DISCLAIMER: This Dark Matter recap of Season 1 Episode 1, “Are You Happy In Your Life?” contains spoilers. Read at your risk. 

A Dark Matter Primer

If you’re new to Dark Matter then here’s a little primer of what the show is about. Based on the novel of the same name by Blake Crouch (who is also the showrunner of the series),  Dark Matter follows the journey of Jason Dessen, a college physics professor who gets kidnapped into another version of his life in an alternate universe and must struggle to find his way home.

It’s a twisty, propulsive and skillfully produced show that explores the kind of “many worlds” sci-fi tropes of shows like Constellation (also on Apple TV+) or Counterpart. It stars Joel Edgerton (as Jason), Jennifer Connelly as his wife Daniela, Alice Braga as his alternate universe lover Amanda and Jimmi Simpson as his friend Ryan.  Almost all the characters in the series appear as alternate versions of themselves, depending on which of Jason’s lives we’re exploring.  

And with that, let’s dive into our recap of the Dark Matter pilot episode, “Are You Happy in Your Life?”!

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A Happy Life

The pilot episode of Dark Matter opens with a shadowy figure holding a flashlight entering a darkened building. It’s an industrial facility of some kind, with lots of metal catwalks and stairwells. As this person swings their flashlight around, we see this place seems abandoned. They’re looking for something and when the flashlight passes over a large metal cube with a door in the side of it standing in the middle of the facility’s floor, we feel they’ve found it. But what “it” is exactly will have to wait until after the show’s title sequence featuring toy people inhabiting an ever-changing space made of concrete blocks that keep re-combining into different configurations, like a combo of brutalist architecture and a moving MC Escher illustration. 

When we return to the show we see Jason Dessen, his wife Daniela and their teenage son Charlie (Oaks Fegley) going through their morning routine in their warmly lived in brownstone in suburban Chicago. Jason helps Charlie cram for a trigonometry test while he scarfs down his breakfast and Daniella, elegantly dressed in a white business suit, breezes by on her way to work. Charlie asks if he can drive to school today and endures some ribbing from his mom about his dicey skills. Then Jason hands his wife a coffee to go and they kiss. This is a happy marriage

With Jason in the passenger seat and Charlie driving, we get a sense that the father and son have a good relationship too as Jason gives his son advice about the girl he’s crushing on. But after the distracted teen almost gets them killed (remember this show is all about the choices we make and how they create different lives), Jason gets a call from his friend Ryan who tells him the good/bad news. Ryan has won The Pavia Prize, a science prize that comes with millions of dollars of grant money. With fake humility, Ryan says the prize should have gone to Jason. Jason brushes this off, but we can see he’s crushed. 

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It’s All About Superposition

His mood doesn’t improve much when we see him teaching a lecture on Schrödinger’s cat and quantum mechanics to a room full of bored-looking students. The upshot of the lesson is to lay out the idea of “superposition” where particles can be in two states (or places) at the same time. The cat in the Shrodinger’s box, he explains, is both “alive and dead”. And we get the feeling that he’s talking about himself as well. 

After a check-in with Daniella who is at a gallery with a friend where we discover she’s an art expert and is training for a tri-atholon, we are back to our shadowy friend. They’re still in the dark as we watch them unlock a storage unit and turn on a lantern to reveal shelves full of tech, a pile of cell phones and other mysterious-looking stuff.  They scribble in a journal and we see they’ve been keeping daily notes about Jason’s family’s activities. Then we get a surprise, the shadowy figure is Jason. Albeit, a darker, more intense version. After watching him load a vial of purple liquid into an auto-injector it’s confirmed, that this Jasond is up to no good. 

Jason back at home and back in sweetie mode making dinner with Daniella and Charlie. They really love this kitchen! After Daniella discovers that Jason is blowing off a celebration for Ryan at a bar (their local tavern which is literally around the corner from their house) she tells her husband to swallow his jealousy and be happy for his friend. Jason tries to do just that by joining Ryan’s celebration at the bar. 

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After Ryan, newly flush with cash from the Pavia Prize, extravagantly buys Jason an entire bottle of expensive scotch,  the two retire to a corner booth where Ryan tells him his real motivation for wanting Jason to attend. He is starting a tech company with an old (rich) mutual friend of theirs and he wants Jason to come work for him. This seems like the final insult to Jason’s ego, so he’s relieved when he finds out the job will be in San Francisco. He can’t just move Charlie and Daniella across the country. But Ryan is persistent and Jason says he’ll think about it. 

The Attack

Wandering home drunk through the rain, Jason is pretty low. But things get worse when a man in a hoodie and sporting a creepy white mask kidnaps Jason at gunpoint and forces him to a car. Being forced to drive with a gun to his head is pretty terrifying, but Jason gets even more freaked out when the creep casually asks what happened with Ryan and the job offer. It’s even more alarming when this “stranger” guesses Jason’s cell phone passcode. 

a person in a scary white mask and dark hoodie in the pilot episode of Dark Matter, "Are you happy with your life?"

He directs Jason to a warehouse and after stealing his wedding ring and forcing him to disrobe, frog-marches Jason into the building, which we now realize is the same industrial space we saw in the cold open. Jason makes a desperate move to escape, injuring the attacker’s arm in the process, but to no avail. And before he knows it the guy is on top of him injecting him in the neck with (what can only assume) is the auto-injector from earlier. He then forces Jason to put on some clothes he’s brought along. 

A little later, a groggy Jason wakes up in the strange clothes and sees his still-masked attacker fiddling with a strange piece of tech. When Jason asks what the equipment is, the attacker answers cryptically, “Possibility.”  He then asks the quickly fading Jason if he’s happy with his life. And tells him that what’s about to happen is going to give them both a chance for something different. Jason reaches for the mask, wondering who the attacker is. But the attacker, who we now know must be an alternate version of Jason, tells him, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” And then… blackout. 

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When Jason wakes he finds that his situation has deteriorated even further. Because now he’s strapped to a gurney and being treated by people wearing gas masks. He asks to go home but, weirdly, they tell him he is home. Which seems very unlikely when they throw him nude into a decontamination shower.

When he next wakes, he finds himself locked in a sterile room. Adding to his confusion, a woman he does not recognize enters and (very) intimately hugs him. When she realizes he doesn’t recognize her, she tells him her name is Amanda and that he’s been cleared from quarantine. Oh. Great.

Jason is ushered by Amanda through the hallways of the facility. The walls of which very much resemble the poured concrete brutalist architecture from the title sequence. In an equally warm conference room, he meets a handsome man in a smedium turtle neck.

Amanda turns on a video recorder and states for the record that she is chief psychiatrist Amanda Lucas, the turtle neck guy is Leighton Vance (Dayo Okeniyi), the CEO, and, to Jason’s surprise, he is the chief science officer and co-founder of… whatever this is – a company called Velocity. Leighton presses some buttons and the frosted glass of the conference room goes clear revealing a bunch of people in lab coats are standing outside and applauding like it’s the worst office birthday party ever.

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Escape Velocity

With the “team” looking on Amanda and Leighton reveal to Jason that he is “the only one who made it back” and that he’s been gone for 14 months and 10 days. They want to know where he’s been and how he made it back. But Jason has reached his limit for confusion and loses his cool. He just wants to go home!

Soon realizes that’s not happening. As they transfer him back to his room (cell), he makes a break for it. With the leather-clad security team chasing him, he makes his escape and back into Chicago.

jason eyes two security escorts over his shoulder in the dark matter episode "are you happy with your life"

We see Jason flag down a cab and ask the driver to take him to his house. In a quick scene, we see a worried-looking Daniella staring at her phone. She’s been calling Jason who has not answered. And when Jason pulls up to the house and enters we think that he’ll be able to tell her the reason why, but… no. The house looks different inside and the only woman standing in the kitchen is Amanda!

We now see the alternate Jason arriving home. (NOTE: in the novel they refer to this version as “Jason2”. We will keep that convention and will call our hero version “Original Jason”).

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All Jasons Want Daniella

Jason2 leaves his scary mask in the car and goes into the house to find an angry Daniella waiting for him. But Jason2 is ready for this, giving her a peace offering of mint chocolate chip (he’s done his research). She’s not having it, but Jason2 has been planning this and won’t give up so easily. He attempts to kiss her and we can see Daniella feels something is off. He’s too bold. Too confident. Though it does seem like something she’s not completely put off by.

Jason2 bolsters his case by using the information about Ryan’s job offer he learned earlier to help cement his identity. When she asks if he’s going to take it, he implies that he won’t. After all “their” life is in Chicago. And when he asks her to recount words he spoke to her years ago in which he said that at the end of his life, he’d rather have memories of her than of a cold sterile lab, she’s overcome by the romance of it and decides that whatever version her husband has come home, she’s into it. 

jason leans into his wife daniella for a kiss in their kitchen.

Meanwhile, Original Jason is still reckoning with the fact that Amanda is standing in his kitchen… which is very much NOT his kitchen. Even the light switches are in the wrong place. He dashes upstairs to Charlie’s room and finds that in, what we now realize is an alternate reality, his son’s room doesn’t exist. Instead, it’s the office of a successful man. Complete with framed magazine covers featuring his smiling face as a tech luminary and a wall full of, yep, Pavel Prizes (multiple).

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Where is Daniella? Where is his son? But just as he begins to wrestle with these questions the security team from earlier shows up outside and he is once again forced to flee. 

The Dark Matter pilot episode ends with a montage that flips between the two realities. In one version Jason is running for his life in a world he does not recognize, while in the other Jason2 makes out with Daniella in his bed. As Jason2’s shirt comes off, Daniella notices the wound on his arm that he got during the struggle with original Jason earlier. She asks how it happened and Jason2, echoing his words from earlier says, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” 

Dark Matter is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

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