Archive for July 26, 2019

The Time Tunnel

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2019 by dcairns

Yes, we are enjoying Dark, since you ask.

A German Netflix show about time travel, it so far, two out of three promised seasons in, shows every sign of being meticulously planned, so that it might be one of those rare shows that not only compels binge-watching, but leaves you satisfied at the end.

It’s set in the fictitious town of Winden, where it’s always raining and everyone’s miserable, so as Scots we related. As with any good small-town soap opera, everyone has a secret, too, which in this case translates into nearly everyone having a small package buried in the woods.

Timelines multiply — we meet the characters in 2019 but are soon time-traveling back to 1986. Then 1953, and so on — the number 33 is significant (yay! my favourite number, because in French it sounds like a fanfare). One of the amazing accomplishments is to have found so many sets of three German actors who can play the same characters at three different times in their lives. They use a few tricks like stick-on moles, an impressive cauliflower ear, and heterochromatic eyes to help you follow who is now who. But the line “Confused? You will be,” is still an apt one.

I instinctively distrust things without humour, and Dark is quite remarkably free of laughs. However, it doesn’t seem to be making many mistakes. One of the questions raised by the narrative is whether time travel precludes free will, as a way of preventing paradoxes, and the conclusion seems to be that it does. We even get Appointment in Samarra type instances of characters attempting to alter events, and their interventions become the springboards that CAUSE those events. The downside of this is a couple of scenes where the pre-determined plot causes characters to do things you can’t quite believe they WOULD do (like acquiescing to a loved one’s suicide, based on no proof that this is necessary, on the say-so of a character they have no reason to trust), or suddenly act stupidy because the plot demands it, despite being otherwise smart and capable (“Let’s go to the place where you’re supposed to die today, even though I’m trying to prevent that!”)

These are missteps, but they don’t cancel out the otherwise strong presentation (particularly gorgeous nocturnal establishing shots), performances (although humour could lift these even further), or twisty, moreish plotting. They’re the only indications that the showrunners, director Baran bo Odar and his writing partner Jantje Friese, might not be equal to resolving their tangle of timelines (a temporal wormhole thingy central to events fittingly resembles a ball of black wool having an epileptic fit). Oh, and a scene where three nice characters basically torture a friend, get what they need from him, and are then all friends again. Not wild about that.

The show is probably successful in part because it’s not WILDLY original. It takes time travel seriously and applies it to a soap format, and otherwise it borrows from other places in rather direct ways — the showrunners perhaps don’t even know they’re doing it. “It’s happening again,” says a character early on, straight-up quoting the Giant in Twin Peaks. The recurrent, cyclic spates of child abduction/murder echo Stephen King’s It. A mysterious, windy tunnel is right out of BEING JOHN MALKOVITCH, though its destination is not the inside of a famous actor’s head (unless that’s a plot turn being held back for Season 3). When Matt Groening created The Simpsons, he says, he tried to keep certain elements mundane — the domestic setting, the two point four kids — so the audience’s heads wouldn’t explode from all the other crazy stuff. This seems to work, but you have to be really good to pull it off.

The Dark team seem to be really good.

More TV stuff shortly — we’re halfway through the new Veronica Mars.