German tv series (2017-2020). Netflix/W&B Television. Created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese. Directed by Baran bo Odar. Written by Odar and Friese. Other writers are Martin Behnke, Daphne Ferraro, Ronny Schalk and Marc O Seng. Cast includes Karoline Eichhorn, Dietrich Hollinderbäumer, Louis Hoffmann, Oliver Masucci, Andreas Pietschmann, Maja Schöne, Christian Steyer, Jördis Triebel and Lisa Vicari. 26 episodes of 44 to 73 minutes. Colour.
This high-concept German Netflix series opened as a dour, rain-soaked mystery in the tradition of Northern European crime shows, but quickly revealed itself as the most ambitious Time Travel narrative yet attempted for television.
In 2019, the small German town of Winden is beset by suicide, multiple children's disappearances, and a succession of Mysterious Strangers. Independently investigating these mysteries, several townsfolk are drawn to a cave in the woods that functions as a Time Gate. Characters lost in the cave emerge at the same spot in 1986 or 1953, where they inevitably play out the actions that will lead to tragedy in their present, due to the entire town being caught in a circular Time Loop that stretches across four generations.
With references to Stephen King, alchemy, and Adam and Eve, Dark draws from familiar wells but delights in pushing its Time Paradoxes further than any of its inspirations. While thirty-year jumps into the past traditionally function as nostalgia vehicles for a writer's childhood, Dark has little interest in the quirks of 1980s culture or German history more generally. Instead, it quickly descends into an Oedipal ouroboros in which every character's exertions only enmesh them further in tragedy. The plot circles inwards with ever-more complexity, until by the end of Series 3 viewers are asked to keep track of six time periods, as well as Parallel World versions of the same. As these eras are not rendered distinct by photography, the show demands a high level of commitment and concentration, and would be near-incomprehensible if not for its superb casting which matches facial features between actors to believably portray almost thirty characters across multiple stages of their lives.
Humourless and joyless, Dark relies on its intricate plot machinations to maintain interest, and to its credit remains logically consistent even as its incestuous spirals become more absurd. After a grim three seasons, the show makes clear that its time loop is a curse, to which oblivion may be preferable. A final victory that sees the majority of characters deleting themselves from existence plays as a salvation. [JN]