Dark Matter Injects Bold New Life Into the Multiverse Story

The most daring series of the moment is also the most grounded.

Joel Edgerton in 'Dark Matter' on Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Inverse Reviews

From sprawling epics like Foundation to intimate shows like Severance, Apple TV+ has recently become something of a sci-fi TV bastion. While some franchises seem to be shrinking on other streamers, Apple TV+ is expanding its various genre properties — like For All Mankind and Moncarch: Legacy of Monstersand augmenting those worlds with additional seasons and spinoffs. Now, there’s an expectation serious fans (or critics) might have about the latest Apple TV+ sci-fi offering.

Enter Dark Matter, a nine-episode series based on the blockbuster novel of the same name, written by Blake Crouch. In a rare move, Crouch is also the showrunner for the TV version of his own story, which is probably why this TV series is faithful to the source material, while also expanding beyond the limitations of the book. Dark Matter is easily the best Apple TV+ sci-fi series of 2024 (so far), but also one of the most satisfying new series in general because it perfectly balances a high concept with emotional stakes that feel very real. A lot of sci-fi asks the question: “What if?” But sometimes those answers don’t feel rooted in the human experience, but rather the TV experience. Dark Matter works because it brings that basic sci-fi question back down to Earth.

Jason (Joel Edgerton) and Leighton (Dayo Okeniyi) and the multiverse-exploring Box.

Apple TV+

Just like the 2016 book, Dark Matter focuses on a physics teacher named Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton), who is kidnapped by his doppelgänger from an alternate universe — a universe in which he is more conventionally successful and has built a machine called “the Box” that allows travel between parallel worlds. Yes, this is a multiverse show, but it’s a multiverse show grounded in day-to-day stakes. As revealed in the trailer (or on the back cover of the book), the biggest spoiler of Dark Matter isn’t that one Jason is more ambitious and cutthroat than the other.

Instead, the surprises in this story deal with how a real person would actually react to this happening, day by day. In episodes of Star Trek or Marvel movies, revealing (or concealing) that you’re from another dimension is a little like making a cup of coffee; the wonder and surprise of the conceit within a hardcore franchise sci-fi setting is almost passé at this point. But, in Dark Matter, the small things about a multiverse crossover are the details that make the show so penetrating and compelling.

In an upgrade from the novel, Dark Matter is allowed the narrative freedom to jump back more often and follow Evil Jason as he tries to pass himself off as Good Jason. Evil Jason, we learn, didn’t marry the love of his life, Daniela (Jennifer Connelly), and as such, has no idea which toothbrush is her’s or where his other self “keeps our f*cking coffee.” This is just one small example of where Dark Matter really makes you think about your own life and the elements that you take for granted. Good Jason’s primary motivation to return to his home universe is the fact that his family is taken from him because of the universe swap. If you’re married, in a long-term relationship, have a child, or have ever lost anything, Dark Matter will cut deep. But, even if your own personal experiences don’t align with the kind of specific emotional trauma Jason experiences, there's plenty for anyone to dig into here about the path not taken.

Joel Edgerton is perhaps the best he’s ever been in anything in this series, playing multiple versions of the same character and carrying the series by virtue of the fact that he’s in virtually every single scene. He’s so good that you often forget that it’s still him when we’re watching Evil Jason, or any of the other Jasons later in the series.

Jennifer Connelly as one version of Daniela in Dark Matter.

Apple TV+

Jennifer Connelly is particularly brilliant as various versions of Daniela, Jason’s paramour, but also, because she is the person who, in “our” universe, engages in a kind of mystery show trying to figure out what’s up with Evil Jason. The supporting cast doesn’t feel like supporting characters at all, with Alice Braga and Dayo Okeniyi bringing all the realities of the Box into focus, and expanding far beyond their book counterparts, Amanda and Leighton. Special shout-out to prestige TV sci-fi stalwart Jimmi Simpson, who seamlessly transitions between a slick, arrogant version of his character Ryan Holder, to an alternate universe version of the same guy who is more of a loser but much more likable.

And, it’s in these kinds of turns where Dark Matter is truly exceptional. Edgerton, Simpson, and Connelly do, truly, feel like they’re embodying the same character, with different experiences. It's an eerie and reflective show that will get any smart person thinking about their own innocuous life choices with a bit more profundity.

For some, good sci-fi is like a recipe: a dash of outlandish speculative framework with a mix of good characters and reliable plotting. For others, that framework is more integral, brass-tacks world-building must come first; otherwise, the characters and the plot won’t click. But between these paradigms (and countless others), one truth generally emerges from all quality sci-fi: we have to care. And it’s here where Dark Matter emerges as a great sci-fi series; we care about this conceit because it feels like it could happen to any of us.

Dark Matter premieres with two episodes on May 8 on Apple TV+.

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