In the Dark (2019) opens to a dimly lit bedroom, with our hero Murphy (Perry Mattfeld) having meaningless sex with a man who says, “legit.” Pretzel, her trusty Golden guide dog, watches in the corner, waiting for her owner to kick out tonight’s guest. Every night Murphy gets white girl wasted and brings home a different guy. Every night, Murphy’s sweet roommate Jess (Brooke Markham) listens to a different guy fuck, come, and leave. Just when Murphy’s nihilistic sex has reached peak ennui, she finds a dead body and her entire life changes.
Created by Corrine Kingsbury (The Newsroom), In the Dark follows Murphy around Chicago as she tries to solve the murder of her best friend, Tyson Parker (Thamela Mpumlwana). Murphy’s determined to find Tyson’s killer unlike Chicago PD who seem eerily okay with the young man’s disappearance. There are only a few problems. Murphy is a blind alcoholic, so people are hesitant to trust her eyewitness testimony of Tyson’s murder. Another problem is that the death of another unarmed Black man doesn’t seem to matter. This is Chicago. This is 2019. Do we really think the police care?
Fortunately for Tyson, Murphy won’t give up on her investigation until his killer is found. Sex, murder, weed, this story has all the great elements of a typical CW show. What makes this show refreshing are the characters which actually resemble real people. In the Dark has a racially diverse cast, successful LGBTQ+ representation, and authentic relationships. Murphy’s roommate Jess has a healthy, loving relationship with her girlfriend, a welcome respite from the sole representation of queerness through sex.
We become invested in every character in Murphy’s life. Guiding Hope, the seeing-eye dog training center where the characters work represents the fractured nature of Murphy’s relationship with her parents. Murphy’s parents opened the business hoping to give their daughter’s life some purpose. But it’s not until Tyson’s murder, that Murphy finds her true calling.
While In the Dark presents a beautifully rendered world with dark humor and important themes, Mattfeld’s portrayal of a blind person just isn’t believable. When we watch TV, there’s an understanding that we’ll suspend disbelief to a certain extent. We accept that guns have endless bullets, women wear makeup to bed, and killing someone is surprisingly easy. Yet it becomes increasingly difficult to suspend our disbelief when the main character is supposed to be blind, but clearly isn’t.
What could be a perfect show about the agency and resilience of a disabled person gets reduced to a metaphor, a parable of what disability might be like. Instead of watching Murphy navigate the dark alleys of the city and being immersed in her world, we’re constantly reminded that this is a fictional world and Murphy isn’t really blind. There’s no rule that says blind characters must be played by blind actors. But when the acting is so far from believable, maybe there should be.
In the Dark writers stated that they “tried really hard” to find a blind person to play Murphy but couldn’t. While casting is difficult, there’s no excuse for moving forward with In the Dark without a blind lead. Having a sighted actor who is clearly looking around, squinting, and winking at people throws the entire show off-balance. Creators of shows like Switched at Birth (2011) managed to find hard of hearing, deaf, and ASL-fluent hearing actors. So why couldn’t In the Dark creators find a blind actor to play Murphy? They could’ve at least sprung for five-dollar sunglasses to make Murphy’s portrayal believable.
In the Dark’s creators did manage to find a blind person to play Detective Dean’s daughter, Chloe (Calle Walton). Walton’s performance is groundbreaking and Chloe steals every scene she’s in. While Chloe’s performance provides a glaring reminder that Murphy’s not believably blind, Chloe adds much-needed humor to this dark tale. One of the best scenes is when Chloe sets her dad up on a blind date with a sex worker she met at the precinct. It’s hilarious to watch Chloe’s face light up as her dad realizes he’s on a date with someone he just booked for prostitution. Chloe is a beautiful character, kind and well-meaning, yet fierce and brave. If I were running the investigation, I’d give the case to Chloe and Murphy and send the real cops home.
Despite Murphy’s blind-but-not-blind character, the show is wonderfully written, acted, and executed. The show deals with tough issues like the mass killing of young Black men, police brutality, mental illness, disability, and addiction with an open-minded maturity. The mark of a good show is the authentic representation of these issues but the mark of a great show is one that makes you question your own beliefs. And In the Dark does just that.
When you’re presented with varying narratives from a white, baby-faced cop, a Black drug dealer, and a blind addict, who do you believe? Do you fight your instinct to decry all cops as inherently evil and believe Detective Dean (Rich Sommer)? Do you give in to your preconceived notions about drug dealers and dismiss everything Darnell (Keston John) says? Are you hesitant to believe Murphy’s story because she’s a woman? Because she’s an addict? The person you choose to believe holds a mirror to your own prejudice.
As events unfolded, I found myself emotionally invested in every character. I wanted to believe everyone’s story, knowing only one person was telling the truth. Each moment, each episode is wrought with tension, as the killer walks among us. From the beginning, Tyson’s killer is in each episode, side by side with those seeking answers. Much like Scream (1996), everybody’s a suspect, the killer could be anyone. But who?
Who would shoot a teenager, dump the body, then cover it up? Is it the sweet Detective, with the sad, single dad narrative? His calm yet brave partner who grew up down the street from Tyson? Tyson’s cousin, Darnell, the friendly neighborhood gang member? Or is Murphy trying to solve a murder she committed?
Murphy’s character development is one of the strongest aspects of the show. As the first season nears its end, Murphy has transformed from nihilistic sex addict to a caring person capable of a healthy, loving relationship. We get to see Jess break away from her codependent ways and establish healthy boundaries with Murphy. Even Murphy’s bearded, hipster boyfriend learns and grows throughout the show.
In the Dark also brings an impressive dose of reality to the representation of Depression onscreen, which is rare. Depression isn’t just perpetual sadness; it’s meaningless sex, puking rum into a stranger’s toilet, disappointing your parents well into adulthood. Depression is waking up every morning thinking, Fuck, I didn’t die. Mattfeld’s portrayal as chronically Depressed is hauntingly accurate and beautiful. I found myself less concerned with the believability of Murphy’s blindness and more invested in her as a character with Depression.
I won’t give spoilers but the ending is a complete mindfuck. I couldn’t believe all the details I missed, how my prejudices kept me from seeing the real killer all along. All in all, the show’s a blast to watch. It’s also great to watch with your family since the sex and violence is watered down in true CW fashion. I’m excited to see what season 2 brings when In the Dark returns in 2020.