The German time-travel crime drama returns.
What’s the story?
When the first season of Dark debuted on Netflix way back in 2017 it was perhaps unfairly compared to the then rising cultural phenomenon of Stranger Things with its tale of missing children and supernatural mysteries, but the German show was arguably a much more sophisticated confection then its American counterpart. The initial story spanned three separate time periods in the sleepy forest town of Winden, as a string of murders in the present day appeared to be connected to cases from 1986 and 1953. But soon the construction of the show as a simple crime drama was slowly peeled away to reveal something far more grandiose and sinister, eventually leading toward a battle between good and evil for the fate of humanity itself.
It’s this element of grand fantasy that saw the show compared to the Duffer Brothers creation, and writer Jantje Friese and director Baran bo Odar doubled down on this concept in the series conclusion when a fourth time period was revealed, propelling protagonist Jonas into the apocalyptic future of 2052 where mankind has all but been wiped out. With that closing scene the show took a final leap into embracing total science fiction, moving away from its embryonic crime narrative – and whilst the show is largely still about who did what and when, this second series is largely focused on the growing threat represented by the otherworldly forces attempting to initiate Armageddon.
What’s good about it?
Even with the core mystery of the children’s abductions (vaguely) solved in season one, there’s still plenty to admire about Dark. To some degree, it’s popularity has been largely word of mouth because it’s the kind of show that benefits from being available at length on a binge-centric platform like Netflix, but also maybe that a few of those cheeky secretive algorithms lent it a larger viewer base off the more recent success of The Umbrella Academy – which shares a recognisably aligned narrative with it’s “six days to save the world” trope. The story just about holds its own here and you feel compelled to follow it along to its natural conclusion – although be warned a third series is already in production so don’t expect too much significant closure at the end of this season.
As with Season One, the real star here is the set design. Each era is meticulously recreated with the same fervour for period minutiae as recent HBO hit Chernobyl. Similarly, both shows share a communal palette, with bleached greys and grimy browns awash on screen at all times. It looks strangely beautiful and crushingly depressing at the same time, and it’s a rare show with an eye for cinematic flair on a platform that largely relies on cheap digital film processing.
What’s bad about it?
There’s a reason this show comes with an online guide to follow who each character is and when. There is a large cast of characters at play here and the show does not lend itself to casual viewership, lest you completely lose track of what is going on at any one time (or even which time). As with most stories that use time-travel as a plot device, it’s not long before the increasingly convoluted twists and turns begin to double back in on themselves and leave you wholly confused (or exhausted). It’s also a show that no longer really fits into the crime drama mould other than maybe being loosely considered a thriller, but with most of its mysteries uncovered in the initial season your tolerance of it’s more fantastical elements may vary. Finally, it is not the kind of show to dip in to – it will require you to have seen its debut run in full, and is unapologetic about dropping the viewer directly back into the action with little to no exposition.
Why it’s worth a binge
Overall, Dark is one of the brighter (sorry) stars in the Netflix catalogue – and it came about in a period when the streaming giant still had enough space in it’s programming schedule to give it enough prominence to gather a global following. If you’re a fan of the slightly more oddball offerings the platform finances then this is a rewarding show to indulge your focus on – and with a third (and final) season already on its way, you can be assured it won’t become a victim of the increasingly unceremonious cancellations Netflix now favours.
For our review of Season One, click here