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TV Series Review

Something wicked this way comes, Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth. But in the town of Winden, Germany, it may already be here—ready to renew its acquaintance.

Perhaps it already has.

This series begins with a suicide, bleak and brutal, and goes on from there. Two months later, that deceased man's teenage son, Jonas, is haunted by dreams and visions of his dead father. He pops pills and smokes marijuana to cope, and he speaks to a therapist now and then. But nothing answers the question he asks every day and night: Why did his father do it?

Jonas' mother copes with her husband's death in an entirely different way—by having an affair with Ulrich, the town's police chief.

But Ulrich's got his own troubles to deal with. Erik, one of Jonas' high school chums, disappeared just two weeks before, seemingly without a trace. Ulrich says he's never seen anything like Erik's disappearance in Winden—but he's lying. He knows it does happen, and knows it as well as anyone. You see, it all happened before, 33 years ago, when Ulrich was a kid himself. And perhaps 33 years before that. And when Ulrich's own son, Mikkel, soon goes missing, too, he's forced to reckon not only with the present, but with the town's mysterious past as well.

What Time Is It?

In the opening moments of the first episode, a still very-much-present Mikkel performs a magic trick for his dad: Sitting at the kitchen table, he puts what looks like a little game piece under one of two shells. Then he lifts the first shell up again. Gone! Then he lifts up the second. There it is! It's a pretty nifty trick, and Ulrich is impressed.

"How'd you do that?" Ulrich asks.

"The question isn't how," a smiling Mikkel says. "The question is when."

And that, it seems, is the concept at the heart of Dark: When. Not only do people mysteriously disappear and die. Time itself in this quiet, continental hamlet is malleable, liable to jump or fold or bend with little provocation—at least so it would seem inside a mysterious cave located near an equally mysterious nuclear power plant. As a sage voice suggests from the outset, "The distinction between the past, present and future is nothing but an illusion." At least, that's how it is in Winden.

But if time is flexible here, the sins committed inside that time remain stubbornly influential, not easily changed nor erased. In fact, those sins seem to echo through generations, doomed to be repeated decade after decade.

The Name Fits

Netflix has long told anyone who would listen that it wants to provide programming for everybody, and lately it's been investing in creating stories for markets overseas. The German-language Dark (dubbed for English-speaking audiences) is one of its first attempts along these lines, while Netflix also explores how amenable American audiences—still its most lucrative piece of the pie—might be to watching such foreign-language faire.

Turns out, people here are pretty amenable, if we can trust the show's buzz. While Netflix doesn't consistently release its viewership numbers, Dark has certainly touched a nerve with the television press—many members of whom are comparing the show with Netflix's runaway phenomenon Stranger Things.

But while Dark and Stranger Things share some superficial touchstones—intrepid kids trying to unfold a supernatural mystery, adults trying to save their kids, a certain fascination with the 1980s—Dark is, true to its name, far darker.

Winden may seem quiet and tranquil, as Ulrich suggests. But only in the same way a mountain lake favored by the mafia might seem peaceful: The still surface hides a surfeit of skeletons. Everyone keeps secrets. Most of the town's adults seem to be having affairs. And the teens? Well, they've got problems aplenty, too—and all the drink and drugs they consume can't quite quell them.

Time After Time

Sure, Stranger Things has its content issues, too. But it is, at its heart, an off-kilter love letter to the 1980s. It's a nostalgic romp through a more innocent time, albeit one populated by underworld beings that want to eat us all. Dark feels colder, and its characters seem more existentially desperate. Indeed, Dark is more vintage Twin Peaks than Stranger Things, with its surreal, haunting vibe; it's bevy of shameful town secrets; and a thread of psychedelic madness at its core. But there's nary a log lady or a fine cup of coffee to cut through the gloom.

The original Twin Peaks came at a time when shows had to abide by certain broadcast standards. Dark has no such constraints: Body parts are nakedly exposed. F-words fly without bleeps. Blood seeps through the screen, the stench of death practically palatable in the grim images we witness.

Those who've watched Dark to its conclusion praise the precision of the supernatural puzzle it presents: Like Mikkel's shell trick, Netflix pulls off a nifty feat.

So they say.

But while I appreciate a great puzzle as much as anyone, I don't think I could stomach the show long enough to see its core mystery resolved. The real world is dark enough without watching it on my free time.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Dark: Nov. 30, 2017 "Secrets"

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Louis Hofmann as Jonas Kahnwald; Oliver Masucci as Ulrich Nielsen; Ludger Bökelmann as Ulrich Nielsen in 1986; Jördis Triebel as Katharina Nielsen; Nele Trebs as Katharina Nielsen in 1986; Maja Schöne as Hannah Kahnwald; Ella Lee as Hannah Kahnwald in 1986; Sebastian Rudolph as Michael Kahnwald; Anatole Taubman as Bernd Doppler Hermann Beyer as Helge Doppler; Peter Schneider as Helge Doppler in 1986; Tom Philip as Helge Doppler in 1953; Mark Waschke as Noah; Karoline Eichhorn as Charlotte Doppler; Stephanie Amarell as Charlotte Doppler in 1986; Stephan Kampwirth as Peter Doppler; Anne Ratte-Polle as Ines Kahnwald; Lena Urzendowsky as Ines Kahnwald in 1953; Angela Winkler as Ines Kahnwald; Andreas Pietschmann as The Stranger; Lisa Vicari as Martha Nielsen; Antje Traue as Agnes Nielsen

Director

Distributor

Network

Netflix

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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