Dark Matter – Season 2 Episode 9
“Episode 22 – Going Out Fighting”
Dark Matter very much returns to personal… matters, with ‘Going Out Fighting’. Just as the new Raza crew seems to be stabilising and rebuilding their family, more cracks start to appear at the seams.
Two is at the centre of it all this week, as we learn why she’s been shaking and losing consciousness for the last three episodes: as an early-model bioengineered lifeform the nanites that sustain her weren’t developed enough to be stable long term, and now they’re breaking down. Turns out her creator – Alexander Rook (Wil Wheaton returns) – has been expecting this for some time and predicted Two would suffer a slow, painful death without a nanite upgrade.
This turn has a couple of interesting points to it, one in character and one in the episode’s writing. In a charming on-screen moment the crew, that Two has struggled so hard for two seasons to build into a family and team, takes their turn looking after her. As for the writing, how Two chooses to face her problem allows the episode to have an imminent threat that doesn’t seem forced just for the needs of the plot.
Many times you’ll have seen a series struggle to repeat that need to have, sometimes every episode, a demanding threat that needs to be tackled “right now, or all is lost!” If shows aren’t careful the plot can feel so ridiculous that a character can even make a joke about “why does this always happen to us?” Maybe it’s becoming known as the ‘24 syndrome’: how can one man constantly have to save the city every single hour of 9 days?
Here in ‘Going Out Fighting’ the time pressure to save Two comes about by her own choice. It shocks the crew that she chooses to shorten her potential lifespan because of the threat of losing her. However, she’s not the type to just sit back and wait for others to save her. The time pressure of the episode then fits the needs and choices of the character under threat.
As well as resolving Two’s plot, the assault on Dwarf Star headquarters (pleasingly much more secure that Alicia Reynaud’s base) potentially offers some insight into season one’s ‘Man in the Bed’.
So what do we know? Dwarf Star Technologies is building bioengineered bodies. From the experiments performed on Two and her adventures so far, we know they want something superhuman, capable of withstanding punishment way outside of any human norm. We’ve also seen that they have access to an alien species – one that can inhabit human bodies no less, as Three would attest to if he could only remember. Can we then theorise that the ‘Man in the Bed’ is in fact a host, currently holding an alien being? Perhaps normal human bodies cannot sustain these creatures for long and superhuman bodies are needed to safely contain the aliens in the long term?
Perhaps too this will nudge the feel of the season us back towards the horror episode of season one: Episode Five. If so I think this would explain something about Alexander Rook that’s been bothering me. We all like a bit of Wil Wheaton, who doesn’t, but each time I see him I’ve been wondering where his Rook fits in the Dark Matter universe.
Dark Matter’s threats are – whilst not limited to by any means – often the physical threat of mercenary power or the insidious cruelty of uncaring corporations. Now, Alexander Rook isn’t physically imposing. Clearly of course he’s a company executive, so he’s on the corporate threat route. And he’s certainly cruel – vicious even – but his presence never seems to fill the room like Commander Truffault’s does. When she enters the room she draws all attention to her – very much a commanding presence. Alexander Rook is not like this though, so where does his threat come from?
Possibly I was worried a little this episode when he could pretty much have added onto the front of one of his lines the immortal “before I kill you Mr Bond”, as he chooses not to use the nanite-dampening field on Two. Rather, he stands behind a shield, henchman in tow, to watch Two fight the new model bioengineering he’s created to replace her. Total Bond villain. Or is it?
So I started thinking about it. If Rook is so against failure in his business why would he risk Two getting away from the fight? Why not just kill her if the threat of punishment from the ‘Man in the Bed’ is so great? But what if it isn’t so great? What if Rook knows the ‘Man in the Bed’ is at least to some small degree at Rook’s mercy? Rook controls the supply of new bodies after all.
Further, what if you were the first person to encounter a freakish alien species that decided it wanted to use your fellow people as hosts? What seemed like a reasonable business partnership at the outset might slowly gnaw away at you until you started to lose it a bit. Maybe you would begin to develop a really sadistic sense of humour, just to be able to cope with the horror of it?
And that’s his threat value: He’s truly horrible and he might just do nasty things to you just because it’s funny. This might be limited to taking back his offer of a pillow in your prison cell. Equally, you don’t want to be the one to annoy him because that might just volunteer you for a little exercise in alien possession.
And speaking of alien possession… Yeah, writing myself into a corner with an alien in it I’m not sure where I go from here, so what if we about face to some other things I liked about ‘Going Out Fighting’?
Front and centre of these is the fact that Six immediately noticed that Three was behaving out of character. I am so glad the alien possession came out there and then. We’ve all seen just so many shows where a character spends an age acting weird that we’re practically yelling at the screen for their friends to notice it’s so frustrating. Here Six behaves like a normal human and calls it straight away. If I were allowed I would rate an episode highly for just that alone.
Following behind this come a few reminders for me of season one. Not in plot, but rather in the attention to detail I remember seeing all the way back as far as the very first episode. It can be as small as seeing blood on Four’s sword: We’ve not seen him in a fight yet but we can guess he must have been in one to get to the point of rescuing Three and Six and the evidence is all that’s needed to get the point across. I like this sort of thing if only because it shows in a trust in the audience’s intelligence.
It can also be in timing. Clearly you can’t show every little detail of a plot on screen, as otherwise you’d never get an episode down to 45 minutes. That means a little exposition here and there is always going to be needed. Much as I rail against exposition I do understand why it must be there. However, I’m a firm believer that good timing turns exposition into useful, believable plot.
Take Three’s threatening of Eric Waver as they approach Dwarf Star security. We need to understand why the scientist doesn’t just make a run for it but it is appropriate for Three to make a threat at this point: Waver’s nerves will heighten at the point of approaching security, so this is exactly the right moment to make sure he stays on track. And what better way than to remind him of the current danger facing his friends should he run?
It’s all these little things that really take Dark Matter up a level: Nyx and Four looking so awkward at the breakfast table; the cheeky music that plays as Three makes a not-so-subtle joke about Four and Nyx’s actions the night before; the Android’s little “OK” catchphrase. They’re really quite important and I think are still the prime strength of the show whilst it builds up it’s background – something that gets a fair amount of treatment this week, by the way, in a serious amount of consideration given to the universe’s tech level.
Space elevators, personal shields and retina copying all appear in this episode and it’s great to see it, as tech is always going be in the audience’s mind in a sci-fi show. This is especially true for Dark Matter now that it’s introduced the blink drive. It was pleasing that the drive is remembered by the crew and that the drive remains consistent with what we’ve been told so far: that it can be installed into any engine.
It’s a tricky piece of kit really, as it ups the power level so considerably. It’s one of those McGuffins that’s so very useful that the crew should probably be considering it in almost any problem situation. Even if they dismiss it as an answer it’s powerful enough to warrant a thought every time. It would be so easy to turn it into a weapon too. You could hold someone to ransom from anywhere in the universe by threatening to blink a nuclear device into their headquarters.
This is of course one of the great problems of introducing any advanced technology into a background: consequences. And you have to think of them because you can be sure your audience will: “but why didn’t they just…” has plagued sci-fi shows since the very beginning.
To a certain extent I am asking questions of Dark Matter myself at the moment. For example, why aren’t the crew questioning the acknowledged strange behaviour of their android more? We know there are laws banning development of AI. And why didn’t the crew realise that as known criminals all their faces would likely be picked up on Dwarf Star’s facial recognition security? Rook has met them before.
To a good extent though, I’d say the show is covering itself as it goes. The personal shield and retina copying are labelled as new technology and so countermeasures won’t have been developed yet. To another extent you can also go a long way with a good joke. I really liked the science guys finding retina copying “so cool”, despite being prisoners. And the idea that corporations might save a bit of money by scrimping on testing their security devices – “it’s been fussy since the upgrade” – is delightfully real.
I am left wondering if Two’s new nanites will try to restore her old memory though. The question of whether the crew would ever want to return to their previous states has been raised again, now that the tide has turned against Zairon. Will Four need to sacrifice his relationship with the crew to save his home world? Both are perhaps reasonable possibilities for the second traitor, heralded by Milo.
For me ‘Going Out Fighting’ makes use of Dark Matter’s strongest material with a real focus on the personal. The crew has to rally around Two to save her and risk their lives to make a run on Dwarf Star Technologies. And this still allows plot and background development in the reveal of the alien. Four’s discussion with Six about Pyr’s gain in momentum in the war against Zairon makes the galactic conflict suddenly that much more real – and I think much more interesting with it – because the situation seems to hinge on a personal choice: Could Ryo return and save Zairon? Would the court rally around a strong leader, despite his criminal past, especially if it meant that court’s very survival?
Certainly I think the show needs to take great care when it reveals more and more of its universe’s tech level. A space elevator to a laboratory could be very vulnerable on a planet that doesn’t seem to have any defensive ships in orbit. That said, the background as is does go a reasonable way to explaining many things already. In a corporate-ruled dystopia there is likely to be great disparity of wealth such that only the really rich can afford the best tech.
What do you think about where the show is headed plot-wise? I like the steady build-up that has led me to wonder if the ‘Man in the Bed’ might be a host for an alien. I’ll admit that I’m not sure yet how I feel about Dark Matter including aliens though, but I guess we’ll see. I also admit I had completely misjudged what this season would focus on. I had thought it was going to be about the crew’s battle with the unwelcome attention of the corporations, perhaps having to play the corporations against one another just to stay alive.
In this way though, I was just hoping that the show would remain about the characters themselves, not drowning them in galaxy-threatening problems that would take the focus away from the personal – the great success of season one. ‘Going Out Fighting’ does very much show how personal things still are though.
- a very personal plot for both Two and Four
- the crew’s turn to save Two, building on her efforts to make them a stable team right from season one
- the introduction of a time pressure to the plot that comes from a character’s own decision
- Dwarf Star’s security being better than Alicia Reynaud’s
- Alexander Rook’s sadistic sense of humour
- Six immediately noticing that Three was behaving out of character
- maybe not thinking of the blink drive straight away as the answer to the problem?
- a bit of a “before I kill you Mr Bond” moment