How Dark Matter utilises Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai within its narrative

By ·August 8, 2016 11:30 am
Four samurai

The Seven Samurai trope has long been a recognised trope within television and film. Here we aim to explore how SyFy’s Dark Matter uses this trope to great effect. Please be aware that there are spoilers for Dark Matter Season 2 within, for those who are not caught up with the show.

The Seven Samurai trope can be defined as:

The “team on a mission” narrative, which sees a group of seven misfit characters with very distinctive and individual personalities come together to achieve a greater goal.

Akira Kurosawa began this in his masterpiece Seven Samurai (1954), which told the story of seven samurai warriors being recruited to defend a town against raiding enemies.

Then in 1960 Hollywood remade Kurosawa’s film for the Western genre (with Kurosawa’s blessing) in the form of The Magnificent Seven, which has since become as much of a classic as Kurosawa’s original. This September, The Magnificent Seven will also be getting the remake treatment, with a film of the same name arriving on September 23rd.

It is not only direct remakes that use the formula of this trope. There are a large number of films that use this structure. For example, DC’s Justice League will also be using Kurosawa’s formula; the tagline “Unite the seven” indicating that Snyder’s super team will be made up of seven individuals.

The crew of the Raza holds seven members - just like the group of samurai in Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.

The crew of the Raza holds seven members – just like the group of samurai in Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

Classifying the team

This trope can then be broken down into seven individual character types that are typically used within this plot device. We matched up Dark Matter‘s characters against each of the personality types and all of the characters fell into the set types with such astounding ease that this only lends further credence to the writers’ utilisation of this trope.

The Leader – Two

Two has always very clearly been the leader of the Raza, from pretty soon after the team awoke. Despite the team often working as a unit on decisions, Two is looked towards as the ship’s Captain. She takes the lead without hesitation, is among the most powerful of the crew members (due to her nanites) and if someone messes with her crew she takes it upon herself to enact vengeance. These are all the prominent traits of a group leader.

The Lancer – One/Nyx

The Lancer can be defined as the foil for a hero, who is of the closely allied variety. While they might butt heads with The Leader, they are usually loyal friends by the end of it all. One played this role very well in Season 1. He often argued with Two, but always remained faithfully loyal to her. Now that One is dead (which we get into in further detail later on in this article) and Nyx has joined the crew, a pertinent question to ask is whether Nyx will take on the role of The Lancer? She has already fought Two in hand to hand combat and they have grown to respect each other since, so it is quite possible that Nyx is now filling The Lancer role.

Nyx – the newest member of the team and the character who now likely fills The Lancer role, in light of One’s demise.

The Big Guy – Six

Every team has one big, lumbering hulk who acts are the most physically intimidating of the bunch. It is worth noting that The Big Guy doens’t have to be the strongest of the team (and Six isn’t); they just have to be physically adept at fighting when the need arises, which Six is. Although Six is far more than a hulking brute, he is certainly the character who fills this role within the crew of the Raza. One difference here is that Six betrayed his crew in Dark Matter, which you won’t find in The Big Guy classification within the trope.

The Young Guy – Five

Ignoring the incorrect gender labelling here (these labels are fixed), Five is the young woman who plays the role of The Young Guy. Her age is referred to many times by the other members of the crew, for example with Three often calling her “the kid.” The Young Guy also acts as the audience surrogate, meaning the audience takes the journey along with this character, which is certainly how the writers utilise Five in the show.

The Funny Guy – Three

The Funny Guy has the role of relieving tension within the story by using comic relief. This character is described as having a job to do, but they don’t get in the thick of things and can stay somewhat detached. This is Three down to the letter. He’s far more than just a jester, but he uses humour frequently as a reaction to serious situations. He also likes to present himself as being detached from caring about anyone or anything (which we have since learned is only an act). The Funny Guy also often has immunity from dying, due to the fact that they are used as a tension relief tool in the show.

Anthony Lemke behind the scenes on set, as Three.

Anthony Lemke behind the scenes on set, as Three.

The Old Guy – Four

Four is pretty much an actual, literal Samurai. While he is by no means an old man, he does stem from a very ancient culture on his home planet. This culture is steeped in a tradition of combat refinement, often with swords, much like the society in which Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is set. Four’s entire design is all possibly a direct nod to Kurosawa’s film itself, which would be a wonderful little homage from the writers. Either way, Four clearly fits into the role of The Old Guy, mostly due to his culture, but also partly due to his wise, mature personality.

The Smart Guy – The Android

Undoubtedly – simply by the nature of what she is – The Android is the smartest crew member of the Raza. She is holds exceptional knowledge, she can integrate with the ship itself and she is even a machine that is able to learn from her experiences. Her intelligence is also evident from her inquisitive mind, which is best highlighted by her desire to learn about humanity and become more human. The Android also recently showed her capacity for restraint – in choosing to take the human upgrade out for now and placing it aside – which is a further sign of adept intelligence.

The loss of a core member of the team

Within the eight-step plot process for this trope, step number seven is:

There is another attack; the people join in both enthusiastically and competently. Several of the team are injured or killed; the attackers are defeated soundly, but not always completely.

Although Dark Matter by no means follows this plot process directly (remembering that the plot of Seven Samurai centres around defending a village of helpless citizens), the show does play within the boundaries of this trope on occasion.

Marc Bendavid as Jace Corso - the murderer of One.

Marc Bendavid as Jace Corso – the murderer of One.

One of the times that the show played within the plot structure was recently, in Season 2, when One was murdered by Jace Corso and Six was injured, which fits directly into: Several of the team are injured or killed. After this the team took revenge upon Corso by killing him for murdering one of their own. This is in line with: The attackers are defeated soundly, but not always completely.

MORE: Dark Matter: Season 2 Episode 6 Review – We Should Have Seen This Coming

The fate of many resting upon their shoulders

The team of seven within the trope is made up of a ragtag bunch of misfits. Their mission is a great one; something far more important than they should perhaps be given the responsibility of completing. Within this trope, these traits always hold true: the team are the best at what they do; they have talent but not much tolerance for traditional procedure; they are expendable if things go wrong. Although the Raza don’t have a set mission as such, all of these traits are true of the Raza’s crew.

It is only recently, in Season 2, that the writers have begun promising that “a war is coming” and that the crew of the Raza will prove pivotal in how this plays out. Therefore, the team are unwitting participants in a mission that is outside of their control. They might not know what their role will be in this war, but the effects of the war are certain to be cataclysmic if the team don’t play a part.

The Raza stationed high above a planet's atmosphere.

The Raza stationed high above a planet’s atmosphere.

It’s the same as what you’d find in the third act of a film that utilises the Seven Samurai trope. This is when the team band together, with the villagers, to stop the grandest attack of all. If the team don’t win then many innocent lives will be lost, much like what will likely befall the relevant galactic populaces in the war within Dark Matter if the Raza aren’t effective in their role.

We can’t wait to see how this war plays out. You can be certain that the crew will point out that they never counted on taking on such a heavy burden, but that their goodness will pull through, resulting in them doing the right thing and saving the lives of many.

Unlike Kurosawa’s film, and by the nature of it being a TV show, Dark Matter is an incomplete project. We still have future seasons to come that will tell the remainder of this story. We will be keeping an eye trained to see if the show pulls anything further from this trope in the future, particularly in the show’s endgame episodes, and we suggest that you do the same.

We also suggest that you take the time to watch Kurosawa’s classic and timeless Seven Samurai, if you haven’t yet seen it, as this will aid in your ability to spot the reflection of this trope within Dark Matter.

Dark Matter airs every Friday in the U.S. and every Sunday in the U.K.

Image credits: SyFy

More: Dark Matter Seven Samurai The Magnificent Seven

Written by Christopher Hart

Co-Editor in Chief / Film, TV and Literature Writer

Christopher holds an MA in Publishing and a BA in Comparative Literature, and currently works as an analyst for a major Bank in London.

Christopher self-publishes his own Science Fiction and Fantasy stories. His completed series of short stories is titled 'Altered Stone' and can be found on Amazon.

His specialist subjects include LOST, Preacher, Supergirl, A Song of Ice and Fire, Kevin Smith, Bioshock and Fallout.

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