Dark Matter – Season 2 Episode 3
“Episode 16 – I’ve Seen the Other Side of You”
Dark Matter has come to mean so much to me that it feels like a betrayal to not love an episode. Yet despite this feeling, I am going to say I wasn’t so taken with Episode 16. Not that there weren’t things to like in the episode but it didn’t feel as elegantly plotted as the stunning season opening. Somehow the plot points felt more forced, less-easily building on what’s come before. What’s given falls well into the hands of Five – it’s nice to see her in the driving seat, as she’s very often been forced to toe the line of the other characters’ concerns up to now – but what’s given to her doesn’t quite seem to live up to the strength of my desire to see it.
‘I’ve Seen the Other Side of You’ lets us know that the amnesia plotline of season 1 is not yet finished. Six may have made his choice last episode not to go back to being the man he was but perhaps the others haven’t had that full-on confrontation with their past yet, forcing them to make up their mind once and for all. Certainly Two and Four know some of who they were but their final confrontation is clearly still before them. Three’s always seemed quite happy to live in the moment, needing the reappearance of someone close to him like Sarah to awaken any desire for what was – I wonder what else there is in his past that would stir anything in him as strongly? Perhaps stumbling across the truth behind the murder of Derrick Moss’s wife will sit in stark contrast to the friendship he’s now starting to build with Five?
All this history and character development from season 1 has been rich. What we’ve seen has been built in front of us and is all the more meaningful because of it. Individual choices like One deciding not to kill Three when he had the chance are more powerful when the reasoning or questions around them play out in your head. Was One just incapable of killing – perhaps acting the way he always would have, despite his memory loss – or had he learned something about Three and the amnesia stopped the prejudice of his past life getting in the way? I like to think the latter given his pursuit of his own company’s misdeeds in Episode 14.
Point is, whichever way you come down on that discussion, there’s a lot of information to consider and all the more meaningful a debate to be had because of it. And I think this is possibly where ‘I’ve Seen the Other Side of You’ falls down for me. There’s a lot more by way of exposition this episode, to force in new information that’s needed for the plot that can’t so easily develop from what’s come before.
It really feels like it shouldn’t be needed though, given how much there is to build on. Certainly there’re some clever moments in the episode still. I really liked, for example, the sequence of flashback images used to join the mid-episode plot up to that of the opening scene – very elegant, which, by contrast, the forcing of the characters into their old mind sets was not.
Logically, the steps that take us from the start of the episode to the Raza crew returning to their original, ‘evil’ selves are sound enough. If the computer was to take them back to their old memory states, leaving them nothing of their time since their amnesia, then it needed a reason to find that old memory state useful. So we learn that the crew once took an image map of their brains 14 months ago, needed in case they lost the Android on a super-valuable mission and with it the ability to link to the Raza. Though a desperate measure, these brain maps would enable them to link to the Raza and still be able to fly their ship in any emergency that made manual control too slow.
So, OK, fine, the computer then just needs a reason to access these brain maps and to instigate a link to a human crew member. Well, that works too: the GA did just mess with the Android in a brutal enough way that her link system could be damaged. Two then forgets to tell the computer to stop searching for links when the Android goes offline for repairs and well, we’ve all left something running before we should have turned off, so fair play.
But all this raises questions of a type I’ve never found myself asking of Dark Matter before: but why?
Why would the ship reinstate Three and Four’s old memories as well if it chose Two to hold the link? If the euphoria and subsequent fatal brain damage comes on so quickly, does having a human link work as even a desperate backup plan? And ultimately, what value is there to the plot in having Two, Three and Four have no memory of their lessons learned season 1?
The whole episode seems to hinge around that one final question: Now you can have your old memories back, do you want them? This is actually a really important question for the crew. In fact it’s so important it’s the be-all and end-all of the season-1 amnesia plotline, the great finale almost: Would you go back? This is a really big and vital question for the Dark Matter characters to face – but I wonder if this was the right way for them to face it?
To get to this point we needed to see a future-technology problem play out, with full exposition needed at every step, much like an early episode of Star Trek having to let you know exactly why a tachyon beam would be so bad in this one particular circumstance. And this required a lot of on-screen explanation to keep the audience informed. I think too much.
The prime example is the holo-android. Perfectly reasonable for Five to turn to her in desperation but why did Five have to explain to the computer image that it was a hologram? An android confused by such basic things would surely be quite useless? More to the point though, is holo-android’s use in the final conflict between Five and Two. Throughout this whole scene the source of the threat has to be explained to us the audience by the holo-android. Without her we’d have no understanding of how and why Two is in danger. None of it can be put together by the audience on its own, despite such rich previous plot and development from season 1 being in our heads.
Another, albeit small, example is the point where Four has to say to Three “I’m surprised to see you show this much sentimentality”. Even as straight talking as Four is it seems forced, as presumably Four knew that Three had brought a woman on board in stasis for what could only be emotional reasons? But we need the difference between the two versions of Three established on screen there and then? Why not trust that we know who Three is by now? Yes, I know, jumping-on points, but still, in all cases I come back to the word elegance. Episodes 14 and 15 didn’t need exposition – or at least it was hidden so well I didn’t notice it – and they were great.
So, I liked the idea of where this episode took us but perhaps not its delivery. I wonder if it would have been better coming later in the season, especially given the magnitude of the crew’s choice of whether or not to take back their old memories? Perhaps this could have made the choice hinge more on emotional issues and threats rather than on technical problems that needed to be overcome?
As an example, what if Four needed access to information from his past in order to deal with some Zairon enemies – secrets about them he could exploit? Would he be willing to take back his old memories and associated emotions in order to regain that information?
That said, maybe this episode is a taster for the crew? Maybe as they’ve now actively felt who they were they better realise the threat their old lives would be to their new friends? Maybe that decision above is still to be made? If so though, I think I’d rather the magnitude of the decision have played on the characters mind a little heavier. As it is Three dismisses the chance to take his memories back between consecutive scenes and off camera.
Could the final confrontation between Two and Five have had more power in it too, I wonder, had its build up been derived more from an emotional problem than a ship’s-system based one? The idea that Five could have learned from her past experience of memory hopping in season 1 and realising that she could take all the power if she could just make Two weaker is very inviting. A little more build up would perhaps have added to the power of the line about not being the frightened little girl any more though?
As it is the standoff between Five and Two is over almost as fast as Three deciding not to take back his old memories. The holo-android explains all the things Five has to overcome and do and Five then dutifully does overcome and do them. There’s a strong danger of it almost being a list that needs going through rather than a development Five needs to understand and make. I certainly think it was a good idea but I’d much rather have seen it build over much more of the episode.
Maybe Two turns evil and takes control of the ship through the link. Then the rest of the crew realise that the link – not meant for long-term human use – is also Two’s new weakness and they use the memory tech from season 1 to break Five into Two’s subconscious. Five still gets to be the main focus of the plot and its hero here but now she has to fight her way through Two’s mind to get to the hidden-away memories of friendship?
All the while she feels like the frightened little girl in the face of the cruel power of Two’s old self but along the way she realises that Two’s power in ‘mindscape’ varies heavily with the particular memory Five and Two find themselves in. This allows Five to discover for herself how to make Two weaker, giving her something that she can then choose to use instead of the holo-android just telling her to use it.
Then in that final conflict we can give even more power to Five by having her face the choice of simply killing a weakened Two or choosing to risk going back into another memory where Two is stronger but where there’s a chance of getting to the locked-away feelings of friendship – Five’s choice again. And then perhaps Five chooses not to be frightened and risks it all for Two’s better self, who in turn gets to properly consider if she wants to stay who she is or to take on board these feelings that someone is willing to die for.
Either way, I was really glad that in the final moment of the episode the choice Five makes is emotional and not ‘physical’ – i.e. it is a choice and she doesn’t just beat Two in a fight. I still think though, that these emotional battles – the heart of the character-based show that Dark Matter is – could have been a greater part of the episode.
Now, I will admit that giving over more time to the existing characters would of course leave much less time to develop the new characters: Arax, Nyx and Devon – but more on him later. (I’m trying to turn this cheeky line into a bit of a thing here – trying too hard, yes, I know.)
We still know very little about Devon. Though he does at least get to facilitate a very important point in the plot this episode: After everything Five has been through, she just isn’t prepared to trust even a nice-seeming guy like Devon. Even in the face of need, even in face of the holo-android’s logic that it would be difficult for Devon to have gotten the means to betray Five, she still just can’t trust him. It’s always pleasing to see shows acknowledge the consequences of their previous plot. Plus it’s also darkly amusing when it turns out she is being betrayed by Arax (my third link to Continuum by the way, in the face of Mike Dupod) who appears to be – if reluctantly at least – in the pay of the mysterious power-dressing woman. You know what they say: it’s not paranoia if they are out to betray you.
Perhaps not my favourite episode there were still some meaningful and important ideas spread throughout ‘I’ve Seen the Other Side of You’. I just wish they all could have given more time though. Maybe there’s never enough time to do everything you want on TV shows. I’d happily watch Dark Matter for hours at a time but there’s always that TV time-slot issue to deal with.
I think it was a great idea to pitch the old characters against the new, as the second season’s coming plot may often raise the question of who the characters can turn to if there’s always the possibility of betrayal. Even their new allies have yet to prove themselves after all.
Certainly the new characters need more development time but we’re right at the start of the season still. Further, Mallozzi has said that this episode has sown the seed for a lot of future plot and I’ve really come to trust that Dark Matter has a lot to offer, so I’m hopeful for future episodes. I would just ask for a return to the elegance of ‘Kill Them All’ and a little less exposition.
- Five and Two’s final confrontation being emotional rather than just a physical fight
- Five being unable to trust the new crew as a consequence of the plot of season 1
- the idea of pitting the old characters against the new
- the sequence of flashback images used to join the mid-episode plot up to that of the opening scene
- exposition being needed when previous episodes have either done without it or hid it so well
- a reliance on a technological problem to bring back the amnesia plotline rather than using something from the characters’ pasts
- still not really knowing who Devon is