‘Dark Matter’ Creator Blake Crouch on Ways Series Expands Jason’s Story From Books, and Why His Favorite Scene Almost Didn’t Happen

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from the first five episodes of “Dark Matter,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

Blake Crouch ostensibly writes sci-fi stories; his mind-bending suspense novels “Dark Matter,” “Recursion” “Upgrade” are set in worlds where technology presents an opportunity to visit other dimensions, time travel and advance one’s brain and body to superhuman levels. But what makes Crouch’s work so special is that his books are love stories as well.

It’s certainly true of “Dark Matter,” his 2016 novel that he adapted into a limited series, currently airing on Apple TV+. Joel Edgerton stars as Jason Dessan, a loving family man who is kidnapped by a Jason from an alternate universe so that the two can swap lives. Jason2, as Crouch refers to him, finally gets to live out his life with wife Daniela (Jennifer Connelly) and son Charlie (Oakes Fegley.) Jason Prime, however, is thrown into a world of chaos, desperate to return to his own world.

Crouch has worked in television before, his novel “Good Behavior” and the “Wayward Pines Trilogy” were both adapted into TV series, on which he served as a writer and executive producer. Originally, Crouch thought he would just be a writer on “Dark Matter” but as the show developed, he realized more and more he wanted the job of running the show. “I had this epiphany that ‘Dark Matter’ is my child — and why would I let someone else raise my child?” Crouch says. 

With the series just past its midway point (the fifth of nine episodes has aired) it felt safe to travel into some spoiler territory for the show thus far. By now, viewers know that Jason Prime has escaped the wrong universe with Jason2’s girlfriend Amanda (Alice Braga) in tow. They have entered The Box – a large metal contraption that leads to an endless corridor full of doors, with each door leading to a new universe. (At least, that’s how our minds comprehend it, since it exists in a five-dimensional space.) In the Prime Universe, Jason2 is struggling to adjust to domestic bliss as his family grows suspicious that he’s not acting like himself. Crouch spoke about the changes made from the book to series, the one scene they cut and the one they cut – then restored.

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Why did you see Dark Matter as a limited series as opposed to a movie?

Originally, it was going to be a movie. I had written the first 140 pages of “Dark Matter” back in 2014 and didn’t have a publisher. So we sent it out as a partial, and a lot of people were interested. But during that process, those pages leaked out. And we started getting calls. At that point, it felt like a movie because it was just 140 pages. It was up to where Episode 2 ends. So, I sold it to Sony as a feature film, finished writing the book and attached myself to adapt it.

I wrote a script, a couple other screenwriters came in and did passes and revisions, and we only really got that script to, like, a solid B. You’re supposed to kill your darlings in the adaptation process, but we were killing all of our emotional and character darlings just to fit it into 110 pages. Jason was abducted on, like, page 10. It just started to feel like a slick, soulless, sci-fi movie. So, I thought the project was dead.

Then one day my producer Matt Tolmach told me Sony Features was allowing Sony Television to take it as a TV show. And I immediately knew what the show was. I knew where every episode break was, and had this flash of how to do it. And from then on, it’s felt like a charmed experience.

Is there a phrase that’s the opposite of kill your darlings that means to add to your darlings? Because in the book we don’t see Jason2 trying to assimilate into his new life with Daniela and Charlie and how difficult it is – how he can change his circumstances, but he can’t change himself.

The book is a single point of view, single player experience of Jason Prime. About a year after I finished the book, I realized there’s a better version of this where 100 pages are devoted to questions like: What is it like for Daniela to be living with this imposter? What are those scenes where your husband is doing things he’s never done – it can be something as simple as grabbing the wrong toothbrush. So, when the opportunity came to me to make this as a show, I thought it was like I get to do a do-over on the book. I get to keep all the things that I love, and I don’t have to kill my darlings. Like you said, we’re going to have more darlings!

Something I thought would be left out, but we see in Episode 5, is Jason visits a universe that has been destroyed by a virus. I wondered if it would feel too soon after the COVID pandemic.

That’s exactly why I left it out when I was first writing the scripts. It was during COVID, and I thought, “Nobody wants to watch anything about a pandemic.” So I left it out. It was actually Jennifer who came to me and said, “I miss that scene, it’s really powerful.”

And we thought about it, and figured, let’s give it a shot. There’s a million ways this could go wrong but if we can nail it, it’ll be really powerful. And it’s one of my favorite scenes of the series. And it exists because of her.

I can’t decide which universe is worse, the plague one or the one inhabited by giant bugs, which we also see in Episode 5.

Oh my God, that’s the worst world. When the art department built those bugs, they built two or three, and one was messed up so they couldn’t use it. We would take it and hide it around the set, and it just terrified everyone.

But there are other things left out from the book?

There is one thing, but it wasn’t left out because it was a darling, it was left out because when I spoke to my scientific advisor, I realized it never should have been in the book in the first place. There’s a moment where Jason is in The Box walking in the corridor alone and he sees this figure – it’s a version of him and he’s naked and all cut up. And I realized that’s actually impossible. That was the only thing I corrected from the book.

Why is it not possible?

If you open the door and step into The Box and you close the door, you’re in superposition. What we see inside the box is a manifestation of a five-dimensional probability space from inside the minds of the people who step into The Box. So to have someone else in the corridor — where does that other Jason come from? Don’t get me wrong, it looks cool, and we had a lot of conversations about putting it in. But it ultimately didn’t make sense.

One of the biggest changes from the book to the series is that Jason2 was involved with Amanda in their universe — in the book, they were colleagues. But it helps us understand that Jason2 is charismatic and appealing if someone as amazing as Amanda loved him.

Everybody loves Amanda! I get more emails saying, “You did Amanda wrong!” than anything else because she just kind of vanishes in the book. So part of this show is a mea culpa, and a makeup to my readers for what I did to Amanda in the book. And honestly, the show now feels more canon to me than the book.

We really wanted to push that relationship, with both Jasons and Amanda, and make her a viable reason for Jason Prime to give up his fight to return to his universe. And when we made those choices, it affected casting, because Amanda could come off like an abandoned sad-sack character. But Alice Braga smiles, and it literally lights up a room. She’s not only a compelling argument for Jason Prime to stay with her, but you never feel bad for her.

We are also at a point in the series where people are starting to figure Jason2 out, especially Charlie. It feels like on some level, these characters know he’s not their Jason.

Exactly. Maybe their brains don’t know, but their hearts know. Of course, your mind doesn’t immediately leap to “My husband has been replaced by an alternate universe version of himself” — so all they know is that something is wrong.

Joel Edgerton is so good at capturing the similarities and the differences between Jasons. Is that something you would discuss with him during shooting? Did he ever come to you to discuss how to differentiate them? It’s not as simple as putting an evil goatee on Jason2.

There is a version of “Dark Matter” that plays like a bad skit. Like Jason2 just twirls a moustache the whole time. But Joel and Jen have been such guideposts in shaping these characters, and finding that nuance. If you think of it in colors, there’s not a Red Jason and a Purple Jason – they’re all shades of the same color. And Joel is so good at finding those shades. And from there, it filters down into wardrobe and hairstyling and all these differences. It’s keeping everything grounded and relatable in a fantastical story.  

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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