Home TV ‘Dark Matter’ Has A Bit Of A Female Problem

‘Dark Matter’ Has A Bit Of A Female Problem

DARK MATTER -- Season:1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Zoie Palmer as The Android, Melissa O'Neil as Two, Jodelle Ferland as Five -- (Photo by: Dennys/Ilic/Syfy)

If you’ve read my posts or listened to Workprint’s podcast, you know that I’m a fan of Dark Matter. Along with Killjoys, Dark Matter has filled that gaping sci-fi hole in my nerdy heart this summer and boy, am I glad about it. I’m also all about girl power in TV, movies, video games, comic books, everything–vagina loyalty, you know–so it comes as no surprise that I latched onto the female characters of Dark Matter with reckless abandon. The Android was lovable and naive, Two was empowered and took no shit, and Five….Five was my boo, favorite among them all.

Dark Matter

However, I have issues regarding Dark Matter’s female characters in the final episodes, “Episode 12” and “Episode 13.” Thankfully, Five is safe from my judgment because she’s been pretty consistent throughout the first season. I like her quirky attitude, her face off with Two, her intelligence and loyalty. I do wish her back story had been given more screen time, especially with Four getting nearly two episodes to himself, but I can live with such an oversight. However, after the final two episodes of the season, Android and Two are on notice. 

Let’s start with the Android. For much of the season, I thought the Android was a fantastic character, a computer navigating emotions, at an impasse between programming and humanity. Her main plot has been an ongoing struggle to understand her changes, even going so far as to create what is essentially a Quality Assurance version of herself. Even as an anthropomorphic representation of the Raza, it’s this inner turmoil that makes the Android a more complicated, fascinating character. And yet, that struggle came to a screeching halt in the show’s finale, shooed away like a bug. Maybe more will come of the story in the show’s second season, but it felt so anticlimactic for QA Android to disappear so suddenly that I could only be disappointed that the Android was treated as such, especially since the Android has spent more time “off” this season than “on.”

And then there’s Two. When Two first came barreling onto the scene, all power and confidence, I wanted big things for her. She was the Raza’s natural leader, taking charge and kicking ass. I was impressed with her handling of the mining colony situation, but since episode two, she’s been a piece of meat for One and Three to fight over. Decisions were made by one of the two men and Two seemed to go along with whatever plan was made. She kind of made up for that behavior in “Episode Eleven” when she and Five took back the Raza. However, things took a dive with learning that she was organically made by Wil Wheaton’s Alexander Rook for, presumably, nefarious purposes.

I don’t take issue with the fact that both “created” humans on the Raza are female. But it does bother me that without their nanites, both of them are nothing, unable to defend themselves, especially against the likes of Rook. Two isn’t “strong” because of her character. She’s strong because a man-made her that way and when she gets to be too strong, he can snap his fingers and make her not so.

Again, much of this criticism is based on the fact that we don’t know where season two will take things for the Android and Two, but as it stands right now, I’m incredibly disappointed that the Android is a constant victim and Two looks to be following in those footsteps. Add on top of that the fact that One and Three still bicker over her affections, trying to play her against the other, when in reality, the Two I know would have told them to shut the hell up by now. Things aren’t looking so good for these two characters in the future, but I hope I’m wrong, Dark Matter.


    • I think of Two as being a clever character, not all brute force and death threats, and because of that, I wanted her to do something, anything, to save herself that didn’t rely completely on the fact that she can kill anyone with a few quick moves.

  1. “I don’t take issue with the fact that both “created” humans on the Raza are female. But it does bother me that without their nanites, both of them are nothing, unable to defend themselves, especially against the likes of Rook.”

    This is untrue on both counts. If her nanites were neutralized, the Android’s healing abilities would be hampered, but she would remain a formidable a physical force. I believe the confusion lies with your interpretation of the dampening field that Rook initiated to weaken TWO, which also adversely affected the Android. The field doesn’t simply neutralize the nanites but actually causes them to work AGAINST the body. Which is why, when Rook easily fends TWO off, he informs her: “You’re no longer special. As a matter of fact – as long as this dampening field is on, YOU’RE LESS THAN NORMAL.” That line is especially important. The implication here is that the field isn’t just negating the nanites but actively undermining her physical abilities.

    In TWO’s case alone, even without the nanites, her training, instincts, and experience make her more than a match for any of her fellow crew members with the exception of the Android – though I suspect FOUR would pose a challenge.


    • I will fully admit that I probably misunderstood how all of the technology behind the nanites and pretty much how anything scientific in the show works. That being said, what I meant by that was that it seemed to me, early on, that both Android and Two were more complicated characters. Two wasn’t just a punching machine who relied entirely on her ability to snap someone’s neck. In episode two, she’s CLEVER, not just a physical force. She (and Melissa O’Neill) is fantastic at hiding her emotions, allowing her to manipulate those around her and I felt like that ability of hers went out the window in the final two episodes. Instead of relying on that training, instincts, and experience she went into full panic mode. And I fully understand the time constraints of television but it felt like such a stark contrast to her actions previously that I was left disappointed by it.

      And I think I COULD have bought the actions in episode twelve if they had carried on to episode thirteen. If she began to have an inner struggle similar to the Android’s, wondering if she should “give in” to her aggressive programming or if she should fight it, to be more than controlled (or protected) by the nanites so that when/if Rook returns, she can be prepared. And I know that’s a story for season two (Congrats, by the way!), but I would have liked to have seen the foundations laid for such a struggle. Instead, I felt as though she went back to the same Two from earlier episodes, before this revelation.

      I should also mention that I wouldn’t get so worked up if I didn’t love the show, so thank you for it. And thanks for taking the time to comment on my article!

  2. Jen, I think it’s your misinterpretation all around. Even before Season 2 came a long I saw two/portia completely differently. Being “badass” as a woman is not a new thing and so it doesn’t really do anything for me. WHat I like was that she badass, intelligent, and developing a new perspective on what badass means as the entire crew grew to become like family. I enjoyed her relationship with 5, although, even 5 as a character had her flaws which were more resolved in season two. But as a young girl with brains and determination , her “quirk” needed to be enhanced. Otherwise she would be another cliche, useless, quirky nerd. Again, I’ve seen it before.

    Also, I saw Portia as playing the two men. For instance in one of the earliest episodes she tells both of them that she wants them to keep an eye on each other. She is barely romantically inclined to either two of them and as soon as one/derrick moss betrays her confidence she drops him like a hot potato. Whats cool about that, along with all of the writing form the begining is that the writing is meta. Every rebuttal I have, they resolved in dialogue. Four/Titch/Boone actually understood Two/Portia better than One/Derrick. It made both Portia’s and Boones characters more interesting as well as the story arc as a woman in leadership. She had sex with them, she didn’t become their whore and their fights over her were played off as childish and a waste of time.

    As far as her nanites, they are what make her super-strength and able to regenerate but that doesn’t mean she’s nothing without them. And that also doesn’t mean she can never be vulnerable. Because a really amazing “badass” woman is nuanced, with a history of strengths and weaknesses and successes and even a few failures. How she responds is what made her unique. Which, btw is the reason that even though her nanites where shut-down, her will never wavered. Also, why the android (although I do wish they would give her a damn name, in Season Two she could have taken KIVA but she ..well.. thats another matter) was weak against the emiter as well. We are talking about a highly functional and killer machine, not necessarily just a woman with a computer in her mind. She is technically stronger than portia which we see in the first few episodes and how she attacks all of the men and kicks their asses. Its not the nannites that make her strong, its the fact that she’s a very strong droid. And yet even she could barely make it to kill the signal that disabled the nannites. If she didn’t have that “personality flaw” she wouldn’t have made it. Her creator may have helped her by putting in some emotional receptors but it was the crew of the Raza and her own determination that made her willing and able to do that. It wasn’t a logical mission.

    I think that Dark Matter as far as its key characters (ESPECIALLY in the take over episode) is a stellar example of where female characters should and could go in sci-fi. Take for instance a comparison to the crew of the Serenity in Firefly. 4 main females; Inara is an “escort” and although they try really hard to make it sound empowering, its not and that is made very clear. She has no choice but to either fall in love with the captain or try to take control of her life as a companion (aka not a hero). Kaylee is a really pathetic girly girl thats totally helpless except for fixing machines and being “quirky” and “cute”. She’s not badass in anyway except a little bit of an attitude but only when it has to do with hurt feelings. Zoe is a badass fighter, and yet– shes married and follows every single order of her boss. well, most of them. She isn’t ever a hero of her own story arc, not even when talking abt her relationship or her past. Her ability to fight her captains battles and make out with her husband are a LOT of what goes into her character even though they try to make her appear stronger with dialogue. Then River Tam, arguably the strongest female character on the Serenity is a babbling idiot 50% of the time and doesn’t ultimately have control or mastery of her skills set. She grabs knives to attack the crew but they treat her as a damaged child, rather than helping her to gain self confidence and just listening to her.

    Dark Matter is vastly superior in this retrospect and Firefly is pretty good as far as female characters in scifi.

    How dark matter can improve is that ALL of the scientists in the background, are male. There definitely needs to be a LOT more female extras and side characters. That said, I like the fact that a woman isn’t responsible for experimenting on other women and torturing them and I also like the fact that most of the men in leadership of the “bad” characters are inherently flawed and weak.

    but thats just my opinion

  3. Objection!……..
    I feel like if you’re going to make us read 3pages of YOUR analysis versus Firefly for female cast…lol
    At least use the term “meta” in correct context.
    Also don’t make me read a double negative.
    Ex; “That also doesn’t mean that she can never be vulnerable.
    Think about it….”does not mean she can never be?” Ok..back to the issue.
    Seriously are you guys actually making this a thing?….oh…..oh yeah?….Syfy show has a gender roles slant?.. you don’t say…oh? Portrays certain conventional and unconventional stereotypes?!……yeah actually. That’s spot on. But if anything YOU are telling us Two is weak without nanites. The show doesn’t. She’s a survivor with more balls than all male characters combined. There is a lot of versatility to the show. Every character IS and ISN’T just what you expect. Android is 100% The most fiercely intelligent, sexy, and just absolutely fatal in combat compared to every other character. Combine that with the fact that she HAS an innocence and we get to watch her understand cleverness/guile and you’ve got a fan favorite. She was created by a woman too….so there goes the whole “masogynistic matter” you mention. Oh, and sorry but the fact that Firefly features a non cliche, independent, female escort who actually has a lot of indirect control of the captain by just speaking. Shows an incredibly strong female cast. Men are arguable the minority power in Firefly. It just followed a brilliant character structure element where you happen to have a “Solo” type captain -Reynolds. Firefly is a legend and Dark Matter comes close…but Firefly had more direction, and better actor chemistry….Anyway, there’s no problem with female stereotypes in DM. “If you’re looking for a problem. You’ll probably convince yourself you’ve found it.”

    Good show. Imho all the characters gain depth through the season. There WERE some places where the writing had continuity and relevance issues(Seriously I enjoyed Tabor’s boy toy and the Amazon bodyguard, but halfway through I feel like they had dots for future and present and just some ambiguous words in between from Five to connect them.) But still they didn’t stray far too far from our main/subplots. Back to the girls: Old crypt ceeper Five…..ugh…ridiculous,
    “Tokyo Ghoul Android”? Very cool with the red eye but??!?! Little is actually “meta”in the writing(wrong context LISA I know what you’re trying to say but this is not the way to say it….) However, Android finds her “center” it seems and does a lot of growing(meeting Dr. Shaw, also Two’s relationship with her was an awesome turn.)
    Kay bye!

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