Dark Matter is a rivetingly personal sci-fi drama that stretches to infinity

In Apple TV+ sci-fi series Dark Matter, multiple Joel Edgertons cross the boundaries that separate their same-same-but-different realities. Luke Buckmaster binged this thoughtful first season as quickly as he could.

This sensationally addictive new series, which I gobbled down in a few successive evenings, deploys plenty of mind-bending sci-fi concepts across its nine episode arc. But it’s the human elements that keep Dark Matter grounded, and create something beautifully contradictory: a deeply personal drama that stretches to infinity. We’re accustomed to watching superheroes and space adventurers leap through portrayals into bling-filled parallel dimensions, but this very polished and moodily toned series takes a different approach to a Quantum Leap or multiverse-esque premise.

It’s centred around a physics professor who’s abducted by—wait for it—himself, or at least another version of himself, then dumped into a parallel world that’s broadly similar to his but also strikingly different. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that a rarely-better Joel Edgerton delivers the crucial, grounding performance as the aforementioned professor, Jason Dessen, because that needs to be plural—performances.

The protagonist teaches at a Chicago university and is happily married to his wife Daniela (Jennifer Connelly) with whom they have a teenage son, Charlie (Oakes Fegley). Edgerton is pushed into a more rattled performative space when Jason discovers himself in the parallel reality, where he never married Daniela and Charlie was never born, triggering the expected “where the hell am I?” outbursts. Meanwhile, in the original world, imposter Jason settles in and makes himself at home; he has his reasons.

Created by Blake Crouch and based on his 2016 novel of the same name, Dark Matter alternates between the two dimensions, assigning the characters different objectives and requiring from the actors contrasting approaches. While the displaced Jason is flummoxed and desperate, his imposter version is pricklier and more menacing, but never overstatedly so—Edgerton’s performance is a measure of restraint. The actor is tasked with difficult moments to execute without sounding like a mouthpiece for sci-fi gobbledegook—an early scene in college, with Jason explaining quantum mechanics and Schrödinger’s cat, making way for much kookier statements when the show really swings into gear.

At one point a couple of characters discuss liminal space while they’re physically inside it, literalising an often metaphorical concept. Perhaps the most famous example of this takes place in Alice in Wonderland, when its protagonist famously tumbles down a rabbit hole that’s real in the narrative universe but representative, outside of it, of crossing a threshold, connecting one world to another. In Dark Matter that thoroughfare (the equivalent of Doctor Who‘s Tardis) is essentially a large, box-shaped room, which is central to the dimension-hopping premise.

The supporting cast are, like Edgerton, uniformly excellent, in roles that require them to blur the line distinguishing one version of their character and another, evoking certain questions. Are these the same people, separated by choices, or different people for the same reason? Connelly’s dual performances are the most subtle, nailing the idea that one version of a person can be so close to the other, yet for certain people—like poor old Jason—universes apart. For reasons that don’t need to be disclosed here, the protagonist also spends considerable time with Alice Braga’s physiatrist Amanda, their journeys across the cosmos entwined. Braga’s very good too, her face a heavy mixture of kindness and fatigue.

Dark Matter‘s many interesting thought bubbles include the idea of parallel dimensions separated by different decisions, each of us potentially an accidental or faux-god, unwittingly creating tiers of reality according to choices we do or do not make—a sort of Sliding Doors on steroids. I say “thought bubbles” because, just when you think the writers will invest heavily in a particular concept, and really make a meal of it, they usually bounce someone else entirely, moving onto the next idea or simply moving on full stop.

This show’s exceptionally well paced and escalates in very satisfying ways, always prepared to toss around ideas that wouldn’t look out of place in Rick and Morty—while simultaneously staging some of the year’s most interesting TV drama.