Tonight, Dark Matter season 3 airs another new episode in “The Dwarf Star Conspiracy,” and this installment brings us further into the home stretch of the story this summer. There are three episodes left, and we’ve just learned some key revelations regarding Two and her past through “Built, Not Born.”
What better time to get some insight from the man responsible for everything behind the scenes? With us just getting into Dark Matter this year, it was a thrill to speak with showrunner Joseph Mallozzi about his creative process, about the decision-making that goes into certain episodes and arcs, and of course the finale and a potential season 4 renewal.
CarterMatt – Whenever I talk to a showrunner for the first time, one of the first things I always like to do is get more insight into what inspires them and what drives them. For you, you’ve done so much work within the Stargate universe and then this show. What is it about this space — outer space — that you find appealing?
Joseph Mallozzi – Genre storytelling just gives you so many opportunities to tell a wide array of stories, whether it be things like time loops or time travels. You’re able to explore different facets of humanity, and there is obviously an appeal there.
One lesson I learned very quickly on Stargate was that viewers tune in for the hook, but they stay for the characters. One of the things that I love about the show is being able to write for these characters — they’re all very different and I love their various relationships and how we develop them. The cast is fantastic and they bring these characters to life in a way that allows me to do so much with them. There are instances in film and television where you want to write for a certain character, but the performer sometimes isn’t up for the task. In the case of Dark Matter, the entire cast just allows me the freedom to explore relationships that go beyond what was originally envisioned so many years ago.
Also, there’s a great sense of fun. The shows that I used to love are the ones like Farscape, Firefly or anime like Cowboy Bebop — shows with a sense of humor underlying the drama that allows the audience to connect with the characters in ways that we don’t see as much in today’s television.
So what is your process of coming up with stories, and how far in advance do you work on that? You’ve given yourself so many opportunities to tell rich backstories, so what makes you decide ‘I’m going to do an episode around Two’s backstory’ or ‘I’m going to do something for Three here’?
I sat on the concept of Dark Matter for many years because Stargate kept getting picked up and it gave me years to develop the characters and backstories. One of the things about this show is that we have a five-year plan — I know what the last scene of the last episode is going to be. I know where these journeys end up. I don’t have all of the details, but I know where I want to go. I get to drop little hints along the way and set up stuff for down the line.
As for when we reveal what, it really comes down to writer instinct. You want to present various mysteries to the audience, but you don’t want to leave them hanging for too long. For example, on this past episode we finally got the Portia – Android backstory. It was something that we had set up very early on and we’d hinted at throughout the series, a connection between Two and The Android that goes beyond what is there on the surface. We finally find out about it, and there are many questions still to be answered. I check out Reddit and listen to fan questions, and one of the biggest ones they’ve asked [this week] is ‘what is that bridge between the character Rebecca, who you see leaving Shaw’s lab in the flashback, and then the character Portia who ends up brutally murdering these two men aboard the Raza?’. You’ll be getting a big hint as to what happened to motivate that turn in episode 12.
I’ve always been a big fan of shows where stuff happens every episode. Whether you’re finding out about the characters or the big picture, I want the audience to come away with something every episode.
I want to go back to ‘All the Time in the World,’ since you wrote it and Groundhog Day is one of my favorite all-time movies. What’s the process like of charting out an episode like that and determining the parts of it that are real?
When we sit down to break the specific season, we’ll break the character arcs and discuss some of the beats that I want to hit. I knew I wanted to do a time-loop episode, so I went off and watched around two dozen time-loop episodes of various shows and a dozen movies. I wanted to do justice to the concept and to our show, and I could think of no better character to lead that than Three.
One of the other things that it allowed me to do is progress the Sarah storyline, one that could’ve otherwise taken me half a season to do. He had to come to terms and accept Sarah, and he was able to do it in the loop over the course of the episode.
The various sci-fi ideas just allow you to get where you want to go in the big picture. In the case of ‘All the Time in the World,’ it’s the Sarah – Three relationship. In the case of ‘Isn’t That a Paradox,’ the episode I refer to as Back to the Future meets Stranger Things, it was a way to get the working blink drive back and to give some backstory on the blink drive. Beyond that, it was a chance to get some background on the characters, allow them to shine and allows us to explore the relationship in some fun ways.
Since you bring up Sarah … that was a heck of a cliffhanger that you guys just did! With her now back and with Victor, what are some of the emotional ramifications that this is going to cause for Three? You guys have put him through the wringer!
Three has obviously never been the biggest fan of androids, and now the love of his life is one. Ironic, no? She’s essentially out of touch; I wouldn’t say that she’s riding with a bad crowd, but she’s riding with a crowd that may influence her in a way that Three may not support. I’ll say that, and I’ll say that we have big plans for the Sarah character. That story should be a lot of fun.
I’m someone who doesn’t always love to know too much about what’s coming up, so without getting altogether specific, what sort of plans were put in place for the finale? Is there a big emotional cliffhanger this time, was that planned, or was that something that you came across along the way?
No, there was always intent. Even though we’re a serialized show, I like to make sure that every season has a beginning, middle, and end. I like to think of season 1 as a ship war mystery, and we start the show learning that these characters are terrible people and criminals. We end season 1 with them being hauled off to prison. Season 2 is about them saying ‘we’re through being reactive, we don’t belong in prison.’ They go on this story of redemption, but they try to pervert this corporate war and at the end of season 2 they fail in that.
We start off season 3 with this crisis of conscience for Two and we have an adversary in a former ally, Ryo Ishida, and it’s in this backdrop of corporate war. We’re going to complete that storyline by the end of the season, and we will begin a new chapter that will hopefully set things up for season 4. That will take the series in a completely different direction, one that I think sci-fi fans are going to really respond to and really love.
I think in terms of cliffhangers and season-enders they’re all very different. Season 2 was very much ‘everybody in jeopardy’. Season 3 I think will be more of a ‘holy crap’ moment where viewers are going to be desperate to find out what’s next.
That is a pretty perfect segue to what I have for you next. The ratings have been fairly steady year-to-year, but how are you feeling about the season 4 odds right now? Have you gotten any indication one way or another?
To be honest with you I have no idea. In previous seasons I always put our chances of renewal at 70-75% just because I knew what we were doing and the type of show we are. The fourth season I was always a little bit more nervous about. Last season we heard after episode 9 and this season we’re coming up to episode 11 and we still haven’t heard.
Like you said the ratings are solid, and we’re a part of a great Syfy Friday lineup. We’re very different from some of the other shows that they’re putting on the air, which are a bit splashier and are big-budget productions. There’s always a concern, but I’m hopeful and the cast is hopeful. I feel more confident than pessimistic.
So when would you guys be returning to work then, and when would the writers room be open in the event that it comes back?
The writers room we actually ran [back in June], so we have most of the stories that we want to tell. Things are just in a holding pattern in terms of scripts. We could find out anytime between now and the end of September, and the plan is to go into prep around the middle of October. We’d start shooting in November like last year and wrap in May of 2018.
Let’s end on something fun here. One of the fun things about Dark Matter is that your cast basically gets to play so many different iterations of their characters and do so many different things. At a certain point do you ever get anyone asking to take on new versions [of themselves] or have different ideas in general?
We’ve created an ensemble show, and within that each character tends to get their chance to shine over the course of a season. Different cast members often approach it in different ways. Anthony Lemke, who plays Three, is in my office a lot of the time pitching ideas and going over things with me. Melissa [O’Neil] has a little bit more this season. Zoie Palmer, who plays The Android, she texts me. We text back and forth more than I do with my girlfriend. She’s always saying things like ‘why don’t we do a scene like this?’ or other things [similar].
In episode 11, The Android gets a new outfit. I didn’t write the episode, but I went down on set and Zoie was like ‘I would like to address this costume change as a bigger deal in a scene,’ and I said ‘great.’ So I went upstairs and wrote a scene for her. There’s a scene where Two approaches The Android in the corridor and they have a discussion about it. It may be as simple as a wardrobe change, but it really goes deeper for The Android’s character and this is coming off this past episode, where there was this idea that she is very much an individual and very much able to blaze a new trail for herself.
It all depends on the actors. Jodelle [Ferland], on the other hand, is very quiet. She very much loves her character and she drives a lot of the story, but she’s not someone who will come up to the office to pitch ideas. That’s fine. I’m always receptive to ideas the cast members have and the office door is always open.
Want some other news related to Dark Matter?
We suggest that you head over to the link here! Remember that new episodes air Friday nights at 9:00 p.m. on Syfy, and we thank Joseph very much for his time.
Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts on this interview in the comments. (Photo: Syfy.)