August 29, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Dark Matter”


One of the reasons “locked room” mysteries appeal to producers is that they require limited production values, and for what amounted to half its initial season, DARK MATTER tried to make up for its inadequate budget by being a locked spaceship mystery, with chunks of its content taking place on the dimly-lit, far from detailed sets of the Raza.  At times this helped to convey isolation and claustrophobia; often it just felt like penny-pinching.  Despite its B-movie economics, on the whole Dark Matter has delved effectively into its premise:  6 people awaken from suspended animation mid-flight, only to realize that their memories had been wiped out, and their android (Zoie Palmer) had been programmed to kill them.

They quickly learned that they’d been unscrupulous mercenaries who thought nothing of imposing the will of the galaxy’s corporations on the innocent, but as the season went on, they were able to turn their amnesia into a fresh start, developing at least some sense of morality.  It’s also turned out that not all of them were who they appeared to be:  One (Marc Bendavid)–even though they eventually learned their pre-amnesia names, they adopted the numbers of the order in which they awoke–had been surgically altered into a duplicate of the actual Raza crewman so he could get revenge on Three (Anthony Lemke) for the death of his wife.  Two (Melissa O’Neil) was a synthetic human, which is something different from an android, a cyborg or a clone.  Four (Alex Mallari, Jr) was a deposed prince, and Six (Roger Cross) appeared to be a revolutionary on the run.  Five (Jodelle Ferland) was something of a ringer, an apparent stowaway who sometimes “remembered” the lost memories of the other crew members.  Even the android started developing inappropriate human emotions.  It’s all been busy enough to hold the interest on a summer Friday.

Although the series is somewhat serialized, tonight’s two-hour season finale played as two separate hours, of which the first (written by series co-creator Joseph Mallozzi and directed by Andy Mikita) was the more engaging.  It got us off the Raza for a Two-centric story, as she was taken prisoner by the scientist who created her (guest star Wil Wheaton) and threatened with having her brain ripped out of her head and replaced.  The episode also gave the android a more central part than usual, putting her into the thick of the action in rescuing Two.  (In addition, seeds were dropped for plot developments in a Season 2 that hasn’t yet been ordered, regarding the reasons for Three’s creation, which seemed to involve placing the brains of dying humans into synthetic bodies.)

The season’s final hour (written by Mallozzi and his co-creator Paul Mullie, and also directed by Mikita) returned us to the Raza, and also returned the show to its original mystery of who had wiped the crew’s memories and why.  There was a lot of time spent with one character accusing another of being the traitor (mostly One and Three), leading to the intergalactic version of Mexican stand-offs.  This kind of thing requires strong dialogue and acting to sustain itself, and those aren’t Dark Matter‘s strong points.  The characters rarely speak more than functionally, and that goes for most of the performances, too, although O’Neil is convincingly badass, and Lemke has a gruff charm.  To its credit, though, the show did provide some (partial) answers, as it appears that Five was the one who created the amnesia program, and she did it to protect Six, whom Two and the others were planning to kill.  The reasons for that were still unclear, but perhaps explained by the closing sequence of the season, as the ship was overtaken by Galactic Authority soldiers, who seemed to be working with Six.

Like Syfy’s other Friday night dramas, Dark Matter is ratings-challenged, and the network could decide to cancel or renew any of the trio, depending on its strategic needs.  While Dark Matter clearly can’t be costing Syfy much of a license fee, it’s not earning much revenue, either.  Despite its moderate entertainment value, there’s unlikely to be much uproar if it doesn’t return.  After a few months, for most viewers it would be as though their memories of it had been wiped clean.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."