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 with 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 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; I charitably decided they were willingly relaying the gist of things 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.

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, where 2053 Jonas takes off with Bartosz, Magnus and Franziska, had me rolling my eyes slightly, as it makes it appear that his younger self knowing Adam’s manipulations has failed to make him second guess that doing anything will 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 tries to unravel his very being (“I’ve seen the world without you. Believe me, it isn’t what you’re expecting”). Presumably Jonas' 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 should surely know better than by now, but seemingly, because he’s the writers’ puppet on a string, does not.

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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .