Episode 1.12: Episode 12
Written by: Joseph Mallozzi
Directed by: Andy Mikita
Original airdate: August 28, 2015
Episode 1.13: Episode 13
Written by: Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie
Directed by: Andy Mikita
Original airdate: August 28, 2015
Season one of Dark Matter is now done and dusted. Judging by Joe Mallozzi’s blog, a second season is likely, though hasn’t been formally announced as of yet. The season does end in such a way that it could be a series finale if it needs to be, yet still leaves plenty of doors open for more. Episode 12 was very good, and I enjoyed it a lot, despite it being the exact same general plot as Episode 11. Episode 13, however, was a letdown, and drained away any of the momentum and excitement the show had going into it. I have become so habituated to the show’s “gotcha” moments at the end of each episode that they haven’t really excited me in awhile and these episodes were no exception.
In Episode 12, we find out more about Two, though not really that much more than what we already knew. Yes, she’s an artificially created person. And, as I feared, she was created by a man named Alexander Rook who has a creepy, condescending “blow-up doll” attitude toward her, and an on-off switch for the ultimate in female objectification. This is kind of like the Android. We’re told she and Two are the most powerful crew members again and again, and we even get to see it occasionally. But they are also regularly and easily rendered non-functional when they become too much of a problem for the writers to deal with. We saw this with the Android over and over this season to the point of ridiculousness–she’s too inconvenient to actually have in the story so they knock her out with bullets or a cattle prod. And now, we have the same for Two. It just reeks of male wish fulfillment.
There are shows that engage in gender conceit as a device. Mad Men, for example, allowed us to view the sexism of the 1960s through a modern lens, and was a very conscious choice on the part of the writers. It requires a deft hand to pull off, a genuine awareness of who your characters are and the world in which they inhabit, which also has to be a space that the audience shares in and is knowledgeable about. Even though someone who did not live during the 1960s might watch Mad Men, the sexism of that bygone era is still ingrained in our culture to some extent, and is, therefore, relatable to the audience. In addition, though there are few conversations about gender roles in Mad Men, there are several plot points and confrontations between characters that speak directly to the sexism being depicted, making it a part of the narrative structure of the plot.
This is not true of Dark Matter. While the audience may be bringing its own sensibilities about gender roles to the show, the writers have provided only the vaguest sense of the universe or context, and on top of that, has stripped all of the characters of identity. We have had hints that the universe of Dark Matter is our universe, but it is also quite removed from ours at the same time, and we understand little about the culture. If anything, since Dark Matter is set in the future and in space, the writers were more obligated to provide context and world building than Mad Men’s were, and opted not to do so for some reason.
Superficially at least, the Dark Matter universe does appear to have gender roles. There is a female nurse and a male doctor in Episode 6, male casino thugs in Episode 4, a dangerous femme fatale and a ruthless male general in Episode 8, and another male doctor in Episode 12. But how far does this go? Is their world very gendered? Is it more gendered than ours? Are we to glean that it’s only The Raza men who need a lesson in gender politics, one that can only be taught to them by two artificial women and a teenage girl? Or are they merely a reflection of a sexist society? How can they be with their memories erased? We’ve now had two episodes in a row in which the men sit around saying “We’ve got to do something” while the (artificial or underaged) women go out and actually do something. But what are we supposed to take from that when there is no internal commentary from the characters themselves about it, no awareness at all that the women are taking all the physical risks while they sit by impotent? Mad Men had many key plot points about gender roles during its run. Here, gender issues seem to be imposed on the show strictly for the audience, rather than as part of the narrative structure of the series or the journey of the characters, who remain oblivious to it.
For example, if issues of feminism and sexism are so important to the writers of the show, why not have it be an explicit journey for the characters. So far, all the men have done is question every one of Two’s decisions (including her decision to take the latest job in Episode 12, you notice) and talked about their own actions during crisis. Like so many things they could do with issues of identity, why not use this conceit to examine gender roles and cultural expectations of such, to show just how much there is to be gained by stripping away those pre-conceived notions of male and female roles and behavior. What an existential journey that would be, and would speak brilliantly to the role of experience and entitlement in gender roles. Instead, we get artificial women getting things done with on/off switches for when they get to be too uppity, and no self-reflection from the men or internal context at all about any of it.
What a waste.
Anyway, I could go on about this for hours. The gender issues of the show are extremely frustrating to me, particularly since they perpetuate and reinforce very wrong ideas about feminism. The writers are suggesting that feminism occurs at the expense of men rather than in partnership with them, that empowered women can only be achieved when the men are deliberately weakened and ineffectual. It’s a terrible message to send, that does more harm than good for feminism. Add to that the underlying sexism that permeates the series that I’ve spoken about in other posts, and you end up with something maddening to watch. I’d quit, but someone needs to call it out for what it is. The emperor has no clothes.
As for the episodes themselves, I really did enjoy Episode 12. Had the season ended with that episode, with or without a cliffhanger, I’d have been hopeful about the show’s future. It had emotion, action, stakes, story, character development. Pretty much everything you want. Wil Wheaton has made a career out of playing smarmy douchebags, and he plays the same thing here. He’s found a niche for himself. Following Ennis Esmer’s performance as the villainous Wexler was unfortunate, though. They were both creeps, but Wexler was a much more interesting and well portrayed creep. I will never stop being sad that we’ll probably be seeing Alexander Rook again and not Wexler. Beyond that, every time the editing cut to the men sitting in the shuttle talking I literally yelled at the television to get back to the actual action. Because who wants to spend five minutes of the episode listening to them have the same conversation over and over again. And, I confess I felt a genuine sense of satisfaction when Two turned the bone saw back on the doctor. Yes, he was an over-the-top hateful man (who conveniently forgot that he helped create Two and so was himself responsible in part for what she’d done, but of course nobody thinks to point that out). The show’s not exactly subtle.
I loved seeing the Android get a bigger role, and back in action, because they seriously screwed that up this season. I didn’t like the Android at first, but Zoie Palmer won me over, so I dearly hope the writers figure out something to do with her in season two other than turning her off every other episode. She makes watching the show bearable. I’m sorry Red Android and her bitchface are gone, though maybe the Android can reboot her. Despite liking the character, her emotional journey seems kind of pointless, particularly when I watch her trailing around after the crew, who don’t even notice her. Even at the dinner table, the Android managed to look totally alone as she drank the wine. Her programming is indeed flawed if she really thinks any of these people are her friends. I think that was all just clumsy setup for Episode 13 and her being turned off yet again (seriously, that was some stupid shit to keep repeating, writers, and it makes your character look dumb, too. If you’re going to keep the Android around, please stop doing that.).
As for Episode 13, I thought it was terrible. People running around the ship waving guns, talking. Blah blah blah. Didn’t this happen in, like, at least three other episodes this season, too? This was their take on Murder on the Oriental Express. I literally could not stop laughing at One and Four’s scene as they checked their section of the ship. Four was wearing his sword, and the hilt at his hip kept waving around as he walked, and I thought it was hilarious. But oh, poor Alex Mallari, please give him something to do except hang out in the gym and look stoic. I like that he was the leader before the memory wipe, please do something with that at least. His character has been the worst, this season, even worse than the Android in terms of development. I think he’s a good example of everything that’s missing from the show. We find out he’s royalty, that he’s accused of patricide. We see him with his old mentor, whom he does not remember in an episode (more walking and talking, I might add), and he kills him at the end to send a message and for self-preservation.
I’d really hoped issues of identity and memory and self-determination would play out more profoundly in this series, but that does not seem to be the case. Four decides he will reclaim his throne. But I have to ask why? He has no memory of his childhood, no memory of his family, connections to the court, or any of that. It’s literally lost to him, so why would he bother? Is he just falling back on who he is at his core? Is he doing it because he thinks that’s what’s expected of him? Other reasons? The show has to give us something about their internal thought processes from time to time. Instead, Four is like a wall.
It does look like they’re trying to set up a triangle of sorts. I had less trouble with One’s conversation with Two at the start of Episode 12 than most of their interactions. His concern was nice to see, as was her anger over finding out the truth. You could have done that, and Two’s conversation with Three in Episode 13 without any of the romance; the events of Episode 11 would’ve been sufficient for those connections to form. Speaking of Two and Three, that was just painful. No chemistry whatsoever. Neither actor looked comfortable with it, and it just came off stilted and fake. The show seems determined to rehabilitate Three as a softy, which is a shame. He’s a better character, and more useful, as an asshole. I hope they pull back on that for season two because he’s not really very much fun anymore.
Five wiped their memories and Six is the betrayer. Presumably Five wiped their memories to protect whoever Two and Four were talking about killing in the audio she recorded. I think we’re supposed to believe it was Six they were talking about, but I think it was One. It could be anyone, honestly, so it’s hard to care. While I’m at it, did Five forget about the kid dying in the storage room? She’s there long enough for Six to figure out she’s good at tech stuff, and to begin snooping. Meanwhile, he’s bleeding out, and she doesn’t seem even remember him. As for Six’s betrayal, with no ideas of motives it’s just a thing he did. He clearly made some kind of deal with the GA or someone, probably in Episode 8, and we’ll get some ad hoc explanation for it next season. So it’s hard to care or be shocked by it.
As I mentioned, I think the show will get a second season. I can’t say I loved this season (maybe that’s an understatement) as I had a lot of problems with it. I was initially interested in Mallozzi’s claim that it passed the Bechdel Test, which it does. I will give credit where credit is due in this is a start. However, the Bechdel Test, while an interesting litmus test, does not guarantee that a movie or television show will not be sexist, and Dark Matter is an example of this. Sure, the artificial women and the teenage girl all talked to each other about things other than men, but the writers kind of stacked the deck in their favor on that one, I think, with the gender imbalance they created. Beyond that, the show is rife with overt and covert sexism that detracts from whatever points they earn for passing the Bechdel Test. There is much room for improvement.
I really did want to like this show, and it pains me that I found it so bad to mediocre, with a few bright spots here and there. I’ll watch second season, but I’m not sure I’ll have the patience to blog about every episode like I did this season. It’ll depend on how things go in the first couple of episodes–first seasons can be a shakedown period for most shows, while they smooth out the edges, figure out what works and what doesn’t.
I guess we’ll all tune in next summer to see.