September 16, 2020

Have Time, Will Travel

Dark, a German Netflix series, takes us on a winding tour of its knot over the course of a grim and fascinating first season.

Have Time, Will Travel

Dark, a German Netflix series, takes us on a winding tour of its knot over the course of a grim and fascinating first season. Slightest spoilers follow, but nothing you won't learn within an episode or two.

First and foremost, with content overflowing across a zillion streaming services, choosing one that requires subtitles (Dark offers an English dub, but, c'mon) is a hurdle. These times being what they are, it's difficult to commit to entertainment that forces you to keep attention on it 100% for fear of missing something.

But, friends, Dark rewards that commitment with compelling, well-crafted mystery. Centered on a small German town in the shadow of a nuclear power plant, the show's collection of teenagers, misfit adults, and distraught parents hiding more than most proves a compelling ensemble to join as their lives tumble into science-fiction.

Time travel is always a thorny subject, replete with paradoxes and ripe for picking apart over beers afterward. Dark, like Avengers: Endgame, Looper, and others, engages with time travel by setting up the rules and following them. I won't spoil those rules here, but they do a solid job putting up walls as to what's possible and what's not. The inevitable holes still exist, but they're small and easy to ignore. At least, I don't spend every scene questioning the character's choices, or the logic for them being there.

What's great about Dark, though, is that its characters are all relatively competent. They have hunches, they follow them. When there's digging to be done, they dig. It's not a show where someone spouts the actual truth and is immediately dismissed: everyone questions everything, and it's much more engaging to watch the sleuthing and gradual discovery in a show like this than it is to see people ignored time and time again.

Dark pulls a Lost act in that it follows many leads, with some characters vanishing for multiple episodes only to re-appear, their stories advancing a bit in their absence. This could be a huge pitfall, but Dark excels at flashing little montages throughout to remind you of who everyone is and what they're doing. Like how you might have pictures around your own house reminding you about vacations, happy memories, and more: it's a constant, non-invasive way to keep you comfortable with what you're watching.

If I have a knock on Dark, it's the relentless, well, darkness. Lost and other series at least had some comedy, had characters that were there to make things a little less dire. Dark doesn't bother with that: just about everyone on screen has deep problems that get worse as time goes on. The scenes are clouded, rainy, at night, or all three. In better real-world times, the oppressive atmosphere might not be a big deal, but these days, it's tough to relax with something so grim.

And yet, Dark's central mystery is compelling enough to keep me coming back. I've watched nothing else during my workouts for a couple weeks now, replenishing my high school German through the struggles of the desperate, driven citizens of Winden. I expect I'll keep on going till, at least, this show's time runs out.


In a smattering of other news:

The Metal Man is still free through Friday - take a walk on the Moon with Mox in this short story set as a prelude to The Wild Nines.

The Farthest Star is set to come out next Tuesday - if you want to snag it at the pre-order price, you can do that now. It's a new adventure, something I really enjoyed writing, packed with action and wonder and all that sci-fi goodness.