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

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

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.

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979) Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.