Electron Dance
19Jun/198

The Farfield: Dark

The Farfield is an occasional series where I write about something other than gaming.

This is a machine seen in the German sci-fi thriller, Dark. A clockwork mechanism with a beautiful, intricate design that defies understanding.

That, right there, tells you everything you need to know about Dark.

Netflix thinks it knows me. It gives me a little wave and hollars yoohoo every time a new sci-fi or horror series becomes available, with movies thrown in for good measure. Indeed, I had a long period where I was a total sucker for these recommendations. There were high points, like Stranger Things. But there were also a lot of low points like Stranger Things, the second season. I had a thing for Van Helsing, but its rampant misanthropy coupled with efforts to establish a “mythology” drove me bonkers. I loved Travelers. I hated The Rain. Today I am impatient. Chambers? Skip to the end.

Dark arrived when I was in transit from Netflix optimism to Netflix cynicism. I watched it out of curiosity. The trailers had a vibe but trailers always have a vibe. Even the worst shit can vibe hard. But I couldn’t remember the last time I watched a German series. Probably the original Das Boot miniseries... er, in 1984.

I remember comparisons being made to Stranger Things when Dark hit Netflix back in 2017. These comparisons were obviously made by people who had not watched Dark because it was nothing, nothing like Stranger Things. Dark initially presents as a thriller about a missing boy in the German town of Winden. Is he alive or dead? Who took him? Why? By the end of the first episode, Dark had already thrown me an unexpected twist. And when Dark finally admits, okay, we got some time-travelling shit going down, all hell breaks loose.

The mysteries multiply. The number of stories you’re having to follow and cross-reference explode - then fold back on themselves. Scenes tease revelation, but never give away enough, always missing a vital something. And just when you think the show might be running out of road, Dark politely explains you're not even halfway down this particular yellow-brick autobahn. At times it was a little wait who is that person again yet I ate up the details.

Dark was like a hardcore puzzle game, with the viewer/player expected to do the work and not have everything spoonfed to them. Do keep up, old chap. I was in awe at the plotting. The story was just like that clockwork machine, a thing of elegant beauty, but fuck knows what it means.

If it has any faults: well, first off, everybody is miserable. There is very little cheer in the series - perhaps 8-year-old free spirit Elisabeth Doppler, but that's about all I can recall. Bad things are happening to everyone and everything is gradually getting worse. Secondly, I also had the nagging worry that the story being so well-plotted might eventually feel arbitrary and constructed: X happened because the writers wrote that it was so.

But I watched the series twice. It has so many lovely flourishes - like Agnes Obel’s Familiar playing over an end-of-episode montage - and the casting is incredible. But as the final credits roll, you’ll still have many questions.

I write about it now, a year and a half later, because it’s back. Netflix is putting up the second series of Dark on Friday. I don’t know if it’ll be the second season of Stranger Things all over again, but I’ll definitely be watching.

That clockwork machine. It's everything you need to know.

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Comments (8) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Sold! Dark has been sitting around my Netflix queue for more than a year, but I haven’t started it up. Now I will!

    Judging by your screen caps there, HM, the show offers an option for Original-German-With-English-Subtitles. Part of the reason I haven’t tried some of the more intriguing international horror and sci-fi Netflix has on offer is their trailers (over here, at least) are terribly dubbed, with bored-sounding Americans mumbling along to carefully crafted European performances, their phonemes and lip movements matching up not at all. It’s very off-putting. Give me a subtitle any day.

    I loved Travelers as well. It’s done so earnestly and so well, taking an idea that’s a little ridiculous on the surface and engaging you so well in the long game that you (I, at least) never bother to think about the short one. It’s a really good show, those who haven’t tried it and think it might be up their alley. Give it a shot.

    You are Master of Harbours and of Netflix alike!

  2. Hello Steerpike! Yes indeed I watched it with subtitles. I think it’s likely right up your street. It has the narrative density of, say, Game of Thrones. I also think of Twin Peaks a little, because its about “place” but I feel that may draw incorrect assumptions. I think I failed to predict much of the plot and that is high praise.

    Travelers really chewed on the ethical aspects of its conceit and I really liked that. I’m not sure how I feel about its ending in season 3 though (which was developed before the cancellation news came in, I believe). It was unsatisfying in some ways – and I don’t want to get into details here in case anyone is still planning to watch. Maybe an email would suffice…

  3. Netflix has developed a nasty habit of cancelling things after three seasons, quality notwithstanding. I know viewership is a factor, but isn’t (part of) the point of streaming television that the “good” execs can keep something worthwhile on, even if it’s not hugely popular, because it’s the right thing to do? A single show doesn’t influence their bottom line the way a failing show on network TV does.

    I’m still mad at them for The Santa Clarita Diet, which I discovered late (usually Drew Barrymore annoys me) and found it to be one of the funniest things ever, period. And now… gone.

    The knowledge that Dark is cancelled won’t stop me from watching it — IF I can get the subtitles, though who knows, maybe Netflix thinks US viewers are too stupid or impatient or whatever to watch a subbed show — but it makes me sad all the same. I’m excited to see it based on your thoughts.

    Then… we will email!

  4. Steerpike! Most urgent news! I was referring to “Travelers” when talking about cancellation.

    I didn’t go near Santa Clarita Diet because I’d already dined on iZombie and found it… take it or leave it. Which is a shame as I loved the Veronica Mars.

  5. Thanks for the recommendation! I watched the first season over the weekend and enjoyed it a lot.
    As a German, it’s great to see a TV show from here that I actually enjoy. Let’s just hope the second season doesn’t disappoint.

  6. Asuro, good to hear! I haven’t watched any of the new series myself and probably won’t get around to it for a few weeks – such is my life! We’re currently seeing ourselves through The Sinner (S1), GoT (S3) and Killing Eve (S2)!

  7. Wait, so they’ve cancelled Travelers but Dark remains? Actually rereading your response, that’s pretty obvious. *ahem*

    Well, at least we have Dark. I have to get through Neon Genesis Evangelion again first though, to see if I can change my opinion of it, since last time we discussed it you called me names and implied I wouldn’t be allowed to take care of your kids if you and Mrs. HM decided to take a trip up the coast for a weekend. I prepared this time. I read articles in anticipation. I did my homework. If I hate it this time, by god, at least it won’t be because I didn’t get it!

    iZombie is cute but it’s no comparison to Santa Clarita Diet, which is wildly superior and far more hilarious. Your kilometerage may vary, but I think you’ll get a kick out of it. I experienced huge perceptual dissonance while watching it, too, because I was also watching Deadwood at the time. Switching back and forth between Timothy Olyphant as the intense, terrifying Seth Bullock and the zany, ridiculous Joel Hammond did quite a number on my mind. Most of the time I found it best to pretend they were entirely different actors.

    The result of all of this is that I have a new show to be excited about, but I’m still mad at Netflix.

  8. It was only when I logged into Netflix the other night to watch Dyatlov Pass Incident (reader: it is on Amazon Prime, not Netflix) that I realised Dark season two is out!

    One thing’s for certain: it’s been a long time since we watched Dark and the YouTube recaps are so bad we’ve started watching season one again. That’s a much better recap, but not my preferred use of time!


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