Skip to main content

How can you have time when it clearly has you?

Dark 
Season 2

(SPOILERS) I’m not intending to dig into Dark zealously, as its plotting is so labyrinthine, it would take forever and a day, and I’d just end up babbling incoherently (so what’s new). But it’s worth commenting on, as it’s one of the few Netflix shows I’ve seen that feels entirely rigorous and disciplined – avoiding the flab and looseness that too often seems part and parcel of a service expressly avoiding traditional ratings models – as it delivers its self-appointed weighty themes and big ideas. And Dark’s weighty themes and big ideas really are weighty and big, albeit simultaneously often really frustrating. It came as no surprise to learn of the showrunners’ overriding fixation on determinism at work in the multi-generational, multiple time period-spanning events within the German town of Winden, but I was intrigued regarding their structural approach, based on clearly knowing the end game of their characters, rather than needing to reference (as they put it) Post-Its all around the walls of the office.

I tend to find these Bootstrap Paradox, unbreakable loop narratives an exasperating viewing experience, because generally speaking, it can be a free pass for the writer to rest on their laurels, getting away with shovelling a load of lazy conceits into the mix just because “It has to happen that way”. And, if the loop is an answer unto itself, you’re attempting to wear that as a badge of intellectual success rather than admitting failure to really understand how the principles “work” (often, I think such plots simply shun grappling with the underlying concepts in favour of empty carb “reveals”). For me, a prime offender in this is Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes, a movie that (SPOILER STARTS) requires its protagonist to somehow, having already witnessed them, re-enact precisely the events his bandaged alter-ego has already performed (SPOILER ENDS). Then there’s Predestination, which offers an at once attention-grabbing and involved protagonist “surprise” in its time-twisting, but is also, by the very nature of the conditions it sets on its paradox, ultimately dissatisfying.

Dark is evidently aware of the manner in which characters are forced to stumble along, puppet-like, beholden to their writers’ whims in such constructions, but I’m unsure that their own god-like positioning of their own creations is as pure and unvarnished as they believe. One does feel at times that the poor unfortunates of Winden – in particular Jonas – are doing what they’re doing because of the deterministic – as in, determined by the writers – nature of the plot. The writers are simultaneously aware of the narrative tensions needed through withholding information and entirely concerned with those involved explaining themselves, such that at one point Adam, Jonas’ much older and time-travel-debilitated self, explains to him what he must do and he (Jonas) goes and does it, which will only perpetuate what has already happened rather than provide an opportunity to resolve it (this scene itself gave me worried waves of Timecrimes nausea, as it could be construed that Adam is saying exactly what he knew his younger self heard, through total recall, not dissimilarly to Michael’s suicide note, but I charitably decided they were willingly relaying the gist of it on both occasions, rather than dotting every I and crossing every T, as that kind of writing takes the predetermined conceit too far, to the point of inanity, in my opinion).

When he learns of his error, Jonas is consequently much too willing to take note of elder Claudia, in opposition to Adam and his group Sic Mundus, and his middle-aged self appears to have retained this outlook. But still, through all this, they do and are influenced by prevailing forces in an ultimately entirely emotive way that is somehow intended to justify a lack of tempered, interrogative reflection. Or even, say, young and middle-aged Jonas just sitting down and hashing out how they will inevitably keep making a hash of things through one or other entirely misconstruing how they are unable to do anything constructive. The point in the finale, at which 2053 Jonas takes off with Bartosz, Magnus and Franziska, had me rolling my eyes slightly, as it makes it appear that his younger self’s knowing Adam’s manipulations has failed to make him second guess that doing anythingwill bring him closer to bringing about what he least wants to achieve (becoming Adam).

Even the curveball of the last few minutes, expanding the events of Winden into a multiverse, whereby a version of the recently deceased Martha materialises and whisks Jonas away from imminent annihilation as the power station goes nuclear on everyone not in a shelter or also being whisked away, seems designed by its miserablist creators as a false hope (the series barely has a smile in it, let alone a laugh, seemingly set on reinforcing stereotypes regarding the German sense of humour).

After all, if Adam was unaware of the existence of alternate timelines and presence of alternate Martha, he surely wouldn’t have left his younger self there to meet his certain death. And doubtless the words of elder Claudia will be underlined during the final season, as hope-against-hope Jonas – presumably his middle-aged self is aware of alt-Martha too, yet this seems to have done nothing to dissuade him from attempting to save her, the kind of futile gesture he shouldsurelyknow better than by now, but seemingly, because he’s the writers’ puppet on a string, does not – tries to unravel his very being (“I’ve seen the world without you. Believe me, it isn’t what you’re expecting”).

When pinned down about their designs for what’s to come, director Baran Bo Odar expressed nothing but gloom, while writer Jantje Friese offered a sliver of hope; I expect this in itself is merely a manipulation to keep the viewer, as desperate for some as Jonas, on the hook. The show’s main achievement, however, is that, even when you’re resigned to its unrelenting bleakness, it continues to be compulsive viewing, exacting an oppressive, hypnotic hold, free from respite. If the seventh episode of Season Two was supposed to be something of a lull, a return to relative normality, it managed to illustrate that even at its most sedate, Dark is unremittingly foreboding.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.