Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched it yet, I recommend going into Dark, Netflix’s new German series, cold. Don’t read on; just go watch. Also, this show is not in English. Netflix will auto play a terrible dubbed version in English, but do yourself a favor and change your audio settings to German with English subtitles. If you’ve already finished watching the series, or don’t like surprises, read on.
While some critics and reviews are drawing comparisons between Dark and Stranger Things, there is little similarity between the show’s tones. Created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, Dark is just that: a somber look at the small German town of Winden, where the families there are connected in more ways than they know or can even understand.
The catalyst for the show’s events is the disappearance of two boys, Erik and Mikkel. After teenage Erik disappears, three friends: Jonas (Louis Hofmann), Bartosz (Paul Lux), and Magnus (Moritz Jahn), decide to hike into the woods to look for Erik’s hidden stash of drugs. Magnus’ sister Martha (Lisa Vicari), and little brother Mikkel (Daan Lennard Liebrenz), tags along. What happens that night is where the series starts down a sci-fi path: after hearing several strange sounds coming from the Winden caves, power surges and dead birds falling from the sky, Mikkel disappears.
The question of the show is: not where, but when? The series starts out as a dreary family drama, showcasing a small town whose residents have several secrets behind their current relationships. After the disappearance of Mikkel however, the big reveal is the issue of time. Mikkel is gone, not from Winden, but from Winden in 2019.
Mikkel’s disappearance brings several issues between its residents to a head: Jonas’ mother Hannah (played in 2019 by Maja Schöne), has been having an affair with Mikkel’s father Ulrich (Oliver Masucci), after the suicide of her husband, Michael. A distraught Ulrich decides to end the affair to focus on finding his son and take care of his family, much to the dismay of an obsessive Hannah. In 2019, Ulrich is a police officer married to Katharina (Jördis Triebel). Katharina is both principal of Winden high school, and tough-love mother to Martha, Magnus and Mikkel. Initially, the series deals with the characters of 2019 Winden, with our main protagonist, Jonas, helping us understand who’s who.
Back after a “summer in France,” Jonas must readjust to regular life and high school when really he spent the past couple months in a mental hospital following his father’s death. Jonas is plagued by bad dreams about his father and questions about why Michael committed suicide. His old flame Martha is now dating his best friend, Bartosz, although after her brother Mikkel disappears, she finds herself drawn back to Jonas. Bartosz is a rich kid with his own strange family dynamics. Bartosz’s father, Aleksander (Peter Benedict), is in charge of the shady nuclear power plant centered in Winden, while his mother Regina (Deborah Kaufmann), runs a fancy but frequently empty hotel, now that word of dead bodies and missing children has hit the local news.
Karoline Eichorn’s understated and determined Chief of Police, Charlotte Doppler, puts her own daughter and husband on the back burner as she throws herself into the case. But when the body of an unidentified child is found in the woods, complete with ‘80’s Walkman, and with eyes burned and eardrums destroyed, things really start to get interesting.
The plot of Dark deals with the idea of time travel, splintering timelines, each 33 years apart: 1953, 1986 and 2019. It gets pretty confusing at times, keeping track of all the characters, each in various timelines at various ages, but the show’s creators make a concerted effort to show us both young and old versions of characters while slowly revealing their backstories and how they have become the present day 2019 versions of themselves. Jonas, a surrogate for the audience, finds clues left for him by a wandering stranger (played by Andreas Pietschmann). A letter from his father, along with a handwritten map of the Winden caves, a Geiger counter, and a strange Ikea-looking futuristic flashlight lead Jonas to explore the caves searching for the truth: Mikkel is stuck in Winden in 1986.
Without giving too much else away, we learn more about how the families of Winden are connected by events happening in 1953, 1986 and 2019. At times, the show drags, in particular during semi-convoluted discussions about time and fate, held between the wandering stranger and H.G. Tannhaus (Arnd Klawitter/Christian Steyer), a local watchmaker whose book “A Journey Through Time,” becomes an important clue throughout the series. On the periphery is the strange character of Noah, a priest (whether in uniform only), who doesn’t seem to age. Noah (Mark Waschke) is responsible for the body count of children piling up over the years with their eyes burned and eardrums destroyed. I found a lot of weird similarities between him and Lost’s Man in Black, sort of a fictional representation of evil, of dark against the light. But the tricky part about the show is that there never seems to be a 100 percent “light” character. Dark’s entire cast has secrets, ulterior motives or is flawed in some way (save maybe for Jonas). As we learn more about each of the characters, we start to care about them more, but we also see how messed up they are. The idea of the future affecting the past, just as much as the past affects the future, comes into play more and more, as more characters are seen entering and exiting the Winden caves.
One of my favorite parts of Dark is definitely the music, with a dramatic original score by Ben Frost, and songs from the 1980’s, as well as several by contemporary indie musicians. The opening credits of the show are a montage of mirrored images, made to look like a Rorschach inkblot test, set to "Goodbye," by Apparat (featuring Soap & Skin). It is an eerie song that starts to swell, both in volume and emotion, and as the series progresses, the images become increasingly more interesting, giving clues to the questions of the series.
And dang, do I have questions. Let’s hope Netflix renews Dark for a second season.
Besides watching movies, Diana likes the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. IG: @dldimuro