Dark Matter Review

Dark Matter
Physics teacher Jason Dessen (Edgerton) is robbed at gunpoint and abducted. When he awakens from the ordeal, it’s into a different life entirely…

by James Dyer |
Published on

Streaming on: Apple TV+

Episodes viewed: 9 of 9

You know the old adage: you wait ages for an Apple sci-fi show about quantum superposition, and then two come along at once. Just a month after we unravelled the existential mysteries of Constellation, we now have another reality-bending rabbit hole to disappear down in this series by Blake Crouch, adapted from his 2016 novel. But where Constellation took a deliberate, almost meditative approach to blending parallel worlds, confuzzling audiences right up until its slow-burn reveal, Dark Matter is a more up-front affair, wearing its fluctuating quantum state proudly on its five-dimensional sleeve.

Dark Matter

Edgerton’s Jason Dessen lives a simple but happy life with wife Daniela (Jennifer Connelly) and son Charlie (Oakes Fegley). Working as a college physics teacher, he’s professionally unfulfilled (though apparently still able to afford a stunning brownstone in downtown Chicago) and vastly overshadowed by former classmate Ryan (Jimmi Simpson). After a night out though, Jason is assaulted by a masked man, who robs him, drugs him and gruffly asks him a cryptic yet leading question: does he ever wonder about the path not taken? When Jason groggily comes to, he discovers he’s no longer a professor attempting to tame Schrödinger’s cat for vacant-eyed students, but a world-renowned physicist, with all the money and status he once desired. His wife and son, however, are nowhere to be found.

A meditation on the corrosiveness of regret as much as it is a knotty sci-fi thriller.

What transpires thereafter is better left unspoiled, but beyond its fluctuating probability spaces and adjacent realities, Dark Matter swiftly reveals itself to be a meditation on the corrosiveness of regret as much as it is a knotty sci-fi thriller. It’s A Wonderful Life, if Clarence had turned up in Bedford Falls with a Halloween mask, a semi-automatic, and a PhD in quantum mechanics. But there’s more here than cockle-warming affirmations of finding value in personal connections over material wealth, and the Sliding Doors moment that caused Jason’s life to fork is the entry point to a darkly clever riff on the many-worlds interpretation.

For Edgerton, it’s a chance to take on multiple versions of the same character, each shaped by lived experience and distinct, while remaining close enough to their shared template to stay believable — the story has no time for lazy archetypes of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But just as reality here shifts and changes, so too does the shape of the broader narrative, episodes pivoting from dramatic character study to conspiracy-laced mystery, revenge thriller, and even the occasional echo of an episodic ’90s sci-fi series. Dark Matter walks a deliberate line between high-concept science-fiction, introspective drama, and ruminatory exploration of quantum physics, and while this tonal balancing-act largely works, its framework does occasionally creak under the strain.

Crouch’s frenetically paced novel is punchy enough to be devoured in a single extended sitting, while the series re-works the core story into nine near-hour-long episodes. To its credit, this leaves significantly more room to explore the mechanisms of its central concept — and get creative with the results — while also adding more dimensions (often literally) to the supporting cast. However, it also results in unevenness, with propulsive episodes sapped of momentum by sedentary interludes where the protagonists pause in their life-or-death struggle to sit on the floor and chat about chocolate. While Dark Matter would have lost a lot of its texture stripped down to the two-hour movie it was once mooted as, this series adaptation might have benefited from a more tightly fitting package, with one or two fewer episodes.

But despite a hint of bloat —and juiced by a hard left-turn in the show’s latter half that almost entirely upends our expectations — Dark Matter is an engaging, accessible trans-dimensional thriller. And one that won’t leave you with a headache.

Not as ambitious as Foundation, nor as brain-taxing as Constellation, this ‘what if?’ series hits the spot nonetheless, maintaining Apple’s status as the default home of thoughtful, adult-orientated sci-fi.
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