Dark refresher: Time travel, Sic Mundus, Martha 2.0, and questions that must be answered in Season 3
In the run-up to the third and final season of Dark, we break down all the madness by attempting to step inside the minds of creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese.
When Dark premiered in 2017, it was positioned as a German "Stranger Things" — what with its town with a dark underbelly, disappearing children, and '80s vibes. Talk about false advertising, for this Netflix sci-fi series wasn't weaponising nostalgia. As it dug into this underbelly and expanded beyond its central mystery, it turned out to be far more dense, taking many of us off guard with a fiendishly convoluted plot.
In the run-up to the third and final season of Dark, we break down all the madness by attempting to step inside the minds of creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese — for the sake of everyone’s sanity and to provide some clarity. We try to document most everything, from the confusing time travel paradoxes to that game-changing twist in the Season 2 finale. If you want to read nothing more than the bare minimum of plot summary, we've got you covered too.
Character cheat sheet
Recapping Dark chronologically is a challenge in itself because the first season begins in 2019 before taking us to 1986, 1953 and 2052. The second season unfolds over five different time frames: 1921, 1954, 1987, 2020 and 2053. So, let's start with the who before jumping to the when, why and how. In the small German town of Winden, four families (Dopplers, Kahnwalds, Nielsens and Tiedemanns) are tied together by a mystery that spans generations.
A mere recap of events won't help you find your Dark bearings. You need to carefully study the family trees and possibly keep a character cheat sheet at hand to make things easier to follow. The genealogy is not just another detail; character relationships and their revelations are important plot twists. For example, understanding the quantum weirdness of Charlotte and Elisabeth being each other's mother and daughter surely induced many a headache. If the families in the first season were hard enough to follow, Season 2 did anything but simplify things by adding more characters and time frames. With characters existing simultaneously across different time frames, you need an extraordinary ability to recognise faces instantly. So, arm yourself with a cheat sheet.
Here's a rudimentary version of it:
Mikkel Nielsen (son of Ulrich and Katharina, brother of Martha and Magnus) = Michael Kahnwald (husband of Hannah, father of Jonas)
Jonas Kahnwald = The Stranger = Adam
Claudia Tiedemann (daughter of Egon and Doris Tiedemann, mother of Regina and grandmother of Bartosz) = the White Devil
Charlotte Doppler = mother and daughter of Elizabeth
For a more user-friendly version, click here.
Once upon a time in Winden...
To keep things simple, let's focus on three character threads: Mikkel Nielsen/Michael Kahnwald, Jonas Kahnwald and Claudia Tiedemann.
Season 1 kicks off in 2019 when 11-year-old Mikkel Nielsen disappears into a cave in the woods bordering the town. Turns out, an accident (in 1986) in the local nuclear plant above the cave turned it into a wormhole, one which can be activated with a portable time machine. This allows the townsfolk to travel to the past and future in 33-year increments. Mikkel finds himself transported to 1986, where he takes up the name Michael after being adopted by Inès Kahnwald. He marries Hannah, has a son (Jonas) and eventually kills himself in 2019 — not before leaving a letter addressed to Jonas explaining the whole shebang. In Season 2, we discover that it was Jonas who led young Mikkel into the cave, and also convinces his father to do and write what he must in 2019.
So, we learn the show's mythology through teen Jonas, who is determined like us to find answers to the mysteries of this small town.
Adult Jonas a.k.a. The Stranger also plays an equally vital role in connecting the various threads. He not only educates H.G. Tannhaus on time travel but also brings him the time travel machine that makes it possible. Moreover, his attempt to destroy the wormhole to return everything to normal only ends up creating a whole new one at the end of Season 1. It also leaves teen Jonas stuck in a post-apocalyptic 2052, where he spends a year before he ends up in 1921. Here, he meets Adam, a disfigured man who claims to be his much older version. Yearning to set things right and end the cycle, teen Jonas goes back to 2020 to prevent his father from killing himself. Only, the elderly Claudia Tiedemann convinces him otherwise by explaining his greater role — and that Michael must die and Mikkel must travel to 1986 or he risks jeopardising his own existence.
Claudia goes from head of the nuclear plant to veteran time traveller at the centre of Winden's larger temporal war in Season 2. In 1987, adult Claudia is informed of her mission and left a time machine by her older version from the future, who believes she is saving the world by preventing Adam from creating a new one though the 2020 apocalypse. In the finale, the apocalypse is triggered anyway as Elisabeth activates the God particle in 2053, Magnus and Franziska do likewise in 1921, and the opening of a barrel of radioactive waste at the nuclear plant in 2020 creates a third God particle.
Sic Mundus Creatus Est
Season 2 revealed all the disappearances and mysteries of Winden are collateral damage of a war between two opposing forces: Adam’s Sic Mundus vs Claudia. Though it lifts the veil on the sides fighting for control over time travel, their ultimate goals and motivations are not made clear. Led by Adam, Sic Mundus is made up of Noah, Agnès, and older versions of Magnus and Franziska. Their mission seems to be to make sure all the events occur as ordained to guarantee the apocalypse event on June 27, 2020, which will destroy the old world for a newer, better one. Claudia seems to be acting alone until she requires allies who serve specific purposes of her grand plan, which only she seems to know. We do know she intends to stop Adam, even claiming to be fighting for the "light" in contrast to Adam's "dark" side. However, Dark has proven its approach won't be a simple one of Manichaean dualism. Adam and Claudia are both manipulative, distorting the truth to achieve their ends.
A wrinkle in time
What's at stake in Dark is nothing less than the end of time or a redefinition of it, and the world as it exists. You need to understand four key tenets to understand how time functions in the show. First, the traversable wormhole builds on the concept of the Einstein–Rosen bridge, a speculative idea derived from the theory of general relativity that allows for passage through space-time, from one point in time and/or place to another. Second, it interplays this with the Higgs boson (aka the God particle), which supposedly gives all particles their mass. In the Season 2 premiere, we see it in the form of a floating, amorphous blob which when stabilised turns into a traversable wormhole. Third, it points to Nietzsche's concept of Eternal Recurrence, the idea that all the events that have happened will happen again in an endless cycle. As is often reiterated in the show, "Yesterday, today and tomorrow are not consecutive, they are connected in a never-ending circle," and "the beginning is the end, and the end is the beginning." Fourth, its Bootstrap Paradox suggests when an object is sent back in time, it results in an endless cause-effect loop where the object has no discernible origin, and exists without ever being created. So, the past can't be changed during time travel. This is evident in the Season 2 finale, when Noah tries to shoot Adam, and the gun jams. Moreover, trying to stop something from happening can be the very thing that causes it to happen (like Jonas trying to destroy the wormhole or Claudia accidentally killing her father). This is after all what makes the show so fascinating: the interminable cycle, the inescapable fate and the inability to find the origin of events.
Introducing Martha 2.0
Adult Jonas tries to save Martha, Magnus, Bartosz and Franziska from the apocalypse event by getting them to a bunker. But Martha gets out anyhow. This leads to the much-anticipated reunion between teen Jonas and his ex-lover-cum-aunt in the season-ending climax. It is of course ruined by a shootout which ends with Adam shooting Martha. Then comes the multiverse-changing twist as a new version of Martha meets Jonas, claiming to be from another dimension, not time. She also has with her smaller, spherical space-time machine.
Questions Season 3 needs to answer
With a single timeline of five different periods, Dark is already plenty confusing. The addition of a parallel reality to the equation opens up an endless series of questions on how space-time works in the series.
Elisabeth Doppler in Dark
Then, there are the questions raised in Season 2: Is Adam truly Jonas? If he is, how did Jonas turn into a man with ideas diametrically opposed to his own? How did sweet Elisabeth turn into the merciless head of a militia in 1952? When are Magnus, Bartosz and Franziska? And what the hell is Claudia up to? Hopefully, all this and more are answered in a few days’ time.
If you need more information in the run-up to Season 3, here’s a handy resource to refresh your memories further.
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