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The residents of a German town experience all the mind-bending ramifications of time travel in the past, present, and future.
Since it first arrived on Netflix in 2017, Dark has earned acclaim among fans of cerebral science-fiction, and with good reason. The German series skillfully weaves together multiple timelines, family generations, theoretical science, and esoteric philosophies, all within the structure and aesthetic of a small-town crime drama. It’s twisty, addictive and, yes, dark.
The moody atmosphere is practically a given here, and that’s certainly part of the appeal, but the show’s secret weapon is the thoughtful way it uses time travel to illustrate the theme of how people change (or don’t) over time. The writers don’t shy away from the contradictions, paradoxes, and causal loops that can make these kinds of non-linear narratives impenetrable to casual viewers. In fact, they embrace them. This makes for some mind-warping twists and turns, but there’s always a sense that the writers know where they’re going, even if the viewer doesn’t. That remains true even through the third and final season.
The plot threads in Dark aren’t always easy to follow, and even harder to explain, but in short, the series centers on the inhabitants of a small German town who slowly come to realize that the caves beneath the nearby nuclear power plant contain a portal connecting three specific points in time, 33 years apart. That’s the simple version, so you can imagine how convoluted it gets from there.
Over the course of three seasons, the series traces the complex history of four families through several generations and time periods. It begins in 2019 with the search for a missing boy. As others start to turn up missing too, some of the locals make the connection to a similar pattern of mysterious disappearances in 1986. The question becomes not where they went, but when. At first, the story alternates between 2019 and 1986, depicting many of the same characters at different ages. Later, the narrative expands to other years, including 1954, 1921, and 2053, and eventually into even wilder territory.
As we learn of the town’s origins, and long-buried secrets are uncovered (literally), it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems. Dark is refreshingly unpredictable, keeping you guessing from one episode to the next. Just when you think you know where it’s going, it takes a turn into something completely new. Trusting that the explanations will come eventually makes it easier to step back and appreciate the artistry in everything else on screen, from the intense performances to the masterful editing to the haunting soundtrack.
Dark is one of those challenging thriller that asks viewers to think and pay attention in order to follow along. As the title implies, it’s not lighthearted or fun, but it does reward those who put in the effort to comprehend it.
Might as well settle in with a nice, hot beverage and a warm blanket, because this isn’t a casual watch. It’s worth devoting some time to sink into it with a willing partner or a good friend, though. Be aware that the TV-MA rating applies to graphic scenes of sex, violence, gore, suicide, and mature themes, so choose your viewing companions accordingly.
For the full experience (if you don’t speak German), opt to watch with subtitles, if at all possible, rather than the flatter dubbed version.