Once again, humanity’s fate rests on the shoulders of teenagers, and their ability, and willingness to save it .
Waiting for a set of principled young people to save the world from destructive and monstrous forces, often in spite of adults’ misdeeds, is a popular trope whose popularity increases sharply at times of geopolitical, economic, and domestic strife – like right now.
Many of the typical elements of this type of story are present: the philandering husband and absent father, teen angst, rebellion and unrequited love; but that is where the similarities end.
Dark, the Netflix Original German series gaining a cult following in the United States, is – as its name suggests – dark. The environment is bleak. Days are cold and rainy, colors are dull and muted, and most conversations take place at night, in the shadows of artificial light.
Faith, physics and free will
The series opens with Jonas, a teen struggling with depression as he tries to understand and cope with his father’s suicide. Martha, his former love interest, has no idea that Jonas’s “vacation” was actually a stay at a mental hospital and is now dating Jonas’s best friend. After introducing us to some tragedy, two very biblical names and an emerging love triangle, the show quickly introduces viewers to a set of deeply flawed and unhappy residents of a small town named Winden.
Their world is turned upside down after a young boy goes missing – and the body of another young boy that went missing 33 years earlier, mysteriously appears. Four families, with deep roots in this town, begin desperately searching for answers.
Birds fall dead from the sky, time travel, and an approaching apocalypse
Dark is complex and challenges viewers to do some mental gymnastics, just to keep up. It can be difficult to remember the characters: who they are, when they are and how they are all related.
Through it all, viewers are forced to confront big questions on morality and philosophy, faith,the role of free will, and the nature of time itself.
The third and final season, Alpha & Omega, which was released at the beginning of the month, ties it all together. Like the title implies, what unfolds is a Greek-style tragedy.
Our protagonists and, by extension, humanity – just can’t let go. Season three repeats that idea again and again. Jonas can’t let go of Martha. Martha can’t stop hoping to save Jonas and her world. Hannah won’t let go of Ulrich, married or not. Claudia won’t stop let her daughter die.
It is in our nature to pursue our desires, to protect the ones that we love, to fight for survival. And it is in our nature to rationalize our actions – no matter how cruel – as justified and necessary evils.
Throughout the series, Jonas and Martha fight to save the world they know, the people that they love, and one another. It drove them, along with all our time travelling cast of characters, to commit heinous acts and cause immense suffering.
It is here that the series dives deep into the darkest parts of our psyche. It dares us to consider how our younger selves, that idealistic albeit naïve fresh-faced version of ourselves, would feel about the person we have become? How would she feel about the choices we made, the life we built, and everything we left in our wake?
That is what drives this tragedy. When confronted with their future selves, both Jonas and Martha vow to avoid their fates, to change the course of events, to never become these monsters that committed unbelievable atrocities. But like a Grecian tragic hero, the more they fight, the more faithfully they recreate their dark destiny.
It is the struggle against evil that propels them towards it.
So it is striking that, at the end of it all, it is Jonas’s future self – transformed, literally and figuratively scarred and disfigured from his lifelong journey through time and space –
that tells him: “there is still a way for you to prevent becoming me.” It is too late for Adam, the fitting name that the adult Jonas adopts, to find redemption. He has spent too much time in the darkness: seen and done too much, carried too much blood on his hands, and has lost it all as a result.
It is only young Jonas and Martha — our star-crossed lovers — who can save humanity, and save themselves from who they will become if they don’t. But to do this, to save a universe that they had no idea existed, they have to surrender everything for a world that will never know their sacrifice.
And they do it, unquestioningly and unflinchingly.
As they fade away, teary-eyed and shivering, it is fair to ask why they had to, why any young person should have to sacrifice it all for the sins and the suffering that they inherit.