The concepts of time and free will have been explored many times in film and television, but Netflix’s Dark puts a new unique spin on the examination of these themes. Dark Season 1 was released on Netflix in 2017 to positive reviews, some noting the show’s similarity to a cross between Twin Peaks and Stranger Things (a scarily accurate comparison). The show follows the residents of a small German town, Winden, following the suicide of a man and the seeming abduction of a child. This Dark Season 1 review will contain SPOILERS until the last paragraph.
Jonas is back at school following a break he took after the suicide of his father. During this time, another high schooler, Erik, has been abducted and is currently being searched for. Jonas, his best friend Bartosz, his ex-girlfriend Martha, and Martha’s brothers, Magnus and Mikkel, go searching for Erik’s drug stash. They then encounter some seemingly supernatural sound and event near the caves of Winden when the youngest of them, Mikkel, goes missing. Ulrich (the father of Martha, Magnus, and Mikkel) is also a police officer who, while looking for Mikkel, finds the body of another child with burn marks around his eyes and ears. This all occurs within the first episode, and the following nine explore the search for these lost children and the familial and romantic relationships between the residents of Winden in the present and past, using themes and concepts such as time and duality.
In these episodes, characters travel through time discovering themselves, friends, and family, all in the past. They learn about the abductions and supernatural events that seem to occur every 33 years in Winden. With their traveling back in time, a simple plot point would have been falling back on the butterfly effect, and while this is mentioned, it would have felt expected and unoriginal. Instead, the show goes for something far more innovative and complex: it asks, what if some of these time travelers got lost in the past? Would they grow up to be adults we’ve already met in the future? Would they, as adults, meet the child version of themselves before they went back in time? And what are the implications of all of this playing with time and space?
These questions lead to what is a highly complicated show. One needs to keep track of which character is which in three different time periods, who they are the parent, lover, child, or friend of, and which people may be more than one person after having time traveled. It requires that the audience pays close attention to names, faces, and details, and even then may lead to pausing to take a second and remember, or theorizing after the episode is over. But this kind of refusal to make it easy on the audience is part of what makes it such an enjoyable watch. It allows for theorizing that may sometimes come true (at least partially) or be completely dismissed. The complexity adds a participatory element to a medium that is usually far more passive.
To take it again to another level, the atmosphere of the show is some of the best I have come across. The cinematography presents us with beautiful shots of a dark and moody town, filled with well-constructed characters. It shows how desolate their town is, contrasting shots of the forest with the twin cooling towers of the nuclear plant and with neverending rain, or the individual families harboring simultaneous desire and hatred towards other members. The music compounds this sense of emptiness and hopelessness, with each song or original score being perfectly chosen and incorporated. Finally, the casting again adds to this level of brilliant atmosphere. Whereas the casting for younger/older versions of characters is excellent (as they really do all look so similar) there are also great choices such as the antichrist figure, Noah, who feels as if he embodies evil just in his eyes.
The direction of Dark Season 1 is truly brilliant, but the ending of the season does leave me a bit worried. It shows Jonas traveling forward in time, into the future. The land seems ravaged by war – post-apocalyptic but technologically advanced. It is an interesting setting, but it has me hoping that the future seasons do not take a turn into apocalyptic fiction or a more action-oriented approach, but rather still focuses on the more interpersonal struggle that made this season so fun to watch. That being said, the ending is still good and does not warrant any criticism, but it gives a certain apprehension. My only true complaint is that it does seem to borrow a bit too heavily on past TV shows. Where it could have just shown influence from Stranger Things, for example, it instead seemed to take some ideas directly from it.
Overall, Dark Season 1 is an exciting, actively engaging, and beautifully designed season of television. It takes the concepts explored in a show like Stranger Things but gives the a more intriguing, mature, and gruesome twist. The actor’s performances are each excellent and the casting is spot on. Atmospherically, there truly does not seem to be a better show on television right now, and the show would be worth watching just for this alone. Finally, the plot is told in an intelligent and satisfying way, forcing the audience to watch carefully.
Dark Season 2 Review: Here
Dark Season 3 Review: Here
Dark Series Review: Here
See other TV/movie reviews or what I plan to watch next here: Review