Dark Matter episode 1 recap & review: Our first impressions of Blake Crouch's sci-fi thriller

Joel Edgerton plays physicist Joel Dessen, a man kidnapped by an alternate version of himself in this new Apple TV+ series.
Dark Matter - Cr: Apple
Dark Matter - Cr: Apple /

Most of us have wondered what our lives would be like if we had made a different decision at a pivotal crossroads. What if you stayed in that relationship? What if you never quit that job? What if you went to a different university? The character at the forefront of the new Apple TV+ series Dark Matter gets to explore what his other realities might look like, and it just goes to show that the grass is truly not always greener on the other side.

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Based on Blake Crouch's acclaimed novel of the same name, Crouch is now repackaging his story via visual medium as he takes up the helm of creator, showrunner, executive producer, and writer. Dark Matter follows Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton), a college physics professor living in Chicago with his wife, the stunning art gallery curator Daniela (Jennifer Connelly), and their teenage son who just turned driving age Charlie (Oakes Fegley).

The first episode is compelling and watchable, albeit nothing particularly revolutionary. It's a solid set-up installment for the twisty, time-warping storyline soon to follow, prepping to take keen-eyed viewers on a thrill ride packed with little clues and mind-bending observations. To Crouch's credit, this is an area where he excels. Though I haven't read Dark Matter yet, I did read another one of his sci-fi novels, Recursion, and found it very accessible for someone with less than zero scientific knowledge like me. It's more commercial than anything by William Gibson, that's for sure (in a good way).

Still, following a recap guide can be a good way to gain clarity. We'll be recapping the entire season, so bookmark this page if you like. I'll be linking all the recaps here to keep them easily navigable. Spoilers ahead for the show's premiere episode.

Episode 1. Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly in "Dark Matter," courtesy of Apple TV+ /

Let's jump into the premiere, "Are You Happy With Your Life?," a perfectly apt and straightforward title for the opening hour that posits Jason with a lot going for him, yet carrying a sense of someone treading water.

Like I mentioned above, Jason appears to be living an ideal life—a beautiful wife, a good kid, and a decent job. That's how it appears from the outside looking in, anyway.

Yet some part of him isn't happy with where he's ended up, at least on the career front. He's shown dragging his feet to teach his students, most of whom aren't interested in his lesson on the famous thought experiment Schrödinger's cat, involving quantum physics and a cat in a box that could be dead or alive. An obvious wink at the direction Dark Matter is headed.

The introduction of Jason’s friend and former colleague, Ryan Holder (Jimmi Simpson), sheds some light on this. A recent recipient of the prestigious award due to his studies around consciousness, Ryan calls Jason to celebrate, noting it should have been him to win. Jason modestly demurs, but there is some underlying truth to that sentiment. We later learn Ryan used Jason’s notes to achieve his scientific breakthrough.

Later that night, Ryan invites Jason to a bar to celebrate. Jason more or less blows him off until Daniela cajoles him into going. At the bar, Ryan surprises Jason with a job offer. With the award money, he intends to create a neurotech startup and wants Jason to work with him. Problem is, this job is in San Francisco. Jason agrees to run it by Daniela first.

Dark Matter - Cr: Apple /

But he never makes it home. A masked man accosts Jason during his walk, kidnapping him at gunpoint and forcing him to drive them to an abandoned hanger. All the while grilling him on Ryan and what they discussed at the bar. 

Upon reaching their destination, Jason’s assailant makes him strip naked and then injects him with a sedative. Before he falls unconscious, the masked man tells Jason to change into a different set of clothing. Of course Jason wants to know who this guy is, but he claims Jason wouldn’t believe him anyway.

When Jason comes to, he finds himself being poked and prodded by several doctors, who then lock him in a room to quarantine him as they test for various diseases. A woman named Amanda (Alice Braga) enters to tell him he's clean, and she gives a baffled Jason a very intimate hug. Much to her chagrin, he has no clue who she is.

Soon, it becomes clear that Jason is somehow in another timeline. A place where he won the Pavia Award and is swimming in success. In this timeline, he works alongside a man named Leighton (Dayo Okeniyi), another former colleague, who ominously informs Jason that he is the “first to return.” 

At this point, Jason has had enough. These people might claim to know him, but he has no clue what they’re talking about and only wants to return to his wife and son. He makes a break for it. 

Dark Matter - Cr: Apple /

One taxi ride later and Jason is back at his house… except it’s totally different. Amanda is waiting for him in the kitchen. This is her house. A desperate Jason combs through every room, looking for signs of Daniela and Charlie. There aren't any. Just accolades and plaques celebrating his many victories. The Jason of this timeline has achieved everything the other Jason always wanted.

Amanda is just as confounded as him. She has no clue who Daniela or Charlie are. Daniela could be anywhere, and I think we can safely assume Charlie doesn’t even exist here, given his parents never met.

While Jason deals with a horrifying new reality without his family, the masked man makes his way to Jason’s home. As I’m sure many viewers guessed, the masked guy is Jason. I’ll call him Alt-Jason for short to keep it simple.

This episode suggests that Alt-Jason created something that allowed him to hop timelines, so he did, and then forcibly removed the other Jason and made him take his place. Considering the show description describes Alt-Jason as Jason's dangerous enemy, I think it's safe to say he doesn't have the best intentions. In upcoming episodes, we’ll learn more about the what, why, and how.

Alt-Jason makes himself right at home with Daniela. Interestingly, Alt-Jason doesn’t remember that Daniela dislikes mint chocolate ice cream, but he does remember something he said to her years ago at the start of their relationship. What does that mean? Is he the real Jason? Does he have access to his counterpart’s memories?

Before they settled down in Chicago, one of these two Jasons told Daniela that when he died, he’d rather look back and remember her versus a cold, sterile lab. That’s why he doesn’t intend to accept Ryan’s job offer. Charmed, Daniela succumbs to Alt-Jason’s seduction, and they head to bed together, leaving the other Jason scared and confused in his new timeline.

New episodes of Dark Matter drop Wednesdays on Apple TV+. To stay up to date on thrillers, sci-fi, and horror, bookmark 1428 Elm and follow our Facebook page and Twitter account!

A basic introductory episode elevated by Joel Edgerton's dual performances and sharp writing.. Dark Matter. Dark Matter ep 1 grade. B. Are You Happy With Your Life?

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