In its first season, Netflix's thrilling German sci-fi series Dark was compared, rather unfairly, to Stranger Things, another highly bingeable, popular Netflix series about a young boy who goes missing under mysterious circumstances. But while Stranger Things was an homage to the beloved Steven Spielberg films of the '80s, Dark's moody, mind-bending, and emotionally resonant narrative often feels like it's pulling inspiration from something closer to David Lynch's Twin Peaks.
In Season 2, which debuts Friday, the series more fully embraces its wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey nature -- to borrow from another beloved time-travel series -- as it continues to bounce between different timelines and generally make its viewers' brains feel like jelly. Posing complex questions about determinism and free will, coupled with its overt religious undertones, Dark has lofty narrative ambitions, and it continues to nail them at every twist and turn. Through the four episodes screened for critics, Dark barrels through its ever-complicating story, picking up steam as more and more layers are uncovered, creating even more questions as others are finally being answered. But the reason it all works and never feels too wild or like it's happening too fast is because the story is grounded in the emotions of the characters.
The despair that hung over the small German town of Winden following the disappearance of Mikkel (Daan Lennard Liebrenz) in 2019 not only persists, it's deepened considerably by the time the show picks up in the summer of 2020. There are now six people missing, including Jonas (Louis Hofmann), who we know to be in 2053, and Ulrich (Oliver Masucci), who's still stuck in the 1950s after attempting to kill Helge (Tom Philipp) as a young boy as a last-ditch effort to prevent the events of the series from ever happening. But as more time passes in the present without any answers, many in town are slipping further and further into a state of helplessness. Katharina (Jördis Triebel) is neglecting Magnus (Moritz Jahn) and Martha (Lisa Vicari) to spend her days in the caves, attempting to figure out what happened to her husband and youngest son. Charlotte (Karoline Eichhorn) continues her own investigation into what happened even as a federal investigator comes to town to work the case. And Hannah (Maja Schöne) is so lost after losing her son so soon after losing her husband (Sebastian Rudolph) that she's more desperate than ever.
Netflix's rampant spoilerphobia prevents me from going into much detail about what actually occurs in Dark Season 2, but that same spoilerphobia also ensures that the mystery at the heart of Dark -- Why is all of this happening? Who is behind it all? What does it all mean? -- remains a mystery for everyone in the lead-up to the new season. That's a big selling point for a series with as many twisty turns and shocking secrets as Dark has buried in its story, and there are certainly more surprising revelations in Season 2 as Jonas attempts to understand what's going on and how to stop it. But this also makes it difficult to discuss what makes Dark such an enthralling, addictive show in the first place.
To put it simply, and without pissing off the Netflix gods, everything viewers loved about the German series in Season 1 is still there in Season 2, only now the narrative is also underscored by the looming threat of the apocalypse. Even if most of the characters are unaware of the fate that awaits them in the near future, we the viewers know, and that knowledge hangs over nearly every scene set in the present day like a cloud of toxic energy. It also adds a sense of urgency to the story too, as there is now a ticking clock on the proceedings.
For every minute that Jonas is in the post-apocalyptic future we first glimpsed at the end of Season 1, it's a minute he's not in the present potentially preventing the apocalypse. The longer the interconnected members of the Winden community go without uncovering the truth about the wormhole in the caves, the less time they have to figure out the truth. The good news is, more people do join the inner circle and make progress in the investigation into what's really happening in town. Whether or not anyone believes what they see is another story.
One of the reasons Dark is such a compelling drama isn't just because it presents time travel as something that is possible or because it grounds its story in the emotional narratives of its characters, but because it couches its sci-fi themes in conversations about free will and destiny. While the nonlinear nature of time can make the show quite confusing at times, one of the great joys of the series is trying to untangle the interconnected relationships and ongoing narrative threads in order to understand how we got here and where we're going. Dark excels at building a compelling mystery, and the fact that it never loses the plot itself is a testament to the writing of the series.
We know there will be one final season after this one: three cycles, three seasons, as a recent Netflix trailer for Season 2 revealed. And that signifies, at least to me, that the show's creators, Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, likely have a plan. They likely know how this all ends (if a show like Dark can ever actually have an ending, that is), even if they might not necessarily have it all mapped out yet. And that makes me optimistic about where we're headed after a particular twist midway through the season threatens to change everything we thought we knew about what was going on in Winden. In true Dark fashion, there's always another complex layer to the story, and even if I don't know what it means yet, I still can't wait to see what happens next.
Dark Season 2 premieres Friday, June 21 on Netflix.
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Let's face it. We're probably going to spend the next few years picking apart all the ways Game of Thrones' final season went wrong, especially if we keep getting these little tidbits about what might've been.
The latest dispatch from the Westeros That Almost Was is this: Game of Thrones' final season nearly brought together that epic direwolf-versus-dragon dance fans had been waiting for since both fur and scale were reintroduced to the age of men. Or so director Miguel Sapochnik says.
In a chat with the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast (via Forbes), Sapochnik revealed that while prepping for his work on "The Long Night," he and co-creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff decided to trim a few things out of the script, including a massive fight that would've given our four-legged friends a lot more to do in the battle against the Night King's army.
"It was a much bigger sequence than we shot. And there were many things that happened that people would've been so happy to have happen, attacks of direwolves, crazy stuff," he said. "At some point you're like, 50 direwolves attacking an undead dragon does not a good movie make."
Sapochnik didn't specify where those other direwolves might've come from, since Ghost was the only pooch on the battlefield and even he got so little screentime that his fate was unclear by the end. However, fans of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series will probably associate the proposed scene with the return of Nymeria and the pack she's been off forming all this time since leaving Winterfell.
The show version of Nymeria was last seen in early Season 7, when Arya (Maisie Williams) was surrounded by wolves on her way back home, and the direwolf seemed to recognize her two-legged friend, which led many fans to suspect she might be one of the MIA characters who would make a comeback in the show's final bow. Alas, even though it was in the original plans, practical considerations took precedence, and it was never shot.
"Dave and Dan were heading towards the finish line and they were unrelenting in what they expected of us. Then their mantra to us is 'It's going to kill us, but it's going to be great.' And we were like, 'No, no, it's actually going to kill us if we don't stop,'" Sapochnik explained. "They were completely ruthless when it came to that kind of thing of, 'No, we want this, we want this.' And at the same time, there were moments of realization that we physically can't do some of these things and other things we can."
Another wish list item that got trimmed in the process of shaping the battle sequence for "The Long Night" was some ground game by the Night King himself. According to Sapochnik, the showrunners originally envisioned a few fight scenes that would've seen the HZIC (head zombie in charge) making use of his ice spear.
"There was an extended battle sequence where you saw the Night King fight. Very long. There was a whole bunch of stuff that was going to happen," he said. "But when we got there, not to shooting but in the process of prep, you start to prioritize what's important, and this is a micro-version of what we're just talking about. At the end of an 80-minute battle, do I really care if the Night King's got some fancy moves with his spear? Do I really give a sh-- about that? What I care about is this moment which for me I really enjoyed doing and watching where Theon, Bran, and the Night King stand in this surreal, fairy tale-ish kind of landscape ... That's got more punch to me than now the Night King does some fancy staff moves."
In other words, if you were disappointed by the lack of direwolf content before, now you know just how much dog-on-dragon action there could've been, even if it might have trended towards the absurd with so many creatures in play. And if you thought the Night King was deprived of a more epic final stand, well, there was a version of that, too, which might've been more in line with your imagination.
Game of Thrones is available for streaming on HBO.
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Spotted: a big-screen icon playing a sharp-tongued 19th-century gossip writer for Shonda Rhimes' upcoming Netflix series.
Julie Andrews will lend her voice to Rhimes' hourlong drama based on Julia Quinn's best-selling Bridgerton novels. She'll take on the role of Lady Whistledown, an anonymous figure who delivers social commentary with biting insults that send Regency London's high society into a frenzy. In other words, Andrews is pretty much playing Gossip Girl -- in 1813.
The as-yet-untitled seriestakes place in the "sexy, lavish, and competitive world" of London's elite, rife with dazzling ballrooms, repressive social constructs, and intense power struggles where "no one is truly ever on steady ground." At the center of it all is the delightful Bridgerton family, comprised of eight tight-knit siblings who must use their wit and charm to navigate this hostile environment while searching for romance and adventure.
The series was created for Netflix by Chris Van Dusen, a screenwriter who worked on Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal. Rhimes will executive-produce alongside longtime collaborator Betsy Beers, whose credits include all of Shondaland's primetime dramas for ABC.
The untitled project's eight-episode first season heads to Netflix in 2020.
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