Let me be the first to tell you that time travel doesn’t work like that.
Dark is a German sci-fi thriller that airs on Netflix, and I only just recently learned what all of those concepts mean, but I do know this: it’s a really good show and you should watch it.
I…yes, I know that, shut up. Obviously I wasn’t going to forget the spoiler warning, after you told me about it six times, God. Yeah, I’m not going to give away the ending or anything, but it’s impossible to talk about all three seasons of Dark without spoiling stuff especially from the first season, so really, for real, if you’re planning to watch Dark, don’t read this review. So much of what makes the show good is watching the mysteries get solved, and you’ll enjoy it more if you don’t go into it spoiled.
The show basically opens with eleven-year-old Mikkel Nielsen going missing. He’s the second kid to do so in the small town of Winden in the last few weeks, and his disappearance is remarkably similar to that of his uncle Mads thirty-three years ago, which was never solved. Things start to get really fucked when the police—including Mikkel’s dad and Mads’s brother Ulrich—find the body of another unidentified kid, whose face has been destroyed but whose belongings are identical to what Mads was wearing when he went missing three decades ago—even though the kid has only been dead for a few days.
Jonas Kahnwald is investigating all of this, and he thinks that Mikkel’s disappearance has something to do with the town’s objectively spooky caves, so good fucking call on that one, Jonas. Jonas’s dad committed suicide a few months back, so he’s working from a place of trauma and all that shit, and he blames himself for Mikkel’s disappearance because he was the last one to see him and junk. Also he wants to bone Mikkel’s sister Martha, so there’s that. He starts talking to a weird stranger who gives him clues, and ends up directing him to the cave, where he fucking time travels back thirty-three years.
Okay this is the part where there’s a major spoiler, so even if you ignored my other warning, stop fucking reading. Don’t pretend I’m not fucking talking to you—you know I am.
Mikkel has been kidnapped by a time traveller, and Jonas finds Mikkel in the past in the process of being adopted by his grandmother, and realizes that Mikkel is his father, and that if he rescues him, he won’t be born. The stranger was a future version of Jonas who was making sure that Jonas took all the necessary steps to become him. That’s not even the most fucked-up thing that happens in the show, so buckle the fuck in.
There are a lot of characters in the show and I can’t go through all of them, but the other major time travelling character we meet is Claudia, who is the boss of the town’s nuclear power plant in the 80s, but has disappeared by the main timeline. She’s later revealed to also be a time traveller, and it basically turns out that there’s a conflict going on between older versions of her and Jonas over whether or not the future can be changed. They keep travelling back in time and interacting with younger versions of themselves and each other to manipulate events to their own liking, and it’s both hilarious and super fucked up.
Without specifics, things only get more fucked as the show goes on. More and more of the characters start time travelling, and nobody in this show can keep it in their pants, so there are all these endless reveals that this person has turned out to be this other person’s great-grandfather because he went back in time, or this person is their own grandmother, or this person potentially fucked their sister because both of their parents went back in time and hooked up with people so nobody knows they’re related, and so the fuck on. So basically it’s an ordinary small town where everyone is related, only this time in nonlinear time, which is nice to see, since you know, that’s what time is.
There’s more going in than just people fucking each other—there are a lot of convoluted schemes and gambits and people trying to outsmart themselves and people who’ve known them for fifty years, and also the world ends a few times, which is ultimately what at least some people are trying to stop, even though others are trying to start it. Oh, and sometimes those are the same people, because time travel.
The real, actual strength of the show, though, is its cast. Some of the characters exist in three different timelines, each thirty-three years apart, and so it’s three different actors portraying them, and you can completely believe that those three actors are the same person at different ages. Whoever cast this show did such a good job finding actors who look like each other that in later seasons when the child actors start to get older, they start to look like the adult actors playing them in the future. Not only that, but people look like their relatives—so often it’s like ‘wow, those two people look similar’ and then it turns out they’re time travel siblings or whatever. So not only the casting, but the acting, is really top-notch here. Actors playing different versions of the same character have the same mannerisms and speech patterns. The amount of work that obviously went into making this believable is really something. Like, really something.
The characters really do sell the show, which is good because honestly, the premise is stupid. It’s a silly time travel show where people go back in time and turn out to be their own second cousin or whatever, and the actual plot of the two major villains don’t really make any sense. This gets more pronounced in the last season, when the two main villains, Adam and Eva (probably don’t need to translate that one from the German, right?) give repeated speeches about time and fate and the world and none of them make any sense, and none of them actually convey any information. But it doesn’t matter, because the characters are so compelling and you so badly want to know what happens to them that you’re willing to overlook the hokey premise. Even characters you despise, you can feel for a little bit, and the characters you like, you end up fucking glued to the screen when stuff happens to them, because it’s so riveting.
Dark could easily have been a hot mess—it’s told across like seven timelines, it’s got a million characters (though two-thirds of them are just past and future versions of other characters), it uses time travel as an explanation for basically everything. It could so easily have sucked. But it’s so well written that when time travel turns out to be the explanation for the ten millionth thing that’s happened, you buy it. The characters are so compelling that whenever they do something, you freak out. The mystery is compelling enough that you’re genuinely invested in watching it play out. I will say it, though: the quality goes down a little bit in the later two seasons, but they’re still super good, because the show started out at such a high bar that a tiny decrease in quality didn’t hurt it overly. And for all that, the show fucking sticks its landing. They’re not interested in making you feel better by having everyone live happily ever after—the show ends the way it logically should, and it’s so satisfying to watch.
Now I will say, that’s not how time travel actually, you know, works. I’m not the only time traveller I know, and in my experience time isn’t as immutable as the show makes it seem and not everything is as cyclical as the show wants it to be. Or maybe they are and I’m just naïve, but hey. I need to cling to something, right? They’re bang on though about stuff happening at the same time in non-linear form, you have to give them credit for that.
So yeah, Dark is fucking good. I may have never seen a TV show before, but I have vague memories of watching a lot of them, and I don’t think any of them were this good. I have to go because some asshole is telling me that I’m writing too much, but you should definitely watch it.