Dark (2017-2020) by Baran bo Odar & Jantje Friese, a study in melancholia
I watched Dark from start to finish in a matter of three days.
The plot wasn’t just enrapturing—it was all-encompassing. The sheer amount of plot, like, the sheer quantity of it occupied me wholly. And I can go on and on about how well thought out it seems, especially in contrast with other fantasy properties that have blown into mainstream attention this past decade. Truly, my adoration won’t end for this plot.
But as I was consumed by the story of Dark’s story, I had this feeling early on that I recognize from—my nightmares.
Bear with me here—I have these dreams, that are not all-out, Dante’s Inferno style ‘your skin is melting off’ nightmares. They are the more middling, anxiety-driven dreams where I am doing a thing (like making a report, having a conversation, or even just walking to a destination) and as I am doing this thing, I realize slowly that it’s not gonna work out for me. I feel a sense of helpless creep up with the knowledge that everything I am doing is fucking it up more and more, and this feeling stretches higher and higher with every passing beat in the dream, as my stomach sinks further and further with doom.
My dream never reaches its boiling point. I wake up while the anxiety is still climbing, and I am overwhelmed with the relief that it’s not real.
Jonas Kahnwald’s journey in Dark has a special kind of sincerity and helplessness that really presses into this spot in my brain. Around the end of the first season, there’s this deep-seated message in the show’s tone—that this is a dumpster fire of a situation, and everything that anyone in the story is doing just makes it worse.
Every single time-crossed person that incepts an idea to do something into Jonas’ mind drives the plot further into chaos, every desperate step a secondary character takes to try to salvage their family convolutes the situation even more. As a viewer, you get to sit and get familiar with this feeling—that there is no way out, and there is no saving any of these people, and it gets to a point where, every time a plot-line points to a possible solution, your brain dismisses it with the same resignation that Jonas develops near the end. Because you know—you knew it before him, and you watch him come to terms with it. That they are all doomed.
I watched all of Dark in three days, and this doom was within me before then. Never before had I experienced a story that took hold of it and wielded it like Dark.
Some reasons for my obsession.
I am, as I enjoy saying, a huge slut for plot-heavy science fiction. So around the end of the first season of this show, I knew I had found my new love.
This kind of gradual but firmly melancholic theme is a bold as fuck step for the creators to have taken because while it triggers every one of my core mental struggles, it also ignites my emotional centre with just—passion. I am fully invested in this and I am fully there with these people, ready to confront anything that happens. I’m sure, especially for an audience as wide as Netflix was affording this team, it was a gamble. To do this was to be okay with knowing that the audience will either be in sorrowful acceptance, or in enraged denial, a la The Last of Us 2.
And through the sheer skill and the portrayed relatability of this melancholia, when the series comes to an end, as a viewer I find myself standing there with Jonas and Martha, and Adam and Eva, pondering their lives and their fates, saying goodbye in slow motion. I got to experience the only climax that melancholia can have—a fade into nothing.
For this reason, I feel sated. Because no other ending would have worked, and I think the creators knew that. Just like my stress-dreams, the only good way this kind of setting can be resolved is for it to not exist.
And so, the only thing that awaited Jonas and Martha and their knotted worlds was evanescence. And I think that’s beautiful in its tragedy (believe me, I never say this about any other “tragic” thing I am exposed to). It stays within the theme of the show, letting us wonder on our own what it means to fade away and be nothing, while still leaving hope that there could be a way for Jonas to have another story. A better one. Or maybe not. And it hurts. But it should.