Harnessing Chaos

9780567669599Crossley’s book has been available in the U.K. since last year. The U.S. release date is January 28, 2016, and contains updates and expansions. I hope to review it in February.

“Harnessing Chaos is an explanation of changes in dominant politicized assumptions about what the Bible ‘really means’ in English culture since the 1960s. James G. Crossley looks at how the social upheavals of the 1960s, and the economic shift from the post-war dominance of Keynesianism to the post-1970s dominance of neoliberalism, brought about certain emphases and nuances in the ways in which the Bible is popularly understood, particularly in relation to dominant political ideas. This book examines the decline of politically radical biblical interpretation in parliamentary politics and the victory of (a modified form of) Margaret Thatcher’s re-reading of the liberal Bible tradition, following the normalisation of (a modified form of) Thatcherism more generally.

“The new paperback edition features an additional chapter on some of the remarkable and unexpected uses of the Bible that have arisen since first publication of the book in 2014. These include: David Cameron giving a number of key speeches which intensified Thatcher’s Bible, especially in relation to his government’s decisions regarding foodbanks, austerity and ISIS; Ed Miliband engaging with Russell Brand’s Radical Bible; and the non-predicted emergence of Jeremy Corbyn and his use of the Radical Bible. These developments are all vital to understanding the fate of the Bible in contemporary English politics, and Crossley’s original conclusion musing on why politicians use the Bible at all is here expanded and revised to incorporate the new changes in the past eighteen months.”

Table Of Contents

Preface to the 2016 Edition
Introduction

Chapter 1: ‘Chaos is a Ladder’: A Reception History of the Bible in English Politics

Part I: Experiencing Defeat
Chapter 2: Christopher Hill’s World Turned Upside Down
Chapter 3: This Was England: The Similitudes of Enoch Powell

Part II: Thatcherism and the Harnessing of Chaos
Chapter 4: ‘Your Arms Are Just Too Short to Box with God’: Margaret Thatcher’s Neoliberal Bible

Part III: Carriers of Cultural Change
Chapter 5: ‘We’re All Individuals’: When Life of Brian Collided with Thatcherism
Chapter 6: Saving Margaret from the Guillotine: Independent Music in Manchester from the Rise of Thatcher to the Rise of Blair

Part IV: From Thatcher’s Legacy to Blair’s Legacy
Chapter 7: Your Own Personal Judas: The Rehabilitation of Jeffrey Archer
Chapter 8: 45 Minutes from Doom! Tony Blair and the Radical Bible Rebranded
Chapter 9: The Gove Bible versus the Occupy Bible
Chapter 10: Russell Brand, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Radical Bible

Conclusion: Why Do Politicians Bother with the Bible?
Postscript (2016): Harnessing Chaos, Again: David Cameron, Russell Brand, Jeremy Corbyn
Bibliography

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The Top Five Attacks in America Committed By Christian Terrorists

kkk-oldIn its list of Top Five Attacks On America Committed By Christian Terrorists, Not Muslims, Occupy Democrats scrapes the bottom of the barrel to run parallels between Muslim and Christian terrorism. The list is actually useful for showing how empty these comparisons are. Let’s go through them.

1. The Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church Shooting. Jim David Adkisson, a devout Christian and anti-abortion right-winger, walked into a Knoxville church on July 27th, 2008, and began firing a shotgun at children who were performing Annie Jr. He killed two and wounded seven, targeting the church because of its liberal teachings and his belief that “all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country”.

That single event happened seven years ago. No mainstream Christian church supported it, and for good reason. Christian scriptures and traditions don’t lend themselves to such behavior. Jihad attacks, meanwhile, are committed routinely, daily, by the thousands, and again for good reason. Jihad is a sixth pillar of Islam, a requirement of all able-bodied Muslim men. Holy war is mandated in all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence, as well as the Shi’a sect.

2. The Campaign of Terror Against Abortion Doctors. In 1993, Dr. Richard Gunn was shot dead by an anti-abortion protester. In 1994, Drs. John Britton and James Barrett were shot to death by Reverend Paul Jennings. In 1998, Dr. Barnett Sleipan was shot dead in his home by a Christian terrorist. In 2009, Dr. George Tiller was shot by Scott Roeder in a church. The ability for Christian right-wingers to justify cold-blooded murder in the name of their pro-life beliefs is a colossal hypocrisy worthy of a terrorist group like ISIS. According to the National Abortion Federation, there have been 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery, 13 wounded, 100 butyric acid attacks, 373 physical invasions, 41 bombings, 655 anthrax threats, and 3 kidnappings committed against abortion providers since 1977. Terrorist groups like the Taliban and ISIS are very fond of acid attacks and chemical weapons like anthrax; apparently Christian right-wing terrorists share that same preference.

That tally since 1977 adds up to a laughably small number, and again no mainstream Christian group ever endorsed these crimes. Even more laughable, though understandable, is that Occupy Democrats doesn’t tally the last 40 years worth of murders, death threats, assault/battery, wounded, acid attacks, physical invasions, and bombings of Muslim terror campaigns. The numbers would be so off the scales as to blatantly undermine the Christian analogy. Comparing Christian “anti-abortion terror” to Islamic jihad terror is holding a mosquito to a whale. There is no comparison.

3. The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombings. Timothy McVeigh, America’s most notorious domestic terrorist, was obsessed with the Seventh-Day Aventist splinter group known as the Branch Davidians, who resisted an ATF raid on their citadel at Mount Carmel in 1993. He travelled to Waco, Texas during the Waco Siege and heavily supported the religious extremists within it. Two years later, he detonated a fertilizer bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing a hundred and sixty-eight people, including nineteen children, and wounded 648 others. This Christian specifically targeted innocent civilians and committed horrific acts of violence to make his political point heard – something Mr. Huckabee believes he should be incapable of, since he’s not a Muslim.

Can any PC apologist cite a Christian terrorist besides McVeigh? It was 20 years ago. He was a lone rogue.

4. Everything The Ku Klux Klan Has Ever Done. Since its creation after the American Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan has been terrorizing Americans in the name of Protestantism and racial purity. Known for their terrifying costumes and hoods, they wrought have fear and violence against blacks, Jews, immigrants, gays, and Catholics for hundreds of years, responsible for countless massacres, lynchings, rapes, and bombings that have killed thousands. In the modern day, it still has a membership of 5,000 to 8,000 terrorists that operate in individual chapters. Just two weeks ago, Frazier Glenn Cross, the leader of the Carolina Knights of the KKK, was sentenced to death by lethal injection for murdering a fourteen year old girl and two seniors outside the Overland Park Jewish Community Center in Kansas City. The man gave the Hitler salute during his trial and declared that “Jews are destroying the white race.” None of his victims were Jewish.

This is a classic false equivalence. Islam has a 1400-year history of fighting to restore a sharia-based caliphate, grounded in the example of Muhammad. The KKK are a fringe Christian group whose behavior directly opposes that of their savior. Large movements of Muslims fighting for a caliphate is the historical norm in Islam. A movement like the KKK is scorned and condemned by the Christian world — which is no surprise to anyone who understands Christianity.

5. The Massacre At Zion Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. On Wednesday, June 17th of this year, a man rose from a pew in the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and opened fire with a .45 caliber pistol, killing nine worshipers, including pastor and State Senator Clementa Pickiney. The shooter has been photographed wearing patches representing the racist apartheid regimes in Southwest Africa, had a Confederate license plate on his vehicle. All signs points to this being a hate crime- not only is it the oldest black church in the South, it was a symbol of resistance against slavery, and a survivor reported that the shooter yelled ‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Roof was a member of a local Lutheran church, yet somehow his baptism didn’t prevent him from gunning down innocent people in a house of worship, defiling a sacred place with hate and murder.

This one is both a bad and good analogy. Bad for all the reasons of the above examples: Roof was a lone rogue. Good for what it says about the power of ideas, and thus spotlighting liberal hypocrisy: When a southern racist like Roof walks into a church and shoots African-American people because — in his own words — he was inspired to do so by the Confederate Flag, liberals are perfectly willing to take him at his own words. And rightly so. But when someone burns a copy of the Qur’an, or draws a cartoon of Muhammad, and jihadis — in their own words — kill the offending arsonists and artists for blaspheming against the Prophet, liberals retreat into denial. They insist that jihad attacks are inspired by political grievances, poverty, and/or lack of education, all of which are demonstrably false myths. Liberals acknowledge the ideological power of that which they want to condemn. The Confederate flag represents southern racism, so it’s easy to be honest about it. The Qur’an represents one of the world’s major religions; it’s not easy to be honest about that.

So the next time one of your conservative friends tries to “school” you on the “evils of Islam,” just name a couple items from this list. The rampant xenophobia that has taken hold of the Republican Party is an affront to everything this nation stands for. Terrorism spawns from the desperation of humankind, and for that, we are all guilty.

No, the next time one of your friends — conservative or otherwise — tries to educate you about Islam, allow yourself to be educated, instead of manufacturing bigotry where it doesn’t exist. It is true that there are genuine anti-Muslim bigots, but that has nothing necessarily to do with criticism of Islam as a religion, and as a system of pernicious ideas which are reinforced by vast numbers of Muslims across the globe.

Autumn Blood: A Review in Pictures

There are few films that deliver on the strength of visuals alone, but the Austrian thriller Autumn Blood (2011) is one of them. It was released only last year in the U.S., and to a surprisingly poor reception. It’s about a teenager (played by Sophie Lowe) and her younger brother (Maximilian Harnisch) who live in the Tyrol mountains, and when their mother unexpectedly dies they are assaulted by three men from the town below. The story itself is rather simple and archetypal, but the style is extraordinary. There is very little dialogue, and the microcosm of the untouched mountainside is breathtaking. Think The Sound of Music meets Straw Dogs. Here are some images.

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Revelation and the Question of Violence

Apocalypse_vasnetsovIn “Revelation’s Violence Problem: Mapping Essential Questions”, Greg Carey offers a helpful account of Revelation’s theme of violence.

“Few actually pause to articulate precisely what we mean when we call Revelation ‘violent’… Most interpreters believe it attributes violence to God and to Jesus. Some would say the book even fosters the desire for violence within its audience. More debatable is the question of whether a literary text can actually cause violence. Surely some people have used Revelation to justify their own violent behavior; then again, most of Revelation’s readers have not done so.” (p 296)

I would be curious to know the “some people” Carey believes “surely” to have justified violence in Revelation’s name. They’d have to be the once-in-a-blue-moon fringe. Revelation attributes violence to evil super-powers, and to the “bad guys” who make war on the faithful, but never to the “good guys”. The faithful don’t engage in holy war, and as Carey himself notes, they are specifically encouraged not to. They conquer the Dragon through witnessing and pacifist martyrdom — basically they’re called on to simply endure. Any hacking and slashing is reserved for Christ alone, and ultimate judgment is left to God.

It’s true that the image of a sword-bearing messiah on a war-horse is militant and unlike the gospel pacifist who rode an ass. And the drama would make a good horror film: angels kill a third of humankind, while divine plagues kill another third. Like most apocalypses, Revelation’s tone is unremittingly bleak. But Carey’s conclusion that “Revelation celebrates and endorses violence even though it calls its audience to abstain from violent action” seems like a top-heavy statement. It certainly celebrates divine violence and the punishment of evildoers through a punitive theology. But to say, as he does, that “it is not enough to translate Revelation’s holy warfare as spiritual warfare, as if this mathematical reduction would leave no remainder,” undermines the fact that there really is no holy war in Revelation to speak of. For nowhere do any of the divine monstrosities constitute a call to action. God never tells Christians to enforce his commands on his behalf — just the opposite in fact — which is why Christians have almost never misused Revelation in this way.

In any case, Carey’s advice that, “One need not follow John in order to learn Revelation’s lessons” is to be applauded, whatever we take as the book’s meaning. That’s what I was getting at in arguing that books like I Maccabees (a clear template for holy war) and Galatians (Paul’s less than admirable way of dealing with ethnic conflict) can still be esteemed despite their problems (in their case, by allowing other texts, like II Maccabees and Romans, to serve as a “control” over them). This cannot be said for all texts of all religions to the same degree, with a straight face. The reason I believe that Revelation can retain a positive role in the Christian canon is for the same reason I think Daniel can. Apocalypses are wrong but for good reasons. They yearn for a deity who will defeat evil, redeem the world, and hold humanity responsible for the wrongs they inflict on others. The danger, as Carey notes, comes in the dualism of white-hats and black-hats, and the way apocalyptic dramas cause people to internalize unhealthy desires for vindictive punishment.

Quentin Tarantino: From Best to Worst

This continues my ongoing film-artists blogathon. Everyone should make a point of seeing The Hateful Eight in the theater, to counter the boycott called for by police who have objected to Tarantino taking part in anti-police brutality protest. The police unions should be supporting him. Half of Tarantino’s work comprise masterpieces, in my view, which is an extraordinary success story. And even his worst is still pretty good.

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1. Pulp Fiction. 1994. 5 stars. I count this among three films that profoundly educated me (the others being Blue Velvet and Eyes Wide Shut), showing me film’s potential to be art as much as entertainment. And in this case sickeningly hilarious. I laughed so hard that I was actually choking when I first saw it, hardly able to believe what I was watching. Especially all the bickering and bitching (1) before stabbing the adrenaline needle into Mia’s heart, (2) after Vince accidentally blows Marvin’s brains out, and (3) around countless other scenes you can replay forever. The non-linear storytelling inspired a decade’s worth of lesser efforts; as with all masterpieces, filmmakers have tried to crack its code and harness its power, but of course there’s no skeleton key. You have to be Tarantino to write like this, and in the case of Pulp Fiction, every stroke of the pen was inspired by his magic.

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2. The Hateful Eight. 2015. 5 stars. This is a bottle drama, slow burn, and murder mystery that eventually explodes in the expected Tarantino stew. Think Twelve Angry Men, except these eight angries will do exactly what Juror #3 pretended on Juror #8 with the knife. They are despicable killers trapped in a Wyoming roadhouse during a blizzard; only two are alive by the end, and even those two just barely. Some critics call this Tarantino’s most indulgent film, which it certainly is, but the indulgence works for rather than against, and is my close second favorite in the canon. It’s the director at his most vicious if you can imagine it. There is some knifing commentary on race relations after the Civil War (it’s set in the 1870s), and the use of the female lead as a blood-drenched punching bag suggests that while men may be divided by racism, even the worst enemies will ultimately bond over a shared disgust of women. This is as nihilistic a Western you will probably ever see.

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3. Django Unchained. 2012. 5 stars. Tarantino was born to revive the spaghetti Western. The Italians who made spaghettis weren’t trying to glorify the American ethos, and so the civilizing forces were often portrayed as corrupt, and the American frontier a place of devastation and racism. Django Unchained harks back to this effort of destroying frontier myths, especially that of southern hospitality and the genteel antebellum. It’s set in the years of 1858-59, when Mississippi plantation owners never dreamed their world was about to end. Tarantino runs parallel the realistic violence done to slaves with the cathartic violence of overblown revenge, a dualism that he has tamed to near perfection. I honestly don’t know whose performance I like better, Leo DiCaprio as the despicable plantation owner or (as my gut tells me) Samuel Jackson as his collaborationist slave, a cranked up Uncle Tom. Then there’s Don Johnson (another plantation owner) who gets in some of the most amusing lines, as he waxes wroth over a black man who dares to ride a horse.

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4. Inglourious Basterds. 2009. 5 stars. After Pulp Fiction came a string of efforts that were certainly good but left an impression that Tarantino had only one masterpiece in him. Then came this. I’m generally no friend of cartoon villains, especially in brutal historical periods, so it’s all the more an indication of genius that Tarantino can use caricature to this level of effect. Landa is a brilliantly conceived Nazi you can watch all day; the Jewish Basterds a ludicrous wish-fulfillment fantasy who entertain as they self-indict. The film forces us to see ourselves as Nazis as we cheer the Basterds on for their inhumanities. And Hitler himself? His rant about the Basterds and Bear-Jew is more entertaining than the famously recycled scene from Downfall. As for the best scene, it’s the drinking game in the underground bar, which builds mountains of tension leading up to one of the best shoot-outs ever filmed. However, the first 25 minutes in the French hut is a close second; it could easily stand as a short on its own.

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5. Jackie Brown. 1997. 4 ½ stars. Some call it Tarantino’s most mature film, and if by that you mean older characters with decelerated pacing, that makes sense on a surface level. For others, like Jake Cole, it’s the director’s best: “This film, more than any other, speaks to the true artistry of Tarantino, not merely as a stylist but a moralist.” Jackie Brown says Cole, is nothing less than the key to unlocking a deeper appreciation of all Tarantino’s films. Its restrained approach underscores the implied commentary which is more obscured in the other uninhibited films. I could watch Jackie scheme with Max, and argue with Ordell, as often as the best scenes in the above four masterpieces. Tarantino says that those who call this his best film really don’t like his films at all, and he has a point; Jackie Brown is his only “realist” film which doesn’t take place in an absurdist alternate Tarantino-world. All the same, it is underrated, and I respect the reasons for which it is held in high regard by these claimants.

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6. Reservoir Dogs. 1992. 4 stars. Tarantino’s first film is identifiable as a first effort, though a remarkably good one. Iconic scenes announce new measures of storytelling: the ear-slicing (unconventional violence), the petty bickering over who is Mister-Which-Color (hilariously organic dialogue), the main subject of the bank heist being kept off screen in favor of heated arguments over the pros and cons of tipping waiters (unconventional narration). It’s landmark game-changer, but it could have done more. It’s famously low budget, and so pretty much all the characters do is talk. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a refreshing antidote to standard action flicks, and of course I love dialogue-driven films. But the story of Reservoir Dogs seems to demand more supplements than, say, a pure bottle drama like The Hateful Eight. It’s in any case very hard to stop watching once you start.

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7. Death Proof. 2007. 4 stars. He calls it his worst film, but I prefer it to Kill Bill. It may be his least ambitious, but for what it sets out to do, it does quite well. The tight structure is used shrewdly. The first group of women are killed in the death-drive so that we can experience the true horror of this homicidal maniac. The second group are the heroes for whom we constantly fear based on what happened to their predecessors. They turn the tables on this son-of-a-bitch with awesome ingenuity, and I have to say that some of their scenes are among Tarantino’s most entertaining to date. (Though one could say that about scenes from all his films.) The image of Zoe Bell clinging for dear life to the top of the car racing at 70 mph is one of those scenes that stays in mind forever.

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8. Kill Bill. 2003, 2004. 3 ½ stars. I’m not wild about revenge thrillers. It’s a hard genre to tame, allowing viewers full rein to their basest impulses in the most cliched ways. Art-thrillers like Hard Candy blur the moral compass so we don’t know how we’re supposed to feel about revenge, and someone like Tony Scott is avant-garde enough that he can get away with a film like Man on Fire. But those are rare exceptions. Kill Bill is exceptional too, granted, distinguished mostly by its colorful characters that only Tarantino could write. But in the end it is what it is: a woman who just wants to kill those who wronged her. The best scene in Volume 1 is the bloody showdown in the Japanese restaurant, especially the psychopathic 17-yr old Gogo, dressed in a high school skirt as she wields a meteor hammer with murderous precision; in Volume 2 it’s Beatrix’s merciless training under Pai Mei.

Dark Matter: the Undervalued TV Series

white hole I’m wondering how Dark Matter impressed me so much that I had to re-watch the whole season right after finishing it. That’s something I never do with any TV show, not even Breaking Bad and Hannibal. I attribute this to the right combination of elements in Dark Matter — engaging characters, deep intrigue, moral philosophy, and ass-kicking action — that atone for its mediocre ones. The dialogue is a bit B-grade, and the scope and vision sometimes underwhelms. But the premise alone is a winner. A group of six people with no memory of themselves and where they came from wake up on a starship. They name themselves “One” through “Six” and try figuring out who they are, and unexpected revelations gradually give way to even more surprises. There’s a satisfying twist in almost every episode. I can’t help think the writers were inspired by some parts of Stephen Donaldson’s Gap Series (especially when the crew barely escapes an exploding planet; see above). Like Donaldson, the writers of Dark Matter excel at suspense, organic cliffhangers, and layers of mystery where what you think is almost inevitably wrong.

Here’s how I rank the first season episodes.

ep10Episodes 10 & 11. By Paul Mullie. 5 stars. This two-parter is a heist with nasty treachery, the season’s clear masterpiece, and the first thing to single out for praise are the cliffhangers. At the end of 10, one of the Raza crew is ejected into space, and 11 ends on a fucking planet blowing up as the ship escapes only scant meters ahead of the exploding debris. But it’s nail-biting all the way through, from the first frame when the Ferrous Corp ships appear and launch a nuclear missile at the Raza. Two’s on-the-spot decision to fly straight into the missile (forcing Ferrous to neutralize it at the last second so its ships won’t get caught in the blast radius), to the appalled outrage of the rest of the crew, is an incredible piece of suspense. It’s worth noting Three’s evolution from most annoying character (in the early episodes) to a surprisingly likable one (starting in episode 7). By the end of this double-bill, I liked him more than One. Between his faith in Five’s capabilities (whom he had previously treated with contempt), and being the first to speak up when Two is threatened, his affection for the crew emerges through an obnoxious persona which is clearly a defense mechanism.ep11 Meanwhile, Five is finally accepted by everyone as a full crew member, having fulfilled the most critical role in pulling off the heist. (The way this is engineered is brilliant, as Two must eat her words after ordering Five to stay on board the Raza while the “adults” do dangerous work. It’s because Two overreacts to Wexler’s lecherous advances and cripples him, that Five’s talents are suddenly needed.) Wexler is a thoroughly unpleasant villain, and Five earns her stripes in more ways than one, threatened with having her fingers cut off and also raped, when One refuses to answer Wexler’s questions. And it is this dynamic, as much as the relentless suspense, that sells episodes 10 and 11: the amazing teamwork between the Raza and Wexler’s group, overturned by the foulest treachery once they all get away with the white-hole device. It really makes you feel the terror and outrage over these bastards: their take-over of the Raza feels like a personal home invasion.

ep6Episode 6. By Paul Mullie. 5 stars. With this episode Five became my firm favorite. She enters a matrix-equivalent in order to learn about the crew’s past and who wiped their memories. She finds herself living their pasts, finally settles into One’s idyllic childhood, and becomes psychologically trapped so that she can’t be revived. Six enters the matrix to rescue her, and their encounter in the dream state is my favorite scene of the season. It follows on Six’s revelation of his own past, which he forced to observe and is horrified by the mass-murder he committed as a terrorist. Their moment together stands as the show’s moral center: “Maybe it all ends badly out there in the real world, but in here you can’t change anything; out there we can at least try.” There are tense revelations all throughout, not least the murder of Four’s father, and the fact that Five herself was nothing more than a stowaway on the Raza — and almost jettisoned into space by Three.

ep5Episode 5. By Paul Mullie. 4 ½ stars. When I finished watching Dark Matter, it was clear that episodes 5, 6, 10, and 11 were the gems. So it was hardly surprising to learn they were penned by the same writer, Paul Mullie. He’s in top form whether he’s writing about epic heists and nasty betrayals, emotional dream states, or in this case, virus infected “zombies” on board a drifter. The Raza crew splits up to salvage the ship in a way that allows for maximum suspense and solid character interactions, especially between One and Three. The “zombies” are hideously strong — taking entire clips of ammo to bring down — and when Two is bitten, the argument between Four and Six as to whether or not she should be abandoned is painful to watch, not least because the heartless option may well be the proper one. And Six’s return rescue for One and Three is a fine piece of suspense, as the latter pair become trapped in a section that’s running out of air.

ep7Episode 7. By Robert Cooper. 4 ½ stars. The vault door finally opens, an android who fucks men and cooks gourmet is assembled, and Three actually turns out to have been a pretty decent guy. In place of the bickering sessions between him and One, come reactions we don’t expect: sensitive One jumps into bed with the android, while asshole Three goes out of his way to help a woman dying of an incurable disease. He also ends up being the most instrumental in saving the ship from hurtling into a sun, with some unexpected teamwork with Five. The moments when the crew are gorging themselves on the android’s cooking — especially Six who can’t stop moaning like a pig — are priceless, as are those which show the Raza-android reacting with jealousy to this newcomer. This episode is both dramatically intense and philosophically interesting, as we see the blank-slate cutting the other way for a change (selfish crew member emerging altruistic) and highly self-conscious androids.

ep 3Episode 3. By Martin Gero. 4 ½ stars. Misjudged a filler episode, this is actually an effective bottle drama with crisp intrigue. Five’s stumbling on the corpse of the dead boy is a gruesome highlight, suggesting one of the crew may be a child killer. There are high levels of distrust at this early stage: Two reveals that Five has been having dreams that are actually the crews’ memories funneled into her subconscious. One such dream being that one of them sabotaged the stasis pods and deliberately wiped their memories. Suspicion turns on Three, when he refuses to participate in the android’s lie-detecting screening. Even the filler sequence of the android going EVA to repair the ship results in a gun standoff between the crew, as Three and Four oppose the others who insist on risking the crew by rescuing the android. Not to mention that Six almost dies in the rescue attempt. Easily the most underrated episode.

ep1Episodes 1 & 2. By Joseph Mallozzi & Paul Mullie. 4 stars. When six people wake up from stasis and can’t remember a damn thing about themselves, intrigue is a given, and it builds to a perfect cliffhanger that bridges the mining colony plot: they watch a video of their arrest records (except for teenager Five, who wasn’t part of the original crew) in stunned horror, realizing they were sent to the planet not to help the poor miners, but to kill them. Nature vs. nurture dilemmas kick in. They can’t believe they are this bad (killers, pirates, smugglers, and kidnappers, says the footage), aside from perhaps Three who doesn’t seem to care about much beyond immediate gratifications. Ironically, it is he who offers the soundest advice: if they don’t kill the miners as they were hired to do, they will ep2be on Ferrous Corp’s almighty shit-list and on the run for their lives. Which of course is what happens; they go against their apparent nature and dig in with the miners. The battle against invading Ferrous soldiers establishes the crew’s amazing teamwork that will be repeated in episodes 5, 7, 10/11, and 12, especially the heavy demands of trust involved. In this case, Two abandons the crew and takes off in the Raza, but returns after betraying Ferrous and making a deal with a rival corporation. This is a solid double-bill that sets Dark Matter’s tone — mysteries within mysteries, corporate subterfuge, no shortage of surprises, rewarding action.

ep12Episode 12. By Joseph Mallozzi. 4 stars. The penultimate episode is Two’s story, and explains how she was engineered (not born) to be an invincible bad-ass. But in a way it’s the android’s story too. She comes into her own here, risking her mandate by leaving the Raza to do what the crew cannot and rescue Two from imprisonment on the jungle planet. Ultimately it’s about two “super-women” rendered powerless by their Achilles’ heels and overcoming them — the most vulnerable we’ve seen either of them. Five’s revelations on board the Raza are just as dramatic. She learns through her dreams that Two really was a bad-ass, personality-wise, before the memory wipe; she wanted Five expelled off the ship even more strongly than Three, and it was only Four’s swing-vote (with One and Six) that kept Five on board. Then there is the disturbing audio-recording of Two and Four planning the death of another crew member.

ep9Episode 9. By Joseph Mallozzi. 4 stars. Most of this episode takes place on a lawless planet, where Four goes to meet his brother, but is apprehended instead by his former trainer Akita. It’s an excuse to present Four’s backstory with a lot of cool sword-fighting, and ends with one of the most shocking (but grimly satisfying) scenes of the season, when Four, after shaking Akita’s hand and bidding him farewell, whips out his sword and runs it through him on the spot. This is after their long march through the forest, when Four went through all the trouble to dress Akita’s gun wound, and they reflected on the time years ago, when Four saved him from execution by taking the blame for a disastrous military blunder. The scenes on board the Raza are good too, as the team decides to rescue Four for self-serving reasons as much as friendship: it’s good to have a friend who is the rightful heir to an empire. Things get tense between Six and Five too, as he tries keeping his distance from her.

ep8Episode 8. By Trevor Finn. 3 ½ stars. Six has a grim backstory, and this episode charts his revenge attempt against the General who manipulated him into committing mass murder. The sci-fic features almost steal the show: a multi-ringed space station against purplish-red lighting, and the clone-travel pods of Transfer Transit. The latter is one of the most ingenious ideas I’ve seen in sci-fic, and my heart literally skipped a beat when Six was shot dead by the General’s men before we learn that it was only clone-Six. The General turns out to be a clone too, robbing second-clone Six of a sweet revenge. But the best twist comes in the chase after Six, when clone-One and clone-Four step out of their pods. One looks totally different — meaning as he should look, based on his DNA template. He is Derrick Moss, not the Jace Corso his plastic surgery imitates.

Two+and+Five+gamble.+Dark+Matter+Episode+4+ReviewEpisode 4. By Joseph Mallozzi. 3 ½ stars. In which everyone (except Four) makes a mess of things on the space station. There’s solid entertainment here — One and Three’s constant bitching at each other (even after being captured and tied up back-to-back by the real Jace Corso), Two and Five cheating at the casino, Six’s identity exposed in the doctor’s office — but it all comes at the price of the characters behaving rather stupidly. The episode basically functions as a means to make them desperate. Having lost all their money and contraband, they will now be forced to take jobs from shady people who shouldn’t be trusted — in episodes 5 and 10/11, and 12. The best scene is Two’s bad-ass slaughter of the casino goons, an appalling overreaction that stuns Five and puts a serious question mark over Two’s nature and character.

ep13Episode 13. By Joseph Mallozzi & Paul Mullie. 3 ½ stars. It’s not good when a finale ranks at the bottom. The penultimate episode 12 ended on one of the crew breaking into the vault, stealing the shock-stick, and taking out the android. (Is this the crew member who was slated to be killed by Two and Four before reaching the mining planet?) This traitor is doubtfully the same person who wiped their memories (who now appears to be Five, who wrote some kind of program right before they went into stasis), but the problem with the mystery is the entirely unconvincing focus on One and Three, whose hyper-suspicions of each other have by this point become a too obvious decoy. As early as episode 4, I was convinced that whoever the memory-wiper was, it wasn’t One or Three — One’s phony identity and Three’s selfishness are waved inches in front of us to make us suspect them — and it’s equally obvious that neither is the current traitor. The shocking reveal of Six points to weird developments in the next season. This episode is okay, but a lot more could have been done with it as a finale.