Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly Keep Overly Elaborate Sci-Fi Thriller ‘Dark Matter’ From Collapsing in on Itself: TV Review

by 24britishtvMay 8, 2024, 11 p.m. 22
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The phrase “we’re our own worst enemies” takes on a literal meaning in Apple TV+‘s “Dark Matter,” based on Blake Crouch’s 2016 novel of the same name, and adapted by the author for television. A massive and intricate puzzle, the series is shocking and unsettling, but doesn’t quite satisfy in the end.

“Dark Matter” opens in present-day Chicago. Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton), a scruffy physics professor, is living an unremarkable but happy middle-class existence with his wife, Daniela (Jennifer Connelly), and their teenage son, Charlie (Oakes Fegley). After a night out celebrating his friend Ryan’s (Jimmi Simpson) prestigious science award, Jason is beaten and abducted, awakening in a parallel universe where he thrives professionally and monetarily as a rockstar physicist. However, instead of the warmth of his family, he comes home to his live-in girlfriend, Amanda (a stellar Alice Braga), who is overwhelmed by his sudden reappearance. By the end of Episode 1, “Are You Happy in Your Life?” it’s clear to the audience that OG Jason has been kidnapped and replaced by the Jason Dessen living in this alternative reality.

As the series unfolds, the polished but less-tempered Jason2 attempts to walk in OG Jason’s shoes. Yet, small details like a nut allergy and a flossing habit begin to alert Daniela that something is very off with her husband. In Jason2’s world, the OG Jason bonds with Amanda and begins piecing Jason2’s scheme together. Unfortunately, getting back to the life he’s always known proves to be more mentally and physically taxing than he initially thought, especially because Leighton (Dayo Okeniyi), the billionaire techie Jason2 works for, isn’t too keen to let his prized scientist out of his grasp.

A lot of the concepts in “Dark Matter” work well. Edgerton is impressive in his depictions of both versions of Jason. Though their differences are subtle, they are distinct enough to differentiate the pair easily. Moreover, as OG Jason and Amanda travel to varied parts of the multiverse in search of his true home, alternative versions of Chicago, from glossy and spectacular to apocalyptic and devastating, are showcased. With set production spearheaded by Patricio M. Farrell, these universes are all beautifully rendered. Also, on OG Jason’s quest, he encounters various versions of Daniela, each as intriguing and impressive as the last, a testament to Connelly’s talent.

Unfortunately, as fascinating as the character studies within “Dark Matter” are, the scientific aspects – especially regarding Jason2’s magical multiverse traveling machine, The Box, take away from the story’s core. Since sci-fi and physics jargon aren’t exactly digestible for the average viewer, the audience is repeatedly shown the inner workings of The Box, which involves an injectable drug called ampoules, a terrifying and twisted corridor and the would-be multiverse-traveler trying to have total control over his subconscious. As a result, some chapters feel sluggish, overlooking big themes and leaving other characters in the show, including Blair (​​Amanda Brugel), Daniela’s best friend, to languish under half-baked arcs. As a first-time showrunner and the show’s creator, it appears Crouch was reluctant to leave any stone unturned.

Across nine episodes, both Jasons confront their choices and regrets. However, Episode 6, “Superposition” is a standout. As Jason2 begins to see the imperfections in OG Jason’s “idyllic” life, the original Jason and Amanda explore a universe that provides them some semblance of peace and a new beginning. Even with The Box and the science of it all hanging in the background, the episode finally gives the actors their due. Because “Dark Matter” is violent, bleak and a bit repetitious, “Superposition” offers viewers a much-needed reprieve.

As intriguing as “Dark Matter” is, the stories and timelines become more convoluted as the show presses on. While the viewers and Jason2 are several paces ahead of OG Jason for much of the series, things slide off the rails by Episode 8, “Jupiter,” as viewers realize things aren’t exactly as they appear. Consequently, what could have been a welcomed twist feels like a letdown.

When Crouch published his novel nearly a decade ago, fewer movies and TV projects centering multiverses existed. Since then, films like “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe and shows like Starz’s “Counterpart” have made these concepts more commonplace. Though “Dark Matter” is fine, it could have been genuinely thrilling if Crouch had trusted his audience without an extensive roadmap, letting his material and the stellar performances from the actors speak for themselves.

The first two episodes of “Dark Matter” premiere May 8 on Apple TV+ with new episodes dropping weekly on Wednesdays.

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