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Who Needs Another Multiverse Saga? Not Us.

By newadmin / Published on Tuesday, 07 May 2024 14:05 PM / No Comments / 34 views


In the new Apple TV+ miniseries Dark Matter, Joel Edgerton plays Jason Dessen, a science teacher who gets abducted by a version of himself from a parallel reality. This other Jason — call him Jason2 — is a billionaire mogul, but envious of Jason1’s simpler life as husband to Daniela (Jennifer Connelly) and father to Charlie (Oakes Fegley). Jason2 swaps places with Jason1, and as Jason1 attempts to find his way home, he has to explore one alternate timeline after another. In some, the changes from his own world are minor, i.e. his Chicago neighborhood bar has a different name. In others, the changes are enormous, including multiple post-apocalyptic worlds.

The one reality that Dark Matter can’t visit, though, is one where its audience hasn’t seen any Marvel Cinematic Universe movie or show, Rick and Morty, the Spider-Verse films, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and every other pop cultural exploration of the multiverse in recent years. 

The show is adapted by Blake Crouch from his bestselling novel. (He’s previously adapted two of his other books for TV in the mid-2010s: Fox’s Wayward Pines and TNT’s Good Behavior.) The concept of the multiverse — worlds where every decision, no matter how small, has the potential to lead to its own universe separate from the one we know — wasn’t entirely unknown when the book was published in 2016, especially in nerdy circles. By now, though, it’s reached complete pop cultural saturation, so that even casuals will probably get impatient when Jason has to explain multiversal theory to other characters.

The novel was a smash (a coworker, upon hearing me mention the show during a meeting, lit up and declared it her favorite book ever), and perhaps the material was exciting in that form, especially when the idea was still relatively, well, novel. But in a reality where it has to share this particular premise with so many other films and series, it’s as bland as Jason1’s middle-aged dad wardrobe. There are a few inspired moments towards the end of the nine-episode season, but not enough to justify such a lengthy journey.

It’s not hard to understand see why so many creators are drawn to the multiverse. (See also the Starz drama Counterpart, which had two different J.K. Simmonses, and even Apple’s own Constellation, which dropped its season finale only a few weeks ago.) It’s a concept with infinite possibilities, and it allows writers to externalize all the internal struggles their characters wrestle with(*). But even as Jason1 travels from world to world, with the help of Jason2’s girlfriend Amanda (Alice Braga), Dark Matter struggles to take advantage of the possibilities offered by its premise.

(*) And for big franchises like the MCU, it offers a Get Out of Jail Free card, where any dead character can be brought back as a variant, assuming the actor is willing to reprise the role. But that also lessens the stakes, which is one reason among many that audiences seem much less interested so far in the post-Endgame Multiverse Saga than what came before.  

There have been other roles where Edgerton makes a compelling everyman (notably as another science teacher, in the 2011 MMA film Warrior). This unfortunately isn’t one of them. Neither version of Jason pops off the screen. And even though Jason2 is both more successful and theoretically more ruthless, there barely seems any difference between the two(*). They even live in the same house next to the L tracks, despite Jason2 being vastly wealthier and unmarried.

(*) Jason’s particular sliding-doors moment — choosing whether to keep pursuing a scientific discovery that could either make him a fortune or bankrupt him, or committing to build a family with Daniela — isn’t exactly Walter White’s backstory from Breaking Bad, but it’s close enough that it’s easy to imagine a younger Bryan Cranston playing both roles, and finding greater depth and contrasts. But at minimum, Crouch, Edgerton, and company should have found a more clear differentiation between the two than Jason1’s face being beaten up for much of the season.

Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly in ‘Dark Matter.’

Sandy Morris/Apple TV

Connelly has a bit more fun at playing multiple Danielas, who are distinguished not only by different hairstyles, but by Connelly shifting her body language each time to make it clear that these other Danielas aren’t the woman Jason1 knows so well. Unfortunately, the alt-Danielas are more interesting than Jason1’s supportive wife, but they appear relatively briefly, leaving Connelly with the mostly thankless main role. She gets a few meaty scenes late in the season that remind you why she’s an Oscar winner, just not enough.

And if the characters and their conflicts aren’t thrilling, the multiverse itself isn’t much more inventive. Many of the worlds that Jason1 and Amanda visit are so completely different, the duo only stick around for a few minutes, if that. Some of the longer stops have barely any emotional connection to Jason’s life; perhaps the most inventive world, a progressive paradise where everyone believes in science and cold fusion has solved the climate crisis, is just a place Amanda takes Jason to because they need a respite from the horrors of the other realities. (It is a dour show on the whole, with the first thing resembling a joke not coming until midway through the fifth episode.) Their trial-and-error journeys consume much more screen time than warranted, and also force an unnecessary elongation of the period where Daniela is oblivious that the man who shares her bed isn’t really her husband. 

Dark Matter was being developed as a movie at one point, and there seems just enough incident to justify two hours, particularly with a more dynamic version of one or both Jasons. Nine hours feels punishing. And even when the later installments finally start embracing the weirdness of the premise, the specific idea is introduced so poorly, it takes multiple scenes across two different episodes before it’s completely clear what’s happening. Too much of the earlier plot is so telegraphed that the audience is perpetually ahead of the characters; by the end, the reverse has happened, but too clumsily for the surprise to properly land.

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The show also has one of the most inert opening scenes I’ve watched in some time: a man moving through a dark warehouse with a flashlight, eventually coming upon a large box.  There’s no sense of who this man is, what the box is, whether the man is finding it for the first time, why he cares, nor why we should care. In hindsight, the man is one of the Jasons, and the box is the device that Jason2 built to travel the multiverse. But in the moment, it’s so lacking in intrigue or context that it makes no sense as the place where Crouch wanted viewers to begin their journey. It’s unfortunately a harbinger for what’s to come: a lot of fumbling around, rarely with enough payoff to feel worth the bother.

The first two episodes of Dark Matter begin streaming May 8 on Apple TV+, with additional episodes releasing weekly. I’ve seen all nine episodes.

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