Dark (Netflix) - Seasons 1 & 2 Reviewed (Spoilers Included)
Dark is the story of a small German town called Winden that experiences similar missing child scenarios every thirty three years. As one might suspect, no one in the city is aware of the fact that these strange events happen are spurred by time travelers from 2019, 1986, and 1953 interacting with one another - sometimes even “coaching” themselves (from one era to another). This leads to a mind bending viewing experience. An experience that is significantly improved by Googling for a chart of the various family trees featuring pictures of characters as they age. Not having this chart made watching season one almost require a second viewing to really keep track of who was doing what in each era. Just make sure to get the non-spoiler versions if you’ve not seen this show.
Dark is a strange combination of shows wrapped into one. Let’s list out the cornucopia of traits that Dark reminds of other popular shows:
Dark gives you the missing child story reminiscent of Stranger Things or even of It.
Dark uses time travel, which forces you to perform an almost Star Trek-type of analysis of the implications and rules of such journeys.
Dark has as many folks dating, marrying, and cheating on one another than we saw in the daily soap operas.
Dark has more competing families who hold grudges over generations than Dallas or Dynasty.
Dark has enough cast members to make you feel like keeping track of who-is-who was easier while watching the Game of Thrones. The challenge comes in form of needing to recognize as many as two or three actors portraying the same character. It is time travel after all. Keeping it all straight isn't easy.
Dark is the creation of Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese. These creators designed an excellent world to run human beings through a series of high pressure situations with the added obstacles of trying think strategically - not only about problems and solutions – but through the filter of different times and years. We witness different people unknowingly get caught in the net of the time traveling implications and there is almost no way to reveal to these people the true situation. Who would believe the time travelers? What would be considered reliable proof? What would be needed to demonstrate that something considered impossible is in fact the truth? With season 1 and 2, they’ve set up an intriguing season 3 – and it appears as though that will wrap up this story arc. Based on the curve balls Odar and Friese have thrown so far, I’m not so sure that they will decide to simply wrap this story up in a nice package with a bow on top. And I'm not certain that I want them to. This is a very entertaining show that treats the audience as very intelligent. This show does not treat the audience as needing heavy handed explanations each step of the way.
As an aside, this series was filmed in Germany. You can watch this in a variety of ways. I chose to turn off the subtitles and watch it in the dubbed English. At times you get into Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western or Japanese Godzilla movie zones. This is what I define as the films where the lips don’t synch up with the words. Not a big deal, but something to expect.
As a long time sci-fi fan, determining the operative theory of time travel being used by a show is key. We’ve all watched shows operating under the theory that the past cannot be changed. Thus, if one had the ability to go back in time to kill Hitler as a baby (in order to save the world from Nazism), the attempt would be doomed to fail. Why? Because Hitler lived and died and that is immutable. Other shows operate under theory that for each decision point, you can create a separate/alternate timeline. For each decision, there is a new reality created and there is a huge multiverse full of infinite realities. Here is an example of the multiverse. There might be a reality where millions of people are reading this column. If this example is true, I'm clearly the problem as I'm not as famous or as well read here in our reality. Finally, there is the above multiverse theory that there are alternate timelines AND sometimes some individuals can remember (or are aware) of the splitting of the timeline noticing things are different (circumstances are generally hazy to why this happens). Early on in Season 1 and through most of Season 2, it seems like Dark is operating under the assumption time cannot be changed. At the end of season two, with the introduction of what appears to be an alternate reality character, that may be thrown out the window.
When discussing time travel, it is nearly impossible to not talk about the time machine used to make the time travel work. This was one of the bigger frustrations I had with the program. The time machine was never truly invented. I realize how that must sound, but it’s true. Someone from the future handed off a completed time machine to the inventor of the time machine in past to be used to reverse engineer/invent the time machine. We never really saw the working version get invented, it just existed to be handed off. The unintended consequence of this is that the scientist who gets credit for inventing the time machine, H.G. Tannhaus, is really a fraud. I realize this is a bit of a sci-fi nerd complaint, but the time machine should’ve been the result of some sort of technobabble explanation (think of this coming out of Star Trek) to make the technology seem possible. On the other hand, Star Trek’s pseudo-scientific technobabble can get annoying, so maybe the creators made a good choice.
The series has a number of interesting characters and unlike many shows, the characters actually change and evolve through the two seasons. Some of this is almost mandatory when you think of characters interacting with each other from four different eras – as Season 2 jumps forward in time as well. When you add the effects on a character when learning that time travel is indeed possible AND that it intricately involves both your hometown but you may have the chance to risk that endeavor for yourself, it forces change. Talk about a game changing moment. Heck describing it as a life changing moment is probably a vast understatement. Talking with yourself from the future or talking with someone who can prove that time travel is possible tends to do that – at least an assumption I’m willing to make.
There are a few characters and selected actors that I’d like to highlight because they stood out for one reason or anther:
Ulrich Nielson (played by Oliver Masucci in 2019) – Ulrich is a policeman who has to deal with the disappearance of his son. This is the catalyst for the chain of events that begins the series. Masucci has a unique appearance – to me, he's part Dolph Lundgren and part Roy Scheider – and this translates to an onscreen presence that attracts the attention of the camera. Ulrich is played with an intensity that draws the viewer in and makes his scenes worth watching. The challenge I have with Ulrich is that he’s a policeman that is strangely unable to control his emotions. He continually goes from zero to 100 miles per hour in about one second. No slow burn happening here. He escalates to threats and shouting when dealing with other characters – particularly other policemen - in the time it takes others to snap their fingers. This is really a problem when you walk from 2019 into 1953 and immediately make yourself a prime subject in one of Winden’s every-33-year missing children cases. Personally, I’d expect an experienced police officer to be able to hold his cards closer to the vest and to know when to pop off his mouth and when to keep it shut. Granted his son was missing, but still, he’s been through many stressful situations as a policeman that should have developed this skill. One would think his career experiences would result in just a tiny bit of self-control, but apparently not.
Katharina Nielson (played by Nele Trebs in 1986 and Jordis Triebel in 2019) – Katharina mystifies me. Both actresses play her with a hair-trigger temper and she really behaves like a classic bully. She picks on smaller kids, threatens smaller kids and just is a general all-around bitch. As an adult, she is the same. And she grows up to be a high school principal. Yeesh! I suppose if you’re a fan of curvaceous blondes, she’s got game. Beyond that, I can’t see why anyone would want to spend any extended amount of time in her company. Which leads us to the show’s resident psycho, with whom Ulrich is having an affair with behind Katharina’s back.
Hannah Kahnwald (played by Maja Schone in 2019 and Ella Lee in 1986) – Hannah is one of the lowest, back-biting, self-absorbed characters we’ve seen on TV. As scumbags go, she’s up there with the likes of JR Ewing (played by Larry Hagman on Dallas) and Gaius Baltar (played by James Callis on Battlestar Galactica). She will say or do anything to get what she wants. Want to accuse someone of rape for the heck of it? Check, done. Travel back in time with your sole intent being to let someone falsely imprisoned in another era know that you can help them, but you won’t? Been there, done that. There is almost no action that I’d put below her. She is all about getting what she wants at the moment she wants it. She will focus single-mindedly on revenge if that doesn’t happen. That’s pretty much her character - an embittered and entitled witch that is looking to even the odds for slights both real and imagined. What a great job both actresses do of making her truly detestable over two eras.
Egon Tiedemann (played by Sebastian Hulk in 1953 and Christian Patzold in 1986) – both actors do a good job of playing a policeman who has probably never heard of, or has never been exposed to, the concept of time travel. Both are facing tremendous pressure to solve the cases containing unidentified murdered children and/or missing children from the town. What rational person would jump to the conclusion that this is the result of time traveling inhabitants of the town jumping between eras of the town’s history? Ironically, the 1986 aging Egon actually figures it out. As far as I can tell, he is the one character that figures out that time travel is involved without having a visitor from the future or the past show up and explain it to him. Kudos for some excellent detective work. Both actors do a good job playing this man, though I don’t see as much of a resemblance between the two men that you see with some of the other actors playing characters 33 years apart.
Martha Nielsen (played by Lisa Vicari) – this character is the daughter of Ulrich and Katharina Nielson. The character has a romantic relationship with the main time traveler, Jonas Kahwald (the ironically kind-hearted son of Hannah Kahnwald). Actress Vicari has strikingly good looks and has enough acting chops that one wonders how long it will be until Hollywood comes calling. Another performer who the camera loves, she will do big things if casting directors decide her English is competent. She does a good job on interviews, so I could see her being the type of actress that could be easily cast as a super-heroine in a future Marvel movie or maybe a character in a future Star Wars film or Star Trek series.
This show is one of the most unique shows out there today. It is very deeply layer and textured plot that can be really hard to follow but is rewarding if you can deal with the conflicting moments that you can run into when dealing with a time traveling story. I can't wait for Season 3 to come out in the spring of 2020.
The added bonus is that this show has a haunting soundtrack that has had my wife add songs to her playlist that I've got to listen to numerous times. Whether I wanted to or not.