Saturday, September 1, 2018

REVIEW: Dark, Season 1 (live action TV series)

[I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, but there are a few here and there. Unfortunately, an important aspect of the premise qualifies as a spoiler.]

Dark is a German sci-fi mystery/thriller series available on Netflix. I watched it after seeing someone recommend it on one of my German cooking discussion groups. At first, it reminded me a lot of the Netflix series Safe, which I'd started and abandoned. Both series have mystery/thriller, a small and interconnected community filled with secrets, and somewhat annoying teens. Still, I found Dark to be more immediately intriguing than Safe, and when the sci-fi aspects started cropping up, I was hooked.

Dark is set in the small fictional German town of Winden, where one of the country's last nuclear power plants is about to be shut down as the country transitions to other sources of power. There are concerns about the area's safety - a local teen has disappeared, and it's unclear whether he ran away, has been killed, or whether something else is going on. Then another boy, Mikkel, the youngest son of a local police officer, goes missing somewhere near a cave entrance. His father, Ulrich, fears the worst when a dead child is found, but the child turns out to be neither Mikkel nor the other missing boy.

As the series progresses, it weaves in parts of the town's history, from 1953, when the nuclear power plant was still being built, to 1986, when Ulrich's younger brother went missing, to the present, 2019, and its various disappearances, and shows how everyone's relationships are deeply interconnected.

I enjoyed this season quite a bit, although I wish I'd known, going in, whether it was a series complete in one season or an ongoing thing. I had thought it was completed, so the ending threw me a bit. I'm also doubtful that the second season will be as good - the ending set things up so that one particular character looks tremendously stupid if his younger self continues with the plan that his older self had tried to finish, because his younger self should already know that it isn't going to work because otherwise he wouldn't be in the situation he's in. This kind of thing is why I don't generally get into time travel stories too much. It's too easy for writers to paint themselves into a corner, and, sadly, I think that's exactly what's happened with the end of Season 1 of Dark.

That said, I'm willing to give the next season a shot, once it's released. I can't say that I liked most of the characters, even though there were times when I found myself feeling unexpectedly sympathetic towards some of them (one I was not expecting to feel any sympathy for, but did: Regina, the hotel manager). But I want to see how things turn out and what happens to them all. I don't see how there could be a "good" ending for any of them, so I suppose it's a good thing I don't feel particularly attached to most of them and even outright dislike some of them. (Ugh, Ulrich, there are things that shouldn't have happened to you, but you still suck and have always sucked. And same to you, Hannah.)

My one complaint about this series, besides my issues with the end of the first season, is how difficult it was to keep track of all the characters in their various time periods. There were attempts made to remind viewers of everyone and explicitly identify everyone's 1953, 1986, and 2019 selves, but it was still incredibly hard for me to follow, and I found myself pulling out my phone and checking names in IMDb multiple times.

All in all, this first season is good and very bingeable, despite some of the characters' repulsive actions (adultery, child murder and torture). I loved the way it started off looking like some kind of serial killer thriller and gradually morphed into a strange small town time travel story. I just hope the writers know what they're doing and that the second season doesn't devolve into plot holes and character stupidity.

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