When I first heard about the CW’s newest series In the Dark, my first thought was that there was a lot going on here.
A cynical, hard-drinking 20-something blind woman balancing romance, her job at a service dog center, and investigating the possible murder of her teenage, drug-dealing best friend? That’s… a mouthful. I wasn’t so sure that the new series could pull off.
As it turns out, the strange premise kind of works.
In the Dark follows Murphy, a young woman who has been blind since she was a teenager. Her sarcastic, often biting personality seems to keep most people at bay (even her service dog isn’t especially fond of her). Her only friends are Jess, her roommate, and Tyson, a young drug-dealer who once saved her from a violent mugging.
The show isn’t shy about depicting Murphy’s acerbic personality or her flaws; she drinks more than she should, sleeps her way through shifts at the service dog center that her parents own, and unceremoniously kicks her partners out right after hookups. She’s a complicated character, and for a protagonist that is both a woman and blind, that’s pretty groundbreaking.
While there has been some improvement in recent years, characters with disabilities remain incredibly underrepresented in television, especially as lead characters or even as part of the supporting cast. When it comes to characters who are blind, they often exist for the sole purpose of teaching some sort of moral lesson to the sighted characters and are usually carefully depicted as being kind, likable, or sympathetic.
Murphy, on the other hand, is a blind character who is allowed to not only be the center of her own story but to also have a range of complex and messy emotions that aren’t necessarily tied to her blindness.
Although I’m definitely excited to see a complex female character who also happens to be blind leading her own series, there are a few things about the In the Dark pilot that I’m still not totally sold on (I did only say the premise kind of works, after all).
While Murphy’s blindness is, of course, an important part of who she is, the show still seems to be figuring out exactly how to talk about this part of her identity in an authentic way. There are moments that feel relatively genuine, such as an early scene where a guy asks Murphy if she knows how beautiful she is, and she sarcastically quips back that she doesn’t. Other scenes, however, (including one where she accidentally tries to hide from the wife of her latest hookup under a glass table) feel clunkier and teeter a little too close to turning Murphy’s blindness into either a punchline or an accessory.
It should also be noted that Perry Mattfeld, the actress who plays Murphy, is not blind in real life, though blind actresses were auditioned for the role.
According to Executive Producer Nicky Weinstock,
“We went about searching for a blind actor immediately and looked all over. We saw many, many auditions, and ultimately we went with Perry because she was the best actor for the role in a really exciting way.”
The only actually visually-impaired actress on the show is Calle Walton, who plays the daughter of the cop working on Tyson’s case.
Another thing I’m not too sure about yet is the murder investigation plot. While the friendship between Murphy and Tyson is sweet, and adds great emotional depth to Murphy’s character, it just feels like this may end up being one plot line too many. Murphy’s life, flaws, and interpersonal struggles are interesting enough; we don’t necessarily need a murder plot to keep us engaged.
It also makes the episode swing wildly from sharp comedy to dramatic murder in a way that feels a little jarring. And finally, the idea of Murphy — a white, middle-class woman — getting herself involved in a situation that deals heavily with young men of color and inner-city street culture adds a layer of race and class politics that I’m not yet sure this show is equipped to handle.
Aside from these concerns, I do think that In the Dark is trying to achieve something interesting and important, and I’m curious to see where Murphy’s story will go next. Let’s just hope the show continues to find its footing in the next few episodes rather than succumbing to its own flaws.