Dark Season 3 (Netflix)
Written by Jantje Friese & Marc O. Seng
Directed by Baran bo Odar
Dark will go down as one of the most mind-melting complex series most people have ever seen. Its creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, have been uncompromising in their vision for all three seasons, challenging viewers to follow the convoluted family trees and crisscrossing timelines. This is made even more challenging to comprehend in the third season’s introduction of multiple realities. Yet it all works and makes sense in the end. Dark is not a series you can play in the background and drift in and out of, it demands the viewer’s full attention or you will most certainly become as lost as Jonas does at times.
Jonas has witnessed the apocalypse moment, which corresponds to the murder of Martha, the girl he loved but couldn’t be with for extremely complicated reasons. In this moment of grief, he was shocked to see Martha, still alive but with different hair and clothes, run into his home. He can’t quite understand what is happening, but she also a time travel device of her own and blinks she and Jonas not to another point in time but to another place in the multiverse. It turns out all of reality is an infinity loop, two timelines entangled with each other.
This is a Martha who has no Jonas in her reality. Things played out differently, so Jonas was simply never born. This reveals a new player working behind the scenes all this time, a woman named Eve, a parallel to the villainous Adam that Jonas has already met. Additionally, a third violent figure scours both worlds’ timelines, putting the pieces in place of some nefarious plan. All of this will lead Jonas to discover the actual origin point of the chaos and put a heavy burden on him and this new Martha’s shoulders of how to do what is needed.
How far this show has come from being compared to Stranger Things when it was first rolled out. At the core of the show is the theme of guilt & suffering, mainly how people handle this. In Jonas’ case, when you lay his timeline out, you see he allowed his pain from losing someone he loved to drive him to create the very circumstances that led to his suffering. How true it is that we are often the architects of our own torment fueled mainly by allowing the pain to overwhelm us. We find out in following the story of Martha-2 that her story arc has all the same elements. You could pick almost any character in this series and see that their path is a mess of all these emotions that are never processed, only allowed to fester.
My favorite element of the show is casual loops, where a character experiences something terrible and then attempts to use time travel to correct it. Of course, this action is what led to their pain happening in the first place. They either become aware of this when it is too late or tragically die, not knowing they created a loop. This raises the question, “Can we change the circumstances of our lives, or are we destined to follow a set path we live unaware of?” My thoughts kept going back to FX’s mini-series Devs, which addressed the same questions, following a narrative where a protagonist can eventually break the causal loop. From a thematic point of view, that break is a character not allowing their internal pain to guide their actions any longer, to look at what they can do within their sphere of influence to change the world for the better, not merely strike out at it in a personal grievance.
Dark delivers one of the best final moments I’ve seen on television in a long time. The characters arranged around a dinner table in that last scene have great emotional weight when you sit back and contemplate the journeys their stories took. It’s no coincidence the episode is titled The Paradise, a reference Noah tells Elisabeth, about a world where all of their pain is gone but can only be gained if they follow through with Adam’s plans. In this last episode, we see that that was always the wrong way to get to paradise. We also must note that not everyone we have grown to love has a way to exist in this place. And that beautiful tragedy and sacrifice are what make a warm place in my heart for this show. Dark is one of the most wonderfully humanist stories, charting the course of how powerful this species is, how destructive we are, and the promise of how noble we can be.