Darknet arrived with a peculiar lack of hype. I had never heard of it before it showed up one evening, completely unheralded, on my Netflix page. That the guy who directed Cube (along with an episode of one of my favorite series) could create a horror-anthology, air an entire season of it (albeit in Canada) and for me not to hear about it…I suppose that isn’t particularly odd, when you look at it rationally, but I’m still a bit surprised.

Since there hasn’t been any real hype for Darknet I can’t really say that it hasn’t lived up to it. But I’m not going to deny that the series, so far, disappoints me. It’s not a bad little show, and I can usually find one story in every episode that I enjoy, but serious weaknesses even out those strengths–primarily a lack of memorable material. If you commit yourself to telling three or four complete stories in each thirty-minute episode, you can’t have half of the episode falling out of the audience’s brains less than twenty-four hours after watching. It’s even worse when at least one story per episode resolves in a completely anticlimactic manner, something which I think has happened in every episode I’ve watched so far. I’ve started to refer to these issues, collectively, as “Darknet syndrome.”

Episodes 3 and 4 are neither the strongest nor the weakest the series has yet provided, but they are, in a very real sense, typical of the show, both its pros and its cons. It seems to me that they encapsulate what the Darknet experience is moreso than the first two. Let’s take a look at them.

A scene from DARKNET 3

“Darknet 3” (Mar. 7, 2014)

This week on Series: Corporate executive Desmond (Shaun Benson) gets into a footrace with an odd rival and suffers a series of mishaps with an escort service; Joanne (Jeananne Goosen) allows a telephone lineman into her apartment, setting off a tragic series of events; Heather (Samantha Weinstein) interviews for a job as a nanny, and finds her prospective charge’s mother a bit eccentric.

The Strong: Desmond’s adventures (or mis-adventures, depending on your perspective, I guess) dominate the episode, from his race with Weird Teeth Guy to his troubles with the Escort Service that Couldn’t Shoot Straight. The latter gets a resolution that would have made E.C.’s horror-comic bullpen proud. Shaun Benson is nothing short of brilliant in the role (I particularly love the cell-phone banter that opens the episode). The only disappointment is his final scene.

The Weak: It’s a good thing that Desmond’s chunk of the episode is so strong, because Joanne and Heather’s segments don’t pick up enough of the slack. Poor direction plagues Joanne; I’m still not entirely sure why she tazed the lineman, the director needs to telegraph the lineman’s death more clearly–I spent a bit more time than I should have wondering about his fate–and the camera lingers a bit too long on the envelope containing the anxiety pills, giving away the whole game. Plus…look, if you buy medication over the Internet entirely on the basis of a spam email, you deserve what you get. Sorry Joanne.

As for Heather’s story, it’s at its best when it focuses on Martha Burns, playing the child’s mother, acting weird. Otherwise, it suffers from an unsatisfying ending (a common problem on this show) and, once again, substandard direction (we don’t get enough time to register the shock of the crib’s resident). I also want to know what was going on with the heart monitor.

Overall: I’m tempted to rate this episode higher than it deserves, entirely on the basis of Desmond, who highlights some of the strongest material the series has offered so far. (When it comes to sheer effect, only Harvey’s tale in the next episode ranks higher for me.) But the episode’s big problem is that Desmond gets the only really engaging segments of the episode. Tighten up the other two stories and you’d have a serious contender for “best episode so far.” The blame seems to lie squarely with director Brett Sullivan, who simply doesn’t do a good enough job telling these stories visually.

A scene from DARKNET 4

“Darknet 4” (Mar. 14, 2014)

This week on Darknet: After being attacked by an unknown assailant in her home, Gemma (Cara Gee) wakes up in the hospital, unable to hear or speak…but she soon discovers she’s not out of danger yet; Kim (Katie Boland) worries she’s not healing quite right after her breast-augmentation surgery, and doesn’t know how right she is; Harvey (David Richmond-Peck), a suicide-hotline operator, confronts a secret long buried.

The Strong: Harvey’s story, by a long chalk. Despite being on the predictable side–this actually happened while I watched the episode:

Harvey: You don’t need to blame yourself.

Me: She doesn’t. She blames you.

Beth: I don’t blame myself. I blame you.

–it wins because of the solid, steady pacing, which keeps the suspense consistently rising, and because of great performances by David Richmond-Peck and Alisen Down (whom you might recognize, at least vocally, from Gracepoint…oh, who am I kidding? Nobody recognizes anybody from Gracepoint, because nobody watched it) as the voice of Beth. Both of them really sell the hell out of the characters, which is a bit of a rarity for Darknet.

The Weak: Kim’s story has what is probably the most memorable image of the series so far: the sight of…something…moving underneath Kim’s breast. Shudder. One hopes Forzani and Cattet are paying attention. Unfortunately, the character is barely a cipher, and Katie Boland’s bland performance does her no favors. Finally, there’s the anticlimactic resolution; Darknet has always had issues with sticking landings, but this is probably the biggest disappointment yet.

The In-Between: Gemma’s story starts off strong but doesn’t quite live up to its promise, partially because of character stupidity (if you hire someone to kill your wife, you probably don’t want to discuss her attempted murder with the hit man right in front of her, even if you think she can’t hear you), partially because of “too many killers” syndrome (her husband wants her dead, her doctor is psychotic, and the assisting resident–we’ll get to her in a minute–is also psychotic), and partially because…I don’t know, it didn’t really grab me.

However, it does feature one hell of a “gotcha!” moment, which is the return of Alison, the beleaguered med student played by Michelle Alexander back in “Darknet 1.” She’s very different here, playful and more than a bit sexy, than she was in her first appearance. Clearly some time has passed since the earlier episode, as she describes herself as a doctor now, but I’m not sure if the change is character development as opposed to discontinuity. I’ll be kind and assume the former. At any rate, it’s a nice surprise, considering I was under the impression Darknet was straight-up anthology.

Overall: While “Darknet 4” suffers from “Darknet syndrome,” there’s one improvement I’d like to make a note of. Other than the opening title, I don’t think the Darknet appears anywhere in this episode. Instead, the linking element is…well, I’m not going to tell you what the linking element is, other than that you’ll see it in the cold open. It’s a simple thing, but the episode benefits from that simplicity as opposed to shoehorning the connections into the story.

A scene from DARKNET 4

Season episode ranking

  1. “Darknet 2”
  2. “Darknet 4”
  3. “Darknet 3”
  4. “Darknet 1”

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