Because of the odd structure of season 3 of Dark, there were several ideas that I wanted to write about that didn’t fit into any of the recaps. I’m going to discuss some of the ongoing metaphors and and plot points here that I couldn’t easily explain in my regular posts without spoiling future episodes or making the final recap overlong.
Reader beware- spoilers for all 3 seasons and 26 episodes of Dark ahead!
Prime Claudia Is the Queen, But the Unknown Knows All
Prime Claudia becomes self-aware and aware of the true nature of the Dark universe in episode 5. She uses that knowledge to kill her alternate self and gain control of the cycles in a way that she hasn’t done before. She becomes ruthless in her manipulations. That accounts for the tonal change in the second half of season 3. When Claudia takes over, she is freed from any previous constraints on her actions. From then on, events move very quickly and the repetitiveness is broken, other than what she uses to manipulate others.
The tone of the first half of the season is determined by the Unknown, who is a very deliberate person, working from a plan and doing very little that’s not slow and methodical. He is enslaved to his position in between the two worlds, like the mythological Atlas or Sisyphus, but he also sees all.
How much ability the Unknown has to effect change is never made clear. Eva and both Claudias know about the loophole when the Earth and Time stand still, and Eva sends her people out to make changes in the cycles using the loopholes during the moment when Time stops. We see Unknown out filling in the gaps, as Silja put it, of making sure the cycles still function despite the changes made, and arguing with Eva about how she’s conducting the business of running the cycles.
Because of all of this I would argue that, like Claudia, the Unknown is self-aware of his position in the universe and able to use the loophole to make changes. He doesn’t seem to try to stop Claudia, but I doubt he helps her when he doesn’t have to, either. Early in the season, he quotes an enslaved but powerful Shakespearean character and a prince who’s caught up in his father’s war.
I think the Unknown lets us know that this remains a predetermined universe all the way through the end credits. Although he’s ultimately Claudia’s equal in omniscience and power and knows how to manipulate events for his own benefit the way she does, he chooses not to, because he knows that it’s ultimately useless. Time and the universe will find their own balance, no matter how much humans tamper with them in the short term. I suspect that the Unknown knows that the climactic glittery dissolve is simply the end of a larger cycle, in preparation for another cycle to begin.
He may remain neutral or he may stack the deck so that Nielsen allies Benni, Peter, Torben, Hannah and Katharina are the guests at the final dinner, with Jonas/Dionysus on his way to his next rebirth. You’d think that instead of the Nielsens, Regina would be at another family dinner with Aleksander and Bartosz, this time with Claudia and a new girlfriend for Bartosz at the table as well. Maybe neutral police officer Justyna Jankowski and Charlotte would be there as Regina’s friends, since Charlotte exists outside the knot in this reality. Which also means that Franziska could also potentially exist, since she wasn’t part of the Noah-Elisabeth-Charlotte loop.
I understand that Regina dining with Katharina and Hannah makes the point that their history has changed. But Regina was also without any close loved ones at the table, unless she and Katharina are a couple. We weren’t shown a present day family photo, a tradition when that house is shown, leaving us to wonder if Regina lives there alone. Maybe Claudia saved her life, but once again forgot to save her daughter’s loved ones.
Winden as the Weimar Republic
Given the ending and Claudia’s methods and motives for what she does, I have come to see her as a Fascist who works quietly in the background throughout the series, lying and manipulating all of the characters, believing that she has noble goals which justify her actions, as ruthless people often do. Her goal is supposedly for Regina to live, but if you watch carefully, what she really means is that she can only accept a healthy, strong Regina.
Another aspect is Winden as a metaphor for Weimar Germany between 1922 and 1933ish and the historical rise of Fascism. This period is very pointedly not shown during the series. Adam and Sic Mundus leave the past in 1921 and we don’t pick up the story again until 1953, several years after the fall of the Third Reich. The only reference to it that I can recall is when Greta mentions that Helge is a child of rape, implying that she was raped by a soldier at the end of the war.
Claudia has already rejected Regina when we meet the characters in the pilot. We’re quickly shown that Regina is troubled and before long we realize she’s depressed. She might have other mental health issues as well. In their first scene, Claudia tells Regina that anything Regina does will reflect badly on Claudia and affect her status at her new job. Claudia insults Regina’s looks and demeanor as not being good enough. Regina already has scars on her wrists from a suicide attempt and Claudia is abusively putting this burden on her on the first day of school, instead of helping Regina deal with her violent bullies.
This inability to abide weakness in others is a hallmark of fascism and Nazis. It remains one of Claudia’s main characteristics throughout the series. By the end of the series, she’s ensured that only the strong survive, including strong, healthy versions of the people she cares about, rather than the mentally and physically ill and disabled versions from the Prime world.
She believes in Social Darwinism- if you can’t keep up with her, then you don’t deserve to survive anyway, unless she decides to keep you around for a while because you’re useful to her. Fascists and Social Darwinists believe the strong will rise to the top without help and the weak don’t deserve help. They fail to take into account the effects of racism, classism, ableism, misogyny and generational wealth on the makeup of social classes, assuming they are wealthy and powerful because they are stronger than others.
In the time period that Dark skipped, Social Darwinism and Eugenics were all the rage in Europe and the US. That’s why so many public figures from the early 20th century turn out to be problematic. The popular ideas of the time are anathema to us now. Germany in the 1920s was similar to the US in the 1920s, with a relative few very wealthy, unscrupulous oligarchs profiting off of the rest of the population, who they were allowed to exploit by a weak, corrupt government.
So that’s my typically very long way of saying that Dark is a metaphor for the rise of Fascism in Weimar Germany from 1921-1933, with Claudia as the metaphorical Hitler who quietly makes changes in the background the way the Nazis built a grassroots movement in the 1920s. Through her ability to use the loophole to change events and actions, she manipulates the people of Winden into acts they might not have committed otherwise, the way the Nazi Party led the German people into atrocities they didn’t agree to as a whole.
Dark ends with Claudia’s rise to full power and the destruction of the two worlds and people she has determined to be inferior, in favor of her perfect world order filled with chosen people. The show ends the rest of the characters’ stories abruptly, the way Weimar Germany stopped when the Nazi Party took control of Germany, with many people’s stories ultimately ending in early death.
Time and Radioactivity as Metaphors for Each Other
Time and time travel are used as metaphors for radioactivity and nuclear proliferation, from the discovery of radiation through the use of the atomic bomb and nuclear power. The reverse is also true- radioactivity and its effects are used as a metaphor for the ravages of Time. The close proximity of the passage and the nuclear power plant on Jonas and martha’s worlds make this reciprocal metaphor somewhat obvious. Then both the power plant and the passage are eliminated to recreate the new origin/Paradise world.
Early in the pilot, Helge says, “It will happen again.” Before long, it happens again- Mikkel disappears into the cave, which means Young Jonas has taken him and agrees to be reborn during the next supercycle/round of cycles. At the end of the pilot, Charlotte and Helge leave the school as a thunderstorm starts. Helge looks at the lightning, flickering lights and rain and says, “We’re too late.”
At the end of S3Ep8, there is another thunderstorm with lightning and rain and the lights go out on the dinner party. Pregnant Hannah describes her dream as the dark, empty Paradise Jonas/Adam was looking for, then says she thinks Jonas is a good name for her baby. We don’t have Helge to act as the Archangel announcing his coming this time, but, the end is the beginning- Jonas has reluctantly agreed to be born.
In both instances, and in others throughout the series, the lightning and flickering lights represent Time and time travel and the rain is associated with radiation. The association between radiation, rain/water and life and death/the life force is made verbally when Teen Hannah tells Teen Jonas to get out of the rain in S1Ep3, because it has radioactive fallout from Chernobyl in it.
There are many other times that birds, which represent the soul, drop dead during lightning and thunderstorms or characters fight or make life and death decisions in thunderstorms, frequently in the presence of a time travel device which contains Cesium 137 (time and radiation) or the power plant in the background. Time and radiation share the characteristics of being both deadly and healing in the short and long term. Neither can be seen and they still aren’t well understood by science, but we are always surrounded by them. We sense them by noticing their effects.
In the Dark universe, the way Time functions as a chemical, scientific story element is patterned after the science and history of radioactivity, with a few twists, since it’s Time, with a capital T, which is an immutable force and has a mythological function as a deity as well. But current science doesn’t understand radioactivity or its implications all that much better than Time is understood, as both get lost in nearly mystical level theoretical descriptions if you travel very far into quantum or astronomical realms and both are certainly equally destructive. Time, like water, is patient, but powerful, flexible, indestructible and inescapable. Radiation is much the same.
Adam directly names Time as a God and its powers are tested and proven through various trials and miracles, such as Jonas’s suicide attempts and all of the people who are in just the right place at the right time. Radioactivity is a more mundane god in Winden, in the sense that an island’s resident volcano was worshipped as its local god and expected to take care of its people. As the local volcano deity, the plant provided for its people for decades and expected occasional sacrifices in return.
The people of Winden were expected to work for the plant in a symbiotic relationship and to accept whatever the plant offered back to them in return. Apparently most of them weren’t allowed to leave town permanently. At the time of the series, the volcano/plant is dying, which will leave the town without a god or an employer. The apocalypse is akin to an atomic bomb and symbolic of Winden running out of time.
Even in the origin world, we aren’t shown any plan to replace the lost jobs and revitalize the economy once the plant is gone. That dinner scene looks happy, but a Winden without the power plant may be a very small rural town that time passed by. Its history may look like that of many former farming towns, with most people who grow up there leaving because they can’t earn a living nearby.
The friends at the dinner table all have service economy jobs that would still exist, even in a small rural town- school principal, cop, massage therapist, counselor, sex worker, hotelier. Regina may have found different work in the hospitality industry, since she doesn’t seem to own the mansion and hotel. Maybe she rents out Michael’s loft as an Airbnb.
Without the effects of excess Time and radiation, the knot is gone, the string of deaths and disappearances never happened and the cancers are gone. The town may have stayed smaller but remained economically stable instead of growing larger while becoming dependent on a toxic industry. In that case, the power plant itself can be seen metaphorically as a malignant tumor that grew on Winden and changed the natural course of the town’s life. The same would apply to the passage. This interpretation makes more sense than the way Claudia referred to the Prime and Alt worlds as timelines/worlds that should never have existed.
Time and radiation can also be used to heal. Radiation was discovered by French scientists Henri Becquerel and Marie and Pierre Curie in the 1890s. They developed medical uses for it such as X-ray machines and the use of radiation to treat tumors. Because the dangers of radiation weren’t fully understood yet, virtually all of the scientists who studied radiation in the 1800s and the early 1900s eventually died from illnesses caused by excess exposure.
HG Tannhaus is the time counterpart to Becquerel, who came from a long line of scientists and photographers. One of Becquerel’s ancestor’s almost discovered radioactivity in the mid 1800s, but didn’t pursue his results, just as Tannhaus is descended from alchemists and others who studied time travel. Original Jonas and Eva/Alt Martha are Pierre and Marie Curie, the couple who followed up on Becquerel’s results and invented new ways to use radioactivity.
In the 20th century, American and German scientists in particular raced to develop an atomic bomb and then to develop nuclear energy. Once Original Young Jonas dies young on the Alt world, just as Pierre Curie died young, the new Jonas goes through a personality change and becomes representative of the physicists who worked to develop the atomic bomb. Even though Young Jonas doesn’t remember what happened on the Alt world, he watched Prime Martha die after Adam shot her and for the next 33 years he works with Claudia and Hanno/Noah in a sort of Manhattan Project to torture the cosmic egg into becoming the God particle.
Stranger Jonas is bootstrapped into acting as a stand in for early time travel/radiation scientists on the Prime world when he travels back to 1888, since the Tannhaus’ either aren’t shown or are bootstrapped out. In those early days, he and Bartosz talk about using time travel to save people, just as the French originally did with radiation. French scientists hover on the periphery of each season of Dark, hoping to gain recognition and access to secrets, in acknowledgement of the way their early accomplishments in the field of radiation studies have been overshadowed by later American and German nuclear physicists who created bombs and power plants. There are historical timelines which downplay French contributions and even leave Marie Curie out, despite the fact that she gave radiation its name and won 2 Nobel prizes.
In the late 19th century, when Stranger fully incarnates into his new persona after OG Jonas dies and the new Jonas pops up, he makes it clear to Bartosz that he has bigger plans than simply helping a few people. He needs to save the world through destruction, like Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bombs during WW2. Stranger Jonas tells Bartosz: “If the portal works, then we can use it to find the origin. The one moment that started all of this. And when we’ve found it, we’ll destroy it. And everything that arises from it. That is Paradise.”
He wants to destroy time travel and everything that has arisen from it. Eventually he sees Time as God and wants to destroy it along with himself. He creates multiple versions of the apocalypse with that goal in mind. He does manage to momentarily destroy/stop Time, which creates the loophole that Claudia and Eva use to make changes to the cycles.
After the Trinity Test in July, 1946, first atomic explosion in history, Oppenheimer, who had a sense of what he’d unleashed, quoted from the Bhagavad-Gita, ancient Hindu scripture, which he used to help him make sense of the enormity of the occasion: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” In the text, the God Krishnu teaches the warrior Arjuna that fate, life and death are in the hands of the divine. Arjuna’s role is to perform his sacred duty as a soldier and let fate play out as it will, trusting that the destinies of those he kills also play out as they are meant to. He must accept his role as killer, knowing that eventually his victims will be reborn and human death is ultimately only an illusion. Creation through destruction.
Oppenheimer never fully internalized this message or used it to explain away the death and suffering caused by his science. His radioactive creations were used on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan within a few weeks of the Trinity Test, ending WW2 and flattening 2 cities full of civilians. Oppenheimer and many of the other scientists involved in the creation of nuclear science turned around and immediately began lobbying for the careful use of their discoveries and inventions, if not an outright ban on nuclear proliferation. He thought atomic energy had the potential to bring about the end of war, because it’s so dangerous that once every nation had access to it, war would equal the end of the world. The Doomsday Clock was created to monitor the world’s use of nuclear weapons and power.
Jonas’ words to Bartosz are similar to Oppenheimer’s quote from the Bhagavad-Gita. When Jonas speaks to Bartosz, he’s already tortured the cosmic egg into becoming a God particle and lost both Mikkel and Martha to Time and time travel. When Oppenheimer spoke, the dangers of radiation were known and WW2 had dragged on for years.
Both men know they are selling their souls to the devil in the hopes of eventually saving the world for others. But they also know they aren’t just selling their own souls. They’ve let a genie out of a bottle that can’t be stuffed back in, and both struggle with an existential darkness for the rest of their lives because of it.
Radiation and Time are destroyers without the explosions. In the 1920 and 1930s, radioactive minerals, which glow in the dark, were added to paints and used on everyday items for years, such as clocks. The women who worked with radioactive paint on factory assembly lines had to fight for years to get their illnesses recognized before the paints were withdrawn from the market. What started as a helpful decoration cost people body parts and lives. I’ve wondered sometimes if Torben’s missing eye and arm are a nod to the Radium Girls.
Oppenheimer died of throat cancer in 1967 at the age of 62, 22 years after the first atomic bomb test. Jonas can’t die, but his body suffers for his time experiments. Marie Curie died in 1934 at age 66 of aplastic anemia caused by her continuous exposure to radiation. Eva doesn’t show the effects of time travel as clearly as Jonas, but she gives herself a scar and her child has a birth defect. Multiple versions of her younger self die so that one can live to old age.
Claudia is the stand in for the opportunistic and immoral government and corporation funded scientists who go where their greed and ambition take them, without regard to the consequences. Bernd fits here as well, with his corrupt cover up of the 1986 power plant/time machine accident, which involved both time and radiation.
I’m not sure if radiation got Bernd, but Time did- he loses Claudia, Helge and the power plant all at about the same time. He doesn’t appear to have a relationship with Regina at all. The Unknown finally serves up his karmic due. Bernd has some particular attributes in common with the Nazi Albert Speer, though he’s probably modelled after unscrupulous businessmen and corrupt government leaders in general.
Whatever Happened To…
It’s disappointing that the material in the barrels and the accident in the Prime and Alt worlds were never fully explained. We are meant to accept that Claudia is telling the truth about the worlds being created in 1986, and their history reverberates to the future and past from that point. Or the Tannhaus of each world also created an accident in 1986. Or all 3 worlds already existed, but the 1986 accident on the origin world sent shockwaves into the other 2 worlds which became the accidents that affected their power plants.
If Claudia is telling the truth, then we probably have to accept everything in both worlds as reflections of HG’s mind. I find that premise as boring as Marek does, all guilt and dry science.
There’s no nuclear power plant in the origin world before the accident, so why do they exist in the worlds his mind creates? He probably equates it with a bomb going off in his life and with the toxicity of radiation. After his family’s accident, HG would have considered himself and maybe even Winden toxic.
The show never even attempted to explain what was in the barrels, beyond saying they contained a radioactive isotope that made time travel possible, but few of the characters, even the time travelers, knew that much. My head canon explanation, which you are welcome to share, is that the barrels contain the tarry residue left behind from the time laser melting the rock out of the passage. The time laser imbues the rock in the passage with cesium 137.
The rock in the cave is a particular kind of rock that’s receptive to time energy, the way uranium is naturally radioactive. There were so many barrels because once the residue is made, it can’t ever be undone. Everytime the passage is made again, they have to scrape up more residue. This was Helge’s job. And Aleksander’s when he first went to work at the plant.
The 1986 accident happened on all the worlds, but on Jonas and Martha’s worlds, someone- probably Bernd- went back later and changed the timeline so that instead the passage was properly created and Tannhaus lived.
Bernd convinced Tannhaus to stay home and raise Charlotte instead, essentially putting him on house arrest as punishment for the apocalypse he created and to keep him from creating anymore trouble. Once the the results of the accident were mostly fixed, Bernd and Claudia started time traveling and scheming, and the result is Dark. They accidentally created disasters, then made things worse when they tried to fix them, because that is the nature of opening Pandora’s box. Eventually they hit on the idea of starting over on a world without time travel and set about creating that scenario.
But what about all of those dead birds and alchemy and Hermeticism and the Emerald tablet and magic and Clausen and his brother and those super elaborate family trees? You know, the storylines that took up most of the first two seasons? The HG Tannhaus we met in S3Ep8 was a man of science. It’s hard to imagine him studying alchemy or Hermeticism and his time machine seemed purely mechanical. He didn’t need to bother with family trees either- he knew who his family was.
The dead birds were supposed to show that massive amounts of time travel energy were being emitted nearby, as evidenced by the way their vestibular and/or homing systems were affected. Maybe we were supposed to figure out that the chair was extremely inefficient, in addition to not working well, similar to the way early devices that used radiation leaked too much according to modern standards. The birds were also harbingers of doom, an early symbol of the souls who’d die in Adam’s apocalypse and the repeats that came later. Bird die offs are happening in the real world right now, the canaries in the coal mine of the climate change era.
Clausen was apparently a terribly written plot device meant to move characters from place to place. He didn’t do anything that other characters couldn’t have done, without the stupid and unnecessary subplot. We already knew Aleksander is a criminal. Clausen did a lot of mansplaining to Charlotte and was sexist with all of the women, in addition to quoting Freud. Maybe he represented the men who moved in on female professionals in newly developing fields in the first half of the 20th century and took credit for their work.
And after 2 seasons of build up, both iterations of secret time travel society Sic Mundus are just dispensed with using a few lines. When was the group photo from the clock shop taken? Who were all of the people in the photo? What happened to the original Sic Mundus and to the rest of HG’s family? Did the Unknown murder them all? Why did Hanno and Bartosz get huge matching Emerald Tablet tattoos, if Hanno was willing to kill his father?
Why was everyone so eager to follow Jonas into death and apocalypse, when he wasn’t a cult leader, wasn’t preaching a prophecy to anyone that we ever saw, mainly wanted to be left alone to be depressed and surly and they saw what he did to Hannah, Bartosz and Noah? Why would anyone listen to or care about that guy when they hardly knew him?
Let’s face it, some of these are just dropped plotlines. I’m going to be kind and say that both versions of Sic Mundus were bootstrapped into irelevancy by someone between S2 and S3, but that’s not really implied in the show at all. The story simply changes from one season to the next, with little explanation. In S2, it’s implied that there’s an entire group of people waiting for Adam at one point. In S3, the lair is a ghost town and entering will get you killed. The group idea is acknowledged and explained away by saying they took over an old group’s headquarters.
What was the point of creating the original Sic Mundus with all of its occult ideas in the first place and showing its influence on both the new Sic Mundus members and the town, if it was an extinct group that everyone thought was crazy anyway? Remember how the plaque of the Emerald Tablet was hanging in the hospital corridor in S1? That suggests the group was respected and still around, not an old embarrassment.
But why include the occult ideas at all, when they ended up not mattering a bit? I always have fun exploring those ideas, but here they were just a confusing dead end. All that mattered to the conclusion was Claudia’s ruthless science, or so we’re told. I still think that some of those ideas were useful for the preparation of the soul to be an interplanetary time traveler, but canon never confirms it.
And what about that new time travel device in Claudia’s backpack when she says goodbye to Adult Claudia? Part of me has always wondered if she found a way to survive her death after Noah shoots her in the 1950s. Maybe she kills the Old Claudia on another world and replaces her body with that one after she comes back to life. Maybe she says goodbye to her adult self, then travels for another 50 years before she goes to see Egon and Noah.
It’s another Easter Egg that’s introduced, but goes nowhere.
Maybe Claudia Isn’t All Bad…
Another part of me wonders if Claudia was looking for a way to save Jonas as well as Regina. He may end up being like a son to her. She’s not a very demonstrative person, but he’s the one she picks as her apprentice and always comes back to. They spend a long time together, working closely as scientists. I suspect that, despite all of the lies, she’s actually closest to him other than Tronte. And she lies to Tronte for their whole lives, too.
Not only is Jonas one of the few people who’s close to her that she never kills, he’s the one person she intervenes and saves, when she stops Mikkel/Michael from killing himself and ensures the Mikkel/Jonas/Michael loop will continue. I thought at the time that she must be close to Mikkel at some point that we don’t see, but she actually spends many years with Jonas. Prime Claudia doesn’t want to listen when Alt Claudia tells her she has to betray Jonas. Maybe her betrayals are only on the surface.
Throughout the series Claudia and Jonas are described as THE duality- Light vs Dark, and who represents which side varies, depending on who’s doing the talking. They are the yin and yang of the show, the opposing energies who can’t exist without each other, who also hold each other’s energy within themselves.
Maybe Claudia sent Jonas and Martha to the origin world to make sure that his energy was seeded there outside of the knot, since his existence is essential in order for her to exist in the proper balance. She let him bring Martha, because otherwise he’d drive her crazy with his moping around, obviously. Tronte is also probably lurking somewhere on the origin world.
I can’t help but notice that once again, Jonas is born as Claudia is getting old. He’ll be ready just in time for her to pass on her knowledge, so it isn’t lost before she comes around in her next incarnation. After a couple of cycles, there’ll be enough versions of them to invent time travel devices and spend years together again.
Marty McFly and Doc Brown live.
Old Claudia is very much the archetype of a fairy tale witch who transforms herself to look like a kindly old woman so that she can fool the innocent, trusting protagonist, whether it’s Snow White who buys the poisoned apple or Jonas and the audience who buy her story. Though the witch is portrayed as evil, Snow White is as much a coming of age story as it is a story of stranger danger.
The stepmother/witch is a form of dark mother who pushes a reluctant Snow White toward adulthood, while also taking care to protect herself. Young Jonas is also reluctant to take responsibility for his actions and frequently does what he’s told- he waits until after the mistake has been made to question authority, when he can assign blame to others rather than himself.
And he’s angry with Claudia when she leaves him to fend for himself in the woods or to be the adult who teaches her younger self. She’s a distant mother and he’s a son who can’t let go. Adam is still acting out his anger at being left alone by so many, not just Claudia.
Lisa Kreuzer, who plays Old Claudia, has a beautiful, kind face and a lovely, velvety voice. I want to believe her as much as everyone else does. It doesn’t really matter what we believe, anyway. The story ends the same way, no matter what. The poisoned apple has been eaten and the spell has been cast. And the cycle begins again, whether it’s what Claudia intended or not.
As Helge the Holy told us in S1Ep1.
Images courtesy of Netflix.