TV Recap: Netflix’s DARK Season 1&2 For Beginners
(Spoilers ahead for Dark seasons 1 & 2, available now on Netflix)
June 27, 2020
Tag der Apokalypse
The “day of the apocalypse” as depicted in Netflix’s Dark coincided with its Season 3 release, and that’s nothing short of eerie itself. In this sci-fi thriller, initially dubbed as the Stranger Things’ German counterpart by many, the “beginning is the end” and everything in the middle is destined to destroy our faith in family trees. When the first season released in December 2017, I wasn’t too keen on jumping on this bandwagon to cope with the absence of Stranger Things.
I was years old when my friend Pranav N. Venkit reintroduced me to the show, now dubbing it as the “new Predestination.” Frankly, that gave away the entire plot, although he argues it was me who “assumed what turned out to be true.” The bottom line is, if you haven’t watched the past two seasons and are wondering why Twitter has been going berserk with June 27, 2020 and a cycle reset, here’s a recap of Dark to kickstart your journey.
The story begins with a suicide, a missing teenager and a strange love affair in Winden, Germany. “Secrets” is an apt title for the first episode that reveals what some of the characters are up to in 2019. Baran bo Odar, co-creator of the show, said there are 72 characters in the whole story. The number might be seemingly small to nascent eyes especially for a story that involves time travelling but brace yourself for heavy impact.
Protagonist Jonas Kahnwald (Louis Hoffman/Andreas Pietschmann/Dietrich Hollinderbäumer) misses a couple of months at school while attending therapy following his father Michael Kahnwald (Sebastian Rudolph)’s suicide. On his return, he finds two unrelated things — his schoolmate Erik Obendorf (Paul Radom) had gone missing a couple of days prior to his return, and his best friend Bartosz Tiedemann (Paul Lux) is dating his ex-girlfriend Martha Nielsen (Lisa Vicari). But that wasn’t the strange love affair — his mother Hannah Kahnwald (Maja Schöne) is now seeing Martha’s father Ulrich Nielsen (Oliver Masucci) in secret; Ulrich also happens to be the police officer working on Erik’s case. And all the while, in what appears to be a bunker-like room, Erik is being held captive and being experimented on.
In the pursuit of Erik’s drug stash by the Winden Caves, Ulrich’s three kids — Magnus (Moritz Jahn), Martha and Mikkel (Daan Lennard Liebrenz)— along with Jonas, Bartosz and Franziska Doppler (Gina Stiebitz) hear two intense bangs emanating from the Caves that mysteriously makes all their torches flicker. Side note: Franziska is one of two Charlotte Doppler’s (Karoline Eichhorn) daughters; Charlotte is Winden’s police chief and her husband Peter Doppler (Stephan Kampwirth) is Jonas’ therapist. The group loses Mikkel during their retreat, making this the third disappearance in Winden — the first being Ulrich’s brother Mads Nielsen (Valentin Oppermann) in 1986. Unbeknownst to anyone including himself, 1986 is also the same year that Mikkel time travels to.
Ulrich wants to connect all the three missing person cases with the Caves as a common location and ends up finding a locked entrance to the Winden Nuclear Power Plant inside. Remember this connection! Also, the director of the plant is Aleksander Tiedemann (Bela Gabor Lenz/Peter Benedict), husband of Regina Tiedemann (Deborah Kaufmann) and father of Bartosz. So that makes it four families — Kahnwalds, Nielsens, Dopplers and Tiedemanns. Here’s a family tree to help you remember who is whom.
During the course of their search, the Winden police find the dead body of a young boy in the forest which Ulrich believes to be Mads. He’s right, Mads is dead; the experiment Erik was undergoing failed for Mads. Later that day, events similar to the night of Mikkel’s disappearance occur again but this time a new character checks into Winden: Jonas’ older self (Andreas Pietschmann) from an unknown time. The bangs that appear to be generated by the Caves, birds dying and lights flickering are all indicative of someone time travelling.
Jumping to 1986, Mikkel has now accepted the reality of time travel but is unable to snap out of it. His nurse/adoptive mother Ines Kahnwald (Anne Ratte-Polle) is strangely protective of him and tries to subdue his feelings by occasionally drugging him. If you haven’t already guessed, Mikkel grows to become Michael a.k.a. Jonas’ father in 2019. This could explain why Michael seemed tired all the time or why he was extremely detached from society: he simply didn’t belong. On another side note, that would make Martha Jonas’ aunt and Ulrich Jonas’ grandfather. And this ties back to the ‘strange’ love affair in Winden. Creeped out, yet? Breathe in, breathe out.
1986 is also the same year when Regina’s mother Claudia Tiedemann (Julika Jenkins/Lisa Kreuzer) is appointed as the nuclear power plant’s director, carrying Bernd Doppler’s (Michael Mendl) legacy forward. It is quite unclear if Bernd started this plant in 1953 or if he’s the father of Helge Doppler (Tom Philipp/Peter Schneider/Hermann Beyer), the boy who went missing in 1953 but returned after a few days. The police officer in charge of that case was Claudia’s father, Egon Tiedemann (Christian Pätzold), who retired just after she took over the plant. On her first day at work as the director, Helge gifts Claudia a book titled Eine Reise durch die Zeit (A Journey Through Time) by H. G. Tannhaus (Arnd Klawitter/Christian Steyer). Alright, time for another breathing exercise: Tannhaus is Charlotte Doppler’s guardian/adoptive grandfather after Noah (Mark Waschke/Max Schimmelpfennig), her father, abandons her.
Jumping forward to the present, i.e. 2019, Noah gives Charlotte’s younger daughter Elizabeth Doppler (Carlotta von Falkenhayn/Sandra Borgmann) a watch that he claims once belonged to her mother. Noah is a part of Sic Mundus Creatus Est, an organization of time travelers that’s responsible for all the disappearances, experiments and dead bodies randomly appearing near the Caves. A bunker close to the Caves holds one of the first time-travelling machine prototypes in the ‘80s, but is being used by the Dopplers for storage/hideout in 2019.
This bunker used to belong to Peter Doppler’s father Helge in his younger years. A grown up Helge teamed up with Noah to test the time machine prototype on kids, which explains all the random disappearances throughout history. In 2019, he suffers from dementia and never stops uttering phrases like “must stop Noah” or “it’s going to happen again.” The problem is we don’t know which year Noah is from or why Helge is his accomplice, it could probably be because Helge’s father helped established the plant but it still doesn’t add up.
Ulrich follows the 2019 Helge at night, suspecting him of being involved in the case to find the Sic Mundus gateway hidden inside the Caves. As he follows Helge into the gateway, Ulrich ends up in 1953 when the nuclear plant was being constructed. It turns out that Erik is found dead at the plant’s construction site. He accurately suspects Helge’s involvement and develops a plan to kill young Helge, thinking this might bring back Mikkel and the other boys. 1953 is also the same year Ulrich meets a young Tannhaus, who hasn’t written the book yet. Ulrich forgets he has his phone with him, and Tannhaus later uses it to fix the time machine.
Ulrich gets stuck in 1953, having been arrested for attempting to murder young Helge. It’s in this year that 2019 Claudia asks Tannhaus to build a portable version of the time machine that uses radioactive material as fuel (I’m looking at you, Back to the Future). All the while, Jonas has been doing his fair share of time travelling, too — he almost brought Mikkel back to 2019, which would have erased himself out of existence.
Noah makes Bartosz his accomplice in 2019 and reveals a few things about time travelling and how the older Jonas begins the last cycle by proving certain events that later occur exactly how he predicted — namely, his mother gets cancer and Jonas disappears. The Sic Mundus trap Jonas in the 1986 bunker at the same time when Ulrich traps young Helge in 1953. So when Jonas’ older self tries to close the wormhole in 1986 thinking it might shut down the time cycle madness, the two bunker residents swap places but Jonas ends up in a 2052’s post-apocalyptic Winden.
Years we know exist: 1953, 1986, 2019 and 2052.
Years everyone’s stories span through this season: 1921, 1954, 1987, 2020 and 2053.
Many characters that know the mechanics of the time machine know the number 33, its scientific and biblical significance. Every 33 years, the sun and the moon perfectly align in a phenomena called the lunar-moon cycle. When Jonas meets Tannhaus in 1986 (season 1), he says the past influences the future the same way the future influences the past as long as the wormhole exists, that everything inside it is mutually dependent. This probably sparked Jonas to destroy the wormhole.
This season takes us to the beginning, when the Caves gateway was still being built, 33 years before 1954. A young Noah in 1921 has been digging the cave and the older Noah has been hunting down missing pages from Claudia’s diary that supposedly recorded events across timelines. The older Jonas reveals his identity to his mother Hannah in 2019, while the younger Jonas is in 2053 trying to understand why the older Elisabeth is leading the last known civilization, and why she kills anyone entering the nuclear power plant. He later finds out it houses the wormhole, a nebulous black sphere floating above radioactive material.
It’s been 34 years since Ulrich got arrested for attempting to murder young Helge. In 1987, Egon visits Ulrich in the psychiatric ward to figure out Mikkel’s weird case in the ‘80s, how he randomly appeared in Winden and why Ulrich’s claims were accurate. He gets really close to understanding time travel but doesn’t actually get to do it himself. The only people who have been travelling the entire season, to understand causes and effects of events, are Jonas, Noah, Claudia, Helge, Ulrich, and Hannah, until Bartosz takes Martha, Magnus, Franziska and Elisabeth to 1987 using his version of the time machine. Currently there are two such machines that exist, one owned by the older Jonas and one in the kids’ possession. Magnus’ mother Katharina Nielsen (Jördis Triebel) later confiscates the time machine from him to bring back Mikkel.
Adam (Dietrich Hollinderbäumer), the apparent leader of Sic Mundus, turns out to be a much older and disfigured Jonas, whose base is set up in 1921. In a side story, Aleksander Tiedemann is trying to safeguard his real identity as Boris Niewald from an out-of-town investigator Clausen (Sylvester Groth) appointed to solve the missing persons cases in Winden. The overarching theme of this season establishes two groups that each recruit their members by confusing their perception about right and wrong: Claudia’s group which consists of all the adults including the older Jonas, and Sic Mundus, which consists of disfigured Jonas and the younger Jonas from 2019.
The season ends with the reopening of the wormhole parallely across three time periods: in 1921 by the Sic Mundus, by Katharina in 2020, and by Elisabeth in 2053 (after she realizes Jonas has fled to 2020 using the wormhole). Once the wormhole is open, Adam follows Jonas to 2020 to kill Martha, shortly after ordering Agnes to kill Noah in 1921. While mourning Martha’s death, a futuristic looking Martha of the same age visits 2020 with a new version of the time machine and asks Jonas to leave with her.
“What time did you come from”? Jonas asks frantically.
“The question isn’t what time, the question is what world,” Martha says.
The first two seasons of Dark heavily dealt with the concept of time, and the ‘cause and effect’ of minor events. But the ending reveals it is bigger than what a young Mikkel in 2019 told his father Ulrich about magic tricks: “The question is not how, the question is when.” There are many questions left unanswered for season 3 of Dark to explore — what does the investigator Clausen have to do with these four families? What is Aleksander Tiedemann’s past? How did Claudia begin her journey? What did Noah find in Claudia’s diary that got him killed? Why did Adam kill Martha? And why does Noah leave his daughter Charlotte with Tannhaus? —amongst others. I want to develop a fan theory but I’m afraid I might lose the only mental dexterity I will need to consume these answers.
Dark Season 3, Episode 1 is titled “Deja Vu,” which is an unbelievably intelligent call-back to Martha’s dialogue in Season 1, Episode 1 “Secrets,” where she mentions having a déjà vu to Jonas but he laughs it off. Towards the end of the first two seasons, I understand why it is loosely compared to Stranger Things: ‘80s background, bicycles, flickering lights, sci-fi film references in dialogues and inspiration the work and styles of from Stephen King and David Lynch. Nevertheless, don’t ever commit the mistake of introducing this show to your friends by comparing it with Predestination.
Dark Season 3 is out on Netflix! The apocalypse is now in motion. Catch us later with a recap and review of the season later in the week.