Dark on Netflix — Questions and Themes

Before we begin, three things:

1. This post contains SPOILERS for the show.

2. I shared my thoughts on the series’ look, feel, themes and its first two seasons here.

3. If my explanations are wrong, please be gentle, and do correct me.

And so it endeth!

I remember reading somewhere that the truth is simple. For three seasons and 25 episodes, the folks of Winden have been trying break the vicious cycle of the show. The 26th episode showed that the answer is simple, much more simple than we previously thought. How? Let’s see.

So, given that characters in the show’s first world, and the parallel universe of that, keep going back and forward in time, there’s no way you can “untie the knot,” as the show says, by making changes there. The answer to overcoming the time-travelling-induced shenanigans is to stop time travel from ever starting. Claudia Tiedemann explains the “how” of that in the final episode.

Another big confusion point for viewers is Jonas being alive in E6 even after being shot in E5. Plus, if he died in E5, how were his older selves alive all this while? The idea here is that, and it is explained in E6, from any point in time, the different steps you take lead to different outcomes and different parallel worlds, so to say. If, at the moment of the apocalypse, Jonas goes with Martha, he dies later at her hands. If he doesn’t, he lives.

Now, as per the Schrödinger’s cat experiment explained at the beginning of E6, one might think that there can be only two possible paths for Jonas at the point of the apocalypse. Such an assumption would put his running away with Adam in the series finale as impossible. But that’s not the case. At that moment, when the apocalypse strikes and Martha is dead, Jonas can take any route. Over and over again, he takes one of the two routes we’ve seen so far, because either it’s Martha coming to save him, or him saving himself by hiding under a bunker.

The third big question is, if what happens from the moment Adam takes Jonas away with him at the point of the apocalypse unprecedented, how do Martha and Jonas see each other’s kid selves in that spacetime warp? I think this is the fifth dimension, similar to what we saw in a blockbuster Hollywood film in 2014 (not naming the film to avoid spoilers for folks who haven’t watched it). And a similar thing, I guess, happens at the very end when Hannah, during that dinner, looks at her yellow jacket. We know that Jonas and Martha have worn almost the same jacket in the two different worlds. And I think this is where that explanation of dreams/glitch in the matrix come in. Kid Martha and kid Jonas saw each other’s teenaged selves in that spacetime warp. But that reality never came to pass in any of the other parallel worlds, until this one. Basically, kid Martha sees teenaged Jonas through the spacetime warp. A little removed from this is when Hannah has visions/dreams where she sees Jonas/Martha in that yellow jacket. But in that world, there’s no Jonas, no Martha. Hence, the glitch.

I was filled with wonder at the realisation that stopping time travel led to clearing out almost all of the characters we have been following through this time. And while Jonas and Martha vanishing in thin air might feel sad, it’s probably not. Two reasons why. One, Jonas repeats his line from the previous seasons at the end, “We are a perfect match. Never believe anything else.” They are one at the end. Their combined efforts have led to the world being saved, and they leave the world together. Also, their old selves, after fighting against each other infinite times, finally come together as well.

All this is possible because in the origin world, Jonas and Martha help the Tannhaus family get back together. All through the show, the actions of most characters have been driven by their desire and concern for their loved ones. Even the most reprehensible acts have been committed because the characters wanted a better outcome for all concerned. Ultimately, love is what keeps the origin world safe, and prevents the “cancer” of the two new worlds from emerging.

Watching Dark through the three seasons (before the finale) has been a powerful, depressing tug at the mind. It is also a reminder of our fallibility and mortality, and the theory that “we are not free in whatever we do, because we are not free in what we desire.” In other words, the futility of the idea of Free Will. What if I wrote 2000 words today instead of going out for a swim? What if I lay in bed instead of sitting at the sofa?

As I’ve written in the piece linked above, there’s a feeling of despair and helplessness throughout. People realise they’re in a fix, but every step they take to undo the pain basically becomes the cause of the problem in the first place. The characters’ lives and emotions matter to the show. As most great art, Dark is about the human condition. The characters might look like pieces on a chessboard, but to the story, they’re more than that. And hence, we have a sharp reaction to every pain and every setback faced by the characters.

The show draws from Christian theology and philosophy. This season, those parallels are pronounced even more. Now we have Eve (or Eva) too, in addition to Adam. They are the chief creators of the whole problem, or so it is believed throughout. Jonas and Martha’s son is posed as the origin (and you could think, yeah, Adam and Eve were the first humans, so maybe this is the right assumption). But that’s a massive red herring, as we learn at the end. There are other nods too. Like the idea that the descent of Adam and Eve to the world gave rise to the idea of Damnation. So, stop them from coming down, and have a permanent solution. And where were they before they came down to Earth? In Heaven, in the Garden of Eden — Salvation. Hence the title of the final episode — Paradise. The fight between the ideas of Free Will and Determinism has been there throughout, of course.

The strongest suit for the show is the writing. Everything is so complex that making sense of it without pausing and rewinding/reflecting is out of the question. I don’t remember the last show that was this dense. There are a fair few films like this that I’ve watched (Primer, Timecrimes), but no shows yet. And for the makers to be clear about it all, to tie every single loose thread at the end, and that too in one go — incredible, absolutely incredible. The ability to provide a satisfying ending is another feather in their cap.

I’ve also been a fan of the excellent soundtrack and cinematography. This season, with the increased number of timelines, I kept trying to guess which was which whenever the scene snapped. And more often than not, given the filters and the production design used for particular timelines, I guessed right. That’s credit to the virtuosity of the team behind the show, not to my skills as a viewer.

I’d heard here and there that people were leaving the show halfway, unable to follow the events. There are two points here. From its very first episode, Dark has been a puzzle. And it has been able to level-up season after season, sometimes within a season, before we’ve got around to its levels. But that’s part of the joy of watching this show. Second, I agree that the third season is way, way too complex. I was perplexed too. But I had trust in the showrunners to clear everything out by the end. The 7th episode of the final season explains how things have always happened, infinitely. And episode 8 unties all the knots. Paradoxically, this show demands both bingeing and slow-burn viewership (with a lot of rewinds and pauses). To the folks who’ve left it unfinished, I’d say, have another look, and trust Ms. Jantje Friese and Mr. Baran Bo Odar. Dark is bravura television. Don’t believe anything else.

All seasons of Dark are now streaming on Netflix.

What are your thoughts on the show? Did that ending feel bittersweet, or sweet? Do you still have unanswered questions? How’s this review? Tell me in the comments section.

Featured image courtesy. GIFs courtesy.

Thanks for reading.

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