Dark Matter – Season 2 Episode 10
“Episode 23 – Take the Shot”
‘Take the Shot’ is Dark Matter on top form. This is why we came. This is why we stay.
The episode considers the question of identity – a key issue of both seasons so far – but this time focusing on the Android and forcing the crew to face off, once and for all, the matter of her being… a little bit different. And it’s a deeply personal episode, playing to the show’s prime strength, investigating human interactions with artificial intelligence that’s been built in our own image, everything from Five’s easy acceptance to Three’s struggling realisation that the Android cannot just be a machine.
Best of all, this sidestep episode still advances the main plot, as it directly causes Four to consider taking back his old memories if he is to save his home world. This also of course, potentially puts him at odds with the rest of the crew that has been happier to move on, lining him up as another candidate for being the next traitor, as predicted by Milo.
Pleasingly, Alt-Truffault is to blame for the episode’s woes, having left a virus lying dormant inside the holo-Android program as a surprise for Two and her crew should Truffault lose their battle of wits. It provides a clever and dangerous problem for the Raza crew, combining the threat of a virus taking over their ship with the abilities of an AI to adapt the virus’s strategy as the crew try to defeat it.
This is something I really liked. Not only is it quite terrifying when you think what this technological partnership is capable of it’s also a potentially natural evolution of cyber warfare that we could conceivably start to see in our own lifetimes – assuming I’m not behind the times and it’s already out there…?
Yeah, I need to sleep at night, so let’s move on. (Edit at publishing: no sleep for me – just listened to a BBC Click podcast that said that people are currently seeing how good AI can be at hacking.)
The virus’s first step is to tackle the Android, who it rightly identifies as the only crew member capable of getting passed any physical threat the virus might throw out when it gets control of the ship. Whereas the human crew is very susceptible to environmental dangers brought about by the malfunction of an air-tight box in deep space, the Android would still function normally.
Most interestingly the virus’s choice of strategy in this makes use of another sci-fi trope: a character suddenly waking up in a strange place and situation, wondering how they got there and what it all means – is this new reality just a dream or was the dream their old life and now they’ve woken up? As I did last time then I’ll ask: does the show bring anything new to the trope? Unlike last time though, I’ll confidently say yes, very much so and very much in the Dark Matter style, moving quickly past the basic setup and on to the next logical question – the much more interesting: what it specifically means for the crew.
The Android immediately acknowledges that the dream reality is just that – a dream – so we lose no time to setting up a period drama (for example) that we just know isn’t going to be real. She also neatly dodges the other half of the dream-episode stereotype by not trying to keep it hidden and immediately telling Two. I’ve always liked how Dark Matter does this, not trying to a build mystery into something that lingers for an implausible amount of time and getting to the crux of human concern: what choices do the characters have and how will they cope?
Ultimately I’ll say that the whole episode is very elegant. It times the necessary exposition to relevant points in the plot so you don’t feel they’re exposition and weaves in connections to Four’s past and future plot by giving him an extra concern that’s a direct consequence of the problem at hand.
It’s great scripting. Have a look out for the information that the holo-Android provides for example. Yes she has to give us the audience the information we need to understand what’s going on but I think she does it at points where it’s useful for what turns out to be her – and so the virus’s – strategy. The information she provides purposefully sews more confusion to slow down the crew. Each time she speaks it’s to increase the doubt they have in the Android, furthering the virus’s plan.
And whilst I’m writing about this plot elegance I must make mention of the supporting elegance of Zoie Palmer’s ability to switch back and forth so seamlessly between three variations on a single character’s personality. All three are noticeably different characters: the Android’s innocent purpose, the holo-Android’s callous practicality and the human Android’s developed, more-fluid speech.
It’s quite possible that the Android’s plotlines couldn’t have delivered so well without this ability, as defined identity is central to the theme of ‘Take the Shot’. As it is the problem of which android to trust is delivered as a believable threat. Both sides of the argument sounded perfectly reasonable. Our Android would never do this to us, we’re friends: yes, we’ve definitely seen that throughout the previous two seasons. Your Android is broken and scared, putting herself first: well, yes, that’s believable too. If she’s dreaming then she has a subconscious. If she has a subconscious then I can well believe that it could act out on buried emotions, especially the fear and self-doubt that was spread to Two and Four in their hallucinations though their neural links.
Worse still for the Raza crew, the problem that is causing their hallucinations becomes the very reason they can’t solve it: can they really destroy the Android if she’s becoming human? Horrible choices, ladies and gentleman, definitely make this jaunt into a sci-fi trope much better in my mind that the previous ones that Dark Matter season 2 has tried.
The problems faced this episode force the characters into considering difficult choices rather than giving them a physical obstacle to overcome. Clearly we want to see action scenes but it’s still more satisfying when the biggest problems are resolved through character choice.
Sure there are physical problems affecting the characters here. Four does have a fight with imagined-Misaki but his real battle is his loyalty to the crew against his duty to his people; and he chooses to preserve his past self without telling the crew. Will he turn traitor with it? The crew are forced into the Marauder because of toxic gas, which seemingly stops them having to make a choice themselves but actually their choice is through Two opting to trust the Android. And ultimately it is the Android’s episode, so the final choice should lie with her.
It’s really interesting that the enemy of the episode is a hologram that can’t be physically fought. The final confrontation then instead comes down to the Android and holo-Android discussing whether an android can truly have human friends. Our Android thinks she can.
Not that this episode is just about the Android of course. A non-Android high this episode was Five’s sound off against Two. You do quite often get a parent-adopted-child vibe from them when they have a disagreement but none quite as strong as in that when Five calls Two out for keeping her illness secret. It really felt like that moment when a teenager catches their parent out with the parent’s own rules.
It’s just as interesting where the scene goes too, as I was surprised to see a piece of information surface that hails back to Alt-Android’s revelation at the end of ‘Stuff to Steal, People to Kill’. I had wondered if the show was going to have Two responsible for the Android’s first emotion upgrade or whether it was a third party from which Two perhaps rescued the Android. Here in ‘Take the Shot’ it’s revealed that the characters have themselves been having the same discussions in their downtime. Five even goes so far as to theorise how it all could have happened despite Two’s previous personality as Portia Lin.
I only say surprised here because I wasn’t expecting it to come out like that, more expecting another reveal in a future episode to call on it directly. So in fact then, I’m better saying pleasantly surprised, as I think it shows the characters’ intelligence that they have been thinking about these things and haven’t just left them alone because the plot doesn’t need them to be dealing with it yet. It really helps you think of the characters as people in a real universe rather than just vehicles for our entertainment.
More of this please; more of this every time. Whereas I will write a couple of ‘rise againsts’ below, they are so negligible as to weigh nothing compared to everything I enjoyed about ‘Take the Shot’. Sidesteps away from the main plot into a themed-episode can often seem like risky business but this episode is just so elegantly put together and connects so well back into the main plot through Four’s weighing of his loyalty to the crew against his duty to Zairon.
All four hallucinations well use established character plot and all four hit their victims were it believably hurts. Better yet, none of the hallucination plot suffers any of the problems of dream-reality plots previously used in the sci-fi genre: the dream states have a reason to exist that’s already set up – the neural links to the ship; the Android doesn’t try to hide her problem for half the episode; and we don’t lose half an episode to some mildly-diverting period piece.
I can easily see through this episode alone too, why people can’t get enough of Zoie Palmer’s Android, now a fully accepted part of the human crew. (Close enough right? With memory and identity problems caused by a lost past?)
- the use of very personal plotlines that are the show’s strength
- Four’s internal debate over taking back his memories for the sake of his people
- Alt-Truffault’s terrifying plan
- the great use of a sci-fi trope that dodges all the stereotypes with ease
- Zoie Palmer’s three distinct Android personalities and her ability to switch so smoothly between them
- Five calling Two out about hiding her illness – yes, your teenagers are really listening to you, watch out for that
- the in-character consideration of Alt-Android’s parting shot about owing Alt-Two a debt
- the best episode of the season so far?
- how rubbish that coolant must be if Four can run through it unharmed
- Five needing to write a work-around to get into Three’s quarters when she needed nothing to break into Alicia Reynaud’s base systems