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Syfy’s pulpy space opera Dark Matter is back — here’s why you should watch

Syfy’s pulpy space opera Dark Matter is back — here’s why you should watch


Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Netflix, and season 3 begins on June 9th

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Image: Syfy Channel

For years, the Syfy Channel was home to a range of space-opera TV serials like Andromeda, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, and Stargate SG-1. But after a 2009 rebranding, Syfy moved away from space shows. Three years ago, the network’s programming returned to space with three new shows: Dark Matter, Killjoys, and The Expanse.

Dark Matter and Killjoys promised a return to traditional space opera: a drama following a small cast of characters as they travel from world to world. While several prestige genre stories (think American Gods, Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, or Man in the High Castle) are currently on the air, shows like Dark Matter are a bit less serious, and a bit more action-packed. Syfy recently released a trailer for the show’s third season, and it looks like it’ll be a blast.

With Dark Matter returning this week, let’s catch up on why it’s worth checking out.

What’s this show about?

Dark Matter was created by Joseph Mallozzi, who used to be in charge of Syfy’s Stargate franchise back when the network was called the SCI FI Channel. The show’s premise is simple: six people wake up from stasis on a starship called the Raza, find they’re missing their memories, and set out to learn who’s responsible, who they are, and what they should do next.

Do they learn what happened?

They do. This show doesn’t drag out its big mysteries for long — the crew figures out their identities in the first episode. They quickly learn they’re a group of criminals assigned to strong-arm a mining colony that recently had a falling-out with a company called Ferrous Corp. They ultimately decide they don’t have to be bad guys or lawless enforcers any longer. They just want to get away and figure out what happened to their memories.

Who’s on the crew?

The show has seven main characters: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Android. Since the characters didn’t remember their names, they named themselves for the order in which they woke up.

Eventually, they learn about their original identities. One is Jace Corso, a criminal who was part of the Raza crew. But later, he discovers he’s really Derrick Moss, a wealthy tech CEO who stole Corso’s identity. Two is a synthetic human named Rebecca who escaped an experimental facility and became a criminal named Portia Lin. Three is Marcus Boone, a mercenary (think Jayne from Firefly). Four is Rylo Tetsuda, the heir to the Emperor of the Principality of Zairon. Five is Das, a teenage girl and tech wizard who stowed away on board the Raza. Six is a terrorist known as Griffin Jones, but actually named Kal Varrick. He’s an undercover agent working for the Galactic Authority, trying to take down the crew of the Raza. On top of that, there’s Android, the ship’s android, who is developing her own personality as she spends time with the crew.

Season 2 introduced a couple of new characters: Nyx Harper, a Seer who joins the Raza crew after they escape from prison, and Devon Taltherd, a medic who joined the crew during the same prison break.

This all seems complicated.

It really can be, but the show is largely about identities and who people truly are. Most of the characters have their own agendas, but once their memories were wiped, they found a unique opportunity to reinvent themselves. They come together into a crew because they’re comfortable with one another, or at least more comfortable than they are with the wider world.

Where does Season 3 pick up?

In the first season, the crew largely figures out who they are, and get used to the general state of the universe. There are a lot of political factions, as well as really powerful private companies they work for, or are on the run from. The crew also discovers that they own a fantastic piece of technology called a Blink Drive, which could upend the power in the galaxy.

In season 2, the crew escapes from prison and split up. They eventually meet back up with some new friends, and try to figure out what they want from their new life. By the end of the season, Four essentially instigates a war, leaving the season on a cliffhanger when he abandons the Raza’s crew to die. From the looks of season 3’s trailer, they aren’t going to take kindly to that.

How long is the show supposed to run?

Mallozzi says he planned out a five-year arc from the beginning, plotting out the broad beats of each season. It’s not clear where the show’s going to go, but some hints have been dropped along the way.

Is this show based on anything?

It launched from a comic book, which was based on Mallozzi’s original pitch for the show. When Stargate began to wind down, he came up with Dark Matter’s premise, but didn’t have any luck selling it as a series. He realized he would have more success if the series was based on an existing story, like a novel or a comic, so he turned to Dark Horse Comics, which picked up his pitch for a short, four-issue series.

Then he used the comic as a basis for his TV pitches. In 2013, Syfy green-lit the show for a 13-episode season. The series is actually pretty different from the comic: Mallozzi noted that the comic wouldn’t dictate the casting or appearance of the show, but there are some similarities. The comic also only covers the events of the pilot episode.

What do you like about Dark Matter?

Aside from the fact that Syfy was overdue for more spaceship stories, what I find most appealing is how it resembles pulpy, entertaining shows like Farscape, Firefly, and Stargate. It has a cast of wildly different characters, each with their own motivations and agendas, and the show manages to cram an impressive amount of story and world-building into just a couple of seasons. This show, like Killjoys, fits in everything that makes a space-opera series fun: lots of action, fantastic worlds, interpersonal drama, and interstellar drama. It’s not on the same level as The Expanse, which has some really impressive sets, acting, and story, but it’s still enormously accessible and entertaining.

What else is coming with Season 3?

Syfy is jumping on the aftershow bandwagon with a companion series, After Dark, hosted by Zoie Palmer, who plays Android. It’ll be available online each week after every episode.

Okay, where can I watch this?

The two seasons are currently streaming on Netflix. Season three begins on June 9 on Syfy.