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.