The new Netflix original series Dark is a compelling, slow burn mystery with a science fiction twist. Set in a small German town, children go missing and something is definitely not right. It is a well thought out, brooding thriller that sets up freaky mysteries and actually pays them off. Dark has frequently been compared to Stranger Things, and while there are similarities, it is a very different show. So, if you are already a fan of:
- Twin peaks
- Seasons 2-3 of Lost
- The French TV Series Les Revenants
- European murder mystery shows like The Bridge, The Tunnel or Broadchurch
- The sense of impending doom from any Black Mirror episode
- Subtiltes and/or dubbing
…then you’ll probably enjoy Dark. The problem in reviewing it is that I’d have to drop massive spoilers to explain what I liked and how well it was done, so I can only really praise the show with an understated: it’s a bit of a slow start but the payoff is worth it. What can be said without spoiling it is that if you’re not particularly a fan of any or all of the above, you might still find it interesting, but you should know what you’re getting into.
Dark is not Stranger Things.
Says so right there in the article title. There are some similarities between the two:
- there’s an energy related building as the town has a nuclear power plant
- there are kids that go missing
- part of it is set in the 1980’s
- weird and terrible things happen
However, while Stranger Things has that lighter Stephen Spielberg element to it, Dark is more like Stieg Larsson, so you’ll want to think twice about telling the kids to watch it.
Seriously, it’s right there in the title. You were warned. It takes place in a German town where it rains so much I was certain there was going to be a subplot about a kid getting locked in a closet and never getting to see the sun come out. Things go from bad (it opens with a character hanging himself) to weird (kids go suddenly missing) to worse (they find the kids), and nobody is happy about it. Bad things happen here and the show doesn’t pull many punches, so it’s really more like a cross between Twin Peaks (without the wacky characters), and the plot thread from Lost where there’s a guy pushing a button in a bunker for really important and yet unclear reasons.
There is a lot to keep track of.
Oddly, I found that keeping track of the four families that are central to the plot and their connections was trickier than I’d expected. I’m sure it would have been easier if I spoke German, but I had trouble picking up on dialogue cues, even though (or maybe because) I’d watched it with the subtitles on. Further complicating it is that parts of the show take place in 1986, so additionally, there are different actors playing the same character at different ages. I’m not sure that other viewers will be occasionally asking themselves “wait, who is this guy again?” but I figured I’d put it out there.*
It doesn’t wrap up in one season.
Don’t expect all of the weirdness to be wrapped up in a neat little bundle** by episode ten because it isn’t. To be fair, a good number of the questions raised are answered, but, as is often the case with these shows, they just lead to more questions. And, fair warning, although it seems likely the show will be renewed (it is, after all, the first foray into German language programming for Netflix), as of this writing that hasn’t happened.
It’s not Stranger Things.
Yes, I realize I’ve already said this but it’s a point worth making twice so that you go in with the proper expectations. For example, if you were hoping for a wicked retro 80’s soundtrack, you’re gonna be disappointed, although I do have to give the show’s creators credit for the only German pop culture reference I got: a very appropriate use of Nena’s 1984 single “Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgendwann”.
So with all that in mind, if your holiday season has gotten a little too merry and bright, and you’re looking for something to tone it down, I’d definitely recommend setting aside a few hours to binge watch Dark.
*The show’s Wikipedia page does have a family tree, but that contains end of season spoilers, so it’s useful after the fact.
**If you would prefer that, and a much lighter tone, might I suggest season one of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, on BBC America and Hulu.