi twist befitting its best-selling source material. Looking at Apple TV+’s catalogue, Dark Matter stands about on par or slightly above many of its contemporaries, well-executed and well-cast though perhaps overly familiar for those looking for something a bit more thematically distinct.

The first two episodes of Dark Matter are available to stream on Apple TV+ now. New episodes premiere Wednesdays.

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3 out of 5