Features and Columns · TV

Drop What You’re Doing and Watch ‘Dark’

The German Netflix original is everything you could want from a mind-bending sci-fi series.
Dark Jonas
By  · Published on August 29th, 2019

Are you looking for something new to watch on Netflix? Have you been intentionally avoiding the Dark because of its hour-long episodes, subtitles, and nebulous downer-ness?

Well, cut it out.

If you, like me, have been keeping Dark on the back burner because you’ve heard it’s a horror series, you’ll be happy to hear that it’s not. While the atmosphere definitely tends toward spooky, the series is more in line with science fiction … specifically time travel.

However much time travel you think you know is in Dark, triple it.

Time travel is Dark‘s genre, or at the very least it’s the vehicle for its philosophical, mythological treatises on the human condition and eternal recurrence. But even if you’re not up on your Nietzsche or Greek myths, there’s a wealth of enjoyment to be had in trying to untangle the web of crisscrossed and loop-de-looping timelines in over a century’s worth of interconnected instances in the little German town of Winden.

Of course “enjoyment” is a relative term. The very first scene sees a man hanging himself in an attic, and the mood never really gets lighter. Make no mistake, Dark lives up to its name, both in tone and palette. Lead character Jonas’s telltale lemon yellow raincoat is so striking because of its bizarre vibrancy. It’s often the only hint of color even on the bright summer days of this show, which are washed out and bleak.

But if you can get past that bleakness (and I beg you to try) you’ll be rewarded with what’s bringing these poor people down so much : a strange, ineffable, and possibly inescapable labyrinth of time travel and predestination, the facts of which are still shrouded in mystery two seasons into its planned three-season arc.

Are you put off by the prospect of such a long wait for a payoff? Please don’t be. Because along the way you’ll tease out clues and make connections and feel very deeply for the characters as they do the same. Once you get a feel for what’s going on, you might even solve the initial mystery well ahead of the characters, but don’t get too cocky — it’s only the first in a litany of revelations, a practice run for understanding the kind of ride you’re in for. It’s a warm-up mystery that, while itself is essential to the story, opens up the gate to a huge expanse of possibilities.

Dark Netflix

Not too big on the idea of time travel? Give it a shot anyway. While it does go headlong into the genre, Dark is more palatable than a lot of time travel stories simply because it embraces its own ineffable nature. This isn’t the wild timeline-altering of Looper, nor is it the hand-waving timey-wimeyness of Doctor Who. There’s something much bigger at play here … even if the characters haven’t a clue what it is.

That means the show can go through all the thematically necessary motions of explanation without having to rely on those explanations making perfect sense. Jonas, our focal point of a normal teenager, has what’s really going on explained to him a few times over. And that’s all well and good until those very people are in turn told that they’ve been lied to and are let in on what’s really, really going on.

And so, as we move through the show, the hierarchy of who knows what’s happening moves ever upward. As we (as well as Jonas) demand answers, we get a progression of new half-explanations and revelations that prove (or possibly don’t prove) to be themselves confused and misinformed. As we little by little gain more information about the unattainable truth, our pool of focal characters grows from one teenager to an entire cast of characters who are just trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

(As a bonus, with the show’s intersecting and curlicuing timelines, often information has no original source, bootstrapped into existence as it’s passed from characters to younger versions of themselves).

Does this sound overwhelming and frustrating? Against all odds, it isn’t. I swear.

In fact, it’s refreshing. It makes for a surprisingly satisfying look at time travel, one that assures you if you’re hung up on paradoxes, you can bet the people they affect are, too.

Several times throughout the show, an older character assures their younger self that they could never imagine saying or doing the things they knew they would grow up to do. And yet here they were, at long last, saying and doing them. All it took was time.

Maybe that’s all we need, too. It’s hard to imagine everything shaking out at the end of Dark‘s next and final season. But the promise of meaning is out there, and I’m confident that if we just wait, we’ll understand what the future holds for us. Even if we don’t, it will have been an incredible ride.

So, hurry up and get hooked on the first two seasons that are already on Netflix. Don’t let time pass you by.

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Liz Baessler is a frequent contributor and infrequent columnist at Film School Rejects. She has an MA in English and a lot of time on her hands. (She/Her)