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Saturday, 22 August 2015



So, a while ago - about ten weeks ago, to be precise - I was bemoaning the fact that, as a genre of television, the space opera seems to have almost died out. It has: A combination of budget concerns (although the shows of the 90s and early 2000s always had their clever ways of keeping the costs down - and in fact, were downright cheap at times) and a weird obsession with police procedurals seems to have more or less stamped out the space opera as a television show. 

(Which was, I think, one of many reasons why Guardians of the Galaxy was such a breath of fresh air - because while it was a film, not a television show, it was also absolutely a space opera in the tradition of shows like Farscape.)

While sulking over this, I discovered Killjoys and Dark Matter, both Canadian, airing on the same network, and both having just started.

Killjoys is about a three person team of RAC agents - bounty hunters operating in the small system of planets called the Quad, who are tasked with bringing criminals to justice - mysterious, no-nonsense Dutch, techie John, and John's brother, ex-soldier D'avin. As the three work together to capture criminals, there are bad things brewing in the Quad - things connected to Dutch's former mentor, Khlyen.

Our intrepid heroes.

I will say this to start: Killjoys (or Dark Matter, for that matter, but that's a matter for another review) isn't the kind of space opera I grew up loving. It lacks the bombast for that, in many ways it's not quite clever enough for that - it's closer, if anything, to much beloved show Firefly. While that was a disappointment to me, for reasons established enough, I still think that Killjoys is a very competent, very fun show to watch.

Its writing is rather variable, admittedly: Its character writing is superb, and I cannot fault it - the lead, Dutch, is engaging, witty, and fascinating, and on her own would be more than enough to carry the entire show. As it is, she's supported by two more excellent characters, both with their own distinct styles of humour and their own character arcs, and a handful of recurring characters who manage to have their own subplots and arcs woven into the plot with surprising skill. The dialogue is sharp, and the characters that populate the Quad all feel like real people.

(Some of those character arcs end oddly sharply - D'avin's being one of them, and the showrunner has expressed some misgivings about that, since she's used to writing series of twelve episodes, not ten. It's a pacing problem, but it's one I can cope with, and there's room for that arc and subplot to be revisited in the second series, if it gets one.)

The relationships of the characters on the show tend to be messy, fuzzily defined, and often quite fragile - which, while it doesn't exactly make for relaxing watching, is certainly fairly gripping, especially when things start to fall apart later on in the series.

Oh, hey, Amanda Tapping of Stargate SG-1 fame.

The plotting, however, leaves a little more to be desired. As much as the Quad's residents all feel very real, the place itself is never really fleshed out, and so it all feels less like an actual place and more like - well, like what it is, a series of sets. That's a problem when a large chunk of your plot hinges on the internal politics of the region your story is set in, because while I knew enough about the Quad's politics to always keep up with what was going on, I didn't feel like I had any reason to care. What investment did I have in the wellbeing of these planets?

(Not to mention that one of the big wham moments of the finale depends on you having an emotional attachment to Oldtown, one of the most prominent areas in the show. I didn't. I was unwhammed.)

'Hey, Dad, are you space?' 'Yes, son. Now we can be a family.'

Episodic plots also tend to be fairly poorly paced, often attempting to either cram too much into a forty minute episode and ending up going by so fast that you barely have any time to settle on any particular plot point, or putting too little into an episode, and ending up peppered with short periods of nothing much happening. With the exception of maybe the first episode, the fourth episode, and the ninth episode, I wouldn't say any of the show's episodes really wowed me in terms of their plot and their pacing. The finale left me especially cold on that count, and apart from one very disturbing plot twist involving D'avin at the very end, none of it really had any impact on me.

All in all, a good series with some superb character writing, but probably not the Farscape-or-Star Trek replacement I was hoping for - not that it ever really advertised itself as such. I would strongly recommend it, though, especially as, at ten episodes, you could probably watch it in - I dunno, two days?

Will Dark Matter fare any better at fulfilling my appetite for space opera? Find out next week, when I'll be explaining how it absolutely did not fare any better at fulfilling my appetite for space opera, and is actually a much inferior series to Killjoys.

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