Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Dark Matter, on Apple TV+

Somewhere in the multiverse, there must be an alternate Chicago that is a safe, peaceful city, with high-performing schools and a thriving economy. Obviously, that is not the Chicago of our universe. It is not Jason Dessen’s Chicago either, but he is definitely trying to find it again, to reunite with his wife and son—the ones he knows. Dessen’s unwilling odyssey through the multiverse unfolds in creator Blake Crouch’s 9-episode Dark Matter, adapted from his original novel, which premieres today on Apple TV+.

Instead of becoming Richard Feynman, Dessen married Daniela Vargas and had his moody teenaged son, Charlie. It was worth it, but sometimes he wonders what might have been. The other Jason Dessen does not have to wonder. He became a hot shot physicist who built the 
“box” that serves as a portal between parallel universes, but he envies our Dessen’s happy family life. Consequently, he kidnaps the Dessen viewers identify with, marooning him in his own universe, so he can replace “our” Dessen with his family.

Despite his new wealth, Dessen desperately wants to return to his family, once he figures out why his life is suddenly so radically different. Amanda Lucas, the alternate Dessen’s lover and co-worker agrees to help him escape their industrialist boss, but navigating the box is a tricky endeavor. The first few doors they open nearly lead to disastrous consequences.

The box is a very cool riff on Schrodinger that sort of symbolically puts those who enter into super-position, with the help of psychotropic drugs. It is complicated to explain, but it represents some nifty speculative science fiction. Unfortunately, the characters are not nearly as interesting. In fact, they are mostly a rather annoying assembly of dull, joyless neurotics. That definitely includes Dessen—all of them.

That human factor definitely matters. It is ironic that we need to make that point regarding
Dark Matter, since that is ostensibly the whole point of the series. The notable exception would be Jennifer Connelly’s various performances as the multi-Vargas Dessens. She has the most opportunities to play variations on her character, which she fully capitalizes on. Each multi-verse Daniela is recognizably similar, yet distinctive in her own ways.

Likewise, Jimmi Simpson and Amanda Brugel both enrich the series playing Dessen family friends, who pop up in vastly different social and professional positions, within the parallel universes. However, the sullen Joel Edgerton seems miscast as the competing Dessens, all of whom have the same generally distant sourness.

Dark Matter
is brainy but manipulative. At times during the third act, it tries to deliberately confuse viewers, as a strategy for manufacturing suspense. Crouch and co-writers Megan McDonnell, Jacquelyn Ben-Zekry, and Ihuoma Ofordire, really thought about the theoretical physics and their philosophical implications, which is cool. However, there is lack of science fiction’s “sense of wonder.” During one of the few rare attempts, Crouch and company self-sabotage with divisive throwaway political references. Frustratingly, Dark Matter is too uneven, too downbeat, and too repetitive to recommend, when it starts streaming today (5/8) on Apple TV+.