So this past week I finally gave into my curiosity and started watching Canadian SyFy show Dark Matter on Netflix (they just released Season 2).
See the gorgeous sista to the far right? Her name is Nyx and she's portrayed by English actress Melanie Liburd. She was my main reason for checking it out, but I quickly realized she doesn't arrive until Season 2.
In the meantime, Dark Matter (2015) hooked me with one hell of a pilot. Six people awake aboard a damaged ship with no memories of who they are. They name themselves in the order of when they woke up (One - Six). Aided by the Android who runs the ship, they make repairs and take stock of their inventory, realizing they're carrying a lot of guns. They resume course to the last programmed destination and find an independent colony of miners who are being threatened by a giant corporation. The miners are kind to them, but advise them to leave quickly before "the Raza" arrive. One miner says the Raza are a reptilian race the corporation has hired to exterminate the colony. Another says no one really knows what the Raza are, because no one has ever survived their attack. The miners says they've sent for help and a shipment of guns should be arriving any day now.
Crewmember One, who appears to be highly moral, deduces that the weapons aboard their ship were meant for the miners. But since the crew is broke and the ship still damaged, not all of the crewmembers want to part with them. This causes a lot of back and forth with the crew, revealing a bit about their personalities.
The Android eventually recovers data about the ship's crew. It turns out One, Two, Three, Four, and Six are all wanted criminals for crimes like murder, kidnapping, piracy, and trafficking. Two reveals that they weren't sent to help these miners; they were sent to kill them. You see, Raza isn't the name of a species; it's the name of their ship.
What They Did Correctly Right off the Bat
Dark Matter is a fairly well-written, well-paced show with a strong female lead (Two, portrayed flawlessly by Melissa O'Neil). The actress is Chinese-Canadian and she does an exceptional job with this role.
The character "Five" (Jodelle Ferland) is also flawless; the youngest member of the Raza crew, Five is a stowaway street kid who happens to be a brilliant hacker. The warmth between her and Two is so emotionally genuine that it helps suck into their world. You find yourself looking forward to their signature hugs every time they survive some horrendous catastrophe.
As with all good/semi-decent science fiction, Dark Matter does posit some philosophical and ethical questions throughout the series, but nothing that's really deep.
Production is done in moderation; from the special effects to the wardrobe and makeup, the stylists and artists know better than to go overboard (or over budget). The Raza is a great ship, like a cross between Serenity from Firefly and a much smaller Voyager from Star Trek: VOY. So while its extremely advanced, heavily armed, and perfectly suited for long-term travel, the Raza is also homey yet somewhat gritty, with plenty of vents, nooks, and crannies for Five to crawl through.
Speaking of Firefly, some episodes of the first season will make even the most cynical Browncoats nostalgic. I won't give too much away, but a lot of storylines are practically direct nods - in sequence - to Joss Whedon's tragic space western.
The introduction of Nyx and her Blasian romance with Four in Season Two will warm my pygmy bones well into my old age. *sly smile* You'll have shave to watch Season Two to see what I mean.
And speaking of....
Sins Committed in Season One, Atoned for in Season Two
For one, the casting of a protagonist/sex symbol/love interest who's Asian-but-not-too-Asian harkens to the tendency to cast women who are Black-but-not-too-Black. Let me clear; Melissa O'Neil is doing on hell of a job on the show, and I can't see anyone else portraying Two. But this casting choice still gets an eyebrow raise because we can't play dumb and pretend we don't notice this obvious pattern.
I also didn't like how Two was hypersexualized in Season One, with the male crewmembers overtly staring at her ass and the fact that within the first several eps she'd already slept with two members of her crew. Like...what the hell? No woman in her right mind will start screwing the men of her crew if she hopes to keep them in line and following her orders. Thankfully, Two goes through the entirety of Season Two without a love interest.
Okay, let's talk about Four (Alex Mallari, Jr.). This was a big one. Four is supposed to be Japanese, but the good-looking actor portraying him spent Season One looking Filipino as hell (because that's what Mallari is). We find out Four is really a prince of a planet. And thus we get to see the writers' feudal Japanese fetish on steroids, replete with garish samurai armor, a vast kitana collection, more non-Japanese actors, and cringe-worthy dialogue about duty and honor. Like...I'm talkin' Failius Maximus, y'all.
By Season Two, efforts have been to make Mallari look and sound more Japanese (very Ken Watanabe, in fact). Also, we see the hideous armor disappear, and the population of his planet diversified and modernized. So suddenly you have people of all skin tones speaking Japanese and wearing the royal colors. With such a diverse population, Mallari blends into the role of Four much better.
There was still some lingering fails with the way other Asian women were portrayed on the show. Four's stepmother remains a one-note villain, dressed in a bargain basement kimono and a wig that is out of control. She kills her husband and banishes his son...and then runs the empire into the ground. Way to represent. Mizaki (Ellen Wong), is the Captain of the Guard with anime hair and a mean girl 'tude. She's in love with Four - who's in love with Nyx - and she's willing to cut a bitch to get him. Literally.
*yawn* Like, seriously? I thought you were supposed to be a bad-ass.
Dark Matter is named thus for a reason. This is not a show to watch with the tiny humans. The crew of Raza have a rep to maintain and a whole of lot of enemies. A loooot of folks die on this show. Everybody curses like a space sailor. There's lot of shooting, stabbing, throats getting slit, shit blowing up, and people being shoved out of airlocks. We even see little ole Five bust a cap a few times and coldly order the Android to kill a room full of people. Granted, they had it coming, but still...damn.
Final verdict? I give the show 4/5 stars, and can't wait to see it return Summer, 2017.