Netflix has successfully concluded their first German production DARK recently with a mind blowing finale season. Created by German filmmakers Baran bo Odar, and Jantje Friese, DARK is now the best Netflix original available in terms of viewership, surpassing Black Mirror. The series was initially compared to another Netflix original Stranger Things, a totally fun sci-fi fantasy ride where kids go on adventure to fight the monster. But in the case of Dark, after watching a few episodes we learn that it combines several of the complex genres; it is a sci-fi series with complex time travel theories and paradoxes like in the movie Primer(2004), it has the Noir setup of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo(2011), it is mysterious and bends your minds like David Lynch movies, and all these genres combine with a highly emotional family backdrop and an eternal love story. Starting with the disappearance of two kids in 2019, the series explores the mysterious and mind bending connections of four families in the German town of Winden that span four generations. The series is meant to baffle you, the script is densely written and puzzling to the core, the mysteries will be unraveled only in the final episode of the series to make it all the more addictive.
The amount of details, references, metaphors and foreshadowing in the screenplay is incredible and I think you will admire it more on your second watch. Dark talks to us through its brilliant visuals, unique back ground scores and the amazing art works too. It has blown my mind away on multiple occasions with the level of detailing done on each and every scene, probably making it the best I have watched so far!! Here are a few striking instances of mastery of the content in a series which entangle you with Time travel paradoxes, God particle, Quantum entanglement etc.
******I would advice anyone who haven’t watched all 3 seasons to stop reading right here and come back later as the rest of the article might spoil your watching experience *****
1.The Use of Music Tracks- connection to the timelines and the metaphors : The series is packed with some amazing tracks from all over the globe and some unique and hauntingly engaging scores composed by Ben Frost. Every tracks sync flawlessly with the visuals. Remarkably, on many instances the music talks to you about the timeline or even used as layman’s language to explain time travel and on some other instances it is used as a metaphor. As you know, the series spans over several time periods. It starts with a missing boy Erik Obendorf and it takes until the episode 4 or 5 until we learn that there is a possibility of time travel. But the creators have chosen to show Erik in ‘the bunker’ on 2 or 3 occasions in earlier episodes wherein music is being played on the Television sets. The tracks played are, “You spin me round” and “Irgendwie Irgendwo Irgendwann” both released in 1984. Later we learn that Erik was actually kidnapped and was taken to 1986. The English meaning of the song “Irgendwie Irgendwo Irgendwann” is “Somehow, Somewhere, Sometime” and it makes the clear indication in the very first episode itself about what is to follow. This song is used at multiple instances through out the series.
In 1986, when Egon Tiedemann visits Ulrich Nielsen at the mental institution, he tells him the same lines he told in 1953, “My aim is to take many lives, the more the better I feel”. After some research, Egon learns that it is the lyrics of “Pleasure to Kill” by Kreator which is released in 1986. He is baffled how the same lines were told in 1953. Ulrich uses music as the medium here to hint about time travel to a layman.
When the 1986 sequences progress, we see teen Ulrich’s addiction with Sex Pistol’s punk song ‘No future’(God Save the Queen). The song was made in the 70s expressing the anarchist views with the slogan ‘No future’. These words can be seen on his bedroom wall and also on his jackets. Ulrich of course didn’t have much of a future after going into the cave and was permanently stuck in the past.
2.The Travelling Objects : Amidst all the time travel paradoxes, and pile up of missing persons stuck at different times there are some brilliant usage of objects here. These objects have reached different hands and have travelled along with them to different time periods. These are placed masterfully at important passages in the screenplay which enormously adds to the wow factor. The locket of Saint Christopher, Michael’s suicide letter, Jonas’ yellow jacket, Triquetra notebook, the coin chain with Helge, and Charlotte’s watch, all have stories of their own, while the book ‘A journey through time’ remarkably reaches to its author even before it is written, just like ‘the time machine’ reaching him even before it is built. Tracking of these objects can be baffling at times, but it is as engaging and satisfying as solving a complex puzzle. The presence of ‘Raider’ chocolate wrapper in 2019 at the woods, where kids disappear, was the most stunning of it all. ‘Raider’ was renamed to ‘Twix’ in 1991, but it was the favourite of Helge who time-travels from 1986 to 2019 to kidnap the kids, an early clue to time travels and Helge’s involvement.
3.Mikkel’s Magic trick : Mikkel shows his magic trick with cups and sugar cubes to his father Ulrich in the very first episode. He shows the trick and the cube is shifted from cup 1 to cup 2, skillfully deceiving Ulrich with his quick hands. He says, “the question is not how, but when”. This happens on a breakfast table in what seems to be casual interaction. But soon we learn that it is the clear suggestion of Mikkel’s disappearance from 2019 and reappearance in 1986. Mikkel goes on to show the cubes appear in both the cups in his next trick, foreshadowing his presence in both 2019 and 1986. The incident becomes of greater significance too when old Ulrich uses the same interaction to make Mikkel understand that he is his father who reached 1953, while searching for him in the cave, from 2019.
5.Mythological connections : Starting from the names Noah, Adam, Eva etc. the series is packed with biblical references. The son of Adam and Eva is “the origin” of loop in Dark. Noah is a direct reference to the Noah’s arc. Then there is a locket of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. It travels from one hand to the other in different time periods. In Episode 5, Noah can be seen telling young Mikkel he is with St. Christopher’s Church, an early give away that he is a traveler. Time travel through a wormhole is possible in the increments of 33 years, lunar-moon cycle happens every 33 years. H.G. Tannhaus has explained the biblical connection of 33 in the series itself. ‘Jesus performed 33 miracles, 33 litanies of the angels, and Dante’s 33 cantos in purgatory and 33 in paradise.’ Jonas adds that ‘33 is the age the anti-christ begins his rule.’ There is evident connections made to Greek mythology of Ariadne and Theseus. Martha in season 1 can be seen in a play as Ariadne and Martha’s monologue totally reminded us about the things that have been happening in Winden. Interestingly, Ariadne who was in charge of a Labyrinth, fell in love with Theseus and helped him escape from the labyrinth. The theme is clearly connected to the eternal love of Jonas and Martha in Dark.
4.A galore of other instances of Foreshadowing, References and metaphors : Just like the already mentioned references, there is a huge number of very minute, yet fascinating details given through out the story.
a. Just like the mirroring of date to show the alt-world time period, the scars of travelling characters Martha and ‘the unknown’ shifts to the other side of the face when shown in the other world.
b. In season 2, When Old Claudia visits Jonas at his house, says “I have seen the world without you. Trust me, it’s not what you’re expecting.” indicating she already knew about the Alt-world and the cycle of events that happened there.
c. Martha’s grave pointing towards the sky, probably hinting her presence in an alt-world? 🙂
d. Mads Nielsens’ grave had an infinity symbol just like ‘the knot’ which is shown in Season 3.
e. Elizabeth discovers a map inside one of the books from Tannhaus’ shop, which had 3 worlds; a full world at the Center , and two worlds on both sides which appeared to be on shadows with Adam and Eva blowing wind to each of them, early node to the presence of two parallel worlds which was made from an original world.
f. In season 2, the stranger(older Jonas) had a dream about sex with Martha which turned scary when a black substance emerged from her womb similar to the God particle portal. In season 3 we learn about the origin of the loop, “the unknown”, is Jonas and Martha’s son. He is learned to be the husband of Agnes Nielsen and father of Tronte.
g. In the season 1 episode 4, Francesca’s teacher was explaining about mirroring and double lives to the class. The infinity/ the knot symbol is seen on the board. The parallel world and the mirroring comes only in season 3.
h. When Clausen asked Woller about Hannah, he says “she is beautiful, she could have had any man he wants” revealing his admiration to Hannah’s beauty. Quite brilliantly, Hannah became his wife in the original world.
i. When Hannah asked the stranger(older Jonas) why did he come there, he looks at the floor where Martha was later shot down by Adam. In fact he came there to somehow stop Martha being dead.
6.The curious case of Kahnwald home : The questions that surrounds this house and the curiosity it brings to the story is exceptional. If you have finished all 3 seasons, you would have already noticed that the house has different owners in different worlds. In one world it is the property of Kahnwalds, we see Mikkel grow up as Michael with Ines Kahnwald and later Hannah comes here after marrying Michael. But it in the alt world we see Nielsens staying in this house and in ‘the origin world’ it is Regina’s house. The writer gives the viewers some license here. My explanation would be something like this. In the alt world Mikkel doesn’t travel to 1986, so Ines would still be without any family and she probably would have chosen to sell it to the Nielsens? And in the original world there is no Nielsen family at all, so Ines would have sold it to Bernd Doppler, who is seen with Claudia and Regina in a family pic shown in the final scene.
7.The Use of News Papers : When Mikkel travels to 1986, we see a glimpse of the newspaper outside his house and a news heading which read “Half year after Chernobyl”, remarkably connecting the plot to an original incident in the same timeline. Similarly, the news paper cuttings are used to brilliant effect in portraying different times and we get to see the same news paper “Windener Tageblatt” at different ages 1950s, 80s, 2019 etc. When Charlotte uncovers Ulrich’s mystery and finds the news of Ulrich’s arrest in 1953 from newspaper database, the scene gives amusement and chilling effect at the same time. While the science involved is explained in great detail by descriptive narrations, props like newspapers are used to ease the viewers’ understanding and excite them at the same time.
8.The Aesthetics and Art direction: Dark has a story line which spans from 1880s to 2050s. The visual tone used in different times and the alt world were really distinctive. Also, the ominous and brooding atmospheres were spectacularly visualized. The costumes, technology and props used in each era are brilliantly setup by the Art department. The setting of the bus stop near the woods for example is shown in different times and also in the alt world. If you pay close attention, the amount of details like the posters that are displayed in that simple setting talks a lot about the timeline or the world that is being portrayed.
9.The brilliant Final Scene : No matter how good a series played through out, it is the finale that makes it a rewarding one. That’s where Dark and it’s finale is highly satisfying. Adam is trying to end the cycle, but Eva wants the loop to continue. Their each action feeds into the other and they are forever connected in an infinite loop. Adam believes that Jonas and alt-Martha’s son ‘the unknown’ is the origin of the cycle and tries to kill it before Claudia cracks it and learns that it is the event of creation of the two worlds is the origin of the never ending loop. The two worlds were created by an accident which occurred when H.G. Tannhaus tried to travel through time to correct a tragedy in his family. As soon as Adam learns it, he sends young Jonas and alt-Martha outside their loop using Quantum entanglement to stop the tragedy of Tanhaus’ family. They successfully do the job, sacrificing themselves in the process. The series ends with a family get together and the viewers are asked to fill the rest by analyzing the people present there. Regina, Katherina, Peter, Torben Woller, a pregnant Hannah and Benny were present at the party. In this new original world, Tanhaus didn’t have to bother inventing the time travel, so the entire events in the previous episodes didn’t happen, so the likes of Jonas and Martha, the Nielsens, Charlotte, Elizabeth, Noah don’t exist. Regina is the daughter of Bernd and Claudia, Woller and Hannah are couples and so are Peter and Benny. Curiously, we see the yellow jacket, flickering lights, Hannah having a Deja Vu and Katherina saying, “A world without Winden. Let’s drink to that.” while others join.
10.How did Claudia crack it? An early hint : In the finale episode, we learn that there is actually a loophole in the knot as explained by Claudia to Adam. The world stands still for a fraction of a second and this time can be exploited to create an alternate reality. Eva already knew about it, but Adam doesn’t. Claudia, the most brilliant player on show here, uses this time-stand-still to create her own alternate reality with which she learns that whatever changes one make, it ultimately serves the loop to continue and it is important for the loop to continue till the point she meets Adam. The knowledge she acquired from her explorations through her alt-version, her understanding of the subject, and the learned facts from her elder self help her to find out the possibility of a third, origin world and she would have found about H.G. Tanhaus’s addiction towards time travels and his experiment in the origin world which created the two mirror worlds, the true reason for the never ending loop.
Going back to Season 3 episode 2 (In September 2020), a woman reporter on the radio said while Claudia was listening, “Scientists are still looking for an explanation for the events of June 27, 2020, the presumed origin for the catastrophe is assumed to be the small town of Winden. A French team of scientists believes it possible that our world stood still for a fraction of a nanosecond on June 27, possibly causing the divergence of tidal forces.” What seemed to be a casual news about the apocalypse, actually serves as an early hint to how everything is going to be unwrapped.
Eva already knew about this time-stand-still and she creating an alternate reality just before the apocalypse is the reason why the stranger(older Jonas) doesn’t seem to know alt-Martha when he sees her in 1888.
11.Deja Vu and its significance : According to Jonas “it is a glitch in the matrix”, and for Martha, “It is the message from the other side”. Both these views have striking significance during the course of 3 seasons. Every Character in Dark goes through flashes of “Already seen” incidents at least once. The whole cycle is a recurring theme here and the events will be repeating in never ending cycles, explains the reason for this phenomenon. But each of this events remarkably ties to the events shown in the later episodes. Déjà Vu is used to close the gap of how people don’t recognise the presence of certain double lives in the same timeline. For me, the most remarkable one was that of Hannah in the “new” world. The flickering lights, the yellow jacket etc give her a Deja vu even when there is no time travel and stuffs, clearly indicating they live in a “repaired” world and there will be flashes of familiar events.
12. The unanswered questions : Writers have left a few of the questions intentionally unanswered. The son of Martha and Jonas remained unnamed even after the end and he is known as “the unknown”. The investigation officer Clausen received a letter before coming to Winden, telling him he would find answers to his brother’s disappearance in Winden. It is still unknown who has sent that letter to him. As mentioned earlier, the ownership of Kahnwald house remains mysterious even after the finale allowing the viewers the license to fill the gaps. Torben Woller has an injured eye in Jonas’world, he didn’t have a hand in alt-Martha’s world, and interestingly enough even in the new original world he had a scar near the eye. All of these remain unanswered intentionally to make the viewers wanting for more.
There may be more number of details and wow moments on show here, after all ‘What we know is a drop, but what we don’t know is an ocean.’