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A tense, thrilling, and emotional exploration of the choices that define our lives, “Dark Matter” is a smart and terrifying sci-fi sizzler.

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Most of us choose to believe that there is some immutable core of our identity that makes us who we are and shapes our choices. We believe we would be who we are in any universe and under myriad possible parameters.

The truth is likely much more world-shattering.

Who we are is shaped by our choices, and every choice — big or small — shifts our reality, worldview, and how we interpret and interact with the world.

Grand notions of fate and a higher purpose are comforting; they give us the illusion of some guiding force that supersedes all our decisions and leads us down the right path at every fork in the road. Understanding and accepting how we hurtle through time and space while navigating the billions of potential realities shaped by every moment of our existence is terrifying.

Dark Matter (Apple TV) exploits that terror by forcing us to consider what makes a life and what it means to be an ever-shifting arrangement of matter in a vast and chaotic universe.

Author Blake Crouch adapted Dark Matter from his novel, which is considered one of the best sci-fi novels of the decade.

It’s a story about the aching weight of regret and that nagging voice in the back of most of our heads that constantly ponders, “What if?”

What if I had made different choices? What if I took a different fork in the road? What if I had only had more foresight when it mattered most? Would I be happier? Would I be fulfilled? Would I be a better version of myself?

I’ve achieved enough of my goals and had enough of my dreams come true to know that whatever imagined “this will-fix-all” narrative I create in my head is never a magic pill to cure all my woes. Most of that satisfaction I chase is fleeting, and the grass is rarely, if ever, truly greener on the other side.

Still, it hasn’t stopped me from wondering if I could have made better choices and carved out a better, more fulfilling path for myself. I suppose it’s human nature to want what we don’t have and constantly crave something more than we’ve been gifted. We can never be rich enough, successful enough, loved enough… or just plain ENOUGH.

In a world where we see the consequences of life-changing, awe-inspiring but unquestionably terrifying technological advancements play out in real-time, much of our once-fantastical science fiction now feels prescient or probable—at the very least, possible.

Dark Matter is no exception, reminding us that the human mind is capable of reshaping the world with its genius and equally capable of destroying it with its selfishness. 

A brilliant physicist, professor, and family man, Jason Dessden (the always compelling Joel Edgerton; The Gift) lives a full but uneventful life of suburban doldrums.

When a friend, Ryan Holder (Jimmi Simpson), receives a lucrative and highly prestigious scientific award, Jason struggles to feel anything other than resentment. Having previously walked away from a promising career to start a family, Jason wonders what might have been if he had prioritized his passion for quantum physics.

In a parallel reality, another version of Jason is living out that dream — enjoying all the accolades and financial rewards of career success but absent the loving wife, Daniela (Jennifer Connelly), or the teenage son, Charlie (Oakes Fegley).

While family man Jason (Jason 1) contemplates a richer life as a famous scientist, renowned scientist Jason (Jason 2) wonders how much happier he might have been if he had built a life with Daniela rather than sacrificing love for his career.

One night, while Jason 1 is walking home following a party in honor of his friend, he is attacked and abducted — thrust into an alternate version of his life while Jason 2 co-opts Jason 1’s life for his own. With help from Jason 2’s romantic partner Amanda (Alice Braga), Jason 1 tries desperately to return to his own reality while navigating the mind-bending landscape of all the multitude of lives he could have lived.

The catalyst for this harrowing journey is a device, a box, invented by Jason 2 based on theories of quantum physics. This box offers access to infinite dimensions that exist simultaneously in the same time and space.

Behind every door in an endless corridor of doors is a possibility — from the beautiful to the grotesque, the hopeful to the horrifying.

What unfolds is an utterly engrossing, highly suspenseful story brimming with terror and intrigue.

It features stunning set design, superbly written dialogue, and sublime performances. Edgerton and Connolly are two remarkable actors at the very top of their game, and their performances alone are enough to warrant a watch.

Whether or not you care about, believe, or even understand the complicated science behind the story is irrelevant. The sci-fi elements are compelling to be sure. And although the idea of parallel lives and alternate dimensions is nothing new, it rarely fails to be endlessly fascinating on a conceptual and theoretical level.

But that’s far from the heart of the matter.

Ultimately, the show’s science is merely a plot device to explore very human fears, worries, and desires. At the end of the day, technology can be terrifying and has the potential to do as much harm as good — often, those risks far outweigh the rewards. But, ultimately, the biggest threat to our happiness is far too often ourselves.

If you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the ongoing AI debate, you should be asking yourself, “Just because we can, does that mean we should?” Dark Matter takes that debate to the next level and forces us to consider whether or not we’d willingly roll the dice on the chance at a new life and what might happen if we did. “Just because you could rewrite your history, should you?”

Having seen the entire series (thanks to early previews from Apple TV), I can confidently state that the series wraps up in a fully satisfying way and that each episode effectively builds the tension and mystery that kept me invested.

While it may take some time to immerse fully, I’d urge you to stick with it. Your patience will be rewarded as the situation’s gravitas becomes clearer and the significant emotional stakes are explored further.

Apple TV was smart enough to release this series weekly. If you’re starting from a point where all or most of the series has already been released, resist the urge to binge it. This is an intelligent and thought-provoking show that demands ample time to digest the content properly. Take your time to enjoy the journey truly.

Some critics have lamented that Dark Matter is too long and too jam-packed with heady ideas that can make viewing somewhat tedious. I reject that notion, though it does require your full attention. It was never designed to be the kind of mindless background noise many of us have become accustomed to in the age of streaming.

If you’re looking for lightweight, casual viewing, look elsewhere. This show is designed to challenge and stimulate you.

If that’s your bag, the moderate amount of lifting required to appreciate the beauty of Dark Matter is well worth the effort.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

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