Some of us love TV that enables us to escape our concerns and our frantic world for a moment. Some of us love TV that really immerses us in that world with all its complications and strife. Sometimes we want both at once!
DARK, a German TV production and Netflix series with English subtitles, satisfies these two criteria in spades.
It starts with a police investigation into a case of disappearing children in the little town of Winden. Police officers are on the job, including reckless Ulrich (Oliver Masucci) and the more methodical Charlotte (Karoline Eichhorn). The families are distraught, and the siblings of the missing are struggling to come to terms with inevitable bad news. Stoic teens and potential sweethearts Jonas (Louis Hofmann) and Martha (Lisa Vicari) are at the centre of an ensemble cast. Okay, so far, so Broadchurch. In fact, that’s a pretty good reference point for the moodiness and downbeat nature of DARK’s proceedings.
The intriguing spanner to throw into the works is that DARK has time travel as a key feature. It’s no spoiler to say that just as you’re getting to know the central families and their involved lives, things become a little more…complicated. Actually, to say any more than that would involve spoilers. There are things that can’t be said, right from the first few episodes.
Now maybe that’s lost some, but I want to strongly encourage you to buckle in for the journey of your lives. DARK’s story threads riff off Greek tragedies. What first appear to be philosophical musings and hypothetical ethical dilemmas become concrete plot points requiring answers. A web of criss-crossing characters, and eventually timelines, demands your attention in an utterly engrossing manner. My conversations with other viewers have uncovered some using spreadsheets to keep track of relationships and family involvements. So much density in only 24 episodes across three seasons!
Now maybe that’s lost some of you, but I urge you to keep on. Amongst the often bleak colour palette, tone and mood, the moments of connection are so uplifting that their effects are amplified. The stakes for all of the characters keep shifting in ever-increasing ways to the point where…well, I can’t say anymore. Each new moment of revelation and re-revelation is so sweet I wouldn’t dare reveal any of them. I can guarantee your jaw will drop many times, often on multiple occasions in single episodes.
But along the way themes of destiny and fate, individualism and community, meaning and meaninglessness are tightly entwined and thoroughly explored. Does the chance to fix the mistakes of our younger years ensure we will actually want to do so? Are we at the whims of cosmic forces or is someone in charge? How much can we trust ourselves when the need for sacrifice arises? How much can we trust ourselves when the givers of life-changing advice are our elders?
There’s enough theological material here for Lenten studies far into the future. DARK never fails to surprise with intricate and sophisticated plotting developed into thoroughly engaging story lines. I’m envious of viewers who will be able to plough through the 24 episodes without having to wait for months in between the original week-by-week broadcast of each season!
DARK is a series that demands the viewer’s attention and then rewards it. It never underestimates you, the viewer, as many other shows do with their endless recaps of material we just saw before the ads. This pays off. Heading into the final episodes of season three, I wondered how every thread could possibly be pulled together. Surely the intersecting maze of characters and timelines was a Gordian knot that couldn’t be unraveled!? But, suffice it to say, DARK finishes in an unexpectedly simple and elegant way that satisfies where similar shows faltered, in the opinions of many (I’m looking at you, LOST!).
Time travel, bleakness, intricacy and paradoxes: are you up for it? I can assure you the ride with DARK is worth every moment. In a complicated world, DARK provides both the diagnosis and the cure.
DARK, available on Netflix, is rated MA 15+.Jump to next article