Back in 2017, we had the chance to go to TIFF for the first time and we managed to watch the premiere of Dark. Although kind of by accident because I had misread the description and I thought it was a film and not a series but needless to say I was pleasantly surprised and fully engrossed after screening the first two episodes. Believe me. It is very good. Now, it’s kind of difficult to get into the specifics of the show without getting into spoilers and revealing any major plot points, so here goes.
Dark follows four main families in a small town of Winden as they deal with the aftermath of a team’s disappearance as the story progresses, secrets begin to be revealed changing our perspective and continuously forcing us to wonder: What is going on? In addition to the mystery, the plot is very character-driven. We follow the town’s inhabitants and discover how their lives intertwine and affect each other throughout the years. The small town component, the child disappearance and the kids on bikes initially brought in many comparisons to Stranger Things, but those similarities are barely surface level.
Dark might have elements reminiscent of Lost or Fringe as well. But it’s its own thing The mystery aspect leads to a smart and fulfilling piece of science fiction. The characters are often facing existential queries that aren’t easily answered and in turn make us ponder on life, mortality, determinism and the nature of free will. The show’s creators, Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese always knew how the series would end and wanted it to not overstate its welcome as some good shows unfortunately due which is why the writing is tight and the entire run is only 26 episodes long… over three seasons.
The first season introduces us to the main cast. It builds the foundation of their world, showing us the outline of said world and teaches us the general rules. The second season digs deeper, failing in many gaps of the world’s outlined that have been hidden. Further fleshing out the plot and the characters that didn’t seem as important at first glance. Like in a game when an open world map begins to be filled in.
Season 3 expands on everything we knew adding new layers and variables all the wild bringing the story to a close. With a current oversaturation of television and the various streaming services there is a parade of series that have a great concept but fall short in developing it in an effective and appealing manner. Stories that start off with a bang but fizzle out halfway through not delivering on the promised premise shows that don’t know how to end, or a growing cast of characters that are relegated to the background because there is no longer way to improve them all in the story.
Thankfully, Dark is not one of these series. It knows what it is and it knows where it’s going. The creator’s desire to bring the big screen to the small screen also gives us something that is beautiful to look at. The cinematography complements the sombre tone along with Ben Frost’s haunting score. The casting crew successfully found the right actors and the director brought out their talent to the surface.
If you’re planning on investing your time and attention on Dark, I suggest you make sure you have no distractions, that you’re wide awake and you have something to take notes with. The character family trees get complicated. Luckily, the showrunners’ approach to the character’s appearance reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s funny hat principle. Most have an identifying physical characteristic to help us remember who they are. You will find yourself pausing an episode to find your bearings. Especially if you’re not accustomed to watching a show with subtitles, which without the tracking from the dubbing team’s hard work, it’s the best way to enjoy the show when the weight was intended.
The twists and reveals are satisfying and sometimes infuriating the existential themes are just as enthralling as a sci-fi. Ultimately beneath the layers of high concepts, this story is unequivocally a human one about love, loss and how far we’re willing to go for those that we’ve lost. This series is definitely worthy of being binged.