Dark Matter – Navigating the Realms of Reality

SERIES REVIEW – The series Dark Matter cautiously circles its narrative core, much like a cat cautiously approaching hot porridge, before delving into the captivating twists of its multiverse storyline. While the series’ premise isn’t groundbreaking, having been explored in popular works such as Fringe, Rick and Morty, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, its slow narrative unfolding makes the initial episodes somewhat sluggish.

 

Produced by AppleTV+, Dark Matter is an adaptation of Blake Crouch’s best-selling novel and presents the journey of a protagonist who can tear through the walls between realities to reclaim his loved ones. While the story remains tightly focused and emotionally deep, offering a fresh perspective within a saturated genre, it falls into the common trap of many limited series: taking too long to reach its pivotal moments.

 

 

The Well-Trodden Multiverse

 

The path explored by Dark Matter is so well-trodden that Crouch, who penned the first four episodes, might not have needed to elaborate on how the multiverse functions. It’s been only two years since the release of Everything Everywhere All at Once, which not only delivered a quantum mechanics lesson but also scooped up an Academy Award. Nonetheless, Crouch’s script lapses into cliché, illustrating a lecture by physics professor Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton) on Schrödinger’s cat that quickly becomes central to his life.

Jason was once a rising star in his field, but chose family over career 15 years ago. Now, he teaches disinterested students at a mediocre school but enjoys a serene family life with dinners and wine with his wife Daniela (Jennifer Connelly) – with whom he shares an effortless chemistry – and their son Charlie (Oakes Fegley). However, when a Jason who never gave up his ambitions decides to seize his domestic bliss, it abruptly intrudes into his life. The episode skillfully showcases the simple joys Jason strives to reclaim throughout the series, though it amplifies the show’s feeling of déjà vu by setting its most compelling scenes in a storage locker, reminiscent of the time-bending film Primer.

 

 

Missed Opportunities

 

The early episodes of Dark Matter that adhere closest to Crouch’s novel turn out to be the weakest. Characters touted as geniuses struggle to piece together plot points that should be obvious to them and are infuriatingly apparent to anyone familiar with the series’ premise or recent blockbuster films. Even after Jason realizes he does not have a brain tumor and is not the victim of an elaborate prank, he repeatedly makes grave mistakes while navigating various post-apocalyptic versions of Chicago.

Dark Matter was filmed on location in Chicago, and the varying iterations of its iconic landmarks immediately set the tone for each new world Jason enters. In a cleverly executed twist, the cityscape receives a utopian makeover featuring the Spire, a scrapped skyscraper that would have been the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. Similarly, grounding Jason’s life in Chicago’s Logan Square and evenings spent at a favorite local bar highlights the startling discovery of versions of his home that are nearly perfect yet as alien as those frozen in perpetual ice.

Jason’s adventures are accompanied by Amanda (Alice Braga), a psychologist who unlocked multiverse travel with her world’s Jason – referred to as “Jason2” in Dark Matter. While this Amanda is significantly more developed than her counterpart in the book, she primarily serves as a vehicle for exposition about how dimension-hopping works, showing true agency only late in the story.

The writers do a far better job enhancing Daniela’s character, initially dazzled by her “husband’s” newfound zest and confidence but quickly becomes suspicious of the changes in his personality. Jason2 may meticulously research dinner guests to impress those he has never met, but he can’t fake the shared joys and tragedies that have molded them into perfectly fitting puzzle pieces – he prioritized himself over Daniela once, and he can’t stop. A scene where his attempt at a grand romantic gesture disastrously backfires is one of Dark Matter’s highlights, providing a platform for a fierce and emotionally taxing performance from Connelly as she reveals how little Jason2 truly knows her.

 

 

The Moment of Truth

 

The narrative picks up pace in the latter half of the series, particularly in the final two episodes, as the show doubles down on its themes. Most multiverse stories compel their protagonists to confront what they are truly capable of and what defines them. However, this series maintains a sharp focus on these concepts, avoiding any additional sci-fi elements. While there’s a brief nod to Sliders, showcasing the dangers of multiverse travel, the stakes are primarily reduced to Jason battling his worst impulses.

Edgerton beautifully conveys this conflict, tackling the challenge of playing duplicates of the same character with a finesse comparable to John Noble in Fringe or Paul Rudd in Living with Yourself. The series also enriches Jason2, who quickly begins to question whether the grass was really greener on the other side. A pleasant chime serves as a cue whenever Dark Matter shifts between worlds, though it’s not strictly necessary. Edgerton brings enough variety to his movements and speech to distinguish between the Jasons, even when they’re dressed identically.

-Gergely Herpai (BadSector)-

 

 

Dark Matter

Direction - 7.4
Actors - 8.2
Story - 7.2
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 7.8
Ambience - 7.6

7.6

GOOD

Dark Matter's initial episodes nearly derail what is otherwise a strong series that offers an emotionally rich take on the multiverse. However, the final episodes raise the stakes significantly, providing a profoundly impactful experience.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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