Dark Matter – Season 2 Episode 8
“Episode 21 – Stuff to Steal, People to Kill”
Dark Matter gives us its version of the sci-fi classic alternate-reality episode in ‘Stuff to Steal, People to Kill’. And the big question that has to be asked whenever a show decides to use a trope is: did the show add anything new to the idea or was it just, at best, an homage to the genre, at worst, a filler episode?
Probably Dark Matter gets a bit of a free pass here because it can immediately reconnect with its old amnesia plotline by showing us how the Raza crew would have turned out if Five hadn’t wiped their memories. Still though, there are no real surprises here, as we’ve had a few tastes of this through reveals of their past selves in earlier episodes. A nice to see perhaps then, but nothing unexpected? However, as the show so often does, ‘Stuff to Steal, People to Kill’ says, “we could look in this expected direction and maybe see some interesting things but what about if we went another way?” In this case, the most interesting reveals are in little discussion points spread throughout the episode that provide us or the characters with information we’ll need for later on – more seeding of information woven in here and there.
This is not to say though that the main plot had nothing going for it. I really enjoyed the power plays between Two and Truffault for example. I have a suspicion that Torri Higginson must really enjoy her character. Can those wicked smiles that follow each of Truffault’s little victories really just be acting? Of course they could be but the Mikkei Combine commander has always been such a clever and powerful enemy that there just has to be some fun in playing her?
One of her most interesting characteristics is that though she’s obviously a corporate executive and clearly capable in business negotiations, she’s also a believably capable military commander. Truly an all-round leader, she’s a force to be reckoned with and so a great opponent for Two. The second-Android trick that Two pulls out at the end of their game is clever and importantly uses only pieces already set up in the audience’s view: we can appreciate Two’s quick-thinking solution as there’s nothing in the reveal that we didn’t already know about. Better still, because the game is played out in negotiations the problem that often comes up with action villains that the heroes need to keep fighting – why doesn’t one ever just kill the other – never comes up, making it all the more elegant and entertaining.
Despite this, the whole ‘evil in an alternate reality’ thing is well-trodden ground, going back as far as the original Star Trek series perhaps, if not further…? And so it’s always going to be difficult terrain to master now. I’m not sure how well I took to Alt-Two’s sexier outfit for example. Evil dresses hotter is an old idea, not necessarily illogical if it’s a purposeful power-play, but I’ve liked that Dark Matter has never had to sell its female cast’s bodies to get our attention before. Melissa O’Neil is an attractive woman as she is in Two’s normal outfit – extra cleavage is not needed. Fine Alicia Reynaud flaunts her stuff, as that fits her power-dressing nature but it wouldn’t fit Two as we know her. But then, Two has used her sexuality before to manipulate One, so perhaps it’s just an extension of that? Probably I’d still rather avoid too much of this though, as it can be a slippery slope into feeling you need more than the strength of the characters themselves to get attention.
Granted this is a small issue in ‘Stuff to Steal, People to Kill’: Only Alt-Two is ‘dressed evil’; it’s not like Alt-Truffault is too, making the whole alternate reality an evil version. Nonetheless there’s always that problem of the great volume of material that has come before. You want an alternate-reality plot? Star Trek already did it. You want an android toying with becoming human? Star Trek already did it. You want an enemy that uses collective intelligence to outthink the heroes? Star Trek already did it. All the more important it is then for a show to shine its ideas stronger than these previous plots have done.
I definitely liked that the crew learned where they were quickly, so we didn’t lose time to their confusion as to what was happening when we the audience already know. Even better, Alt-Two uses her established intelligence and knowledge of her own drive to work out where our crew have come from, again saving us a lot of plot time. Though I wonder if that implies that there’ll be a lot of people reality jumping by accident – or even on purpose – when the technology becomes more common?
These savings allow time to get into the more-interesting questions that jump into your mind as Two and Three board Alt-Raza. I did expect to see Alt-Corso, as we know he always planned to join the Raza crew. I’ll admit it could have been Alt-One though, so there were no guarantees there. Actually, Alt-One would never have survived long in that crew. I didn’t expect to see Alt-Wexler (even despite possibly hearing his voice in the early episode?) and Alt-Tash however, so they were a nice surprise.
Altogether the alt-crew was interesting: clearly on the edge of imploding as they could only ever work together for a short amount of time; Alt-Three as the playboy liking it rough; and all the crew being sufficiently cruel as to match their reputations. I think it was quite important that the nuclear bomb did go off, that Wexler did shoot the miners and that Two wasn’t able to stop either event. To believe that these people are a credible threat they need to succeed in what they do and in the case of Jace Corso this goes some way to making up for his really poor show when the crew raided his base in ‘We Voted Not to Space You’.
Hopefully we’ll also get to see more of this dangerous Corso if he was the one to travel back in the Alt-Marauder? I’m thinking it has to be him as he betrayed Alt-Wexler and who he though was Alt-Two with the failed missile strike, so he’ll need a safe place to hide. Not sure where his plot will lead him but I’d be glad to see him either way.
For a while I wondered if we were also going to be treated to a Two vs. Alt-Two fight as an extra bonus, though I can see how that could be prohibitively expensive to shoot. Either way, Alt-Tash holding her own against a weakened Two probably has better purpose, reminding us of Two’s strange, worsening condition. Always going to be a fan of this plot seeding.
One of the strongest aspects of season 2 is this continued seeding of future plot. Hopefully not all of it will be resolved by the end of the season, leaving some to carry over and link seasons 2 and 3. ‘Stuff to Steal, People to Kill’ plants quite a few of these seeds and they really make the episode.
Six now has the Android’s shutdown code. Will she be the one to betray the crew that Milo spoke of in ‘We Should Have Seen This Coming’? Maybe she’ll remember her special loyalty to Two that Alt-Android spoke of and Two will turn on the crew as part of whatever is currently causing her trouble. Maybe Two will take control of the Android to further some agenda?
I was just thinking last episode that Tabor Calchek’s comments really brought to the fore that whoever is responsible for giving The Android her fledgling sentience is still unknown. Is it somehow Portia Lin? Is that a debt The Android owes Portia that neither now remembers? Perhaps instead Portia rescued The Android from some cruelty visited by a third person who was creating sentient androids for their own purposes?
Whilst I’m thinking about this, I will just add that I liked how this information was teased out. There’s always the problem with reveals that it might seem logical for characters to stay together and talk more about the information presented. Here the characters have a legitimate need to part without carrying on the conversation: Alt-Android is almost out the door after her crew members. She could have been pulled back and questioned true, but Two would want rid of the alt-crew, so it would be a risk.
As it is then, the question stays believably open, adding another to those posed this episode. Who are the allies that Four could have in the Zairon court? Could they be used to return Ryo to his throne? Could they provide a way for the crew to get involved in the Zairon-Pyr conflict that is currently threatening the galaxy’s peace? Now that the crew know that the bombing of a peace conference is a potential trigger for the looming war will they get involved to prevent a similar event? Maybe Ryo will be forced to choose between regaining his throne and the safety of his people. Perhaps the only way to save them will be to help his brother establish a democratic system in place of the imperial one?
There are many doors that could be opened by what’s come out this episode. It gives great promise for what’s to come. Which must include of course, the answer to the question: is Devon still alive? I’m sticking by my prediction of last week that he is. There was a little bit of an extra threat in Three’s comment this week: “I mean I’m sorry but did any of us really know the guy?” But I think in fact that this is even more reason for Devon to have been rescued by some third party: If he just vanishes now it’ll be this non-event that we’re likely to forget. A bit of a shame he died unhappy certainly but the rest of the plot will quickly move us on. Better – more interesting – I think for him to be still out there and get some real resolution later.
It’s a tricky episode is this one. It leads with the third sci-fi trope to be used by season 2: an android gets human emotions, then an enemy uses collective intelligence to outthink the crew and now alternate realities. Three so close together seem to make ‘a thing’ that’s suddenly very noticeable. True all three are logically being offered as a way of tackling one of season 1’s room-for-improvement issues: the need for a stronger background. However, since all three have already been considered by Star Trek they potentially fall into the trap of repeating season 1’s other issue: repetition of sci-fi themes. And this is unfortunately all the more prevalent given the blatant stealing of ‘Men In Black’s’ ‘flashy thing’.
It was definitely a good idea to extend personal weaponry into something more technical than just guns. It was definitely a great idea for Truffault’s eye enhancements to include protective guards against the flashy thing. Let’s go a third step and say that the door-opening tools the Mikkei soldiers used, though a simple idea, are exactly the sort of thing you’d expect a boarding party of the day to have in order to take a hostile ship. Three good ideas then, that all go to establish the technology level of the background, again tackling that first season 1 issue. But they’re undermined by remembering ‘Men In Black’ and struggling to get that thought out of your head.
Nonetheless, just as in season 1, I think the characters and the plot seeding in ‘Stuff to Steal, People to Kill’ do go a good way to saving the episode. Truffault vs. Two is always going to be great – it’s perfect every time. The Alt-Raza crew were properly established as dangerous and give me hope for some better Jace Corso plot to come. And then there are the open questions: who gave The Android fledgling sentience and why; who’s going to betray the crew this time; how will the crew get involved in the upcoming Zairon-Pyr conflict?
We might be on a bit of a tightrope here but it still feels like it’s all there still to be had.
- Two and Commander Truffault’s ongoing battle of wits – Truffault makes for a great antagonist
- quickly getting past the characters’ disorientation after the reality jump
- properly establishing the threat value of the Alt-Raza crew
- continued plot seeding
- the tech development shown in Truffault’s eye enhancements and the ship boarding devices
- the background development in the Zairon-Pyr conflict
- evil always showing more cleavage
- continued repetition of old sci-fi themes
- stealing ‘Men In Black’s’ ‘flashy thing’