It is rare when a television show’s creators mostly gets it right in regard to characters with a physical limitation. In the case of “In the Dark,” now streaming on Netflix, the least of the main character’s problems is that she is blind.
“In the Dark” also airs on the CW network. Shortly after the television network premiered “In the Dark’s” season finale (there is only one season so far) the show debuted on Netflix. These events occurred in late June and early July 2019, and with little fanfare. The lack of attention is unfortunate because “In the Dark” is a surprisingly good show that satisfies with its characterization of Murphy Mason (Perry Mattfeld) as a young woman who went blind as a teenager because of a degenerative eye disease. In season one, viewers get to see more of Murphy’s humanity as she struggles to find the killer of a young man she befriended.
“In the Dark”: Why it works
Essentially, “In the Dark” works because viewers are not compelled to feel sorry for Murphy’s blindness. But they hurt when she hurts when her efforts to help find Tyson’s (her young friend) killer seem futile. Her curled against a headboard, shoulder-shaking crying is for the loss of her friend, not for her blindness. Not that viewers might not have felt bad if she did cry about the loss of her sight, but that the show’s creators gave Murphy more depth makes her tears feel more “earned” as opposed to expected.
In the course of season one, Murphy mentioned the official cause of her blindness once. She made reference to her blindness in general and pointed out her seeing eye dog (a charming golden retriever named “Pretzel”) several times. More than once, though, the bad guys, or people who wanted to keep Murphy from searching for Tyson’s killers would do things to keep her from being independent, and when she would call out for help and not receive it, viewers are struck with the idea that people are cruel and opportunistic.
Murphy’s problems are serious, and they were serious before Tyson was killed. She is promiscuous. When the husband of a wealthy donor to her parents’ seeing eye dog organization takes Murphy home under the pretense of his wife being out of town, when the wife makes a surprise return, the husband tells Murphy to “hide.” Murphy feels around for an object and finds a coffee table. Unfortunately, the table is made of glass. When Murphy, curled up under the see-through table, asks, “The table is glass, isn’t it?” The moment is funny and cringe-worthy, but it seems realistic. In the next scene, Murphy is nearly naked in the hall as her clothes are being thrown to her. The moments in which she gropes for her boots and clothing are heart-wrenching, but it wasn’t as if she didn’t know the guy was married.
Murphy is sarcastic, a little bitter. She’s adopted, and in flashbacks, viewers are allowed to see her as a middle-schooler shortly after the diagnosis that she would go blind. Young Murphy doesn’t like pictures because soon she won’t be able to see them. Moments like this are necessary because it reminds people that she is a complete person, with a past and thoughts about that past.
Besides the promiscuity, Murphy is also an alcoholic who likes to get drunk at a bar where her friend works so that she doesn’t have to pay. The drinking is the most troubling part of Murphy’s life. No one has intervened yet. But, friends have taken a break from her because she has a tendency to be self-absorbed. Murphy teeters on the brink of unemployment because she fails to do her job at her parents’ organization. It is unclear what her job is, actually, because she doesn’t do it. That is the part that seems purely comedic.
“In the Dark” is listed as a dramedy and the amalgamation is appropriate. The show uses Murphy’s blindness as a challenge, not as a means of pathos. By making a character who would be difficult to “love” in traditional ways, even more complicated, the writers of “In the Dark” have created a character who comes across as real and never takes audiences out of the world of the story.
From all reports, “In the Dark” will be back for season two. The news is welcome to fans who binged all 13 episodes of “In the Dark” on Netflix. No date has been set for the release of the next season, however.