The grand is back but in a micro way. Talking about narratives it seems that gargantuan narrative methods of expressions in celluloid have replaced the everyday micro narratives that T.V. once stood for. While the silver screen harboured the grand the T.V. beamed smaller concerns. The Covid-19 situation has perhaps turned the proverbial tables. With the cinema halls being closed for a long time the desire of the audience for larger than life stories have shifted to the ‘Over the Top’ platform. The web series have taken over and they are here to stay. It’s not that the audience is getting something less than what their money is worth but sometimes more than what they had bargained for. The web series Dark is a case in point. The series premiered on Netflix on December 1st, 2017 and concluded in 2020 after running for three successful seasons. It has co created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese. It was originally composed in German and was later translated into many languages including English. The first season ran for ten while the following two consisted eight each. The series begins with the disappearance of the young Mikkel, following the suicide of the middle aged Michael Kahnwald (father to Jonas). Ulrich, the father of Mikkel struggles to find his son and grows estranged from his mistress – Hannah. A mysterious stranger lands in Winden with a briefcase. Jonas too in search of answers to his father’s death meets with his older self and hence starts the puzzling game of time travel and entanglements quantum and otherwise of the five families of Winden. Meanwhile an apocalypse looms over the town owing to the ominous presence of the nuclear power plant. Things get more weird towards the end of the second season where a separate world or realm is depicted. A play of white and black, so called good and evil begins with Adam (Jonas’ eldest self) and Eva (Martha’s eldest self) for the domination of time. The cult of sic mundus (The Travellers) led by Adam wants to cause the catastrophe at any cost while Erit Lux (There Will be Light) led by Eva wants to stop it at all costs. They outwit each other a number of times. Ultimately, Claudia offers the solution by travelling to the original world which had caused the birth of these two aberrant timelines and stopping the deaths of the son and daughter of H.G. Tannhaus. If the inept gist of the plot structure has confused the reader then it is highly recommended to clear one’s confusion by watching the series. The reception both critical and commercial has grown with time which in itself is a marker of its success. However, one must admit the role of the Covid situation which has helped the outreach of Netflix to the audience in India who are well conversant with English. Nominations for Golden Kamera and the Grime-Pries awards both in 2018 has actually added to its glory.
Though the series derives its name from the dark matter that fuels the time travel machines but it also reflects the narrative ambiguity which hooks the audience till the very end of the story. Though one might say that the ending was not one had expected, given the expectations it created but it wasn’t lame either (as opposed to everybody knows which ending!). The beginning was steady if not slow but the more one watched the more one entangled in the web of ever confusing narrative twists and turns. Interestingly, these incidents originate and conclude in a single setting with the ominous cave in the middle of everything. In a brilliant parallel (which might be unconscious) the symbol of the cave and the people travelling through it to past and future refers to the birth and perhaps the death of the civilization as we know it. First humans dwelled in the caves and in the event of a nuclear catastrophe (hinted in the story itself) only a cave like that could save the last stragglers of humanity. The cave is also the metaphor for the vagina (its shape is referred to in the introductory shots of the series) where form life emanates. It is these concerns which make it a profoundly existential take on the effects time has on life and perhaps vice versa. The science fiction framework is just a familiar coating so that the audience isn’t completely alienated. The chief narrative focus is perhaps family, love and loss. The concept of time is a digressive footnote to the elaborate and complex ode on relationships and their several mutations. It is this depth of universality that endears the story and its characters to us and not the time travel adventure that is just an accompaniment.
The plot begins with the disappearance of a teenager in a German fictional town named Winden. This loss is exacerbated with the disappearance of Mikkel. This scare on the children who signify future of the civilization sets in motion the whole tragedy of time. Time is an important element in the narrative set up of any story. Interestingly in this series it is the story of the human relations that impacts time. Taking the cue from Henri Bergson’s theory of Duration, the writers might have had wanted to comment on the incompleteness of time. Bergson believed that time is perceived subjectively as opposed to its objective (im-)measurability as physicists would have us believed. Instead, one following Bergson might try to understand if not quantify a person’s inner life which can be compared with a period or ‘duration’. The series presents a fictional version of this subjectification of time and its trauma. Every character (especially those who time travels) experiences the time – past, present and future entirely from their subject positions. For example, Jonas (specially the younger version) realises that Martha is his aunt due to the glitches in the time caused by the frequent time travels and the travellers’ gauntlets with the historical and personal timelines. It is only he who knows this and thus chooses to keep his distance from entangling with her sexually any further. In this case time itself becomes the chief antagonist of the main characters. The characters entangled in the quantum of unfulfilled passions and desire to control their lives try to complete these loop holes in time. The age old tragic device of human transgressions against the limits on humans is re-told in the mould of a fiction. The two worlds inhabited by the various characters were actually created by the grief of a father (H.G. Tannhaus) who wants to undo the deaths of his son and daughter-in-law back with the help of a time machine he invents. Again young Jonas is tricked by Adam to cause the death of his father Michael Kahnwald (Mikkel) which he wanted to stop in the first place. Jonas in his attempts to stop the apocalypse from taking place causes it to take place. This is the very crux of tragedy where the human actions to stop a tragedy from happening actually sets the machinery in motion. Oedipus wanted to avoid killing his father and hence he left Corinth. The rest is tragedy. This narrative of time is a timeless loop of love, stupidity and a chance of redemption.
Next to the importance of the time is the importance of settings. As already pointed out like the symbol of the circuit characterized by the image of the snake eating its own tail, the narrative begins and ends in Winden. If it were not for the position of the machine with its exact proximity to the place where the leaked nuclear waste was kept, the whole chain of incidents hadn’t happened. Further, the characters find themselves coming of the same place through their time starts to differ with every journey. This is crucial since the characters need to redo and undo whatever happens or has to happen. The importance of the cave has already been mentioned. What can be added is that the dark insides of the cave become ideal space for the infinite reverberations of the nuances of the story and its characters. Yet the presence of the nuclear plant which signifies the progress that a civilization has made through time is brilliantly juxtaposed to the secrets of nature, time and being.
Next comes the point of view. This is tricky. Who exactly is telling the story? There is no omniscient narrator. The horizons of expectations are pushed further every time the reluctant narrator, i.e. the audience tries to settle to the unsettling flows of time and narratorial shifts. We can fix our focus on Jonas who seems to be the chief among the main characters but he doesn’t know a thing let alone being an unreliable narrator. While both Adam and Eva in their respective worlds claim to have knowledge of past present and future, it is an unlikely character that actually helps resolve everything. Claudia Tiedermann becomes the key to not open but close the Pandora’s box of paradoxes. The dominant characters often make the audience think that they are seeing a way to the resolution of the plot since the character is in command but soon the hierarchy of significations change almost without any premonitions. The true nature of characters are revealed in these moments of indeterminacies. As the characters escape through the ‘worm’ holes of time, their insecurities, guilt, lust, passion and personal demons escape through the cracks of the narrative ambivalences. The series could not have had this impact if it were only another time travel story with sexy quantum theories. This is a critically acclaimed creation portrays the timeless emotions in the moments of crises and provides us with rare glimpses of the heightened forms of the same. The credit goes to the characters who emoted so well. The screenplay and the direction were brilliant to say the least.
Yet like the portraits and sculptures of Michelangelo which had flaws, this series have its own flaws. These flaws instead of being factors that limit the reach actually make it interesting. The ending is hurried and an almost easy way out thought to put an end. The explicit scenes of sexual intimacies weren’t always accounted for. The story focussed more on the past and less on the future which somehow robs the structure of vital balance. Yet in defence one can say that the story was more pivoted to the past than to the future. Further, future seems to be a space for any offshoots of the series that the same or other writers might like to develop. Thus the apparent flaw has made room for further explorations. Of course one of the most highlighted issues with the series is it’s overtly complex plot involving confused bundle of generational timelines. Sometimes it so appeared that one is watching an elaborate family drama in the garb of a science fiction adventure story. Quite on the other end of the spectrum the events happening in Winden inspite of being world changing in proportions doesn’t seem to affect the rest of Germany not to mention the whole of the world!
Yet with its involved plot, its portrayal of elemental and universal passions that haunt all humanity, its impeccable characterizations and mind boggling twists, the web series Dark deserves all the accolades it has gathered and truly one can ‘neither ever, nor never, say goodbye’ to this narrative for it always comes back as if in a loop.