If there is anything to be said in favor of Dark Matter, HBO’s great fantastic bet, it is that it makes a special effort to show a new dimension of the already famous and beloved Philip Pullman work of the same name.
Already in the first season, a luxury cast headed by James McAvory and a special effects drummer tried to take the essentials of a complex work to create a television show that could comfort viewers in search of good quality genre material, after the unsatisfactory ending of Game of Thrones. But the series not only failed, but it became an unappealing hodgepodge of all manner of references to far more successful and effective franchises.
For its final chapter, the storyline barely traced its hybrid-product quality and tune-up solid enough to ensure renewal, which happened a few weeks later. The big question from the fans was if with a new opportunity, the series could capture the magical world, full of nuances and metaphors of Pullman, in addition to bringing fantastic entertainment to the screen worthy of HBO productions.
However, the second season seems to suffer from the same problems as the previous one, especially due to the evident intention of the production to turn the complex, at times spiritual and almost always mysterious work of Pullman, into a digestible product and to the extent of possible a powerful family success. The alternate worlds imagined by the writer are back in the right places, looking just right and under the right narrative weight, but the whole fabric still seems excessively simple and lacking in a true sense of the beauty and power of his literary version. And though of course no one expects that the series can capture or be a television twin of a much broader and more complex saga, at least if he needed the reassurance that Dark Matter intended to risk a little more. At least enough to create a universe independent of the work loved by millions of readers around the world.
He doesn’t, or at least not in a clear way: after a quick recap of the events of the previous season – in which Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) bridged the other worlds with a series of complicated consequences that included sending Lyra to an unknown destination -, the series tries to do what it does best, or what the producers assume is necessary. The staging unfolding is striking and Lyra’s (Dafne Keen) first glimpse of the new world upon discovery is a careful allegory to the deep and dense spirit of the book. But the similarity ends there and very soon so many situations are happening at the same time that the chapter has a frenetic pace that at times makes it incomprehensible. Dark Matter is pure ambition, it is a look at the most refined fantasy related to the crucial question about the limits of reality, but the script seems to ignore it and link the idea of each event with the possibility that it is pleasant and colorful on screen.
The city of Cittagàzze is everything unique that could be expected, and of course the journey in this empty world leaves a bitter and unpleasant taste. However, the perception of its quality of place on the outskirts is much more apparent than argumentative: the camera moves from one place to another to show the emptiness, but the superposition of scenes lacks solidity enough to understand the sense of power– of the beauty and the unusual – that the script tries to show. Again, Dark Matter does not seem to have enough pulse to provide a dangerous and audacious explanation – or at least, a narrative trap – about this insular enclave where everything seems to be normal, except the absence of someone. The series does not ask questions, but instead shows what leaves the plot in the middle of a painful debate about possibility and suspicion lurking.
The most exciting part of the chapter is undoubtedly the reunion between Lyra and Will (Amir Wilson), who although not as friendly or affectionate as could be expected, sets the tone for the bond between the two with a kindness and good work that is missed in the rest of the chapter. Both are the embodiment of good – or at least, of balance – and also the central axis of the first episode. Which gives a strange charming quality to a complicity that little by little becomes stronger and more significant. The argument leaves enough evidence to make it clear that the rest of the chapters will reveal all the nuances of both characters and especially the secrets that both keep.
On the other side of the door between dimensions, Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) shows off all her slander and a renewed cruel streak by showing that she is willing to torture and destroy with an everlasting smile on her face. Something that was already evident in the first season, but that this first chapter of the second emphasizes, perhaps because the character’s atrocities will be of considerable interest.
Whatever the case, Coulter lives up to his usual neatness in his incarnation of ambition and evil, which remains one of the series’ high points. Whether he tortures a victim on camera and wide-eyed, or carefully analyzes what’s going on beyond what he can see, Wilson’s incarnation of inner darkness is increasingly appropriate and intelligent.
To the relief of the fans, despite its script and rhythm errors, Dark Matter shows in its first chapter of the second season the firm intention of the program to preserve the essence of the saga, something that was one of the problems along the way. that the series faced in its previous chapters, which received lukewarm criticism and a more or less stable audience.
But now, the script is much more aware of its small spaces of epic story, as well as its connection with a larger universe, which is barely shown but is there, so close as to be an invisible intrigue. Full of renewed vitality, the series builds a game of little traps that lead into a new world– in more ways than one – and specifically, in the mythology of the saga, which was so much missed in the previous episodes.
Although the entire chapter is a great introduction and in fact, it plays with the idea of the plot intrigue, it is also a declaration of intentions: Dark Matter returns to become something completely different from what it was until now, what it is. maybe good news.
The article ‘Dark Matter’: a return to HBO that promises more than we expected was published in Hypertext.