Dark (spoiler-free) review: Season 3 offers closure, answers and leaves us to contemplate on them
Besides its geeky allure, a key to the success of Dark Season 3 lies in the mystery lurking beneath the mundane.
"Everything is connected," We've been told over and over again across three seasons of Dark. You realise the true weight of these words only as you watch the final two episodes of the Netflix series. When the clarity comes, it is not a loud Eureka moment but one of quiet resolution to every unanswered question, every trip across space-time, every metaphor-laden speech, every word spoken and unspoken, and every moment lived and relived. It turns out nothing that happened in Winden was accidental. It was all connected in a grand, precise scheme with a beginning and an end, consciously orchestrated by creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese.
Reframing our perceptions of everything that came before, Dark closes up shop with a coda as poignant as any of us could have wished for. Season 3, which drops on the same day as the apocalypse, challenges our ability to keep up with an even trickier narrative, as it adds a parallel dimension to the equation. What was teased in the Season 2 finale is confirmed in the first episode of the final instalment as Martha 2.0 (Lisa Vicari) escorts teen Jonas (Louis Hofmann) to her reality. We cannot go into detail on the ways Winden 2.0 is different from the Winden we have known for the last two seasons — not without revealing spoilers. But let us just say the fates of characters from both realities are tied together, and it is up to teen Jonas and Martha 2.0 to untangle the knots.
However, as they try to understand and break the endless cycle of events, they must confront opposition from both worlds. Some of them are "pawns on a chessboard" led by Adam, the others led by the mysterious Eva. As the story progresses (here, a concept as relative as time), Odar and Friese add more pieces to the puzzle with romantic entanglements and unspoken family secrets. In addition, they refuel the narrative engine with fresh Biblical references, philosophical reflections, and quantum theories to test our cognitive endurance levels.
To truly enjoy the Dark experience, you must be willing to do your own detective work, instantly determining who is who, where and when in Winden. You must also try to make sense of all the cryptic dialogue the characters so frugally dispense. In consequence, your brain will have to work overtime during every minute of its runtime (and outside of it as the paradoxes spill into your nightmares) — and still not be disheartened that you could not make sense of it all.
In essence, to enjoy Dark, you must come to terms with the fact that you will be in the dark occasionally.
For two seasons, Dark gained its binge-able allure by dangling answers tantalisingly out of reach. Yet, like a cat chasing a ball of yarn, we felt some kind of connection to it. Entranced in its kaleidoscopic swirl, we were constantly denied answers to an endless list of questions. Even if the finale does not give you closure in the traditional sense, there is a masochistic joy in understanding how all the once-frustrating pieces fit into the puzzle. The story-ending revelation does not feel perfunctorily staged; it feels like it was long-planned by Odar and Friese, who possibly envisioned a three-season arc from the beginning.
A satisfying finale of course cannot paper over a few of the narrative shortcomings. A lot of its themes and ideas are reiterated and illustrated repeatedly to the point of redundancy. Odar and Friese disapprove of exposition in one go, and break it up into parts. Characters, and the viewer, only get treated to partial truths, never the whole version. This narrative withholding is employed across the entire narrative arc to not only build suspense but also keep the characters on their toes. The men and women of Winden ask a lot of the same questions we do, only their older counterparts respond in frustrating half-truths and metaphors. After a while, all the older townsfolk begin to sound the same way, speaking in the same sinister tone and cryptic fashion. In this way, Odar and Friese are very much like their Westworld counterparts Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.
Beyond the feat of telling a time-travel mystery that spans three centuries, Dark frames an all-too-human story about love and hate, hope and despair, guilt and atonement. Ulrich abandons the present, and condemns himself to spend the rest of his life in the past for the slim chance he may get to see his son Mikkel again. Claudia's journey encompasses the past, present, and future in search of a way to save her daughter Regina. The townsfolk are constantly reminded they cannot change the past and everything that happens will happen again; yet, many try to break out of the endless cycle. Herein lies the eternal conflict between the old and young. Adam and Eva want the cycle to perpetuate in their own way, each believing their version of the world to be better. Only, Jonas and Martha, being young, hold out hope and that irrepressible will that they can change their past and future. Thus, it is their love story that grounds Dark, the spoonful of sugar to help wash down the anguish and paradoxes.
No doubt an ambitious narrative experiment, Dark is a reminder of the still unexplored dimensions of long-form storytelling. Like Primer and Predestination, the series challenges our perception of storytelling as a series of causes and effects while reinventing time-travel tropes of choice versus fate.
Besides its geeky allure, a key to the its success lies in the mystery lurking beneath the mundane.
The presence of a nuclear power plant and the misty woods anchor the show in an atmosphere that feeds off itself. Ben Frost's musical motifs also add a sense of foreboding to it. Three-quarters into each episode, he lets a poignant indie track play over a montage — it feels like the camera is checking in on all the characters to inform us of their emotional state.
Watching the final season should also make for a fun bingo drinking game. Take a shot every time: Jonas or Martha wake up gasping for air, they indulge in incest missionary-style, and someone repeats, "The beginning is the end, and the end is the beginning” or "What we know is a drop, what we don't know is an ocean." And take one final shot after the finale in tribute to Odar and Friese — for pulling off something destined to be a cult TV phenomenon sure to be dissected and discussed for ages.
Dark Season 3 begins streaming on Netflix from 27 June.
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