Harry Mizumoto reviews the latest season of Netflix’s hit German drama.
This review contains minor spoilers.
The world is dying. If one can indulge the melodrama of this statement long enough, it seems pretty apt; nationalism and alt-right rhetoric are on the rise, threats of nuclear enrichment are being launched left and right, and the Amazon is literally on fire. It’s a time to be alert and somewhat anxious. No contemporary series reflects this existential dread better than Dark, a show which broods on the inevitability of human nature.
Stylistically, Dark is gorgeous. The small and geographically ambiguous town of Winden is introduced with a slow pan over its outskirts, an endless thicket of trees. Its residents interact in forests, bunkers, dark caves, small rooms in compact homes; spaces so intimate they feel claustrophobic. Spools of dread develop alongside a tense and minimal soundtrack, replete with the faint thrum of chimes and synths. A particularly unsettling score opens with a string of gasps, as if straining for air. The sounds play over trademark split screen shots attuned to shifts in time or expression, like bicycles swimming through trees, or eyes peeking through a curtain of hair.
For those who need a quick recap, the Netflix Original darling of 2017– billed as the German lovechild of Stranger Things and Back to the Future— centres a series of disappearing children which recurs in multiple timelines of a small town. Time-travel complicates this: missing children stay missing because their bodies are deposited in a different time. In the laws of this universe, time forms a deterministic loop. Police investigations and familial inquests of these disappearances prove futile, dredging up pieces which only make sense beyond the context of their lives, slotted in the greater arc of time. This helplessness is familiar, as well as uncannily satisfying; piecing every timeline together feels like finally achieving a sense of objectivity, like observing fruit flies in a petri dish.
The second season of Dark expands on this generational study, examining its flies– and the relationships between them– much more closely. Key figures include Egon (Christian Pätzold), a main figure deepened across time as a sympathetic policeman, husband, and father, and Ulrich (Oliver Masucci), who we revisit as a sedated, white-haired man committed to a psychiatric ward in 1953. Jonas (Louis Hofman) shines as an time-traveling altruist, trading his displacement in 1986 for the dystopian wasteland of 2053. The series contains more timelines than ever before, largely owed to multiple Jonases competing against one another (and themselves). The attention to historical accuracy is a definite plus; I was heavily amused when, upon stumbling into the idyllic wheat fields of 1921, Jonas is mistaken for a victim of shell shock. Continuing Jonas’ efforts is his older, more bedraggled counterpart (Andreas Pieschmann), who reunites with Teen Jonas’s mother in a bizarre and touching scene only made possible by Dark’s messed up timelines.
There are a lot of these strange moments in Dark, since the intricate plot line relies on small-town intimacy for much of its complexity. A trademark of the show is tangling people into Oedipal relationships you’d usually only expect from a commune, which I’m largely a fan of. I will never get tired of discovering that two characters are related in some fucked up way. Next season, I’m excited for the show’s big flourish to reveal that a character is the only child of themselves.