The series does feature some fascinating discussions in philosophy over the duration of three seasons, but it is apparent that the writers neither understood what Einstein meant by 'The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,' (the season one quote, which they negate by having all three exist simultaneously, yet very distinctively), nor did they uphold Schopenhauer’s 'Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills,' (the season three quote, which they negate by giving the protagonists a way to finally escape 'fate')
It starts innocently enough with the disappearance of a teenager in a small dreary German town where everybody knows everybody. You are left with the impression that this is “Netflix presents German Stranger Things”, complete with a gang of teenagers with bicycles instead of pre-teens, and a nuclear power plant instead of a top-secret research facility, but equally ominous. Before you start to miss the ‘80s theme, you will encounter some of that as well. And soon you will realize just like in Twin Peaks people are casually cheating on each other, and there is something macabre about the entire setting (they even have a one-eyed side character). The show offers, especially from Season Two onwards, metaphysical musings (a little overdone) that the writers of Westworld wished they had delivered. But what this show really intends to be is, strangely enough, J J Abrams’ sci-fi saga, Fringe, with the good grace to draw an ending after three seasons.
Creators Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar’s Dark has received positive reactions from fans and critics alike. Visually the Netflix Original Series is appealing, and it stays true to its theme. The production quality is at par with big-budget Hollywood flicks, but the style looks somewhat formulaic (just like said movies). The soundtrack is stellar- a fitting theme song, carefully curated music (including a remix of The Pioneers by Bloc Party in true “Hollywood trailers from 2012-2019” style), iconic tunes from the ‘80s. But what really draws in the audience is perhaps the complex narrative of the story, and the truly amazing casting. Rarely have actors with such resemblance been cast as the same characters at different stages of their lives. This is something most productions take for granted, that if you tell the audience it is the same character it should work. However, in Dark they have truly sought out actors that look similar; more often than not you will be able to tell whom you are looking at without being told explicitly.
If you wish to avoid spoilers, it is recommended you stop reading from this point onwards. The progression of the story is anything but linear, and it reveals itself in fragments from different timelines at the beginning, and different dimensions entering the third season. Keeping track of all this will tease the brain for most viewers, even those with relatively exceptional memory. The attraction of the series lies therein, as fans enjoy the mental exercise that comes with the character drama and mystery it presents. It is difficult not to be intrigued by some of the odd settings and events that unfold with time travel. It truly makes for a unique story of desire and deception, and people interacting with their ancestors, or even giving birth to them. This is one department where the writers have succeeded without making any gaffes. No matter how you look at it, the circular family tree of characters the show has provided holds up. For the heavily invested audience multiple charts are available on Wikipedia and Reddit to scrutinize.
Where the series fails miserably, however, is at explaining the science behind time travel or even where it attempts to edify the audience about the existence of multiple dimensions. Surely, the best approach to problems like these are to leave them unexplained, but Dark attempts to set up too many avenues for time travel, and none of them make sense scientifically. One should find it downright insulting if they are to believe that Caesium-137, the half-life of which is apparently the reason why you can time hop in multiples of 33 years (yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds), can somehow create time traveling portals. Or time traveling through a tunnel with three openings in three directions that lead to the same spot in three different times. Or how Schrödinger’s thought experiment of the cat being simultaneously dead and alive is supposed to explain the existence of multiple dimensions (it does not, and randomly throwing in words like “quantum entanglement” may wow some, but does little for the story to make sense). The list would go on, but perhaps the worst of them was Jonas, the protagonist, not being able to shoot himself (the gun stops working only when he wields it) because his future self is alive.
Dark also has its fair share of ridiculous overly dramatic scenes, like two people fighting over a phone receiver resulting in the death of one (falls and cracks his skull). Forces from apocalyptic events from two separate dimensions combined and channeled through a portal to kill a multi-dimensional child. Then there is the long list of plot elements that were never sufficiently explained, because the writers possibly abandoned them along the way. And there are plenty of them, starting from the first missing teenager and why exactly it was necessary for them to be sent through time with a rudimentary time machine (yes, there are about six different ways to travel) that kills them.
A Mixed Bag
The writers bank on the very fact that when you hit the audience with the more baffling concepts of physics (they throw in the Higgs boson particle in the mix too) they will just skip the details and be awed and amazed, and that is what has happened apparently. The series does feature some fascinating discussions in philosophy over the duration of three seasons, but it is apparent that the writers neither understood what Einstein meant by "The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion," (the season one quote, which they negate by having all three exist simultaneously, yet very distinctively), nor did they uphold Schopenhauer’s “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills,” (the season three quote, which they negate by giving the protagonists a way to finally escape “fate”).
Some elements of the series were repetitive, for instance, the two main characters, Jonas and Martha, seem to wake up from nightmares with a start far too many times. The characters repeat the same sayings over and over again. There are scenes throughout the series that are stylized, great to look at, but do absolutely nothing to forward the story. And the pacing is off for much of the second and third seasons. Yet despite all its flaws the human story of Dark probably endures. There are fun elements here and there as well. And at its core, the show is a love story, and it wraps up the arc with a fitting ending. If you can ignore the ridiculous parts, and soldier on through the boring parts, there are parts you will definitely enjoy.