If the two previous episodes of Darknet were the most “typical” of the series’ first season, by which I mean they exemplified the show’s format and demonstrated everything it does well and does not-so-well, then the season’s last two episodes are the most “experimental.”

Now, to be clear, I don’t mean they’re complete left-field turns à la Fringe’s “Lysergic Acid Diethlymide” or The X-Files’ “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” but Messrs. Natali and Hoban have spent four episodes building up formula that leads the audience to expect an episode to follow a certain path. “Darknet 5” eschews this formula entirely, and the coda of “Darknet 6” follows up on a hint from “Darknet 4” and develops the idea that the show’s format might not be as fixed as we think.

These experiment’s aren’t phenomenal successes, but they do work, and it’s nice to see that the production team is willing to take some chances with the basic structure of the series.

A scene from DARKNET 5

“Darknet 5” (Mar. 21, 2014)

This week on Series: Anxious office worker Katie (Carlyn Burchell) receives a disturbing series of emails containing footage of murders…and a cryptic postcard implying something important will happen in a couple of days.

There was a point, about 15 minutes into “Darknet 5,” that I wondered, am I sure this is actually a Darknet episode, or is it possible that Netflix mislabeled this and I’m actually watching an episode of a different show? The episode certainly seemed to be a Canadian production, and it had some spooky moments, but it didn’t really sound or feel like the Darknet I’ve come to know and enjoy. If nothing else, I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen a title sequence, and Katie’s was the only story the episode featured so far.

Last week I reviewed “Darknet 3” and “Darknet 4,” which I described as the most Darknet-ty episodes of Darknet, and now I’m here with “Darknet 5,” which slows down the breakneck pacing and removes the hyperlinked additional stories, and…I gotta say, I like this version of the show better than the standard format. Even the ambient soundscapes are an improvement.

There’s just certain things you can do better in thirty minutes than you can in five or eight or ten, or however long the “average” segment of Darknet is. Director Anthony Scott Burns gives the story a sustained sense of steadily mounting dread, the kind of thing you have to work harder to get when you’ve got to switch between B-plots, C-plots and maybe D-plots, each with their own tone and mood. He gets the chance to actually develop characters. The episode’s crushing climax, when Katie realizes exactly what’s going on, wouldn’t have been as effective if she’d had to share the episode with Alison, or Lora or Desmond. We wouldn’t have gotten to know her as well. Granted, Carlyn Burchell’s performance, which is easily the best one in the series so far, helps out a lot, but still.

It’s not a perfect episode, no sir: once again, the audience will figure out what’s going on well before Katie does, and get impatient while waiting for her to catch up. But for the most part, it’s a cracking good effort and definitely the best of the first season. If this is what the producers get when they blow up the formula, they need to blow up the formula more often.

A scene from DARKNET 6

“Darknet 6” (Mar. 28, 2014)

This week on Darknet: A lost partygoer takes a wrong turn into the reach of a killer; a pair of teenaged gamers (Aaron Hale, Alexander de Jory) start a flame war that spirals out of control; a laudromat attendant (Chloe Rose) witnesses a murder…and might become the next victim; a cartoonist (Peter Outerbridge) receives a mysterious package from his vacationing wife; the Darknet reaches out to three of its users.

After flirting with a single-story episode format, we’re back to the series’ signature “hyperlinked” style.

The Strong: For as much as it relies on reductive stereotypes of video-gamers, Jay and Kirin’s story is actually fairly wicked-funny and highly entertaining. Turns out that “gay-bombing” is actually a thing; who knew? The cold open is aces as well, although I’m not sure how the killer got the GPS unit to do that. In the face of “I trolled you…bitches!” I’m not inclined to put a lot of thought into it.

The tale of Henry, brilliant cartoonist and sell-out kreator of Kuddle Kat (who appears everywhere in this episode, Charlie even has a tattoo of…whatever gender it’s supposed to be), is also a hoot. Although let’s be honest here, when you put Peter Outerbridge in anything he can’t help but class up the joint a few degrees. (Although that Fred Durst vehicle he was in that Michelle MacLaren directed…yeah, not so much.) Like so many other Darknet tales, I can’t help but wish the story was a little bit longer and better-developed, but…it’s fun.

The Weak: This episode’s Kim Award for Story that Ends Anticlimactically and Leaves You Screaming “That’s It?” at the Screen goes to Charlie’s story. The lead-up isn’t particularly impressive, either, probably because you’re so used to the formula by now that you just know something’s going to be pulled out of the hat at the last minute. Although, hey! some guy from Orphan Black is in this segment (Ari Millen is his name), I think, so if you’re a fan of that show here’s a reason to tune in.

The Thing I Don’t Know What to Make Of: When Jay and Kirin’s story ended with about eight minutes left in the episode, I knew some sort of twist was coming…in fact, I’m pretty sure I predicted some sort of reveal about the nature of Darknet, and yup, that’s what I got. I’d like to say I’d also predicted the return of Alison and Katie, but I’d accidentally spoiled myself by peeking at the cast list.

This is an interesting development that makes me wonder if a putative second season of Darknet might take a slightly different direction, tone down the anthological elements and turn up the serialized ones, which…actually that would be kind of intriguing.

Overall: It’s a typical episode of Darknet, and a bit of a fluffy one at that, but it’s fun. Not amazing, but…fun.

A scene from DARKNET 5

As for the series as a whole, looking down at these rankings what I see is a series that I’ve generally found easy to like. But my memories tell me that the series is a bit difficult for me to love, and I’m not sure whether I’m going to tune in to the second season I assume is coming down the pike. Yes, I’m curious about how–or if–the website’s calling of Alison, Katie, and Adam is going to pan out, but it might end up being one of those mysteries I can live without solving. I guess we’ll see what happens when season two gets its release.

Final season episode ranking

  1. “Darknet 5”
  2. “Darknet 2”
  3. “Darknet 6”
  4. “Darknet 4”
  5. “Darknet 3”
  6. “Darknet 1”

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