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Strong female characters continue their evolution on Dark Matter

I’m near the end of my chat with Dark Matter co-stars Anthony Lemke and Melissa O’Neil when I realize my gaffe and circle back on a question I asked earlier.

My query then: how much was O’Neil enjoying portraying a strong female character like Two/Portia Lin? She politely spoke of enjoying thoughtful scripts from co-creators Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie about a bunch of people—One/Jace Corso (Marc Bendavid), Three/Marcus Boone (Lemke), Four/Ryo Tetsudo (Alex Mallari Jr.), Five/Das (Jodelle Ferland) and Six/Griffin Jones (Roger Cross)—waking up from an unknown slumber, their memories wiped, aboard a spaceship overseen by an android (Zoie Palmer).

But as we continued to chat, I realized my original question was flawed in its intent and followed up with: “Do you feel as though we need to get past making a big deal out of a strong ‘female’ character? It should just be a character, correct?”

“Yes. Yes! Absolutely,” O’Neil says. “It’s not about her being a strong female character. She’s a strong character, full stop. It shouldn’t be because of her gender. I think it’s a bit of a surprise to viewers because she is the one who takes charge and that these men are accepting—or at least tolerant—of it.” O’Neil teases latter moments in Dark Matter‘s first season, where Two is alone, lets her guard down and allows herself to question who she is and what is happening to her.

Two joins a growing list of ladies who command respect on the small screen, including Lost Girl‘s Bo, Killjoys‘ Dutch, Scandal‘s Olivia Pope, House of Cards‘ Claire Underwood, Murdoch Mysteries‘ Julia Ogden and Emily Grace, and several of Orphan Black‘s Leda clones, but according to Lemke, there is more work to be done.

“I don’t think we’ve figured out, as a society, how to write a strong female character,” he says. “We went largely from a position where we wrote men as the strong characters and then their wives. I’ve even heard writers say, ‘If you want to write a strong female character, write a man and change the name.'” Lemke notes Mallozzi and Mullie have created engaging ladies in Two and Five (O’Neil wholeheartedly agrees) and he’s hopeful the TV and film industry—and society in general—continues to evolve to the point assertive ladies on the small screen reflect those around the world.

“We need to go to the place where the strong female characters in cop shows, in sci-fi shows are leading from a place that is truly distinct from where a man might lead. There is somewhere to go in this industry as a whole.”

Dark Matter airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on Space.