On November 17, Netflix dropped “1899,” i.e., the highly anticipated follow-up to Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese’s “Dark.” At the time of writing this article, the TV series is trending at #1 in multiple countries, giving birth to theories about what’s actually going on in its convoluted plot and receiving praise for its performances, production design, and VFX. All of which is undoubtedly deserved. But on November 20, a Brazilian artist, Mary Cagnin, took to Twitter to claim that the showrunners had plagiarized her comic book, “Black Silence.” She went on to say that she had presented the comic at the Gothenburg Book Fair in 2017 and distributed it to various publishers. And she urged people on the internet to read “Black Silence” (whose English version is on her website) and see the similarities with “1899” for themselves. Although the very nature of the internet promotes reactionary responses and not reading beyond what’s available on the surface, I went ahead and read the comic. I’ve watched “1899” at least twice for research purposes. Now, I’m here with the results.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Are The Similarities Between ‘1899’ And ‘Black Silence’?
The first thing that Cagnin points out while claiming that “1899” has ripped off “Black Silence” is the giant black pyramid on a deserted landscape. The nature of the pyramid in “Black Silence” largely goes unexplained. But if I have to guess, I will say that it’s the abode of the aliens there, and they use it to amplify their voices (or whispers), which causes the scientists to go stir-crazy. As far as I know, the function of the pyramid in “1899” doesn’t have any solid explanation for it. I assume that if the small black pyramid is the code, then the big black pyramid personifies the mainframe. You know what else has a giant black pyramid on a barren landscape? The 2016 movie “The Void.”
The second point that the author of “Black Silence” brings up is the triangle. So, in the comic book, every time any of the scientists is possessed by the aliens, thereby forcing them to kill themselves, their iris becomes triangular, and they die. Fumika goes out first. Then Peter, Lucas, and Joana. The final shot of the comic hints at the fact that the head of the mission, Neesrin, has been converted, as well as the fact that her irises are now triangular. In “1899,” Eyk, Jérôme, Tove, Maura, Daniel, and Elliot suffer from nightmarish flashbacks (which exist as physical places within the simulation). Later, we get to know that they are a part of the simulations they’re in, and those images are being fed into their brains by Henry. Right before regaining consciousness, their irises look to be in the shape of inverted triangles. When they do wake up, those inverted triangles become circular again.
Thirdly, Cagnin has said that “1899” has ripped off the notion of a multinational crew from “Black Silence.” In the comic book, Ubuntu is of South African descent, Ferraro is of Italian descent, Yamamoto is of Japanese descent (well, technically, she is a clone), Logrado is of Brazilian descent, and Finnigan is of Irish descent. In the case of “1899”, Maura, Daniel, Elliot, Henry, and Virginia are from the UK. Captain Eyk, Franz, and Sebastian are German. Ángel is Spanish and Ramiro is Portuguese. Ling Yi and Yuk Je are from Hong Kong. Lucien, Clémence, and Jérôme are French. Olek is Polish. Tove, Krester, Iben, and Anker are Danish. But having an ethnically diverse cast is pretty common in movies and TV shows nowadays, especially when it comes to science fiction because interstellar missions require international representation. We’ve seen it in “Sunshine” and “Life.” So, you can call it an inspired choice instead of a “rip-off.”
Now, one similarity that I found between “1899” and “Black Silence” is the nature of the missions, i.e., finding a habitable planet for humankind. Of course, in “Black Silence,” it’s spelled out that the scientists are on a suicide mission to terraform the most habitable planet in the galaxy. In “1899,” I have theorized (heavy emphasis on the fact that I have theorized, and it hasn’t been explained by the show itself) while deciphering the possible nature of Prometheus’ mission, that the crew of the spaceship is possibly on a one-way route to the next habitable planet because Earth is in shambles. There’s a good chance that Maura and her crew have figured out that there’s no planet nearby, and they want to alert those who are waiting on Earth for their green light. But since Ciaran has invested way too heavily into this mission, he can’t let that information out and has, hence, trapped Maura and her team and is killing them ever so slowly.
What Are The Differences Between ‘1899’ And ‘Black Silence’?
Well, to be honest, everything is different between “1899” and “Black Silence.” Cagnin’s comic follows a group of scientists on a mission to find a planet that they can terraform and colonize. Ubuntu, Ferraro, Yamamoto, Logrado, and Finnigan have been chosen because they don’t have any emotional ties to Earth. So, their “loss” won’t be a big issue. Ferrado is the odd one out here because he has been framed so that he can be forced into going on this mission. Finnigan looks up to Ubuntu. Yamamoto is a clone, and Logrado is really fond of her. As soon as they land on ADDA-448, they begin to hear strange voices in their heads. As mentioned before, they began to die one by one. None of them can seem to figure out why. Yamamoto says something vague about coming back home. Logrado dies of cyanide consumption after etching weird hieroglyphics on the walls of the camp. Ferraro becomes incredibly violent and forces Ubuntu to kill her. And Joana stays back on the planet and sends Ubuntu home. But the attempt at rescuing her amounts to nothing because she’s infected with the voices too.
“1899” is about the spaceship Prometheus, where its crew is on an unexplained mission. They are trapped in three layers of simulation. The first one is created by Maura’s brother, Ciaran. In that layer, Maura and her husband, Daniel, are attempting to keep their dying son Elliot alive. Do Daniel and Elliot exist beyond that simulation? We don’t know. But Maura’s experiments on Elliot have created another layer of simulation where Maura’s father, Henry, is the antagonist, and Elliot and Daniel are the protagonists. What are they fighting for? Well, Elliot and Daniel have taken it upon themselves to free Maura from another simulation she’s in (along with the rest of her crew) that has been created by Henry. In that final layer of simulation, Maura and around 1500 other people are aboard a ship called Kerberos in the year 1899, which is traveling from an undisclosed location to the United States of America. However, after getting stranded in the middle of nowhere while trying to rescue the Prometheus (a passenger ship that had gone missing four months ago), they begin to experience supernatural occurrences. With Daniel and Elliot’s help, Maura figures out that there’s nothing supernatural about what they are facing. Instead, all of them are being tricked via simulations.
The first season of “1899” entirely hinges on one of the passengers’ (Maura’s) journey of figuring out that she’s in a simulation, along with her team of astronauts. She comes to the realization that her brother is possibly behind it, and he has done it to take over the Prometheus program. To what end? What’s the Prometheus program all about? How is Maura going to free the rest of her team? Well, there are many theories out there and no concrete answers because the showrunners have deliberately left out all the information for the sake of mystery. But, as far as I know, it has nothing to do with aliens. Meanwhile, “Black Silence” is a Lovecraftian story where a group of human beings completely lose themselves after coming across a thing that their minds aren’t able to comprehend. They talk about whispers, and their source is clearly alien in nature. There’s not even a hint of the fact that anybody is a simulation of any sort. Everything that’s happening before the characters are taking place very literally. In “1899,” we have no clue as to what has happened in reality. Everything that we see happens in a simulation within another simulation, which is inside yet another simulation.
Coming to the character drama, “1899” and “Black Silence” are poles apart. In the comic, only Ubuntu and Ferraro are antagonistic toward each other because of what they represent. The rest care for each other a lot. It’s a short story. So, we don’t get a lot of development. But what we get is so sudden and, hence, impactful. It’s as if we are experiencing the events of their voyage as quickly as the characters in the comic are. “1899” is a slow burn, and the interpersonal drama is an intimation of the characters’ relationships in reality. However, at this point, claiming that is a stretch because it’s a simulation! Everything that we see in Season 1, except for the last few minutes when Maura wakes up, is Ciaran’s, Maura’s, or Henry’s creation. Nothing that we see is real. We don’t know if Maura has a degree in neurology, if Daniel is Maura’s wife if Eyk is the captain of the Prometheus, if Ángel and Ramiro are in a relationship, if Ling Yi and Yuk Je are in the flesh business, if Jérôme and Lucien are estranged friends (and Lucien is in a failed marriage with Clémence), or if Tove is carrying the child of her rapist. It’s all manufactured drama being run on loops so that the crew can become trapped inside those simulations. Additionally, in stark contrast to the “Black Silence,” nobody in “1899” actually dies.
Is Baran bo Odar And Jantje Friese’s Series Copied From ‘Black Silence’?
No, “1899” is not a rip-off of “Black Silence.” They are in the same genre (which is science fiction), yes. They use triangles and pyramids, yes. They feature multinational crews, yes. But that’s not enough to say that Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese are guilty of plagiarism. If you haven’t watched the Netflix show or read the comics and you’ve seen screenshots of the “parallels” doing the rounds of the internet, then you can make the mistake of saying that Mary Cagnin has been duped. “Black Silence” is good in its own right. “1899” is an original piece of work. I didn’t like the show as much as I wanted to because of its narrative flaws, lack of proper character work, and dull pacing. And it’s perfectly fine if you don’t like it too. However, to say that the makers of “Dark,” which is one of the best shows of all time, are spending their waking hours copying someone else’s material, is wrong. If Mary Cagnin has mistakenly made this claim or just watched the final minutes of the show and browsed the posters, then she should retract her statements and give the show a good try before reaching any conclusions. The same goes for everyone else who has amplified Cagnin’s tweets. Do your research. Don’t be so reactionary in nature because you won’t get any brownie points for spreading misinformation.