Dark Matter S2E1: Out with a bang

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This recap contains spoilers for episode 1 of season 2 of Dark Matter (“Welcome to Your New Home”). Read at your own risk.

It’s baa-aaack! After a long, lonely, sci-fi-free winter, our patience is rewarded with a new season of both Dark Matter AND Killjoys (recap to come), two great series you should be watching. While season 1 of Killjoys, I think, had the advantage over Dark Matter in terms of both production budget and a juicy political intrigue-laden plot, Dark Matter is off to a very promising start in season 2. This episode brought up all sorts of questions about the wider world beyond the Raza in terms of how the government (the Galactic Authority) appears to be in bed with powerful corporations, letting the latter’s financial interests take precedence over justice and even human life. In usual Dark Matter style, it ends with a jolting cliffhanger that only brings more questions that beg to be answered. Oh curse you, week-long wait between episodes!

We begin in a holding cell of Hyperion 8, a maximum-security prison on a moon orbiting some random planet. Two, Three, and Four have just regained consciousness. The last thing they remember is being on the Raza, so we are basically picking up right where we left off at the end of last season. There are three other prisoners here, but no one we recognize. Where’s Five? Where’s One (a.k.a. Jace Corso, a.k.a. Rich Guy Pretending to Be Jace Corso, a.k.a. Derrick Moss)?

They go through a decontamination procedure, and right before it starts, one of the random other prisoners remarks, “I hate this part.” She has lines, and she’s too pretty to be a background actor, so I suspect we’ll see more of her later. They are issued their new prison garb: brown coveralls and Keds slip-ons.

When the six new prisoners exit the holding cell, they enter their new home, Cell Block 1, arranged in a perfect pyramid, Two at its apex. Like bowling pins. Cue opening credits. (I must confess, the pyramid arrangement kind of takes me out of the narrative, because it’s so obvious that the actors were arranged that way. Couldn’t they just be in a haphazard grouping?)

Oh no! The most awesome opening titles are gone! No more Transformer-esque Dark Matter. Now the title of the show is laser-beamed in, in a retro homage to ‘80s sci-fi aesthetic. It’s the Christopher Reeve Superman movies meets TV’s Automan.

Does anyone find it odd that Two, Three and Four are housed together, on the same cell block? From the perspective of the prison authorities, this would seem to be most unwise, as it gives them ample opportunity to communicate and brainstorm their escape (which, of course, they do). Since rarely does this show do anything exclusively to serve the plot, I suspect that some invisible hand at the GA has ordered the warden to house these three together. In other words, someone wants them to escape. The question is: Who? And why?

One and Five are also at the prison, but housed in the staff wing. They are roomies, which seems kind of creepy – housing a 30-something guy with a 16-year-old girl. Sure, they know each other, but there are basic privacy concerns here. Maybe they were short of empty staff rooms.

Anyway, after some somewhat stilted exposition dialogue to catch up the viewers who haven’t watched the last episode of season 1 since last summer, Six (Roger Cross) comes in and confesses that he ratted everyone out. His true identity is Lt. Kal Varrick, of the Galactic Authority. Five (Jodelle Ferland) is righteously pissed off; One (Marc Bendavid) is a little more subdued. His main concern is for Two’s safety, given that she’s a genetically engineered creation and officially the property of creepy Wil Wheaton. Six assures them that he hasn’t told the GA what Two is.

One’s secret is out, though. He admits to Five that he’s really Derrick Moss, wealthy industrialist, just before his attorney charges in, demanding his release. Good. Five gets that room to herself now.

Six visits the warden. OMG! It’s that actor! I love him. I don’t know his name, but he’s awesome. He was Chloe’s husband in 24. Uh-oh. Here, he’s playing an asshole. That makes me a little sad. Okay, I looked up his name: Carlo Rota. The warden’s got some disturbing children’s drawings on the wall of his office. One shows a guy behind bars (interesting, because there are no bars in this prison—only force fields) and a guard outside, with the cheery caption: “My dad stole things and in your jail now. Say hi from Timmy.” How charming! Six recommends that Two be kept in isolation. The warden pisses all over that recommendation. I have a feeling he’ll regret this.

One’s lawyer (Trenna Keating) sets him up in an apartment planet-side and tells him there’s a plastic surgeon who can change his face back to its original state. One’s not so sure about that idea, as he doesn’t remember having any other face. He asks to see the police file on his wife’s murder. After reviewing it, he learns that only one witness—a former security guard at his company, Corelactic—provided the testimony implicating Three (a.k.a. Marcus Boone) as the perpetrator. One’s starting to question whether that testimony was credible, especially given that Three’s rap sheet is filled with big score mercenary work. A small-time break-and-enter doesn’t seem in line with the rest of his oeuvre.

One confesses his suspicions to Darius (Doug MacLeod), the acting CEO of Corelactic, who has been running the company in One’s absence. The odd thing is, when Darius walks in, he says, “Derrick, is that really you?” Wouldn’t Darius have been in on what Derrick Moss was doing? Wouldn’t he have seen Moss after the plastic surgery that made him look like Jace Corso? Where did he think Moss was all this time? Presumably Moss had to make arrangements for his company to carry on in his absence. Where did he say he was going? I don’t trust this guy. Darius seems suspiciously unconcerned with One’s findings, and urges him to put the matter of his wife’s murder investigation behind him. One, however, insists on speaking with the former security guard himself. Darius assures him that should be easy to arrange.

I’m wondering if this is all the second time around that One/Moss has done this. Maybe he spoke to the security guard already, before he embarked on this quest, and just doesn’t remember it. He thought he was on the Raza to avenge his wife’s death, but maybe One was there to see if there was a connection between Darius and the murder. Maybe he was trying to see if Darius paid Boone to kill his wife, or whether Boone even had anything to do with it.

Meanwhile, a poor, hapless tech (Will Bowes) is given the job of retrieving the Android’s memory files—everything she’s seen, heard, said, and done since she was reactivated back in Episode 1. (Here, we learn that season 1 lasted 47 days: less time than it took for the season to air.) The Android (Zoie Palmer), however, refuses to upload her memory files, even though she risks being shut down and rebooted (losing all her memory, including her personality matrix). Interestingly, the Android mentions that there are some gaps in her memory. What are those gaps? Do we know about those? I don’t think so. Crap. Now I have to go back and scan through season 1 to see what these gaps might be.

Back at Hyperion 8, we get a series of stereotypical prison vignettes. Apparently, prisons in the future are run pretty much the same as they are today, except with improved riot-quelling technology. Prisoners shake each other down for valuables, which, in this case, means ration cards, and minimally involved guards look the other way.

ThreeShakedown
Three encounters some mischief-makers.

Prison Vignette #1: Three prisoners shake down Three (Anthony Lemke) for his ration card. They are old “friends”, come to collect. He screwed them out of the proceeds of a bank job some time ago, but of course he has no memory of that, or of them. Before they can collect, they’re interrupted by a woman (Melanie Liburd) who wards them off by her mere presence, then proceeds to shake down Three herself.

This is the same woman who said “I hate this part” just before the decontamination procedure in the holding cell before they entered this cell block. Who is she? How many times has she been through that decontamination procedure, that she’s so familiar with it? Why was she entering the cell block with our guys, and why is she interested in Three now? Is she a plant?

Just as this stranger begins to make easy work of beating the tar out of Three, Two (Melissa O’Neil) comes to his rescue.

Girl Fight! To be more specific: a surprisingly equal girl fight. Two’s genetic enhancements should enable her to beat the crap out of this woman while hardly breaking a sweat, but this fight is a draw. Why? Is this other woman enhanced too? The fun is spoiled by a prison guard tasing them both unconscious.

In the infirmary, Three is getting treatment for his injuries from a weirdly flirty nurse (Megan Vincent). A creepy old guy in next bed (Clyde Whitham) confesses his secret: injure yourself just the right way to get maximum time in the clinic, where the food’s better and a flirty nurse is there to tend to your wounds. Or else say you have medical training, so you get your work detail assignment in the clinic. Three processes this information.

Two is placed in solitary confinement. I’m really wondering now: Where do people pee in this place? There was no toilet or sink in Three’s cell, and there’s nothing here in Two’s isolation cell either. Do we lose the need to pee in the future?

While there’s no toilet here, there is a disk on the floor that lights up. Two tentatively stands on it to see what will happen, and she’s transported to the “sim yard,” a virtual reality world in the form of an empty field in wintertime Ontario. The woman she fought with is here, explaining that the warden allows this VR simulation as a place for prisoners to get their aggressions out without any actual damage requiring trips to the infirmary. She introduces herself as Nyx, and says her interaction with Three was just to test how badass the Raza crew really are. Two mentions that Nyx fights well. Surprisingly well. Nyx avoids the invitation for an explanation, which makes me suspect that maybe she is somehow enhanced like Two. She’s definitely hiding something.

But how is this “solitary” confinement, if these two are allowed to interact with each other? Isn’t the point of solitary that you are alone with your miserable self, hour after hour, day in, day out, with nothing to distract you from your pathetic existence? This is another piece of evidence in my theory that Nyx is a plant of some sort, sent (by whom?) to infiltrate the Raza crew for some as yet unknown purpose.

NyxAndOneInSimYard
“Solitary” confinement: Nyx and One size each other up in the sim yard.

Prison Vignette #2: Three ne’er do wells approach Four (Alex Mallari Jr.) and tell him “He” wants to see Four. (Who is this “he”?) The heavy with lines (Ronnie Rowe) knocks Four’s dinner roll off his plate, prompting Four to rise and invite them to “make your move”. They claim a row will get the whole block “shut down,” to which Four responds there’s only one guard watching the whole block and he’s on his cell phone playing Candy Crush. Shit goes down, and the Candy Crush-playing guard (Alen Delain) realizes his job’s in jeopardy as he radios for help. Some high-pitched sound comes on and everybody’s down for the count.

Meanwhile, Six is talking with his GA buddy, Lt. Anders (Jeff Teravainen). Anders has Bubba (Three’s ginormous gun). Six wonders how he has Bubba, given that the Raza’s in quarantine, waiting for the forensics team. Anders shrugs off his evidence tampering and boasts that he’s “fixed it good as new.” Good to know. I suspect this gun will be used soon. Anders says the Raza crew’s trial has been postponed indefinitely. Bureaucratic red tape, apparently. Ferrous Corp. is pushing hard for a quick trial. (I don’t even remember why Ferrous is aggrieved, to tell you the truth. Now there’s some expositional dialogue I could’ve really used.) Some unknown party is pushing back, forcing a delay. Who is this unknown party? Why don’t they want a trial?

Six goes back to the Raza. Didn’t he just tell Anders that the ship was quarantined, awaiting search by the GA forensics team? So how is Six allowed to be here, tampering with evidence? The GA custodial chain for evidence needs a serious procedural overhaul. Anyway, Six finds something in his psych eval locked and classified. He brings the file to Five to decrypt. She’s still in her roommate-less room and bored out of her skull, so she agrees, even though she’s still pissed at Six. He tells her that her real name is Emily Kolburn, and that she’s an orphan who ran away from her orphanage at age 12 and has been drifting ever since.

Prison Vignette #3: Four meets the Enforcer, a.k.a. Arax Nero (Mike Dopud), a prisoner given special privileges by the warden in exchange for keeping the peace. The Enforcer warns Four to toe the line, or else.

Prison Vignette #4: Three receives his meal from a food dispensing station. I love the tilt down from the sign above the food dispenser, showing lovely garden-fresh veggies, to the actual “food” squirting, toothpaste-like, into a heap on the plate, with the cheery message: “Enjoy your meal.” Hey, at least he gets a dinner roll with that! Before he can eat much, a guard tells him to report to the laundry for his work detail. Hey! There’s a giant steamer here! How soon before someone’s hand gets sizzled between its plates?

One gets word from Darius that the security guard One wants to talk to died LAST NIGHT in a bar fight. How convenient!!!

It’s rare that a wardrobe choice takes me out of a story, but One’s blue button-down Oxford shirt in this scene is bothering me. It seems very anachronistic, in this far-future world, that he is wearing a shirt you can pick up at the Men’s Wearhouse in 2016.

Later, Six pays a visit to One, partly to seek forgiveness. In this meeting, One relays his suspicions about Darius and the fact that the one witness implicating Three has turned up dead immediately after One started asking questions. Six wonders if One might be paranoid from spending too much time among the Raza crew. One says, no, he’s just been awakened to the dangers of being too trusting. Six hands him the necklace from the pilot (that symbolized the miners fighting to keep their planet out of Ferrous Corp’s hands—oh, is that what Ferrous Corp. is aggrieved about?). With it, he reminds One that at his core, he knows the right thing to do.

It turns out that Six’s pep talk to One was more for Six’s benefit. Five has cracked the file he gave her, and Six learns that the GA knew the rebel group Six infiltrated (prior to his Raza assignment) was going to bomb a civilian target, and yet they still allowed it to happen, in order to turn public opinion against the rebels. Six learned of this before his memory wipe, but went back to work for the GA anyway. Now, this second time around, it seems he won’t acquiesce as willingly.

ThreeSteamsHand
Three’s grand plan.

Three is toiling away in the prison laundry. When he can’t take the monotony any longer, he purposely closes the steamer on his hand. Well, that’s not how I expected that hand-steaming to go down.

 

Three’s infirmary visit doesn’t go as expected. The flirty nurse is gone (transferred out). Furthermore, he finds out that if they know a wound is self-inflicted, the patient gets sent to the psych ward for electroshock therapy. Three’s outta there right quick.

In the VR field, Nyx tells Two that not having a trial/sentencing before throwing people into the prison is not Kosher. (Where do criminals usually go to await trial, if not lock-up?) They’re scared of you,” Nyx says. Who is the They, exactly? And why are they scared? What does our crew not remember that would be so earth-shattering for the GA?

Later, Two, Four, and Three compare notes on what they’ve learned the past couple days. This conversation is exactly why it was insanity to house these three together on the same cell block. Divide and conquer, people. I can only assume someone with a lot of power wants them to escape.

PowWowInCellBlock
“Gee, isn’t it great that they housed us all together like this? Sure makes it easier to plan our big escape!”

The warden calls in his head guard (Tom Barnett) and tells him, “We just got the call. It’s on.” What’s on? Harm is coming to the Raza crew, including Five. Who’s ordered this? Why? Why are these particular criminals so important?

Five is being escorted to a shuttle; she’s being transferred to a group home down on the planet. Franka Potente intervenes. She’s Chief Inspector Shaddick, with the GA Serious Crimes Division, and wants Five’s cooperation with her investigation. It appears that one hand of the GA doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. Perhaps one part (the warden, head guard, and whoever planted Nyx) is corrupt, and the other part (Six and Shaddick) is not? Will Shaddick uncover the corruption? Is she corrupt herself, but just playing for a different team? This is getting very interesting, as powerful corporate influences clash with GA interests, which in turn clash with other GA interests. The chess board is getting full!

One is in his quarters, getting ready to leave. The door chime rings, and he goes to answer it. In walks Jace Corso – the real one. Corso shoots One point-blank, several times, including one smack dab in the middle of his forehead. There’s no doubt here: One/Derrick Moss is dead, dead, dead.

OneDead
One, dead. Like really dead. Deader than disco dead. I mean, this guy is DEAD.

Zoinks!

I’m torn how I feel about this: on the one hand, I’m glad I don’t have to watch whiny One anymore. He was by far my least favorite character, and I never really bought him as either a hardened criminal OR a ruthless industrialist (which the material he read about himself claimed that he was). He had no fighting or tactical skills, and his personality was that of a damp tea towel. But on the other hand, post-memory-loss, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy who didn’t deserve to get stabbed in the back by his father’s trusted advisor (I’m assuming here).

Which brings me to: What is Jace Corso’s motivation for offing Derrick Moss? Did Darius hire him to murder Moss? If not, is Corso planning to impersonate Moss now? That would seem wise, as Moss is a rich mucky-muck, and impersonating him would mean Corso never has to do another crime job in his life. But this is seemingly not Corso’s plan, because he left Moss lying there in the middle of the floor instead of stashing the body and grabbing Moss’s suitcase. Plus, Corso’s wearing his customary guyliner and is glaringly Oxford shirtless, so it’s unlikely his plan was to meet up with whomever was picking Moss up (presumably his lawyer).

Of course, this is the cliffhanger on which we end. We must wait for the answers to these questions. And in typical Dark Matter style, I’m certain far more questions will arise before we have many answers.

This was a pretty great opener for season 2. Sure, we’re off the ship and stuck in prison for the most part, but being in the presence of so many GA characters gives us the chance to get a much better glimpse of the political milieu in which this story operates. The potential for political intrigue and covert shady dealings is high, and that always makes for great drama.

Aside from niggling details like over-arranged actor placement and anachronistic wardrobe choices, I don’t have a lot of criticism. But I would like to see tighter editing of dialogue. There are long pauses between lines that could really be tightened up. Slow-paced editing was an issue I noticed last season, too, where I felt that scenes should end a few seconds earlier, but didn’t, or scenes with little action took way too long to play out. (One example that springs to mind is the Android’s space walk, when it took her forever just to get out of the airlock.) There was nothing remotely that egregious in this episode, but that might be because the episode was running long, and ruthless cutting was required to fit it into its time slot. In the future, if every episode were edited as if several minutes had to be macheted (whether they need to or not), I think the result would be perfect pacing.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

 

Grade: A

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