Opening voiceover, sounds like Maura, our main character (Emily Beecham): The brain is wider than the sky, For put them side by side, The one the other will contain, With ease and you beside. The brain is deeper than the sea, for hold them, blue to blue, The one the other will absorb, as sponges buckets do.
Images: first person perspective of flying through clouds in the sky, then we view snowy, barren ground; flash to open sea; flash to rocky mountains and valleys, with castle or old stone mansion; flash to ocean with ship; flash to craggy, cold, barren land with black pyramid; back to sea, which is choppy and opens into the watery vortex from the trailers.
We rush through the swirling whirlpool-vortex and come out in a mental hospital housed in the old stone building we saw from the air. We can probably assume it’s 1899, given the title of the show, but it could be anytime with wall sconces for lighting. Maura runs down the hall wearing only a hospital gown. She sees a man (Anton Lesser) standing in shadow at the end of the hall. He watches impassively as burly orderlies drag her away. She yells to him, “Father? I…I know what I’ve seen. I’m not crazy! What did you do to my brother? Where is my brother? He was on the Prometheus. He found out what you were doing on these ships. Why don’t I remember? What have you done to my memory? I’m not crazy!”
The door slams on her room, #1011, locking her inside. Her father steps partially out of the shadows and whispers, “Wake up.”
We see a pyramid and other code flash in Maura’s iris, then she opens her eyes and finds she’s lying on top of her bed in a steamship cabin, now fully dressed. She sits up and checks her wrists, noting that she has abrasions from being cuffed. Next she picks up a newspaper article from the floor with the headline, “Steamship Lost at Sea- Prometheus Still Missing After 4 Months”. She places the clipping on a desk, on top of a science book open to anatomical illustrations of the brain, next to a copy of the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin, released in 1899.
Maura picks up an envelope from the desk with the name Henry written on the front. The message on the postcard inside reads: “I found out what our father did. Meet me in New York. Don’t trust anyone. Your Brother.”
She looks in a mirror, checking to make sure her abrasions are covered, since they would make her seem suspicious. As she buttons her shirt cuffs, she repeats, “I am Maura Franklin, born in Morefield. Today is October 19, 1899. I am not crazy.”
As she repeats her statistics again, she pulls the chain of a necklace out of her shirt, but we aren’t shown what’s on the chain. When Maura leaves the room, the number on her cabin door is shown- it’s the same as her room number in the mental hospital, #1011.
Is she actually still in the mental hospital?
I love the impressionistic start to the show. I wanted to let it stand alone in its raw glory up here, but I did a detailed analysis of the prologue down in the commentary.
Right after the opening credits, there’s an exterior shot of the steam ship Maura’s on, the Kerberos, with smoke billowing from four stacks, then workers in the engine room shoveling coal into the furnaces that keep the ship moving. This immediately grounds the series in all four traditional elements of earth (coal), air (sky), water (ocean) and fire (burning in the furnace). The symbol of an upside down triangle with a line through it that’s repeated constantly throughout the season is the alchemical symbol for Earth– in one layer of symbolism, the ship is the Earth/ a world ship. Coal is the fossil fuel that runs the ship, but the audience already understands the dangers it presents in the long term, from sickening those who work with it closely to contributing to climate change when burned.
Coal is to 1899 what nuclear power was to Dark- the background energy source that both powers the ship/town and threatens its long term survival. This is a climate change story, but you have to pay attention to see it, just as Dark was anti nuclear power, but that part of the story literally and figuratively faded to the background and further into metaphor over the seasons.
Yikes, that ship puts out a ton of soot. World on fire, coming right up.
The Prometheus is a hot topic for discussion among the coal stokers. Darrel (Ben Ashendon) thinks the ship mysteriously disappeared, but Landon (Alexander Owen) is certain it sank like a normal ship. As they debate, the coal chute gets stuck, so Landon (Alexander Owen) calls to Olek (Masiej Musiał ) to climb into the tower and forcing the chute open.
Despite the ethnic slur Landon uses to get his attention, the show makes it clear that Olek is one of our leading men. He’s covered with soot, but this is artfully arranged sexy dirt. Olek glimmers with just the right amount of sweat and firelight as he turns to the camera. Landon and and Darrel, the plucky comic relief, in real life are a British comedy duo known as The Pin.
Olek climbs into the tower without delay, but while he has a moment to himself he stops to glance at a worn postcard of the Statue of Liberty. Then the coal shifts dangerously and his coworkers shout at him to get moving, so he stuffs it back in his pocket and works the lever into place.
Quick cut to the first class dining room, where the abundance of food is emphasized, though none of it looks appetizing to me. French newlywed Clémence (Mathilde Ollivier) comments on the Prometheus to her husband, Lucien (Jonas Bloquet)- she’s mildly concerned that they’re traveling with the same company, but figures that the odds are in their favor.
Lucien ignores her. He’s busy staring at the faux Geisha, Ling Yi (Isabella Wei), at a nearby table. Ling Yi, who is actually from Hong Kong, wonders why there are so many knives in the place setting. Her mother, Yuk Je (Gabby Wong), who is dressed in severe black and traveling as Ling Yi’s servant, whispers that she should pretend she knows what she’s doing. Clémence is annoyed that her brand new husband is staring at another woman. Lucien pretends he was listening to her.
Maura enters and takes her seat at an empty table just as Ángel (Miguel Bernardeau), a wealthy young Spaniard, and Ramiro (José Pimentão), a faux Portuguese priest, who are traveling together and posing as brothers, have an argument at the next table. Ángel is drunk, bored, loud and embarrassing Ramiro, who would prefer they avoid calling attention to themselves.
Mrs Virginia Wilson (Rosalie Craig) joins Maura, noting that she’s encouraging rumors by traveling and dining alone. Then she asks if it’s true that Maura is a doctor. Maura explains that in England, women are only allowed to study medicine. They can’t go into practice. The focus of her study was the human brain, but she didn’t get as far as dissection.
Virginia: “That’s what they do, don’t they? They show you the world, and then they tell you you can’t have it. See that man over there? Dr Reginald Murray. He’s dumb as a stump. His father was a doctor and so was his father, and so on and so on. Born a boy and spoiled silly. Tell me, what is so interesting about the brain?”
Maura: “The brain drives our thoughts, our behavior. It holds all of the secrets of the universe.”
Virginia: “The secrets of the universe?”
Maura: “There’s a whole hidden world inside each of us which only needs to be deciphered.”
Virginia: “Aren’t some things better left in the dark? I mean look at them. Why do you think they’re all here? [With an astute eye, she describes the passengers we’ve just met.] They’re all running away from something. Why else would someone ever want to go somewhere different?”
Some of us just like variety and experimentation on occasion, then want to go home again, but this isn’t my universe.
Maura just looks at her. As Virginia picks up her tea and takes a sip, so does everyone else in the room. Except for Maura. Virginia notes that Maura is also running away from something. Conformity and the hive mind for the win. With Virginia and Maura battling it out as potential queen bee?
They’ve essentially established two sides to an argument in this scene. Maura says the brain holds the secrets of the universe and a hidden world. She barely notices her fellow travelers. Virginia drinks in time with the other passengers, revealing little about herself except that she’s frequently alone in a crowd and is a keen observer of the habits of others. Two ways of being on the outside- blending in through conformity and guile or disappearing inside yourself.
Krester (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen), a young Danish man traveling with his family in steerage, rushes into the dining room and begs for help from a doctor for his sister. No one responds, not even Dr Murray, who eats his toast and pretends this isn’t happening. Krester continues to plead with the crowd to save his dying sister until crew members drag him out. Maura decides to see if there’s something she can do and follows them out onto the main deck. They toss him down the stairs toward the lower decks and lock the gate closed. Franz (Isaak Dentler), one of the ship’s officers, threatens to throw him overboard if he continues to venture where he’s not allowed.
As soon as the crew members leave Maura unlocks the gate and follows Krester. He only speaks Danish and she only speaks English, but she makes it known that she’s a doctor, so he leads her to his sister, Tove (Clara Rosager), who is pregnant and screaming in pain. She’s surrounded by a crowd of passengers, including her mother, Iben (Maria Erwolter), her father, Anker (Alexandre Willaume), and her little sister, Ada (Vida Sjørslev).
Maura asks how far along Tove is in her pregnancy, but no one in the crowd speaks English. Maura asks several different ways, until Ada figures out what she means and answers that Tove is 7 months pregnant. Tove pulls Maura close and screams that she wants the baby out of her. Ada tries to explain that Tove believes the baby is dead. Iben asks Krester who Maura is and scolds him for bringing in a stranger they know nothing about when they don’t need any help.
Maura uses a cup to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. After confirming the fetus is alive, she suggests that it might be tangled in the umbilical cord. She wants to try turning the baby. Ada understands what she means based on her gestures and explains to the crowd. Iben panics and tells Anker to stop Maura before she kills God’s child. Anker tells her he’s powerless to stop Maura. Maura slowly manipulates the fetus until it’s in a better position and Tove is no longer in pain. Everyone relaxes.
Wow, there is just so much wrong here. All I can say is, kids, don’t let strangers with no qualifications turn your fetus, whether they are God’s child or pagan spawn 😉. If the synchronized tea cups didn’t clue you in that things aren’t what they seem in this scenario, Maura the childless not-quite-a-neuroscientist suddenly practicing advanced midwifery should. Contrary to popular belief, women’s brains and uteruses aren’t interchangeable.
On the other hand, in this particular scenario, Maura was their only hope. So if you ever find yourself pregnant and in trouble and in steerage in 1899, ignore my advice.
Then there’s Krester and Tove’s super religious parents, Iben and Anker. Iben is guided by the voice of the harsh God she hears in her head. Anker acts as her reluctant priest, though he surrenders all power to her and her God, as we saw when he refused to confront Maura.
Down in the engine room, Jérôme (Yann Gael), a stowaway, sneaks out of the coal stores. He steals a uniform and shoes from a closet so he can blend in with the crew.
In room #2101, Lucien fails at sex and blames Clémence. It’s truly a painful experience for all of us. Buddy, if your virginal bride is bored in bed, that’s on you. When she tries to comfort him, he makes it worse by calling her pretentious and accusing her of not trying hard enough to make their arranged marriage work. After he storms out of the room, Clémence gets a sly look on her face. Maybe she’s done trying.
Maura washes her hands in a bucket, then Ada gives her a cloth to dry off. She tells Maura she wants to be a doctor, too, but Maura doesn’t understand her. When Ada touches Maura’s abdomen to ask if she has children, Maura flashes on a green scarab beetle sitting on a hand. She tells Ada that she “can’t have children,” and rushes away.
Krester tries to give her a metal cross as payment. She flashes on her father standing in the shadows, as we saw in the prologue, and brushes past Krester to return to the upper decks. On her way up the stairs, she flashes on the door and room number from the prologue, #1011. Her room number on the Kerberos is the same. At the top of the stairs, in rapid succession she flashes on a huge syringe filled with black goo (Dark shout out!), 2 syringes in a case, arms bound to a chair with leather cuffs (2 flashes), a small black pyramid and a hand wearing a wedding ring.
Nearly in a panic attack, she races outside onto the deck and leans on the railing to catch her breath, pulling her necklace out of her shirt for the first time. The chain holds a large, six-sided, gold locket with a down arrow at the top.
It’s prettier than my description sounds.
And out of the mist,
A Stranger Captain Eyk Larson (Andreas Pietschmann) appears! Be still, our hearts! He and Maura are drawn together like magnets. He startles her a little when he asks, in German, if she got lost. She answers, in English, that she didn’t notice him.
His footsteps were noisy on the boards of the deck.
Maura slips her locket back in her shirt and Eyk slides a pint of liquor into his coat pocket. Addictions/coping mechanisms safely tucked away, they continue in their public roles. Eyk checks the lock on the gate to the lower decks and asks Maura why she went down there. She asks if he’s the captain and tells him her reasons are none of his business.
Eyk: “Passengers from first class aren’t allowed down there. There are rules on this ship and they shouldn’t be challenged.”
Maura: “Who made those rules and to whose benefit were they put in place?”
He told her not to question the rules and she immediately did so, just for the heck of it. They smirk at each other, just barely. Before this flirtation can continue, the first mate, Sebastian (Tino Mewes) and the telegraph operator, Wilhelm (Niklas Maienschein), arrive with an urgent matter for Eyk. They hand Eyk a message and explain, in German, that they’ve been receiving the same coordinates repeatedly for the last 20 minutes. They believe it’s the position of the missing ship, the Prometheus. Eyk glances at Maura, then heads for the bridge. Sebastian lingers for a moment, staring at Maura, then follows.
If the message was so simple, why did they wait 20 minutes to bring it to the Captain? The only reasons I can come up with are that Sebastian and Wilhelm went over Eyk’s head to check with someone else before telling the captain and/or that they wanted to make sure Maura heard the message too. Maura wasn’t available when the message started because she was helping Tove.
On the bridge, Eyk examines the telegraph tickertape for himself, considering the coordinates: 42.04 N by 4.57 W. Sebastian reminds him they can’t be certain the message is from the Prometheus. They determine that the signal is coming from a point 7 hours away, in the opposite direction from where the lost ship should have drifted over the last four months, based on ocean currents. Eyk orders the Kerberos to turn off course to investigate anyway. Sebastian doesn’t agree with his decision, but relays the order to the crew.
Down in the engine room, the order comes through to increase power to the starboard shafts, which will turn the ship toward the signal. Distressed, Olek asks the other stokers why they’re turning the ship, speaking first in Polish, then in rudimentary English. Darrel tells him they haven’t been given a reason why and it’s not in their job description to have those questions answered. They just follow orders.
Meanwhile, up in the first class cabins, “Father” Ramiro is melting down over Ángel’s display in the dining room. While Ramiro begs his roommate to be more careful so they aren’t discovered, Ángel calmly sketches Krester, impressed by his attention-grabbing display. (Yes, after watching 3 seasons of The Rain, I’m sure it’s Krester.)
Ángel declares himself a fearless wolf and suggests Ramiro ask God why he was made a sheep. Ángel is still chuckling at his own joke when Ramiro realizes that the ship is turning and they both panic. Ramiro starts praying after all and Ángel looks haunted as they both express their fear of going back to Europe.
The music has been percussive, rather than melodic, throughout the episode, but now it becomes positively martial. This is not a pleasure cruise, in case you haven’t watched Dark yet and had any illusions in that direction.
Below decks, Tove has been asleep since Maura helped her. Now she and Ada are alone, since the rest of the steerage passengers are out watching for the lost ship to appear. Ada, holding her rag doll, wakes Tove up and explains the situation. Then she brings up a ghost story Tove told her.
Ada: “Remember the story of the ghost ship that you told me once? Where the passengers had all sinned because they killed a whale. And the spirits of the sea got so angry, they sent a huge storm towards the ship and caused black waves. And when they woke up the next morning, they had all turned into shadows. Maybe that’s what happened to that other ship. Imagine there’s only shadows on board.”
Tove tells her to stop telling spooky stories and especially not to bring it up near their parents.
Back in her own cabin, Maura rereads the article about the Prometheus, then looks over the envelope from her brother again. She examines the back, where “What is lost, will be found” is written across the top. She doesn’t have any particular reaction to the statement.
On the other hand, Eyk is in his office/quarters, gulping down the liquor he put away when he saw Maura. In between pulls on the bottle, he stares at a framed photo of himself with his wife and three daughters. Of course Maura knocks on the door to interrupt his brooding. He leaves the bottle on the desk.
That depression and dependence on alcohol might be why the first mate hesitated to tell him about the message from the lost ship. It’s probably not going to improve Eyk’s mental health to confront a ship of the dead.
Maura asks to come inside and steps past him. He moves to let her, but once she’s inside, he remembers he’s the captain and quotes the rule to her- “Passengers shouldn’t be in this part of the ship either.”
Maura’s already been to his desk and can probably smell the alcohol. She decides to ignore this rule, just as she ignored the other to help Tove. She asks him if the rumors that they’ve found the Prometheus are true. He decides to continue ignoring the rule too, since he could use someone to talk to who’s not a member of his staff, and closes the door.
There goes Miss Franklin’s virtue. But they both need someone to trust on this journey, despite her brother’s warning that she should trust no one.
Eyk spills what he knows about the signal and the Prometheus, telling her that it’s possible some of the passengers have survived for four months, if they rationed the food. Guess he has no faith in their ability to fish off the lifeboats and put containers on the deck to catch rain water? They are surrounded by food. They could turn to cannibalism if it comes to that. This is one of a series of instances where the characters seem to forget they’re on a ship, at sea, and what that means for their options.
Eyk asks her why she’s so interested in the lost ship, if she knew someone on board. She lies and says she just wondered when the Kerberos would get back on course. Since sharing time is over, Eyk tells her he’s holding a public meeting in the dining room in an hour, where he’ll answer questions. He shows her out. Then he pulls out an envelope that’s identical to Maura’s, but addressed to him.
Virginia visits Yuk Je and Ling Yi, but doesn’t go inside when Yuk Je answers the door. Instead, she sternly reminds the two women that they are to remain silent in the the dining room during meals. Yuk Je passively accepts the criticism. Virginia also tells Ling Yi to cheer up.
The first class passengers gather in the dining room so that Eyk can explain what’s going on. Once he does, the passengers are unhappy that their express, 7 day journey to NY has been interrupted for a message from an unknown sender who might not even be asking for help. Ángel and Virginia in particular argue that they don’t owe the other ship anything. Eyk argues that the Prometheus and Kerberos carry unique communication devices which can send messages over longer distances than the systems on other ships. That might be why they are the only ship that received the signal. There were 1,423 passengers on the ship who deserve their help.
Eyk and Lucien leave at about the same time, with the passengers still complaining. Lucien goes to the promenade deck and leans on the rail. Hands shaking, he pulls out a small vial of medicine. Before he can swallow it, Clémence finds him and he hides the vial, but he can’t hide his heavy breathing or the way he’s shaking. She asks why it matters if they get to NY a few days late, but he doesn’t answer. He shrinks away from her when she reaches out to him, then hurries off, leaving her bewildered again.
Olek eats while sitting on the edge of the lifeboat deck and looking over his postcard. This time he rereads the message on the back, which ends with an address in Brooklyn. He apologizes when Jérôme appears, since he’s breaking the rules by being there. Jérôme’s stolen uniform must outrank Olek. Olek speaks Polish and Jérôme speaks French, so they struggle to communicate. Jérôme is starving and ends up wolfing down Olek’s bread. They exchange names, then we’re shown the name of the ship, Kerberos, painted on the hull.
Eyk approaches Maura where she leans on the rail of the main deck. He asks why she isn’t inside having dinner with everyone else. She says she isn’t interested in another conversation about the weather, the decline of the Empire or her travel arrangements. True to form, Eyk asks if she studied medicine. She notes that rumors do travel fast and he’s the subject of as many rumors as she is. They both smile.
Eyk looks down at the water, “Right down here, the ocean has a depth of almost 4,000 meters. Man has mapped out every corner of the world. Been to the farthest deserts, the top of the highest mountain. But what’s down there is still a mystery. A hidden world in the shadows.”
This is Eyk’s version of the Emily Dickinson poem Maura read in prologue, comparing the human brain to the vastness and mystery of the sea and the sky. Symbolically, the ocean is the mind and emotions, particularly the hidden unconscious.
Maura asks what he thinks they’ll find on the other ship. He hesitates, then admits that he doesn’t know what to expect. With that admission, a crewmen shouts that he’s spotted the Prometheus.
Sometimes, being found is as simple as admitting you don’t have all the answers.
It’s dark out now. The Kerberos sends up a flare. There’s no answering flare from the Prometheus, which is unlit. Sebastian expresses his doubts to Eyk, suggesting they turn around without searching the other ship. He wants to radio the lost ship’s position to the home office instead. Eyk won’t consider this and says he’ll take a lifeboat over. Sebastian tells him that it’s insane to board the other ship without informing the shipping company and asking for their orders.
They are currently out of radio contact, so they would have to backtrack to make contact with the company, send a message and wait for an answer. Then they’d have go back to the Prometheus in order to finally help any survivors, people who’ve been adrift for four months and had supplies for a one week journey.
Franz agrees with Sebastian, but Eyk ignores him. He puts Sebastian in charge of the bridge while they’re gone. Sebastian gets a little panicky. He tells
Kirk Picard Eyk that it’s against Starfleet regulations for the captain to go on away missions. But Janeway is standing right behind Captain Eyk and he knows regulations never stopped her from doing anything, so he can’t back down. Eyk looms over Sebastian for a second and the first mate literally falls back in line.
Eyk gestures to the other three
stooges officers that they’re coming along on the away mission. Janeway Maura announces that she’s coming too. Even more against regulations, for sure. But she’s a doctor, Jim, not a mere passenger, so no one can argue. Eyk tells Sebastian to continue trying to contact the company to let them know about the other ship. Then he orders his lifeboat crew to follow him.
Sebastian really, really didn’t want to be left in charge or for Eyk to search the other ship. What was that about?
The passengers line the first class hallway to watch the captain and crew head for the life boat deck. As they pass, Eugen (Joshua Seelenbinder) notices “Father” Ramiro and suggests the desperate passengers on the lost ship might appreciate the comfort of a priest. Ramiro, who doesn’t speak German, forgets he’s supposed to be a priest and can’t figure out why they’ve singled him out. Ángel translates and reminds him of his disguise. Rather than reveal himself, Ramiro allows himself to get drafted into the lifeboat crew.
Olek and Jérôme are out on the lifeboat deck when Eyk and his crew arrive. Franz bullies them about being there, since low level crew aren’t allowed. Eugen and Wilhelm get spooked because the sea is too calm, an omen of death. They don’t like how dark the Prometheus is and refuse to go there. Normally, Eyk would dismiss their concerns. But fate has just provided him with two brave heroes who’ve already proven they’re willing to break the rules and brave the dark, so Olek and Jérôme get field promotions to lifeboat crew. Franz is not afraid of anything and remains on the lifeboat/zombie fighting team, as do Maura and Ramiro.
Franz is suspicious of Jérôme, since he doesn’t recognize him as a member of the crew. Eugen crosses himself before the others leave. Once they’re on their way, most of the passengers watch the lifeboat’s progress toward the Prometheus.
Ángel, another rule breaker, watches alone from the main deck, smoking and worrying about Ramiro. Krester, locked behind the gate to
the Underworld steerage, asks if he can have a cigarette. Ángel, perhaps figuring he’s not doing Ramiro any good by worrying, so he might as well distract himself, saunters over to the gate, seductively lights a cigarette, and holds it out for Krester. Though Krester initiated the interaction, this was apparently more than he bargained for and he hesitates, looking down submissively in the face of Ángel’s hostile glare. Ángel holds the cigarette so it stands straight up in a not at all suggestive way and asks if Krester still wants it. Krester slowly takes it, his fingers lingering on Ángel’s, then he softly thanks his benefactor.
No subtext there at all. Or need for me to point out the fire that passed between them at the tip of a long cylinder (as the lifeboat rows over to the ship of Prometheus, the fire/knowledge bringer) and the Tree of Life/Knowledge on Ángel’s cigarette case. There are locks and gates and secrecy between them, since their sexuality is illegal and they’ve both suffered for it, but there is the promise of spiritual/eternal knowledge that brings freedom. Symbolically, no one on the ship, in any class, is left out of whatever promise the Prometheus brings, whether it’s a curse or enlightenment.
Ángel tells Krester that he remembers him from when he came to the dining room to get help for Tove. Then he reaches out a hand to touch the scar next to Krester’s left eye. Krester shrinks back. Ángel tries again, saying Krester’s face is interesting and his scar almost suits him. This time Krester lets Ángel brush his hair aside and run his fingers across the scar before he runs back down to steerage.
When the lifeboat reaches the Prometheus, Eyk calls out, asking if anyone is still there. No one answers. He sends the potential cannon fodder, Olek and Jérôme, up the ladder first, while telling Franz to wait on the boat for an hour then go get help if they aren’t back. In other words, Franz is the first mate of the lifeboat, left in charge when Eyk isn’t on the little ship. But Franz sees himself as being left out of the action rather than being given authority over his fellow sailors’ lives. He protests that his seniority with the captain should get him promoted onto the cannon fodder/zombie fighting team. Eyk tells Franz to follow orders and leaves him alone in the boat. Franz is not happy to be sitting and waiting while his social inferiors get to do the good stuff.
The Prometheus appears to be empty- no one greets them and no bodies are visible. When Maura wonders why there’s no one there, Eyk points out that someone sent the signal, so there have to be survivors.
On the Kerberos, the telegraph finally stops receiving the repeated signal with the Prometheus’ coordinates. Obviously Wilhelm and Eugen find this spooky, but they try to take the positive attitude that it means the survivors have noticed the Kerberos. Sebastian isn’t sure what it means- he’s not exactly spooked, but he’s pretty sure this isn’t a good sign.
Sebastian is not interested in having the knowledge of fire brought to his ship- no way, no how. He’s pretty sure there’s already enough knowledge on the Kerberos.
The zombie hunting team, who between them speak at least 6 different languages, creep through the dark halls of the Prometheus and make comments to each other that no one else understands. They make shadow puppets on the wall with their lanterns and discover that the ship is a wreck. Eyk is spooked by an embroidered ribbon that he puts in his pocket.
Yuk Je helps Ling Yi remove her Geisha costume. They snap at each other in Cantonese as Yuk Je scrubs at the thick makeup on Ling Yi’s face. Ling Yi complains that she doesn’t want to do this anymore. Yuk Je tells her that she wouldn’t have to if she had accepted her fate. Now they must stick to their plan. She turns on the gramophone so Ling Yi can practice Japanese for her Geisha act.
Yuk Je, as if something has triggered her thought: “We only have to pretend for a little while longer. Remember…”
Yuk Je and Ling Yi, in unison: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
That was odd and robotic. Did everyone on the Kerberos say that at once? Can we add some other sayings? Maybe “So long and thanks for all the fish.” Or we could get everyone to do a somersault at once. Sorry. I should not be given the remote under any circumstances.
Maybe it was a message for viewers, assuring us the ending will be hopeful, no matter how dark the story is in the middle. Not commenting on the tone of the ending of that other series.
On the Prometheus, Eyk discovers that the telegraph has been destroyed. Maura wonders how they sent the signal. She’s still working on object permanence and assumes if the telegraph is broken now, it was always broken, since there’s no one around to break it. Because this is a GHOST SHIP OF THE DAMNED.
But wait- over on the Kerberos, a pair of wet, disembodied hands climb on board, accompanied by creepy, clicky, pounding percussion! It’s Thing and a buddy, from The Addams Family, and they destroyed the telegraph before swimming the gap between boats!
Okay, it’s not Thing. Last week I watched that other new Netflix series, Wednesday, which stars Thing as part of an excellent cast, and it’s hella cute and fun. Totally recommend when you’re looking for something creepy but lighthearted that won’t break your mind.
Anyway, back in 1899, the hands pull the rest of a man’s body up onto the deck behind them. He stands up and gets his bearings. There’s no one around to notice his arrival.
The zombie hunting team is still searching the Prometheus. Maura spots a large green beetle on the floor of the dining room, the first living (or dead) thing they’ve found on the Prometheus. Personally, I find the lack of bodies as concerning as the lack of survivors. There were nearly 2,000 people on board. The ship’s interior is chaotically destroyed, but while they were enveloped in terror the last of the survivors made sure to throw every last body overboard, then themselves? Except for the guy who’s an exceptional swimmer and climber, who’s now on the Kerberos. Bet he’s fun.
But we have a scarab beetle to follow. It leads Maura to a cabinet at the other end of the dining room. The cabinet doors are locked shut from the outside with a rod through the handles. Just as Maura’s lantern lights up the doors, something inside pounds on them. The entire team jumps back, discretion being the better part of valor.
Ramiro tells Maura not to open the doors, but Pandora was Prometheus’ sister-in-law and Maura is here to take her place. Eyk pulls out a gun and aims at the doors. Olek gets a large stick to use as a club. I think Jérôme pulled out a knife. With the men all armed or sensibly urging caution and prayers, Maura kneels next to the cabinet and removes the metal rod. She pulls open the door and backs away.
O-M-G, it’s a preteen boy with brown hair, wearing a black suit, the prototypical demon seed. Either that kid sees dead people or he creates them. Should have listened to the fake priest.
The boy (Fflyn Edwards) sits with his arms around his knees and looks at Maura sadly. What a monster. Eyk bravely asks if he’s okay, but the monster ignores him. Instead, the Seed of Satan climbs out of the cabinet and goes to Maura, carrying something in a cloth. Probably a tool of mass destruction.
The original version of White Rabbit, by Jefferson Airplane, plays over the montage. We may not be time traveling, but we’re still playing with time. And space. And the nature of existence. I have a soft spot for montages at the end of episodes, kids. Remember all of those good times with My Body Is a Cage on Dark?
Meanwhile, the swimmer, whose character name is Daniel (Aneurin Barnard), slowly walks down the hall and stops in front of Maura’s room, #1011. He puts his ear to the door to listen for a second, having picked up her vibrations just from sensing that her possessions are nearby. When he’s done, he moves to the room next to hers, #1013, and takes a scarab beetle out of his pocket. It’s surprisingly perky for a bug that’s just gone for a long swim. He puts the bug on the floor and it runs under the door, then unlocks it, even turning the knob to open the door a bit.
Before he goes into his room, Daniel breaks the fourth wall and gives the camera a long look. He has technology and a self-awareness most of the other characters lack. Metamaiden is convinced he’s a vampire, Edward Cullen with hint of Nosferatu. He is her favorite character.
The boy unwraps his bundle. It’s a small black tetrahedron/pyramid. He hands it to Maura.
The boy doesn’t speak a word. What’s scarier than a quiet child? They could be up to anything when you’re not looking, from reading to drowning to dismantling major appliances.
I speak from experience here.
Grace Slick tells us to remember what the dormouse said- feed your head.
Feed your head.
Hello, fellow travelers. Welcome to the latest fever dream created by Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar, who also created the German Netflix series Dark. While Dark was character heavy and much of the work in following the story was keeping track of who was where and when, 1899 is symbol and theme heavy, with an emphasis on the plot as a puzzle or game, maybe a quest. The characters are archetypes as much as they are individuals. It’s a good idea to practice a little detachment with them and watch more for the themes they are illustrating rather than getting caught up in their particular circumstances.
The opening credits introduce this concept by turning the characters into chess pieces and using the lyrics red queen and white knight from Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit that refer to chess pieces as well. Then there’s the interplay of red and blue, as if they are opposing team colors. Krester, who is traveling in steerage, is the white knight, whereas Ling Yi, a first class passenger, is the red queen. This could be a class dispute or Europe vs Asia.
Both characters come from marginalized groups who had to hide their true identities when entering the US in 1899. Chinese women weren’t allowed to enter due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. Gay men had to watch out for sodomy laws and the general prejudice against immigrants who weren’t straight Northern European men (Nordicism). Any other culture, race, gender or sexuality was suspect, as their supposed genetic weaknesses might demoralize theoretically superior white Americans into committing race suicide by becoming so depressed they’d fail to have children. The manhood of America was in danger!!!
This would be a good time to watch or read Life of Pi (book by Yann Martel, film directed by Ang Lee), one of my favorite films of all time, robbed of the Best Picture and Best Actor Oscars in its year. The story grapples with questions of truth vs metaphor, what is acceptable or normal during regular life vs extraordinary circumstances and how madness and delusion intertwine with these issues. The Netflix series Russian Doll has similar themes, especially season 2.
The details of the story both matter and don’t matter. When Maura wakes up on the ship, she’s sitting in front of a giant wooden cabinet. There are more cabinets throughout the ship, prominently featured in the camera work. At the end of the episode, the boy is trapped in a cabinet. If you’ve read my Dark recaps, maybe you recall the discussion on German Expressionism, an influential artistic movement of the early 20th century. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is one of the defining films of German Expressionism, which influences film and television to this day.
The film is notorious for its framing device, with the story revealing at the end that it takes place in an insane asylum. Note that 1899 appears to begin in an insane asylum, with Maura repeating that she’s not crazy. All of those cabinets are there to remind us that this is a story within a story. That’s almost the first thing we were shown. Maura has a reality external to the ship and we know virtually nothing about that reality right now or how the ship relates to it. The ship could be part of her external reality, but there are various clues within the episode that suggest the world of the ship isn’t real, such as the simultaneous tea drinking, the way Maura helped Tove and virtually everything that has to do with the Prometheus and the boy.
At the end of the episode, while we watch Daniel and the boy enter the story, the original version of the theme song White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane plays, including the two verses that are missing from the opening credits:
And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
When she was just small
When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know
Maura is Alice (in Wonderland). The Boy is the dormouse, who says to feed your head. The dormouse line is missing from the opening credits, though the rest of that verse is included.The line about hookah smoking caterpillars plays when Daniel reveals the scarab in his hand- he is the keeper of the scarabs, part of the strangeness in this world, but there are also mushrooms moving your mind low. Alice knows about the mushrooms. Daniel is also shown during the men on the chessboard line- he has more control than most on the ship.
Let’s take a quick moment to assess the flashes and symbols we were bombarded with after Maura helps Tove: Ada asked about children and Maura flashed on a scarab, which Jung associated with synchronicity (meaningful coincidences) and the Egyptians associated with death, rebirth and the sun. Krester showed her a cross and she saw a syringe, her father, leather cuffs and a wedding ring. We were shown that her father had her dragged away in a medical setting. There are dark memories associated with him. Do they involve strapping her down giving her injections against her will? The flash of a wedding ring suggests a husband. But are these her real memories or inserted memories?
A little bit of numerology- Maura’s room number is 1011 and Daniel’s is 1013. Both end in prime numbers, 11 and 13. Prime numbers are special because they can’t be divided or reduced by anything but themselves and 1. You could see where that could be given some interesting symbolic meanings. 1011 is not a prime number, but 1013 is. Based on what we saw in the prologue, Maura is strong but in danger. Based on his entrance, Daniel has more control over his situation. 1011 is also in binary code, the way computer languages written.
These are the most important links in this recap for explaining the underlying philosophy of 1899:
Jungian Psychoanalysis: The Belly of the Whale
Imperium ad Infinitum: The Meaning of the Hexagon
Thoughts on the Prologue Before Rewatched the Rest:
I decided to get into the spirit of experimentation and write my impression of the prologue based on only one pre-viewing, both up in the recap and here (for me, that’s practically going in blind). Let’s see how my use of dream analysis holds up later in the season.
The poem in the voiceover is The Brain, by Emily Dickinson. The last stanza is missing in the voiceover version. Let’s also return Ms Dickinson’s original punctuation:
The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—
The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound—
She compares the capacity of the human brain to the vastness of the sky, the ocean and God. Sky (spirit/soul) and ocean/mind/emotion) are represented visually in the prologue. The travelers aren’t actually in the sky or water. On rewatch, it feels as though the camera represents Maura. She floats free through the air, observing her surroundings, her spirit enters her body as she’s reborn through the birth canal of a whirlpool, then she wakes up to a dream or another life on a ship, which is traveling from one continent or state of being to another. The ship represents body/sensory perception in the body/mind spirit trinity.
As the poem tells us, we make our own reality through our perceptions and how we interact with the physical world, each shaping the other. Since we only know the world through our senses, we can never be sure that the world we perceive is the same world others are perceiving- we each live in our own world but also share the same world. The characters speak their own native languages and view the world through the lens of their own cultures, so they sometimes experience events very differently.
The rest of the season is defined by belief, expressed in the missing third stanza of the poem- God/religion, the creator and controller of the universe. Maura knows what she believes about the first two stanzas, but she’s unsure about her relationship with spirit and God. Possibly with Death, since souls are weighed as a form of judgement. As viewers, we are disembodied spirits or minds or whatever you want to call the essence of a person. (They’re probably still Dark fans arguing about the existence of souls. I maintain my position that souls/essences can transfer, irrespective of DNA and the existence or destruction of knots.)
In each stanza, Dickinson mentions a vast item and compares it to the brain. Then she describes how the brain outwits the vastness of the item, by way of a more mundane metaphor that tries to contain her brain, but can’t- You, a bucket, and a syllable fail when pitted against the author’s brain. It’s quite cheeky, really- she put the worst jab (You) at the beginning, so it’s forgotten by the time the reader gets lost trying to figure out what sounds and syllables have to do with God (hymns are sung in church, the sounds rising to God in heaven). As a poet, she would have been constantly struggling with syllables and sounds, but as a 19th century woman, she would have been even more vexed by the expectations of others.
There is also the sense of the brain standing between raw and manufactured materials- sky, ocean and sound vs buckets, sponges and syllables (body, mind and spirit). God stands alone, but then the brain is finally the weight of God, the reflection of God, shaped and formed as a syllable as shaped by the speaker. In the end, the mind moves from raw to manufactured material, formed in God’s image by God’s intent, but retaining the unconscious memory of having flown free and been even more vast.
Maura’s challenge to God, whatever that means in this context, is what’s left unspoken in the prologue.
Following the poem and the trip through the vortex, we meet Maura in the flesh. She is in the light, while Henry is in the dark. She asks questions and has lost her memory. Henry remains silent until he gives her a command rather than an answer. Maura believes he’s her father, but she’s also lost her memory.
She’s looking for her brother and accuses her father of harming them both. This puts three characters in tension, giving us our first broken triangle of the season. Since these characters are introduced in the first scene, before we even get to the ship, it’s likely they’ll be influential within the story.
Henry whispers “Wake up” after Maura enters another room and is unable to hear him. The command is metaphorical, since she was already physically conscious. That could mean he’s willing her to come to her senses. He could be a doctor who’s sent her in for a treatment. Or he could be in control of this freaky scenario.
In dreams, large bodies of water represent the unconscious mind and buried emotions. Clouds often shroud hidden or buried thoughts- the lighter and whiter the clouds, the lighter the thoughts; the darker the clouds, the darker the thoughts. For future reference, fog is a cloud on the ground. Whirlpools represent turmoil, suffering, chaos and danger (which can be in the future or past). The show takes place in a whirlpool in the ocean- it is the embodiment of dreams, unconscious thoughts and memories of chaos, danger and suffering. Most of the characters enter the whirlpool with unresolved trauma.
The life size pyramid is an especially interesting symbol. Egyptian rulers were buried in their pyramids, with the hope that they would attain a higher level of spiritual existence after death. As such, in dreams pyramids can represent transformation, royalty, power, overcoming obstacles, regret, guilt, memories and death.
A steam ship sailing across the ocean to a new world represents a deep exploration of the unconscious mind and emotions, with hope for change. Ships are usually seen as a positive symbol because they involve a journey, which equals movement and growth. There is the potential for transcendence or self-actualization in all of this darkness.
Whales, Shipwrecks and Shadows
In episode 1, we get 2 instances of whale symbolism connected to shadows and the dead: Ada recounts Tove’s story about whale hunters and a ghost ship and Landon has a tattoo on his back of a whale sinking a ship, combined with his certainty that the Prometheus was doomed. All three characters spend their deep in the lower decks of the ship, firmly grounded in the unconscious aspects of the mind and in the lower levels of Plato’s Cave.
Ada’s summary of the story: “Remember the story of the ghost ship that you told me once? Where the passengers had all sinned because they killed a whale. And the spirits of the sea got so angry, they sent a huge storm towards the ship and caused black waves. And when they woke up the next morning, they had all turned into shadows. Maybe that’s what happened to that other ship. Imagine there’s only shadows on board.”
Ada was eerily close to right.
The tattoo shows a sailing ship rather than a steam ship like the Prometheus and Kerberos, providing the opportunity to add triangles to the design. There’s probably sacred geometry involved, given how superstitious Landon and Darrel are, but I can’t see Landon’s back well enough to do a thorough analysis, so I’ll leave it to the mathematicians out there. The tattoo shows the whale’s tale flipping the ship up into the air- the ship is now upside down and flying. Examining the unconscious can have unintended consequences, y’all, both positive and negative.
Ada’s story of the hunters killing the whale and being so consumed by the act that it transformed them into shadows of their former selves, combined with Landon’s image of a whale kicking a ship out of the ocean and turning it upside down, transforming it yet again, turn this into a dark night of the soul archetype, epitomized by the biblical story of Jonah being swallowed by the whale (2 Kings 14:25, the book of Jonah, Matthew 12:39-41, 16:4, and Luke 11:29-32).
Jonah repeatedly resists God’s call to preach to the people of the wicked enemy city of Nineveh, eventually booking passage on a ship going on the opposite direction, hoping to outrun the voice of God. But you can’t outrun God, destiny or your own unconscious mind. God sends a terrible storm to the ship to remind Jonah of this fact. After some bargaining and arguing, the crew determines that the storm is Jonah’s fault and throws him overboard as a sacrifice to God. Rather than letting Jonah hit bottom and die in the depths of his own mistakes, God sends a whale to
take him to rehab swallow him. Jonah spends his 3 days in the belly of the whale in deep thought about the error of his ways.
Maybe there’s also some group therapy involved with the fish in the whale’s belly- the Bible is silent on this.
After the 3 days, God decides that Jonah has spent enough time wallowing and directs the whale to spit him out in a safe place near Nineveh, the site of the mission he’s been trying to avoid. Thanks to the whale, Jonah’s exterior reflects the near death experience he’s been through and the way it’s changed him on the inside- his hair and skin have been bleached to a ghostly white and his clothes are a wreck. His new look stands out in Nineveh as he preaches to the wicked sinners that they too must change their lives, just as God commanded. The Ninevites accept this message and change their ways, so God spares the city from His wrath.
It takes Jonah a few more rounds with God before he learns to let go of the past and find balance in life through compassion and forgiveness.
Kosmosjournal.org – A Dark Night of the Soul and the Discovery of Meaning
mindbodygreen.com – Understanding The Dark Night Of The Soul (+ How To Get Through It)
In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a Titan, (elemental God-like figures who preceded the gods of Olympus) who, along with his brother Epimetheus, sided with Zeus in the war between the Titans and the Olympians. Prometheus means fore thinker, while Epimetheus means after thinker- the brothers had the gifts of foresight and hindsight, making them invaluable strategizers. After the war Prometheus disagreed with Zeus about his unfair treatment of mortals, which led to Prometheus tricking Zeus into accepting lesser offerings from humans in tribute. Prometheus also stole fire and gave the knowledge to humans, thus his titles as the fire bringer and a trickster god. Zeus punished Prometheus by tying him up and sending an eagle to eat his liver everyday. Since his liver would grow back every night, Prometheus is a god who dies and is reborn after going through his own dark nights of the soul. He eventually made a trade with Heracles to save himself. Later myths credit Prometheus with creating humanity. Pandora, who opened the box that brought evil and hope upon the world, was married to Epimetheus. She was sent by Zeus to punish mortals for accepting Prometheus’ help.
Kerberos is the multi-headed hound of Hades who guards the entrance to the Underworld so that the dead and anyone else who enter can never leave- this whale does not spit his visitors back out or help humanity. Besides its multiple heads, Kerberos has a snake for a tail and multiple snakes protruding from various parts of its body. There are only three cases where visitors to the Underworld tricked their way out again. Orpheus distracted Kerberos with music when he attempted to rescue his true love Eurydice. Sybil used a honey cake laced with a sleeping potion. And Heracles overpowered Kerberos with his strength, then took his prize with him.
Three is a magical number, the number of the trinity and the triangle. Kerberos was tricked by 2 men and a woman. Purely coincidentally, Maura’s newspaper clipping has a headline in the lower right that says “Devil’s Triangle”, which can refer to the Bermuda Triangle, where ships tend to disappear, or to a threesome between two men and a woman. Carl Gustav Jung used scarab beetles, like the ones we see toward the end of the episode, to illustrate the concept of synchronicity, finding meaningful patterns in random events. Maybe there are no coincidences.
Ada’s shadows can be seen as ghosts, the shadow puppets in Plato’s cave or as Jung’s shadows, the dark side of the psyche that consists of traits rejected by the conscious self. The two ships, named after the light bringer and the guardian of the Underworld, the protector of humans and the jailer of ghosts, can be seen as shadows of each other. The Prometheus carries Daniel and the boy, each associated with a scarab, which are, in turn, associated with finding clarity, the Egyptian sun gods, hearts and the truth. The Kerberos holds everyone else and is associated with relentlessly keeping the occupants of the Underworld underground, whether they belong there or not.
Though the Prometheus itself isn’t light, it brings two characters who have the potential to be light bringers (or tricksters). The Kerberos is the whale in this long dark night, an extension of the metaphorical Underworld which won’t let the passengers escape their nightmares. As Virginia, who wears a scarab and tells the truth, pointed out, they are all running from something. But no matter where you go, there you are. You can’t outrun the voice of God or your own inner demons, especially when you’re running in circles.
Maura’s father tells her to “wake up” when he sends her into the Kerberos. Coming through the dark night of the soul after facing the darkness head on and taking steps toward growth is also waking up.
Some Sacred Geometry
Sacred geometry is based on the repeating patterns found throughout nature that have been recognized all over the world since ancient times. These patterns form the building blocks of matter and energy, from the smallest to the largest pieces of the universe. They’ve inspired artistic, philosophical and religious thought in addition to mathematicians. 1899 makes sacred geometry central to its mysteries.
Maura’s locket is a hexagon (6 sides), a particularly strong, orderly and harmonious shape, relating “to marriage, co-operation, connection, reciprocal actions, sympathy, communion and magical healing. The esoteric interpretation of this relates to unconscious content awakening in the conscious mind…Hexagons are a prompt for you to reach a moment of self-awareness. Self-realisation gives you the potential to learn something about yourself that brings harmony, balance, sincerity and love. Six is a number associated with healing emotional wounds or rifts with people.” (X)
MasterMindContent.co.uk – Esoteric Meaning of the Hexagon
Ángel’s cigarette case contains the secrets of the universe: The layers of repeating silver filigree create ancient designs that are hidden and stylized, probably so Catholic priests wouldn’t easily recognize them during a period when the Church was powerful and prone to persecuting those with beliefs it didn’t approve of. The flower-like pattern called the seed of life is most easily noticed, but I believe the the Kabbalistic tree of life is also hidden within the lines. The tree of life contains and is based on circles and hexagons and is a pattern used to study Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysicism.
Ancient-Origins.net – What Ancient Secrets Lie Within the Flower of Life?
The tetrahedron/pyramid that the boy carries is one of five Platonic solids. It represents fire:
“[The tetrahedron] has the most stable shape of all the platonic solids, so it represents focus, direction, strategy, and the power of soul creation.
Tetrahedra embody the solar plexus chakra, which is the energy center of the self. This chakra lies around your belly button, and it’s the source of your personal power. Because the tetrahedron is a fire symbol, it explains the ‘fire in your belly’ when you’re determined to get something done. Fire brings heat, energy, and light, so tetrahedra are also a sign of clarity.
No matter how you position a tetrahedron, one point will face the sky while one side is flat on the ground. This expresses the grounding ability as well as the heavenly perspective that this platonic solid possesses. It’s crucial both for spiritual awakening and physical manifestation. This sturdy transcendental form can help you find unity in your ethereal and material selves.”
Images courtesy of Netflix and whoever else they belong to. No copyright infringement intended.
One thought on “1899 Season 1 Episode 1: The Ship Recap”
Thank you for this rich commentary on the symbolism. You noticed a lot of stuff that I overlooked. I was really hoping that you would write an analysis of 1899.
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