Jonas Kahnwald (Louis Hofmann).
Photo: Julia Terjung/Netflix
The German time-travel thriller Dark debuted on Netflix back in December, but you may not have gotten around to watching all ten episodes until recently. Or maybe you’ve been stewing over what it all meant since Christmas and you’re desperate for somebody whose time-travel knowledge is based mostly on repeat viewings of Back to the Future and Lost (hi!) to explain it all for you. Either way, you’re in luck, because we’re finally ready to discuss the finale of Dark. Don’t say we’re late, though: Since much of the action in Dark takes place in 2019, we’re actually discussing the conclusion of season one well ahead of schedule.
All right, let’s cut to the wormhole: What happens when 1953 Helge and time-traveling Jonas in 1986 reach through that space-time gap and touch hands?
Basically, what happens is exactly what Noah says will happen: They create a time loop. While trying to plug up the wormhole, the Stranger, a.k.a. Future Jonas, actually winds up opening the wormhole because of the cesium in his time-travel device, making it possible for young Helge and teen Jonas to physically connect despite the decades between them.
When Jonas leaves the bunker, he’s in the future, as noted by the woman who says, “Welcome to the future,” and hits him with the butt of her gun. But when, specifically?
Everything on Dark moves in 33-year cycles, so the year at that point is 2052, 33 years after 2019. I know this for a fact because the Netflix website devoted to the mythology behind Dark — which is a helpful resource, by the way — confirmed it. A question worth asking, though: How does the girl know that Jonas has come from the past and is therefore in the future? All he asks is what year it is. Were the members of this Mad Max–ish gang expecting Jonas?
What happens to Helge after his E.T. moment with Jonas?
By all appearances, he lives his life as Dark has already shown us: He grows up, helps Noah with his child-killing time-travel experiments, and eventually dies when his 2019 self goes back in time and crashes into a car driven by his 1986 self. Because 1986 Helge survives the accident — it’s the same one mentioned by his son Peter and daughter-in-law Charlotte in 2019 — he is able to continue on the same path without disruption. Which means that, yes, all of those children will still disappear and die.
But that raises a question: Was Ulrich right to try to kill Helge when he had the chance? As awful as it is to think that stoning a young boy could possibly be “the right thing,” it does seem fair to conclude that perhaps the kidnappings would not have taken place years later if Helge had not been there to help Noah. Maybe.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that Helge would not have been as easily persuaded by Noah to explore the possibilities of time travel had he not touched fingertips with a kid living in some future version of his world. That moment gives him reason to believe it’s possible.
Speaking of Ulrich, is he still stuck in jail in 1953?
It certainly seems that way, which makes me wonder how he’s going to make his way back to 1986 and/or 2019, when Charlotte Doppler spotted his mugshot in an old newspaper. If he doesn’t make it back, his actions in the ’50s could have tons of potential implications for the time loop. Remember: If Ulrich stays in 1953, he’ll eventually meet up with his younger self in 1986, which could be problematic. Since he’s already fathered Mikkel, though, Mikkel will still grow up to be Jonas’s father. And that means Jonas will still get to say, “Now I have another grandma and she’s the principal of my school! Her husband, who’s fucking my mom, is looking for his son, who is my father! A few days ago, I kissed my aunt.” Which is good news, since that’s the best piece of subtitled dialogue of the 21st century.
During his conversation with Bartosz, Noah says, “There are two groups out there fighting to control time travel — light and shadow. We belong to the light.” Then he starts singing a Pat Benatar song. Just kidding. For real, though: If he’s telling the truth, are those two factions the Noah/Bartosz side and the Claudia/Future Jonas side?
That seems like a fair conclusion to draw. The harder thing to determine is which side really represents light and which one truly signifies shadow. My guess is that Claudia is closer to the light than Noah, but she may be motivated by the wrong things.
On Netflix’s helpful website, the Noah bio says that he believes a time machine will “elevate humanity” and “make it possible to re-sort what has happened and to escape the cycle of suffering and perpetual recurrence.” Yet, he tells Bartosz, “As long as we’re in this time loop, we who know have to make sure that every step will be repeated exactly as it was before. No matter how inhumane it seems to us.” Noah seems to believe that everything that’s happened through at least November 2019 cannot be altered, presumably because it lays the foundation for what he wants to happen next. To be more specific: I suspect that Noah — who doesn’t age and therefore seems to be immortal — wants to end human suffering by guiding the world toward a nuclear disaster.
The nuclear power plant is crucial to the Dark story, and not just because the tunnels that enable all that time travel exist below it. Both 1953 (when nuclear power was on the upswing) and 1986 (the year of the Chernobyl disaster) are considered significant moments in humanity’s relationship with radioactive material. It’s unclear what is significant about the year 2019 from that perspective, but based on the white powder floating from the sky in 2052, it seems to fair to assume some sort of nuclear winter lies ahead for Winden. I’m still working out this theory, but it seems like Noah wants that disaster to happen because it’s the only way to jolt humanity out of its cycle of suffering. If that is indeed his aim, then it also makes sense for him to ally with Bartosz Tiedemann, who has power-plant connections since his father runs the place. (It’s no coincidence that when Noah first teamed up with Helge, Helge’s father Bernd was the director of the power plant.)
Okay, but why does Noah have to kidnap and kill children?
I do think he’s using them as guinea pigs to test out his time-travel machine, but I also wonder if they are a litmus test of sorts, a way to gauge what the residents of Winden will tolerate. If the vast majority of the population will continue about their business after multiple kids go missing and turn up dead — if, in fact, they’ll literally build a power plant on the graves of two children — then perhaps it won’t be so hard for them to turn a blind eye to the effects of nuclear waste bleeding into their community.
What does Claudia want, then?
Good question. We know she has traveled to the future, which means she is aware of the dystopia that lies ahead and wants to take steps to avoid it — in part to save lives, but, I suspect, also to preserve her reputation. Back in 1986, Bernd confirmed that there was a “minor” spill at the plant and that barrels of nuclear waste were hidden in the caves underneath the facility. He also told Claudia that it was up to her to craft a narrative around what happened. “There are no truths,” he said. “Just stories. And the story of this city is now in your hands.”
Claudia took those words to heart, hiring her future son-in-law (and her future successor) Aleksander to seal up the door to keep the barrels hidden. But keeping all of that material in an enclosed space may have been a bad move. Having seen what’s happened in 2052, she may still be trying to control the story of her city, especially since she seems to play a role in its unhappy ending. Again: Keeping Winden safe from nuclear disaster by changing previous decisions is not a bad idea. Doing it to save your own ass is slightly less noble. This is just a theory, but it feels plausible to me.
There’s a second season of Dark that will explain more about all of this, right?
Yes, Netflix has renewed the series for another season. It’s unclear when it will land on the streaming platform. If you really can’t wait, well, you can always try to journey into the future so you can see how it all plays out. Just don’t come back to the present and start posting spoilers online, m’kay?