Wednesday, May 8, 2024

REVIEW: 'Dark Matter' - Jason and Daniela Ponder Life's Regrets in 'Are You Happy in Your Life?' and 'Trip of a Lifetime'

AppleTV+'s Dark Matter - Episodes 1.01 "Are You Happy in Your Life?" and 1.02 "Trip of a Lifetime"

Physics professor and family man Jason Dessen is abducted from everything he loves.

"Are You Happy in Your Life?" and "Trip of a Lifetime" were written by Blake Crouch and directed by Jakob Verbruggen

In one universe, Jason and Daniela ponder the road not taken. They reminisce over the past. They wonder what their lives could have been if they made different choices. Daniela channeled those ideas into art. That's her passion. That's how she expresses herself. She creates a visceral experience for others that also entices them to return to her gallery to experience it anew. She's smart and creative. Meanwhile, Jason constructs a box to actually live out what that other life could have been. It's not good enough to simply imagine it. He needs to claim it for himself. All of this only becomes clear throughout "Trip of a Lifetime." In "Are You Happy in Your Life?," the drama details a comfortable home life for Jason and Daniela. They tease their son Charlie about his driving. They give him advice about talking to his crush. They have jobs in their respective fields. They aren't their dream jobs. They still have built happiness for themselves. It's all ruined because of an outside influence that wants to take ahold of it for himself.

At first, Jason only agonizes over a job offer from his friend Ryan. He doesn't even want to go out to a bar to celebrate him winning an award. Jason recognizes how huge this news is. It unlocks millions of new funding for Ryan's research. Ryan insists he never would have been able to crack his innovation without Jason's help. Yet this new opportunity is in San Francisco. That's where Ryan is establishing his new company. He wants Jason to be involved. It's a new chance for Jason to pursue his dreams. However, his life is in Chicago with his family. He promised Daniela that a lifetime with her would be more satisfying than being stuck in a lab all day. He has kept his word ever since that fateful day. He has never had any regrets. His job teaching at a local college isn't exactly fulfilling. He doesn't inspire his students to be excited by the subject matter. It's not quite where he wants to be. He's still settled into this life. He doesn't want to change. Instead, that is forced upon him. He is made to believe that the agony of past regrets will allow him to be happy elsewhere.

Jason is abducted while walking home from the bar. He doesn't know his assailant is an alternate version of himself - who will be referred to as Jason2. This alternate has the technology to make all of this possible. It's proprietary to his company as well. He has access to resources others do not. His contributions to science were all leading to this moment. It was a fascination Jason always had. When presented with the evidence of Jason2's scientific theory, everything suddenly makes sense. For the longest time though, Jason is left wondering if he's having a psychotic break. He wakes up in a strange new world. He still lives at the same address. The decorations are different. The woman he lives with is different too. He doesn't recognize Amanda. She's a complete stranger. She offers compassion. She too is desperate for answers. She wants to know where he's been. He is the only survivor of the company's experiment. Everyone is eager to hear about Jason's adventures. Jason is confused. He has no personal bonds with any of them. As such, he is immediately distrustful of their motives. The audience has the benefit of seeing the two parallel lives exist. That makes the confusion less apparent for the viewer. That means we operate with information Jason doesn't have - which isn't always a good thing for building inherent trust with a character.

Jason2 wanted everything. He didn't want to sacrifice his career in order to settle down with Daniela and start a family. He was focused on his project. After all these years, it has finally been a success. Now, he gets to relax in the life that was apparently waiting for him. It isn't his life though. Jason details the ways in which his marriage to Daniela has been tested and made stronger as a result. He has spent fifteen years as a parent. He has learned and grown alongside Charlie. He knows how to be the father he needs. And now, this stranger has taken over that life. Jason2 isn't satisfied simply going through the motions at work. Instead, he has something to hide. He took drastic actions in order to claim this life as his own. He still possesses and monitors the box that made this a reality. He is violent in a way Jason never could have imagined before. Jason2 is desperate to make all of this happen. He's not satisfied with the outcome. He expects more from the wardrobe. He craves physical intimacy with Daniela all the time. He doesn't know what her life is like. He's not curious by her interests. This is simply the reality he deserved. He made it happen no matter what. He believes the other version of himself must have also had regrets. And so, he was told to step into that new role. Jason gives up a lot. It's not his choice. That's the central tension.

Moreover, Jason continues to lose upon stepping into this new universe. He's always proud of what Daniela accomplishes. He confides in her much more easily than anyone else. She has no connection to Jason2's company. Her art show was inspired by their last interaction. They both delved into these potent themes of identity and regret. They channeled it differently. For Jason2, his actions are much more costly. To make things better for him, others have to be sacrificed. His will is the ultimate greater good. That's such a narcissist. He has conditioned others into also upholding those ideals. The company refuses to share information with Jason. They are slow to realize he isn't the man they initially sent away. They operated under the theory that their fearless leader would one day return. Anything that didn't produce that result was a failure. This is the life anyone would be willing to return to. That was never how Jason2 operated. Instead, he kept things close in order to achieve his ultimate goal. He didn't care who got hurt along the way. And so, one version of Jason hates the idea of losing his marriage to Daniela. Those memories are cherished. Their connection is always strong. Yet the other Daniela he finds is ultimately killed to protect the company's secret. That's an acceptable loss for them even though it leaves Jason devastated and even more isolated.