A Guide to Understanding Netflix’s DARK (Season 1)

DARK is a sci-fi family drama with plenty of plot twists and revelations. It is a show that requires your full attention so if you are the kind to check your phone a lot while watching a show, skip this. It will leave you scratching your heads often and force you to go back to an earlier part of the episode or even an earlier episode to check and recheck your suspicions.

Netflix’s DARK

It’s also the kind of show that will make you want to draft your own guide – which I did. I have about 6, 7, 8 9 other drafts in open tabs that I had been working on for weeks. My own guide has helped me enjoy the subtleties of this show in unexpected ways.

If you have trouble getting what The OA is about, here’s my guide to understanding the OA Universe and How It Works.

The hours I’ve put into the OA and Black Spot is nothing compared to how I’ve pored over Netflix’s DARK. So no, I’m not going to hold back on the spoilers. That’s on you. If you haven’t watched Season 1, you shouldn’t continue reading beyond this full stop.

Season 1

While Season 1 is supposedly about the dynamics of the four families: Kahnwald, Nielsen, Tiedemann and Doppler; in truth, it is about how Jonas Kahnwald created the black hole through which time travel was made possible in the Winden cave tunnels.

For this to happen, the Winden cave tunnels must become the time travel pathways they are. And to do that, we need (1) Jonas Kahnwald and (2) the device he lugs around.

(1) Jonas Kahnwald

Jonas’s life is a closed loop, and as explained in the show by H.G. Tannhaus, in a closed loop, everything is mutually dependent, the future is dependent on the past and the past is dependent on the future.

Jonas himself is a product of time travel. His father is Mikkel Nielsen from 2019, a boy he actually knew growing up because he goes to school with Magnus, Mikkel’s older brother. And they do hang out together. Or is it did hung out together. (Getting the tenses right is very difficult for this post.)

Although his grandmother, Ines Kahnwald could clearly recognise Mikkel as the young Michael (I mean, it’s a small town, she was bound to have bumped into him since all the kids in Winden go to the same few schools), she did nothing to stop him from disappearing. If she had acted, things would have been very different. But no, she’s in the “things happen for a reason category”.

For this closed loop to happen, his mother Hannah, must end up being with Mikkel/Michael instead of being with Ulrich, the man she has been obsessed with since she was a kid. Otherwise, Jonas wouldn’t come to be.

On top of that, Ulrich must end up with Katharina in order to have Mikkel Nielsen who eventually has Jonas Kahnwald with Hannah. Yup, Ulrich is Jonas’s grandfather and is sleeping with Jonas’s mom, whilst his daughter Martha Nielsen is Jonas’s crush cum aunt. #yikes #ImOverIt

You don’t want to be Jonas.

Even Jonas doesn’t want to be Jonas which was why he went back in time to 1986 to retrieve Mikkel, essentially sacrificing his life to bring his father (or non-father) home.

But Noah can’t have that. He needs the black hole created by the device. So he kidnaps Jonas and puts him in the bunker where he and Helge witness a portal open.

Helge gets thrown into 1986 while Jonas gets thrown into the future, around 33 years after 2019, which makes it 2052. It’s probably there where Jonas turns into the tired-and-sad-looking Adult Jonas (i.e. Season 2) before returning as Adult Jonas to repeat the cycle with young Jonas.

To complete the cycle, Adult Jonas’s plan was to have young Jonas go through what he had gone through so that he would be committed enough to go all the way and attempt to destroy the Winden cave tunnels and break the time loop.

To do that he had to go back to Winden, wait for young Jonas to lose Mikkel, put the right markings on Michael Kahnwald’s map of the Winden Caves, give young Jonas the Geiger counter and light source via Regina, follow him to 1986 and try to convince him to not bring Mikkel back, which would erase both their existence (or is it his existence?), find young Jonas in the bunker and explain to young Jonas who he really is (ie I’m you just older and not particularly wiser). Still with me? Ok, good.

Jonas Kahnwald’s life is a closed loop.

(2) The device

The device which I originally thought was a time machine isn’t really a time machine but one that triggers the formation of a wormhole through which people could time travel. So it’s essentially a wormhole maker.

It was built by H.G. Tannhaus with help from a few characters. Claudia brought him the blueprints back in 1953.

We see that Tannhaus builds it but isn’t really sure what it does. By the end of Season 1 it is also not clear yet who drew this blueprint.

Ulrich’s phone which he found in 1953, helped him figure out the electromagnetic parts of the device. It took technology from 2019 to help him figure out the device, by the time Jonas arrives in 1986 to visit.

Jonas has his own version of this device. It’s broken, so he takes it to H.G. Tannhaus to fix. At the time that this happens, Tannhaus has not even finished building his own version of the device, you know, the one built based on the blueprints given to him by Claudia Tiedemann in 1953.

But Jonas is sure that Tannhaus was the one who built it because the device has his initials on the side.

Can you see H.G. T below the circle?

In bringing his worn-out version of the device to Tannhaus, Jonas helped Tannhaus figure out parts that were missing from the blueprint. This allowed Tannhaus to complete the construction of his brand new machine, which he then gives to Jonas. To destroy.

Despite knowing that Jonas intends to destroy the machine, Tannhaus helps him. Had he decided not to help Jonas, none of this would have happened. Like Ines, Tannhaus could have shut this whole thing down in a heartbeat. But he doesn’t.

“So… it’s my fault?”

To power the device, Jonas retrieves Caesium radioactive isotopes from 1986. He gets this from the barrels of radioactive wastes that were kept by Tiedemann in a truck at the side of the road in an attempt to evade detection.

The waste barrels were placed there because Ulrich suspects that his son is somewhere in Alexander Tiedemann’s power plant. Charlotte makes a search warrant happen.

The search warrant compels Aleksander, chairman at the power plant to remove the barrels from its usual hiding place, and to store them in an unassuming truck in an open parking lot, providing easy access of the radioactive samples inside to Jonas.

Adult Jonas puts the device altogether then activates it right in the middle of the tunnels there, thereby destroying the wormhole.

Except… he doesn’t.

What Jonas Actually Did

For the entire first season, we watch Adult Jonas and Noah do everything to lead Jonas to this point in time. For Jonas, he believes that by destroying the device H.G. Tannhaus built all the time travel that has been the bane of his existence will end.

However, as Noah has explained to Bartosz, Adult Jonas was lied to by Claudia Tiedemann. His actions would not destroy the cave tunnels but instead turn the tunnels into the time travelling pathways that they are.

Instead of ending it, he triggered its beginning.

Young Jonas and Helge were in the bunker (which was right above where Adult Jonas detonates the device inside the cave) albeit in different time periods, 1953 and 1986. A portal opens and and the two see each other across the divide. They touch hands and were sent to different timelines.

Where or when exactly is answered in Season 2.

Time Travel Via The Winden Cave Tunnels

We need to talk about the Winden Cave Tunnels, home to the most rudimentary and painfully slow way to travel through time. You basically open a steel door and crawl through to the other end.

And if that’s not bad enough, its list of destinations is scant – you can only travel between 3 timelines, 2019, 1986 and 1953, and all the timelines are moving along linearly. If you enter on November 11 in 1986 and end up in 2019, the date will still be November 11.

Like Adult Jonas puts it, this isn’t like the DeLorean where you can input a specific time you want to get to. If you get there early, you’re just going to have to wait, like what Adult Jonas and Helge did.

Jonas tries to navigate through the caves using a map he finds in his father’s shed but it wasn’t until Adult Jonas added markings on the map and gave him a light source plus a Geiger Counter that Jonas finally successfully makes his way through to 1986.

In the cave, he comes across an ouroboros handle with a red string tied to it. Its significance is still not clear yet.

A number of characters have gone through the tunnels to get between 1953, 1986 and 2019: Helge, Ulrich and Jonas. While Jonas had help from his older self, Ulrich basically just followed Helge Senior and figured things out on his own. He too stumbled upon the ouroboros ring handle.

To enter the tunnel, they must open a heavy metal door which has a trinity knot sculpted on it.

The tunnel itself is extremely windy despite being underground which is why every time a tunnel door is opened, the cave “roars”. When the door closes behind the person crawling through, there is a loud metal clang that rings through the caves.

The tunnels meet in the centre at a fork where you can go left or right, each leading to one of the three periods. Regardless of which tunnel you take, you leave via the mouth of the Winden Cave.

I’m not sure how Claudia’s dog, Gretchen, Mikkel, Claudia and Noah travelled seeing as how Gretchen can’t open the doors to the tunnel, Mikkel was unconscious and it would be difficult to drag his limp body through the tunnels, whereas Claudia and Noah don’t seem like the crawling type. Ergo it is possible that there is an alternative way to travel.

The chair

The chair is what Adult Jonas calls an early prototype to time travel. It’s housed in a locked room with a teal cartoon-filled wallpaper.

Charlotte would find a remnant of this wallpaper in Helge’s underground bunker, a clue left for us, the audience, to put 2 and 2 together: the two location is one and the same, just from different time periods.

The Chair was built and perfected by Noah, with help from a reluctant Helge who was tasked to abduct the boys to experiment on. It isn’t clear why they chose those boys.

Although we never see Yasin and Mads in the room, we do see Erik being strapped in the chair. As they all ended up with scorched eyes, like Erik did, it’s safe to assume that they all went the same way.

Helge is also seen in the locked room but by the end of Season 1 he had only arrived there via the portal. We don’t know how many lives The Chair has taken (I count 3 so far), but Helge’s isn’t one of them. In watching what happened to him, I’m not sure if Noah and adult Helge are the most evil characters in the show.

That beating was brutal but not enough to snub out his life

All the boys have a red string with a pfennig coin around their necks. Its significance is unclear.

Erik’s
Erik and Yasin’s coins in 1953
Yasin

In 2019, Ulrich would find Helge’s pfennig coin snuggled in his copy of A Journey Through Time. How he got it, and why he is still alive is something for Season 2 (or 3?) to unveil.

Helge’s coin

The boys’ bodies will travel through a time portal, and end up in the bunker, where someone on the other end will retrieve them. All the bodies would have scorched eyes and burst ear drums.

Helge, Tronte and Peter have retrieved bodies from the bunker. They do this based on a schedule provided for them. Helge is told by Noah who to abduct, and which body to move from when to when, whereas Tronte and Peter were given their schedule of when the bodies will appear by Claudia Tiedemann. Little else is known of the origin of the schedule at this point.

So… now what? Off to season 2!

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