I just finished watching the Netflix series Dark. To say I enjoyed the series would be an overstatement; my emotional state while watching it was more akin to the emotional state you might have while watching a train wreck in progress. I sat up and watched the last three episodes back to back this morning before tumbling into bed and sleeping like the dead for twelve hours.
When I woke up the show was still there in my head and so I felt compelled to write something about it here. Felt compelled to write something if not for other people, then for myself so that I can at least get this dark mess in my head out where I can analyze it. I have enough dark shit in there of my own to deal with.
I was dissatisfied with the conclusion of the show, but I was happy that there was a conclusion. There is nothing worse in the entertainment world than being teased along through dozens of episodes for a show only to discover that the story has no real ending. This story does end. Like LOST, like the director’s cut of The Butterfly Effect, the ending simply isn’t very satisfying and leaves you wondering what the message, the theme of the show, really was.
Set in a mythical town (Winden) in Germany next to a nuclear power plant, the story of Dark revolves around time travel and the ramifications of interfering in the progression of time. There are murders and missing children galore in the first season. There are mysteriously torn and variously mangled maps, books and photographs that are used as props in the show to keep you asking who is abducting and killing children and why?
The play of Ariadne (Araine, Tragedy by Thomas Corneille) that the character Martha is seen performing in during the first season is pivotal. There is a labyrinth to be navigated and a monster to be slain before the story is finished, but neither of these things are what we think they might be by the time we get to the end. Read on if you want to know more. There are spoilers beyond the break.
The old world came to haunt her like a ghost that whispered to her in a dream how to erect the new world, stone by stone. From then on, I knew that nothing changes. That all things remain as before.
The spinning wheel turns, round and round in a circle. One fate tied to the next. The thread, red like blood, that cleaves together all our deeds. One cannot unravel the knots.
But they can be severed. He severed ours, with the sharpest blade. Yet something remains behind that cannot be severed. An invisible bond.Araine, Tragedy by Thomas Corneille
Throughout all three seasons of the show the characters are heard to wish that Winden never existed. They loathe their existence and want it to end. This seems to be a theme for the show if not the theme for the show all on its own. Even after the paradoxes are solved and the real world is restored, the players toast to the non-existence of Winden, proving that even in the real world, life is suffering and must simply be endured.
I was drawn to the show because I have a weakness for time travel stories. I seek them out, unlike most people who seem to avoid them like the plague. The paradoxes of time travel intrigue me, and I was even more intrigued by the presentation somewhere towards the beginning of the series that time and causality itself are illusions that simply need to be overcome. The show never delivers on the idea of transcending time, unless being able to have sex with your great-great-grandmother Hannah while she is still young and hot, as Ulrich does at the beginning of the series, is your idea of transcending time and causality.
In Ulrich’s defense, he doesn’t know she is his great-great-grandmother. Hannah doesn’t know he is her great-great-grandson. The heart wants what the heart wants, as the show refrains over and over again. In the third season Ulrich is having an affair with his great-grandmother Charlotte. Divorced from his first wife (who isn’t related to him) married to Hannah (who is) having an affair with her/their (maybe their granddaughter. It isn’t clear who is the father of Hannah’s daughter Silja, Charlotte’s mother) granddaughter on the side. Again, none of them knows of this genetic relationship between them. What is clear by the beginning of season three is that Ulrich will put his dick in just about anything that stands still long enough.
He’ll also try to kill baby Hitler if he gets the chance since he travels through time himself looking for his lost son (and great-great-great-grandfather) and only ends up maiming the child who will kidnap his brother in 1986, thinking the same man also has something to do with his son’s disappearance. However, it is not Helge, the boy turned man that we see mangled in various ways by various iterations of Ulrich, that has taken Mikkel into the past.
No, that was Noah. Noah who is Adam’s right-hand man. Adam who is also an elderly and jaded Jonas. Mikkel has to go back in time to became Jonas’ father, which is how Mikkel becomes the key to the paradox that exists in Jonas’ knotted world. Without Mikkel time traveling we have no Jonas, and so Mikkel has to time travel. Dark gets even more convoluted than that pretty quickly.
Season two has us traveling back to the 1800’s. Traveling back to the original Tannhaus and his obsession with time travel, the man who founds the secret society Sic Mundus. Traveling forwards in time to see the world after the nuclear paradox/accident and exploring what is left of the nuclear facility and the unstable singularity housed within it.
There is also Martha’s knotted world introduced in season three, and the interdimensional journey that she makes to capture Jonas and create the infinity child with him (Jonas who is simultaneously her nephew and her great-great-grandfather) all at the direction of Adam and Eva who are Jonas and Martha in their fallen forms and their two distinctly differently knotted worlds. Differently knotted worlds because the layering of time travel to the past has produced multiple worlds all with different occupants of that same small town in Germany.
If you can’t follow this confusing chain of causality, there is a map as well as an outline of all the major characters in the show here. If it hadn’t been for Barry, I would have had to draw the diagram myself just to understand how Ulrich, Magnus, Mikkel, Martha and Jonas existed in the first place and how they are related to each other. If you throw in Bartosz and all the other bootstrap paradox parents and children in the show, you have most of the cast created out of the paradox that time travel to the past inevitably produces.
There is a lot of sex in the show. There is a lot of murdering in the show. The sad part is that the murdering seems to have all been directed by Jonas as Adam, the fallen version of our Theseus in this time travel labyrinth. As it turns out, time is the minotaur that our Theseus sets out to slay in this story, and all of his machinations come to naught in the end. The murdered children murdered for no reason, the paradoxes unresolvable from inside.
It takes an outsider to find the real solution. Claudia, who is seen doing nothing but obsessing over what caused the paradox/accident from the first moment that her character is introduced in the show, figures out how to cut the knots that bind the separate worlds together, and they all dissolve into nothingness at the end, leaving only the world set right by the intervention of Jonas and Martha who stopped H.G. Tannhaus’ family from dying, which stopped Tannhaus from trying to invent time travel in order to get them back.
How the nuclear power plant is related to the initial time travel incident is never explained. How/why the maps were created, why the photographs are torn and folded in the various homes is never explained. Why the kidnapping and murder of children was necessary was never explained. Who Aleksander Tiedemann/Boris Niewald is and who he killed, why he was injured, where he came from, is never explained.
In the end this is all that matters in the story. H.G. Tannhaus (the clockmaker from the first season) creates a time travel machine to recover his dead family. This act produces disturbances in the time-space continuum that eventually reunites him with that family, thereby negating the time experiments before they are started. The time-space continuum heals itself, and we are left with only our own suffering as solace. Everything else on the screen for all of these three seasons of the show was a distraction. It was just a distraction because none of it ever really existed, even in the world of Dark.
I think I’ll follow Barry’s advice and go watch Kimi No Na Wa. I haven’t seen that yet and I really need to watch something that will get the taste of Dark out of my mouth.