“Dark” Season 2 is completely incomprehensible unless one has seen the first season. In fact, word to the wise: Go back and rewatch Season 1 now if you haven’t recently. This non-spoilery review will still be here when you get back. *Cue iconic ’80s Europop tune.*
The German-language sci-fi series co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese returns with more time-travel paradoxes, murders, affairs, and surprise ancestors who may or may not create unforeseen incest scenarios. “Game of Thrones” really has nothing on “Dark.”
There’s no “previously on” or coddling for viewers who have returned to the tiny German town of Winden and the four families who are all connected through some unknown cosmic phenomenon. Instead, the gloves are off and the series jumps immediately into a new timeline that sets the creepy and murderous tone for this season.
The result feels like the show has jumped onto the Autobahn with no attempt to gracefully merge, speeding full-tilt, and expecting the viewers to keep up. The time jumps are initially indicated with onscreen text, but the deeper one goes into the season, the fewer markers are given. Similarly, the massive ensemble of German characters are barely explained at all. Even the overlaid images of the younger and older versions of the same character from different timelines assume viewers remember the context and significance of each.
Although Season 1 evoked a certain thrill of discovery as each element became clearer to how it fit into this puzzle box of a show, the result of less exposition is a far more dense and action-packed season that yes, can occasionally become confusing. Parents may meet someone older who happens to be their child or one person travels to another time, which changes the context from how we know them and creates a cognitive dissonance.
To quickly recap what came before and how that plays into Season 2:
1. Jonas Kahnwald (Louis Hofmann)
The high school student became embroiled in the events of last season when his friend’s younger brother Mikkel (Daan Lennard Liebrenz) went missing when he was shunted to the past and became Jonas’ own father. Of course, that means that the girl Jonas has feelings for is actually his aunt. Bummer. Season 2 picks up after the cliffhanger of Jonas traveling to the future into a bleak world. Our tragic hero becomes resourceful in this dystopian environment, and one can’t help but root for this young man who feels like one of the few characters who want to put other people first.
2. The 33-Year Cycle
Time-travel in “Dark” occurs in increments of 33 years because the wormhole is only activated when the sun and moon align, a cycle of every 33 years. Season 1 begins in 2019, and travels back to 1986 and 1953. But time in Winden has not been at a standstill between seasons, and thus viewers will have to adjust to however much time has advanced during each of these cycles. There’s a reason for this advancement that creates more urgency to the story this time, which makes for a less meandering experience. Also, at least one more time period will be introduced, which creates a delicious sense of destiny throughout the generations.
3. The Nielsens, Dopplers, and Tiedemanns
Besides Jonas and his mother Hannah Kahnwald (Shani Atias), three other families play major roles in whatever is going on in Winden. And here’s where a Season 1 refresher will help because Season 2 also brings forth many of the characters who seemed more minor the first time around and gives them far more integral roles to play. Once again, the casting is mind-blowingly uncanny. Not only has production found actors to play the childhood, middle-aged, and even elderly versions of the same characters, but across the board every performer is excellent. This seamless casting helps ground this bonkers series with all of its strange events and whiplash timeline jumps. It’s also a fascinating way to showcase a character’s personal evolution over time. Thankfully, only a handful of new faces are introduced, who no doubt are related to these four families in some way.
4. Time Travel Rules and Paradoxes
Remember when Rust Cohle on “True Detective” said, “Time is a flat circle”? How quaint that sounds in comparison to the complex Ourobouros of a world in which Winden exists. Every time travel story has to set the parameters by which it can operate, and in the world of “Dark,” meeting a past (or future) self seems to be no big deal. Although the Grandfather Paradox is lightly touched upon (killing your grandfather in an older timeline thus eliminates your own existence), it’s never really belabored.
Similarly, this season introduces the Bootstrap Paradox or Causal Loop Paradox in which objects or information don’t have a clear origin of what caused them within the time loop. It’s a handy loophole that helps the viewer make sense of events in “Dark” that really don’t make sense. Having a built-in name for this confusion doesn’t alleviate the need to explain it, but it does help categorize it neatly to be mulled over later while the rest of the show can be enjoyed.
But to go back to Rust Cohle (or did we never leave him?), he’s speaking about Nietzsche’s Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence, the idea that events from the past and the future will recur again and again infinitely. Season 2 leans far, far into this concept, even repeating this explanation ad nauseam perhaps to illustrate the concept through dialogue in addition to driving the idea home.
5. The Point of It All
Despite all of the time travelers gadding about where they don’t belong and the mind- and time-bending activities, devoted fans of “Dark” will only be inspired to dig in more. The characters are just far too compelling to abandon in their never-ending hours of need, and the challenge of having these characters break the cycle is also a draw.
While “Dark” probably won’t solve humanity’s biggest philosophical conundrums, it does offer an existential playground that few other shows dare venture into. There’s also a strong case that Friese and bo Odar have an actual ending in mind for the series since Season 2 already pays off numerous burning questions that were teased in its first outing. Plus, it’s reassuring that Netflix has already ordered a third season of the show.
“Dark” is a rewarding investment in time spent in untangling the family trees and timelines. It’s also an intriguing experiment in how looped events and themes of determinism can play into growth and evolution. Perhaps “Dark” is the ultimate vehicle to illustrate the flat circle of recurrence as one season can flow into the next and back to the beginning. Just remember…
“Dark” Season 2 is completely incomprehensible unless one has seen the first season. In fact, word to the wise: Go back and rewatch Season 1 now if you haven’t recently. This non-spoilery review will still be here when you get back…
“Dark” Season 2 is now available on Netflix.