A Crime of the Heart in ‘Dark Matter’

The Apple TV+ sci-fi thriller explores the idea of paths not taken

Janet Stilson
Counter Arts
5 min readJun 14, 2024


Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly in ‘Dark Matter’ on Apple TV+ (Photo used with Apple’s permission.)

Three years ago, my husband David passed away after a multi-year fight to stave off cancer. In his final days, he said that what he regretted the most, about dying, was not being able to see how the lives of people he cared about would change — particularly the young people in our tribe. As you might imagine, his longing for a future path in life reverberated in me deeply. It’s similar to the regret so many of us feel when we look back on our past actions and wonder what would have happened if we’d made different choices.

All this came back to me as I watched Dark Matter on Apple TV+. The series uses that very human “fork in the road” idea as a theme, and is based on Blake Crouch’s bestselling novel of the same name. The series and book also explore the ideas of parallel lives and the overpowering need to get back to a home or family that has been lost.

There are a lot of stories that we can watch which explore parallel existences. The 1998 comedy-fantasy Sliding Doors is one that immediately springs to mind. And of course, the idea of diving into metaverses is also a very similar concept. (Think 2018’s Ready Player One, adapted from Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, or my own recently published sci-fi thriller, Universe of Lost Messages.) The trick — as I know only too well — is to make the ideas fresh in the storytelling. And Dark Matter does that quite beautifully.

“When I published the book in 2016, there weren’t a lot of multiverse stories out there,” Crouch explained in a video interview with The Upcoming about a month ago. “And then some things happened in 2016, at least in America. And then, like, wow! Tons of multiverse stories of dark, dark worlds and crazy worlds [emerged]. But we’ve always thought of our show not as a multiverse show, but as a show about human beings looking at their lives and wondering, ‘What if.’”

It took me a little time to get into the series. The opening credits sequence seemed cold and starkly bland, although the graphics certainly speak to the theme. And I wasn’t quite sold on the series itself until I reached the end of the second episode, when revelations emerged that made the series more deeply compelling. It became apparent the abduction was a crime of the heart. (This isn’t much of a spoiler, given what’s revealed in the series’ trailer.)

That’s when I was completely hooked.

The storyline follows a scientist named Jason, played in the series by Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby), who opted not to pursue a career as a quantum mechanics physicist in favor of life as a family man and college professor living in Chicago. He’s deeply in love with his wife, portrayed by Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind).

Jason is abducted and thrown into a parallel universe, in which another version of himself chose to continue along the physicist career path and made a breakthrough discovery, which involves a huge box-like creation. People who enter the box can see what their life would be like in thousands of different parallel realities, which can be entered through different doors.

It becomes clearer, as the episodes unfold, why the family man version of Jason (let’s call him Jason 1) was abducted. And we come to know what became of the physicist version of Jason (a.k.a., Jason 2). All this happens as the wife is increasingly confused about what’s going on.

Jason 1 manages to escape the alternate world he’s been thrown into. He travels through some of the box’s doors with a companion named Amanda, played by the Brazilian actor Alice Braga (niece of the actor Sonia Braga and star of I Am Legend).

Amanda is a therapist who had been working for the company that Jason 2 helped found, and she was his one-time lover. She believes that Jason 1’s obsessive quest to get back to his family is next to impossible. She tells him: “The world you’re looking for is a grain of sand on an infinite beach.”

The parallel worlds that Jason 1 and Amanda visit in their search for the “right” one involve different versions of Chicago. In one, it’s been transformed into a catastrophic Arctic-like landscape. At another time, they open a door and find the city submerged in water, nearly drowning as they try to escape back into the box. And yet despite those harrowing scenes, a lot of the story is set in our present, everyday world — albeit with a certain crime.

“That was always very important to us,” explained Matt Tolmach, in speaking of the regular world nature of the series in the same Upcoming video interview. “As spectacular as the scope of it is, it feels grounded and real. These are normal people like us.” Tolmach (like Edgerton) is one of the show’s executive producers, and the series was produced through his own production company.

“We’re living in challenging times, when we’re constantly questioning the choices that we made,” Tolmach added. “I think social media has put other people’s lives in front of us and forced us to weigh the lives we’re living versus what somebody else is presenting. Those questions have always been there for people, but I think they’re amplified in the kind of challenging times we live in.”

As you might imagine, the plot is fairly intricate, although easy to follow. Originally the novel was earmarked for a movie adaptation, but eventually it was realized as this series. And given the complex nature of the plot, it’s fortunate that Crouch is the series’ showrunner. That essentially means he was the head writer and helped oversee the episodes’ production.

The series gained added luster because of the very fine casting and performances. In addition to Edgerton, Connelly, and Braga, there’s Jimmi Simpson — who crops up in a lot of productions (including Pachinko and Westworld), and plays Jason’s good friend. There’s also Dayo Okeniyi (Rise) who plays a wealthy investor who goes on his own search through the box as well.

As of this writing, Apple hasn’t announced whether or not it will renew the series for a second season. But right now it’s one of the streamer’s most popular shows. So odds are that it’s going to walk through that particular door in the box!



Janet Stilson
Counter Arts

Janet Stilson’s novel THE JUICE, published to rave reviews. A sequel will be released in May 2024. She won the Meryl Streep Writer’s Lab for Women competition.