It’s Dark in here

darks1Dark Season One, 2007, 10 Episodes, Netflix

I think I may be losing it; genre shows before never confused me like this one does- maybe its because it’s a German production, and its a cultural chasm or something, but there is something almost impenetrable about Dark. I don’t really mind shows being mystery boxes if they are done well, and there’s little reason to suggest this is actually one NOT done well, but nonetheless I got rather frustrated by this. I enjoyed it, certainly- but there was an undercurrent of what I believed to be unnecessary confusion throughout this first season that troubled me, and stopped me from thinking this was as good as it could have been, while being plagued by the suspicion that the failure was entirely mine.

At times I just felt like I needed a map, or a diagram, to ensure I knew who was who: I thought watching it in the original German would actually help with this, with me reading the names in the English-subtitled dialogue etc but it was a genuine struggle, and one that I felt should have been unnecessary. I kept wondering was it me, or the show (how it was edited etc), or the translated dialogue steering me wrong. In the old days of the original Twin Peaks show, the weekly instalments helped, being able to re-watch episodes I recorded on VHS and ponder over each one before the next followed- maybe binge-watching a show like this does shows like this a disservice, and of course, me avoiding spoilers meant I had to stay away from the possible hand-holding/explanations of the Internet- but should a series need that hand-holding and road-mapping? Twin Peaks always made sense, at least as far as knowing who was who.

Essentially, Dark is a drama about several families in a small German town which is situated close to a nuclear reactor, spread between three (maybe more) distinct time periods specifically separated by 33 years. Its part soap-opera, part crime mystery, part time-travel drama. 2019 is initially the ‘present day’ and then we see the same people in 1986 when similar events (involving missing children) occurred and later in the season we are in 1953: so children we see in 1953 are parents in 1986 and (usually) grandparents in 2019, and naturally in each period the characters are played by a different cast. Time seems to pass forwards the same, chronologically, for each time zone, so if its Nov 20th in 2019 its the same day in 1986, or at least, that’s how I think it transpired although looking back I think an episode does switch back a few days so…

So while the premise is fascinating it is always confusing, and for most of the season we don’t even get any text telling us which year we are in, we have to pick it up from visual clues, essentially fashions or the cast onscreen (other clues are music on the soundtrack, 80s pop songs etc) and then guessing how these characters relate not just to each other but their older variants, say in 2019 or their younger variants in 1986. Throw into the mix characters who seem to appear in the seperate time zones without any visible change re: ageing etc and one just gets… lost, frankly. I thought one character was somebody’s daughter and then learned she wasn’t, she was somebody else’s entirely and then couldn’t work out whose parents I was seeing, or who was married to who…

Its always rather fun to some extent, getting lost, and its often a pleasure to be left to flounder a little and not have everything explained in dialogue (as is the wont of most Hollywood product these days) but my patience started to wear a little thin at times. The overall mystery starts to make some sense as the series goes along but I have to admit that the undercurrent of confusion never really left me, and I’m sure I missed some things simply because I was wrong about who was who. Inevitably it had to have some impact on my enjoyment of the series. I’m going to take a little break before plunging into the second series (Dark is spread over three seasons), so I’m just hoping it gets easier as it goes.

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