Germany’s surprise hit time-bending soap opera returns & is more out there than ever before.
The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end, at least that’s the way of it on Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar’s mind-melting time travel soap opera, Dark.
Set entirely in the small town of Winden, Germany, and focusing on four local families, Dark was an immediate hit with American audiences who couldn’t get enough of the show’s time-bending melodrama. While some viewers were quick to compare it to Stranger Things and The OA, it only took a few episodes to see that Dark’s tone was considerably…well, darker, it’s pacing more methodical, with more richly drawn and realized characters.
The bulk of the action centers on Jonas Kahnwald (Louis Hoffmann), a teenager still grieving for his father and pining for Martha Nielsen (Lisa Vicari), the girl next door. Jonas, who is both heartbreakingly fragile and perpetually bewildered, is pulled into the middle of an eternal mystery when Martha’s younger brother goes missing. A series of revelations of the course of the first two seasons dealt a series of blows to young Jonas and the people of Winden, showing just how tangled the past is with the present, how our actions in the present affect the future. As if that wasn’t enough, there is the cult of Sic Mundus and a nuclear power plant that looms over the proceedings with a sense of malevolent indifference, lending a very real sense of uneasiness to the fantasy.
Forcing young protagonists to grapple with free will and destiny is a bold enough concept, but season two saw those boundaries pushed even further with Jonas meeting older versions of himself at various points in the timeline. Those later versions of himself use his trusting and innately kindhearted nature against him, making Jonas a victim of his own madness more than once.
Whatever else it may be, Dark is an incredibly weird piece of art that manages to shunt aside the grander mysteries in favor of the characters.
While the first two seasons of Dark featured deliberate pacing with revelations doled out in morsels, Friese and Odar dispense with the long, slow buildups in Dark’s final chapter. Timelines, dimensions, quantum entanglements, and paradoxes all come hot and heavy in a way that feels designed to spin viewers off-balance. All bets are off in Season Three, and any attempts to keep track of who is where and when will likely prove futile. There is one episode made to “fill the gaps” that hops from decades and centuries so rapidly you may want to watch it a second or third time just to catch every revelation.
Season three is, ultimately, as messy as Sic Mundus’ big old ball of time-space goo. Focus shifts from Jonas to Martha, with Lisa Vicari doing most of the heavy lifting—because every shadow must have a corresponding light, and every Adam must have his Eve. There is a lot of story crammed into a short space of episodes, making Martha’s portion of season three feel a bit slapdash. Still, there is something to be said for allowing Martha to have agency in her own story, rather than a victim of fate’s (and Jonas’) whims.
No longer content with having Jonas and company hopping all over the three timelines (each 33 years apart), Dark’s final season wrestles with three timelines and a multiverse that is maybe more complex than it’s creators prepared to reckon with. Whatever else it may be, Dark is an incredibly weird piece of art that manages to shunt aside the grander mysteries in favor of the characters. For that alone, it should be lauded as a show that managed to create its own place in Science Fiction.
The beauty of all of that philosophical mystery and existential misery the characters endure is that none of that matters. While it will undoubtedly be a polarizing finale, Dark’s final moments are so beautiful and emotionally satisfying most viewers will forgive the dropped threads and unanswered questions.
Miraculously, Dark manages to stride where long-running SciFi/Mystery series like Lost and Battlestar Galactica have stumbled in their endings. Rather than finishing on big concepts, everything, in the end, boils down to a single act of love. Simple, granular, and flawlessly executed. The world of Dark doesn’t end with a bang or a whimper, but with contemplation, and the feeling that everything could begin (and end) all over again. Call it deja vu.
Season 3 of Dark is available on Netflix starting June 27th.