'Dark Matter' Is a Dimension of the Multiverse That Looks Kinda Like All the Other Ones

Created by Blake Crouch

Starring Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Connolly, Oakes Fegley, Jimmi Simpson, Alice Braga, Amanda Brugel

BY Matthew Simpson Published May 7, 2024


Multiverses are so hot right now. The idea of a limitless number of parallel dimensions, spinning off from every decision everyone makes, is a household idea and has been at the centre of several movies, such as Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, the animated Spider-Verse films and Everything Everywhere All at Once, and television shows like Loki, Rick and Morty and Devs. Apple TV+'s Dark Matter is the latest entry using this trendy narrative device.

Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton) is a middle-aged college physics professor. He isn't particularly successful, but he does have a loving family. His wife, Daniela (Jennifer Connelly), an artist turned gallery curator whom he met as a student, and their son Charlie (Oakes Fegley). He has a good life, but in some ways, he feels unfulfilled — a point hammered home when he goes to a bar to help celebrate his best friend Ryan (Jimmi Simpson) winning a prestigious science prize. Ryan is awash in a sea of money and fame that could have potentially been Jason's if he — a legitimately brilliant physicist who gave it all up when Daniela became pregnant with Charlie — had made some different choices when he was young.

On the way home from this party, Jason is abducted by a masked man and taken to an abandoned warehouse and injected with a drug. When he wakes up, Jason finds himself in a lab surrounded by people he recognizes from his past who treat him like they're close friends. In this alternative universe, Daniela isn't his wife and Charlie was never born. As he struggles to grapple with what is happening, a second Jason — let's call him Jason 2 — arrives at his house and prepares to settle into family life.

In this reality, Jason 2 is a rockstar physicist who is so lonely that he built a box that would let someone who enters it travel to alternate universes, just so he could seek out a life in which his biggest regret had a different outcome.

The mechanics of the box are fascinating, and there is a lot of physics talk about Schrödinger's cat, quantum superpositions, and how one might negate the observer effect required to exist within said superposition. Ultimately, though, the only part of this that matters is that the box works. While Jason 2 spends most of the series trying to adjust to family life, Jason 1 eventually returns to the box with Amanda (Alice Braga), a woman from Jason 2's life, and tries to return to his family.

And herein lies both the hook and the issue with the series. On the one hand, it takes a thoughtful approach to navigating the multiverse, which is all at once more scientific and more philosophical than many other efforts have been. On the other hand, many of the worlds we see just aren't that interesting. The series' nine episodes are divided neatly into a three-act structure, and most of act two is spent universe hopping, but there are only so many versions of ruined worlds you can see before they stop being interesting. There's a slight twist in the third act that may catch some viewers off guard, but it's also easy to predict for viewers who have seen other multiverse stories before, or even just paid attention to this one.

The bright side here is that the actors are uniformly good. Each has to capture multiple versions of each character, and they all rise to the occasion. Simpson and Braga are both welcome presences and are good with what little they have to do, and there's a small but memorable role for Canadian Amanda Brugel as a universe-travelling explorer trapped in one of the ruined worlds (but ultimately more in her own fear).

Edgerton and Connelly both deliver standout performances, too. Connolly's variants have far more significant differences between them, and she makes each of them distinct and memorable. Edgerton has a more difficult task, though, as Jason and Jason 2 aren't that different: Jason 2 is just an asshole. It's far more difficult to make similar characters stand apart, but he manages to do so through body language and tone. Some cuts on Jason's face also help distinguish him.

Given all this, it's a shame that the series is so slow and uninterested in exploring what kinds of worlds might exist. The writers explain that the box can only allow travel to universes closely related to the one from which the person travelling came. The series focuses on Jason as a character, but only gives him a few fundamental challenges before he makes it home. Once he makes it home, it sets up some fascinating questions that it only scratches the surface of answering.

Dark Matter has some thoughtful ideas, is well-acted, and the mechanics of dimensional travel are actually pretty cool. What's frustrating is that Dark Matter is so close to being great. A few more ideas explored in more depth, a little more urgency in the pace or a little more variety in the worlds that get visited — or any combination of those three things — and Apple would likely have another hit on their hands.

As it stands, the show is fine and will likely have a fan base, but unless it addresses some of its issues in a second season, it will likely go down in history as just another show that tried to capitalize on the multiverse trend.

(Apple TV+)

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