I know a TV show is exceptional (or at least exceptionally complicated) when I start rewatching from the beginning because I know I missed things. With Netflix’s German-language time-travel series, Dark, there is a lot to miss. But unlike some mind-bending shows—I love Twin Peaks, but yeah—this one rewards deep detective work. For this reason alone, it’s worth exploring its labyrinthine caves and complicated family trees.
I discovered Dark a few months ago when a few enthusiastic videos recommending the series randomly appeared in my YouTube stream. After the trauma of Games of Thrones, I was looking for a new show, so I checked it out. By the second episode, I was hooked.
The drama plays out across multiple generations, time periods, and even worlds (as the cliffhanger at the end of Season Two suggests) and yet never loses its laser-sharp focus. The show not only has beautiful acting, stunning cinematography, and a score that haunts one’s dreams, but also poses philosophical questions—Bookstrap Paradox anyone? Esoteric symbols show up on the cover of an 80s Heavy Metal album, in a hospital hallway, and tattooed on the back of a creepy (and sexy) priest named Noah. Latin quotes, Biblical and mythological allusions lend intellectual vigor to outlandish concepts, and yet it all works together in a neat, believable puzzle. This slow burn is worth the investment.
Am I gushing enough yet?
The show has been compared to Stranger Things. I can only judge by the first season—I stopped watching ST after that—but other than some of Dark taking place in the 1980s, it’s an entirely different show. The German ’80s has a more dour feel than the American one, perfectly exemplified by the nuclear power plant steaming on the horizon in many of the shots or just offscreen. This feels more like the 1980s in the nuclear disaster faux-doc Threads. There are 80’s pop songs in this show too, but they don’t exactly evoke nostalgia. A Flock of Seagulls never sounded so sinister.
A lot of the drama in Dark is centered around the personal relationships of the town’s inhabitants. There is a sense they are isolated, as well as miserable. Perhaps the looming apocalypse has already happened, and the incestuous citizens of the fictional Winden are the last to know. Each character suffers his or her own private drama, sometimes over multiple time periods. Wouldn’t we all love to go back in time to fix our worst mistakes? But in doing so, would we set into motion the very mechanism that allowed those events to occur?
Dark is filled with these types of questions. You’ll find yourself thinking about it long after the credit sequence when you must force yourself from watching just one more episode after a three-hour binge.
Aside from the German language (I recommend subtitles over the English dubbing), Dark may turn off some viewers because it’s impossible to do something else when you watch (like fold laundry or check your phone) without missing something crucial. Some have claimed it takes a higher intellect to get it. I would argue it just takes a certain level of attention. Like a masterfully layered game of logic, deep dives into the maze will yield satisfying eureka moments.
There’s a sense—and I pray the third season doesn’t prove me wrong—that the show is leading the viewer toward a tighter and more complex knot that will untie as long as we pull the right string. Searching for it is half the fun.