When I started watching Dark – an English dubbed, German science fiction thriller on Netflix – I had people crawling out of the woodwork to tell me to watch it carefully, it was very complex, and so on.
Within a few episodes as the main theme of the series – time travel – became clear to me, I started to realise that a steady diet of Steven Moffat-era Doctor Who had prepared me well for this kind of thing. People living in the past, interacting with their own ancestors, creating paradox on top of paradox… yeah, this was child’s play. I accept it’s not a ‘normal’ TV viewer’s usual fare, however!
So… did I like it? Broadly, yes. There’s an interesting story at hand here, but over 26 episodes (10 in the first series, followed by two series of 8), some plot threads really meander all over the place. The overall story – which falls into place in the last couple of episodes of series three – is actually quite basic when you boil it down. To describe what it is would be a massive spoiler, of course, so I won’t do that. But if you know what the story is, it’s fairly straightforward. What obfuscates it is a couple of dozen episodes where we travel across a ton of different time periods not knowing the motivations of many of the characters. This also results in an already large ensemble cast to effectively triple in size as we meet characters as children, teens, and older adults. Scatter them, at different periods of their lives across all the time zones and… yeah. It really muddies what is quite a straightforward story.
Something that also needs to be noted here is how dour the cast is. These people barely laugh. Most seem to actively dislike one another even if they’re friends. Even when they time travel, none of them seem amazed or even particularly impressed. If I was shot back to 1986 I’d be like, “Wow! It’s 1986! Look at that car! Look at that hairstyle! I time travelled! This is nuts!” Yet this entire cast don’t seem amazed at all. They do it like they just took the bus to the local shops. That’s quite weird, isn’t it?
This extends to one particular pairing in the cast on which everything, literally, hangs. When we get to the final episode, there’s some really nice imagery and a vibe that had me sitting up and thinking, “Now, this is how you end a series like this…” but part of me was also acutely conscious that the relationship between these two is so strange, for so long, that it felt almost unearned in the end.
Almost. There’s enough done between them early on for the ending to work, especially a call back to a line from the first series. That said, I think if the relationship had been done a little differently from the start, what was to follow in the series – and indeed the ending itself – would have the potential to hit incredibly hard. Real Romeo & Juliet stuff. Instead it was more, “OK, that’s nice, that worked, that’s a good ending…” but I didn’t quite feel what I think I was meant to be feeling. I actually wonder if the show’s writing team knew how they were going to end the series when they started writing? If they did, I can’t see why they wouldn’t have set the relationship up a little differently, right from the start.
Again, I liked the series. It’s dark, just like it says in the title. I was shocked at some of the scenes. More than once a character has their head caved in by a rock or some other nearby object, and with all the time travel, I don’t want to even start unravelling some of the family trees that end up being created by people zipping through time periods and having it off with past/future people in their town.
Do I recommend Dark? Yes, I do. With the caveat that it’s the kind of story that starts off simple, then branches out into all sorts of bonkers material that’s not always fully explained, but kind of makes sense. If you’re OK with that, I guarantee by the end it’s tied up with a nice neat bow and although a bunch of threads are never fully teased out, it doesn’t particularly matter. The story ends well.