Dark, like New Year’s Eve or our birthday, makes us aware of time and its transience. 1953, 1986 and 2019. Every 33 years terrible happenings haunt the rural German village of Winden. A nuclear power plant and isolated caves form a contradictory location that creates the series’ tension and forms a beautifully creepy setting.
Flocks of sheep found suddenly lifeless and dying birds with mysterious changes in their feathers remind the viewer of the eponymous British horror movie from 2005. But these weird incidents are accompanied by children who disappear without trace. Events that cast more and more light on the four families at the centre of the drama, their fractured relationships, double lives and dark past are told via many shifts in time. The audience is asked to board H.G. Wells’ time machine to investigate the strange occurrences. The new Netflix original can be placed next to famous time travel series such as J.J. Abram’s Lost and Bob Gale’s Back to the Future. The common theme of these series is emphasised by tiny clues like the initials of H.G. Tannhaus (Arns Klawitter) that allude to the well-known founding father of time travel, H.G. Wells. All of them try to pinpoint the nature of the beast. But meanwhile, all the characters in Dark come across a past that coheres with their present more than they might have guessed.
Many critics have not done their research when they argue that Dark tries to imitate the already successful Netflix series Stranger Things. Dark was actually already in production when Stranger Things was released, and totally different plot elements based on the Grandfather paradox make it a unique German series that will persist longer than certain others. The fact that even Americans like watching the mysterious story which engulfs police officer Ulrich Nielsen’s (Oliver Masucci) and Michael Kahnwald’s (Sebastian Rudolph) families is evidence enough that Germany is well able to produce a series that can hold its own next to Stranger Things or House of Cards.
With spooky music und image cuts perfectly adapted to the complex, ingenious plot, the series offers everything that Germans love – settings involving schools, police departments, forests and nuclear power plants. Baran bo Odar (Executive producer) creates a complex plot that challenges the viewer to solve the riddle. In a country of poets and thinkers, the population has to scrutinise their ordinary live to vanquish the deadlocked cycle of suspicion and secrets. If there is one underlying message in every episode, a moral of the story, it is that German lives are always repeated. The different plot levels directly address the viewer’s life. And that is exactly the point at which I started to love the series. Reflecting on my own life while getting the creeps from the series’ plot at the same time is the perfect pursuit for a Saturday evening.
The inclusion of famous 80’s hits like Nena’s “Anyplace, Anywhere, Anytime” does more than just remind the currently middle-aged of their youth. By addressing dualism as the main driving force that has influenced German lives and thoughts, the series opens up another plane, a third one. Like the triad in Nena’s song, the world does not only consist of good and bad, there is always another dimension that every human being should consider when forging an opinion. Dark is not good or bad either. It’s brilliant.
And if you find that after having watched the series once you still can’t make sense of the many paradoxes and characters, watch it twice. Dark deserves it.
To sum up, anyone who wants to be beamed back into the eighties or wants to see the beginnings of the first German nuclear power plant is warmly invited to watch the new Netflix original. The series’ wit, mysterious scenes and dark characters are one-of-a-kind. This unique German series challenges its audience to stay on top of things but also offers picturesque and authentic insights into German society at three different times. And which other series can claim that?
By David Meyer