Dark (2017–2020) Analysis : Expect the Unexpected!


Dark is a German Sci-fi thriller on Netflix released in December. It’s one of the most standout TV series which portrays the idea of time travel without making new timelines. Dark is co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, set in the fictitious south German town of Winden (not to be confused with the real town of Winden im Elztal).Dark

Before we start, I want to underline a major fact that time travel in Dark is not quite the same as “Back to the Future” and even makes a stride further from “Avengers: Endgame” as the mobius strip or and over the top machines,gadgets and time travel portals are not the way Dark deals with it’s timelines.

Mild Spoilers Ahead

While everyone was shortlisting their best TV Series of the year, Netflix quietly dropped one of the most gripping TV series onto its platform which with the release of the third season became Trending Topic over the internet. The German drama Dark isn’t just another brooding missing kid mystery but one of the most intelligent sci-fi thrillers to hit the internet.

Dark focuses more on the timelines, rather than it’s character, and thus the number 33 has one of the most pivotal roles in the whole series. Dark derives a major part of its structure from several biblical references such as “the cave” used for time travel which is a breath of fresh air as far as time traveling is concerned.

Season 1 happens around June 21 and November 4-12 of 1953, 1986, 2019, and 2052. Season 2 takes place on June 20-27 of 1921, 1954, 1987, 2020, and 2053.

As the timeline is almost impossible to cover in one go I urge viewers to sit with a notebook to thoroughly enjoy this masterpiece.

The Story

Dark is an extremely plot-driven show best understood in flow charts and info-graphics, but to attempt a brief summary: There’s an adolescent boy named Jonas. He has just returned from a mental health facility in France, where he was getting clinical assistance for dealing with the emotional and mental after-effects of his father’s suicide. Jonas comes back to school to discover things not as he left them—his best friend is now dating the girl Jonas  kissed last summer before his nervous breakdown, and the guy he used to hang out with vanished without a trace.

The disappearance is gruesome but the screenplay is spot on in providing a commendable justification for it and the preciseness of the details like the location of his friend’s disappearance which looks calm in a way but the devil is in the details of it because as you crawl deep side, you figure out the mystery and the nature of these details which are as the name of the series suggest, “Dark” to the core.

“The show centers around four families,” explains Friese the co-creator of this obscurely satisfying series. “So it’s not only one family saga, it’s four sagas intertwined. It’s about the teenagers, the parents and the grandparents. A boy goes missing from one of the families in a very mysterious way and while the crime plot kicks off in the first episode, you start to see that all those characters in the four families have some kind of dark shadows in the cellar.”

Realities are Inextricably Intertwined

Few minutes into Dark season 1, plunges the viewer after a corpse of one child which was revealed to be the corpse of a kid that went missing 30 years ago.

This centres around an underground cellar where Noah (more on him later) who has built a machine which opens wormholes in 33-year increments (it’s 33 years because of a theory that because a year isn’t actually exactly 365 days it’s only every 33 years where things are completely aligned and ‘reset’ – apparently).

The missing kids are being used to test the time machine, which currently doesn’t work properly and just kills them and dumps them back in the cellar in another era. This where things get a bit tricky and wrapping your head around such explicitly stated but it makes you think about several wormholes and other physical concepts which to be honest is extremely fun if you are watching it with someone, as perspectives of an individual might differ and several reveals are going to leave you dumbfounded.

Causality and “A Journey Through Time”

Noah has a book with a symbol of a “triquetra” which seems to chart all of the events before they’ve even happened (certainly up to 2019) which implies he might be from a future further on – possibly 2052 – or just an expert time-traveller who has studied the events of the different eras. This also implies that there’s an element of the idea of Fate here – that everything was always going to be exactly as it is and it’s impossible to change the past or the future.

Throughout Dark there are paradoxes, where someone time-travelling actually ends up being the cause of the thing they’d travelled back in time to prevent.

The Stranger creates the time loop by trying to destroy it. This time loop is created with a machine built by Tannhaus, but Tannhaus only knows how to complete his machine, thus The Stranger brings him a completed (but broken) version of the machine back from the future. Yes I know it’s too much to take but this series keeps you hooked up with plot twists and character arcs changing like a chameleon changing its colour.

Sic Mundus

Dark is about the battle between shadow and light. Adam and the Sic Mundus, short for “Sic Mundus Creatus Est” – “Thus, the world is created” – represent the dark, which is a constant metaphorical image in the series.

The Stranger and the white devil are their adversaries and are trying to put a stop to the apocalyptic time loop and the person who kickstarted the time-loop.

Darkness Multiplied in the Second Season

With hints of the horror of Stephen King, the sci-fi adventure of Looper and the gloom of Tarkovsky, Dark Season 2 has a formal ambition that just explodes in our faces. It flawlessly turns the ordinary into the outlandish and vice versa. People forcibly wade through a nightmarish series of events; discoveries are made that could be reversed; families are torn apart for the sake of other families patching up. Over time, patterns emerge, revealing an uneasy meditation on the concept of choice, the vulnerability of a hero thrust in an unlikely situation, the power of knowing the future, and its ability to make us do something we thought we would find ghastly.

The second season is more fluid and self aware with its twists and turns, particularly after its electrifying fourth episode; post which the show leaves behind its blistering pace in favour of more meditative moments between Jonas and Martha (Lisa Vicari), the love of his life whom he cannot be romantically involved with because the time travel mechanic has turned them into relatives. Yes, you read it right, relatives!

Relationship Webs

The German sci-fi thriller, with its myriad twists and turns – how can someone’s daughter also be their mother? Anyone? Help! – is a mind-bending specialist. It takes the traditional beginning, middle and end story structure and tears it apart, limb by limb, to build something brilliant and entirely unpredictable, a law unto itself.

The moments are beautifully captured in an uncharacteristically sunlit ‘past’ of Winden, where we see Martha wants to be with Jonas but he has to resist, even though he can feel bits and pieces of himself slipping away. And all around him, the other characters in the show’s world, like his mother Hannah (Maja Schone), his friends, Martha’s family, and even the ominous environment of his home Winden itself reflect his tragic predicament via their own prisms.

It engages you so much in the timelines that if you really like to solve mysteries for fun, you might want to take a notebook to sink deeper into the “Winden Caves”

If we’ve learned anything from Dark, it’s to expect the unexpected.

The apocalyptic sequence is even more interesting as there was an accident at the plant in 1986 and the radioactive waste was barrelled up and hidden in the caves before being removed via a lorry. But those containers were eventually returned back to the plant and covered in concrete. When they are broken open right at the end under the orders of the Winden police, a black material rises out of it which causes one of the wormholes. This led to a situation of utter chaos which unleashed this beast of a timeline.

Dark defines Poetic Justice

This sci-fi German TV show has definitely continued the legacy by offering a conceivable culmination of all the brain-bending components.

The wrinkles in time, the reasoned paradoxes and obviously the multitude of happenings across concurrent timelines have been logically (not effortlessly, however) evened out. What’s more? There’s also a love story that doesn’t quite seem like one but Dark is an inclusive package.

Stratified generations and a web of multiple coinciding storylines, unidentified characters interacting with identified characters, it is honestly all a chaos. It is bonkers because there is unbridled tampering with time… somebody’s daughter could be… umm… their mother, you know?

This season takes about two to three episodes to pick up its pace, after which it is almost impossible to take a break even though your poor head might just be hankering for it. You will tend to lose track of the plots within which there lies another subplot that is connected to the subplot of another plot, ugh… immensely baffling! But, these dots are connected very intricately, with a lot of thought and reasoning behind it.

Almost the whole cast of Dark is present for the season’s finale, which is great (thanks to time travel) because most season finales don’t have all characters alive by the end. So, for the case of Dark, even if your favourite character gets killed in a timeline, chances are they are alive in the other one.

There are too many emotions, too many answers you haven’t been expecting, and overall, there is a sense of vulnerability and loss that will envelop you.

The series ends with timelines unraveling like an actual mathematical trefoil knot equation which provides the viewer to finally grasp the concept of a Must Watch, Netflix original series which is highly underrated in my opinion as it was a hidden gem that I was lucky to find while shuffling randomly.

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Shreshtha Shukla
Shreshtha Shukla
"Thou art the suffering from which unwarranted melancholia emerges" Shreshtha Shukla is a writer, teacher, and a film enthusiast.

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