Killjoys, one of the two Canadian space operas airing this season, ended last week, and I quickly took to this blog to talk about how, while I enjoyed it, it felt less clever, less full, less everything than space operas of years past. So how does its sister series, Dark Matter, measure up? Not great, if I'm being honest.
On a ship traveling through deep space, six crew members wake up from stasis to find that they have no memories - while their skills are intact, they don't remember any details about their own lives. After awakening their ship's service android and arriving at a mining colony under threat from a large corporation, the crew discovers that five out of six of them are wanted and infamous criminals, and what's more, are the mercenaries hired to wipe out the population of the mining colony.
I was quite critical of Killjoys for utterly failing to make me care about the world which the characters inhabited, for being less cunning with its budget than the made-on-a-shoestring-and-a-prayer space operas of old were, for often being light on sci-fi elements: Dark Matter has all those problems, and rounds it out by having a less engaging cast than Killjoys, and less well-written dialogue.
After thirteen episodes - three more than Killjoys, so it doesn't even have the excuse of a shorter running time - I feel like I know as little about the universe the characters live in as I did when the series started. It's space. It's run by corporations. And that's - more or less it. I don't know how these corporations function, or what the role of governments is in all of this, or even what any important planets are. I knew more about the world of Firefly by the end of its very first episode.
|Ah, the sci-fi black leather ensemble. I remember you from The Daedalus Encounter.|
And that's a problem, because space operas - which by definition dump viewers into a very large and very alien world - have to make the audience feel like they have a foothold in that world, a knowledge base to work off. That's integral to that world feeling real, and the audience then caring about that world. But this world doesn't feel real, especially as Dark Matter chose not to avail itself of any of the other ways that you can make viewers care about a world like, for example, giving your main cast a stake in that world's welfare (since the cast is entirely composed of amnesiacs and one robot, none of them have any attachment to anything, and the show does not rush to give them any), or a vibrant supporting cast (there are probably about three recurring characters in the show, and they are all villainous).
So, what we're left with is a situation where an entire planet can be destroyed, and I do not care. I don't feel any impact from it, and judging by how the crew dwells on it for all of one scene, neither do any of the characters.
That planet being destroyed is never really picked up on as a plot thread, incidentally, because there isn't a coherent plot running through this series. There are about a dozen plots started - who wiped their memories, character specific plots for each member of the crew, the illegal weapons research of the various corporations, a man with a grudge against the crew for killing his brother, et cetera, but none of them are ever finished. Rather than having a discrete plot arc, the series simply stops, dead in its tracks, after setting up a bunch of different plot threads to be concluded later.
It's not yet been renewed, incidentally.
|The aggressively boring romance.|
Killjoys had a bit of this problem too, but it did at least feel like it built to some kind of climax, and I forgave it a lot of its sins because its characters were interesting and the dialogue was snappy and witty. This is not the case with Dark Matter - none of its dialogue is terrible, but none of it is particularly amazing, either. Instead, it occupies a constant state of middling, and the same could be said of its characters, none of whom are unlikable, but none of whom have any particular depth, either.
(It doesn't help that since they're all designated numbers instead of names, it's difficult to keep track of who's who. One is the whiny white guy, I know that, and two is the badass ship's captain, but I have no idea which ones are Three, Four, Five, and Six.)
I did somewhat enjoy Dark Matter, enough so that I happily tuned in every week, but it was, in many respects (certainly more respects than Killjoys) a massive disappointment, and that's a shame. I'm not too fussed either way over whether it gets renewed - either it does, in which case I'll probably watch it, or it doesn't, in which case I'm quite content to forget about it.