Everything is connected in ‘Dark’ season 1, the hypnotic German sci-fi show filled with lost children, time travel and a complex multigenerational family history.
In recent years, European shows gained international fans with their quality productions, which often led to an American remake. See the Danish show Forbrydelsen (The Killing) or the French show Les Revenants (The Returned). The German sci-fi show Dark is the latest Netflix Original series that the streaming service has developed outside the United States. Sci-fi, mystery, time-travel, whodunit — the German drama has it all. Why should you start binging Dark season 1?
German television never took off compared to Scandinavian noir, French thrillers, or British costume dramas. Only in 2015 was the first German-language drama broadcast on an American network, with the spy drama Deutschland 83 on SundanceTV. Now Germans are stepping up their game. In 2017 Amazon launched the cybercrime drama You Are Wanted and the praised organized-family-crime drama 4 Blocks. Besides Dark, Netflix also purchased the broadcast rights for the 1920s period drama Babylon Berlin (now streaming).
The first season of Dark is a 10-episode multigenerational science fiction drama. When the show was announced, comparisons were immediately made to other sci-fi series, such as Stranger Things. However, German showrunner Jantje Friese mentioned that the show was already in production before the Netflix hit was released. Dark operates in a completely different realm. Friese said in an interview with the New York Times: “I don’t know if it’s German angst, but there is something uniquely creepy about Germans, at least from the outside perspective.”
The underlying theme of Dark is inspired by the showrunner’s childhood in Germany during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. The nuclear threat caused widespread fears of contamination because of the release of radioactive materials. The Swiss cocreator Baran bo Odar said on the background of the show, “It’s a very German, or European, feeling that Americans don’t get because they never had fallout like that.” The nuclear disaster resulted in Germany’s 2011 decision to slowly terminate its nuclear reactors. By giving the town’s nuclear power plant a pivotal role, Dark places its contemporary story in the decades-long discussion on nuclear energy and the need for other ways to meet the collective energy demand.
With a show that starts with the Albert Einstein quote “The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” viewers will definitely stay on their toes.
Editor’s note: Try the show in its original German language audio with subtitles in your language.
The opening of Dark immediately sets the right ominous tone: While a voiceover tells us “Everything is connected,” a man makes the final preparations for his violent suicide on June 29, 2019. The only thing he leaves behind for his son Jonas (Louis Hofmann) is a prophetic farewell letter that cannot be opened until 10:13 p.m. on November 4.
It’s one of several mysteries in this enticing drama that takes place in a fictional sleepy German town called Winden (no relation to the real German town Winden im Elztal). In the past 30 years, seemingly nothing has happened, which is surprising for a town located near a large operational nuclear power plant.
The gloomy teenager Jonas has spent some time in a mental hospital after his father’s suicide, and he’s readjusting to life at home when he learns a classmate, Erik, has gone missing. While Jonas and his friends go into the woods to look for the stash of drugs Erik hid there, another teenage boy goes missing. The mysterious disappearance of Mikkel (Daan Lennard Liebrenz) is eerily similar to one that happened 33 years ago and kicks off a chain of startling events: the threatening warnings of a wailing older man, ominous flickering lights, and radioactive black birds that die midflight and fall from the sky. Is it all related to the disappearance of the teens?
One thing is certain: everything leads back to four families who’ve lived in the small town of Winden for generations. These families are represented by police inspector Ulrich Nielson (Oliver Masucci), his colleague Charlotte Doppler (Karoline Eichhorn), hotel owner Regina Tiedemann (Deborah Kaufmann), and masseuse Hannah Kahnwald (Maja Schöne). The show bursts with suffocating interpersonal relationships: the missing Mikkel is the son of the police inspector and the younger brother of Jonas’ ex-girlfriend. The police inspector has an affair with Jonas’ mother; Regina’s husband is the director of the nuclear power plant; Ulrich’s wife is the head of the local school; and so on. The relationships form a tangled web within the small community of Winden.
Dark eventually connects three waves of disappearances — one in 2019, one in 1986, and one in 1953 — through a number of events and characters. Showrunner Baran bo Odar cleverly uses split screens to separate the past, present, and future, and the main characters of the different timelines are played by actors of different ages. It’s up to the viewer to assemble the puzzle pieces: Who (or better yet, what) exactly is Noah? He claims he’s trying to do God’s work and wants to unlock the secrets of time travel, yet he sports a huge tattoo on his back that shows the occult teaching of Hermeticism. So. Many. Questions.
The many secrets and (surprising) twists and cliffhangers hook you into each new episode. With intricate story lines, the show (very) slowly reveals small bits of information. It doesn’t matter, though, because you’ll try to figure out the other pieces of the puzzle. While the script is detailed, some of the characterization could use a bit more depth. There are a lot of characters, identities, and actions, and some get lost in the shuffle.
Still, Dark unfolds as an ingenious tangled web in which missing children, time travel, faith, the myth of Theseus and Minotaur, and Nietzsche’s theory of eternal betrayal are naturally connected. “Life is like a labyrinth,” says the voiceover. This certainly applies to Dark season 1, where the viewer is handed dead-end tracks and misleading clues and has to wait until the finale, where everything (seemingly) falls into place.
But the season finale has a wild turn that has sparked intense discussions online. There are many unanswered questions: What happened to the future? Why are so many young boys targeted? What is Regina’s mother, Claudia, up to? And so many more.
After the show aired, Netflix quickly announced a season 2. Kelly Luegenbiehl, VP of International Originals, was very enthusiastic, stating, “Dark is a testament that great storytelling transcends geography.”
What can we expect for the upcoming season? As they did in the first, the showrunners laid out the story with “a lot of Post-it notes,” but co-creator Friese said, “In the process we also allowed ourselves to be surprised by whatever shows up while we were writing.” It seems they’ll also spotlight some other characters in the show. Friese said, “We’ve done our thinking, and the second season would put more light on other people in the character structures we haven’t been through that much, while not losing some of the ones that you kind of came closer to.”
Netflix hasn’t yet announced when the second season will air. But just as in the show, you can create a wormhole, step back in time, and experience what came before to try to connect the pieces of the puzzle that will solve the mystery of Dark.