Tori has already covered questions that viewers of Netflix’s phenomenally brain-melting time-travel series Dark may have had upon the conclusion of season two — it was that piece that inspired me to watch the series — but I cannot get over how cool the time travel elements are in this series. But what about those who have never seen Dark? Will it be something you like?
I’m sure that the time travel elements are not unique to Dark — people immersed in sci-fi are probably familiar with the bootstrap paradox and the Godfather paradox — but to implement these time travel elements in a series as expansive as Dark is an enormous undertaking that probably requires a team of researchers just to maintain the series internal logic.
It’s also a show that’s hard to explain without giving away spoilers because the big plot reveals also explain how the time-travel elements work, and for me anyway, it took roughly a season and a half for it to really sink in. I am so used to shows like Quantum Leap, Travelers, or Doctor Who or even movies like Back to the Future and The Terminator, where characters travel in time to effect or prevent a future or past change. Paradoxes, likewise, are problematic: I recall an episode of Doctor Who where a character saw herself in a different timeline and it ripped a hole in the space-time continuum. But paradoxes are almost the point of Dark.
Take, for instance, Back to the Future: Marty McFly goes back in time and accidentally interrupts the event that would lead to his parent’s meeting, getting married, and having children. Marty has to find a new way to connect his parents or else he will cease to exist.
If Back to the Future operated under the same rules as Dark, Marty couldn’t change the past. The past is fixed. The only reason Marty exists is because he traveled in the past and connected his parents, and had he not traveled into the past, he wouldn’t exist, but he does exists, therefore, he had to have traveled back into the past. Marty wouldn’t even exist if time travel weren’t possible. It’s a paradox. Likewise, the Delorean Time Machine would only exist because the Dr. Brown of the ’50s learned how to invent it from reverse-engineering the Delorean Time Machine he invented in the ’80s. If Marty had not driven the time machine into the 1950s, Dr. Brown never would have invented it in the 1980s, and Marty McFly never would have traveled back in time in it.
In Dark, when a character goes back in time to change it, he invariably creates the event he meant to change. Let’s say, for instance, in 2001 Marty McFly knows that Dr. Brown was run over and killed by bad people in 1985. Marty McFly cannot change that; in fact, if he attempts to do so, he will unleash the very chain of events that leads to Dr. Brown being killed by bad people in 1985. The past and the future are interconnected. The past knows the events of the future, and the future knows the events of the past. If you go back in the past to try and kill Baby Hitler, the bitterness over the bullet wound will be what creates the adult Hitler. If you try and stop the assassination of JFK, your efforts will put Lee Harvey Oswalt on the path to assassinating JFK.
In Dark, the characters are stuck in a time loop, the end of which is basically the end of the world. The characters who survived the end of the world nevertheless saw it happen, an therefore it is. They exist in this future dystopia, but all of their efforts to go back in time to prevent it invariably result in creating the very conditions that result in the end of the world. It’s like if the Terminator went back in time to save Sarah Conner and ensure she gives birth to John Connor, only to realize that John Connor’s very existence is why the world went to hell in the first place. It was the Terminator’s fault all along!
So, what’s the point of the series if nothing can be changed? Well, that is kind of the point. Through two seasons, the characters are still trying to find a crack in the time loop they can exploit to undo the end of the world, and the second-season finale throws in a new wrinkle that’s even mindfuckier than before. It’s also a very good character drama, and the time travel elements play havoc on relationships. Imagine, for instance, if you fell madly in love with someone who died, but then you travel back in time to prevent her death only to precipitate it. You killed your soul mate! Also, it takes most of the characters a lot of time to realize that time travel is at play, and the entire focus is on a small universe of basically four families, and let’s just say there’s some wild inadvertent incest at play. Like, one woman is her mother’s daughter. That sort of thing.
Basically what I’m saying is, if all of that sounds intriguing, Dark may be the perfect show for you.
Header Image Source: Netflix