This article is spoilers for the German time travel TV series Dark on Netflix. If you’re looking for a Dark summary or overview, a rundown on Season 3, and the ending of the show explained, you’re in the right place.
Most critics didn’t really think Dark would get a true ending. The Netflix series was complicated, with layers of paradoxes that could confuse even the most astute followers.
Dark‘s creators, Baran Bo Odar and Jantje Friese, were expected to take the show to some type of thematically appropriately ending that wasn’t entirely conclusive. But the series actually had an ending that works.
We didn’t receive as much info as we wanted, but in true Dark style we still got enough to fill in some of the gaps.
It’s important to point out that Dark is full of things that don’t make sense. Charlotte, for example, is her own grandmother. So concluding a story like this in any normal way is difficult.
Charlotte had a daughter named Elisabeth. Then Elisabeth had a daughter named Charlotte. Then given the time travel nature of the series, Charlotte was time-shipped backward and became the original Charlotte, thus becoming her own grandmother.
It’s a loop with no beginning or end. This makes up the entire TV series.
With time travel, everyone is virtually trapped in these loops, unable to break free from them.
So that left a couple ways that Dark could theoretically end:
a) It could stay within these loops and even expand on those to continue the mindbending nature of what’s going until it reaches so some of a stopping point. Essentially things could be left open-ended.
b) Or variables could be brought in from the outside to help bring the story to a more proper resolution.
Odar and Friese went with option B.
As a result Dark Season 3 brought television that’s more packed than Season 1 and Season 2.
One could even argue that it was too much. Many critics and fans think that Dark could have used a few more episodes to hash everything out with so much to absorb.
It still works. But it requires some extra work on part of the viewer.
It’s also noteworthy that fans have to suspend belief to take things in. Time travel is fiction (obviously) but the storytelling needs to be consistent with a work of fiction, whether that’s a TV show, book, or something else.
Dark Season 3 seems to change reality as we knew it, but in reality, it’s just a change in perspective. The assumptions we previously had need to change slightly.
If you’ve watched the ending of Dark you know that storylines take place in splinter universes that were created by HG Tannhaus (Arnd Klawitter and Christian Steyer).
Tannhaus initially tried to create a time machine that would save his son, granddaughter, and daughter-in-law. All had been killed in a car accident.
Martha (Lisa Vicari) and Jonas (Louis Hoffman) go to tunnels underneath Helge’s bunk, which is the location of the original bunker. This gets them to the original universe to enable them to prevent those deaths from happening. It also prevents their own worlds from existing.
But how that works isn’t entirely clear. Martha and Jonas, by virtue of being in that spot, are sent into a strange place that exists only outside of space and time.
As a result of this paradox, the two end up interacting with their younger selves while they’re there.
It’s not unlike Interstellar where Matthew McConaughey interacts with his daughter from a different time after he enters a black hole. Bartosz also had us listen to something about black holes in the Season 3 premiere. Coincidence? Perhaps not.
But if we get too far into the details of Dark Season 3 we’ll lose sight of the big picture. People will talk about this for years. After all, it helps a TV show stay relevant after it’s completed or when it’s on hiatus.
Maybe some fans will find it frustrating, but we’ll just have to come to accept the fact that there are things we don’t know. Handing all the answers over wouldn’t be the answer either.
And sometimes even the show writers haven’t tied loose ends together or even have everything that makes sense inside their own heads (even though they might have an idea).
Scenes aren’t at odds with each other. We simply don’t know how everything fits together.
Dark is a complicated series and the way it ends is consistent with that idea.
Instead of paraphrasing, here’s what he said based on the English translation:
What is reality? And is there only one of them? Or do several realities co-exist?
To help explain, Erwin Schroedinger devised an extremely interesting thought experiment. Schroedinger’s cat.
A cat is locked in a steel chamber with a tiny amount of radioactive substance, a Geiger counter, a vial of poison, and a hammer.
As soon as a radioactive atom decays inside the steel chamber, the Geiger counter releases the hammer, which smashes the vial of poison. The cat is dead.
However, due to the wave characteristics in the quantum world, the atom has both decayed and not decayed, until our own observation forces it into a definitive state.
Until the instant we look and see, we don’t know if the cat is dead or alive. It exists in two superimposed states.
The properties “dead” and “alive” therefore exist simultaneously in the microcosm.
But what if the simultaneous existence of life and death also applied to the macrocosmic world?
Could two different realities potentially exist side by side?
Could we manage to split time and allow it to run in two opposing directions?
And by doing so, allow the cat to simultaneously exist in both states, dead and alive?
And if so, how many different realities could exist side by side?
We also don’t know about the machine that Tannhaus built. We know he wanted to use the machine to bring his loved ones back to life. But how he was going to go about accomplishing this remains a mystery.
Was it a time machine? We don’t know. It could have also been a different type of machine to create an alternative universe in which they didn’t die. We just don’t know for sure.
If we take the above monologue, it sounds like the second option. Not a traditional time machine, but a quantum machine to so-called split time and create a universe in which they were still alive.
Was this experiment successful?
He did create alternative universes. And in those universes he had a new daughter Charlotte, named after his dead granddaughter (who died on the same night the new Charlotte was created).
Did it work? To an extent, but also in a strange way that was otherwise bad for everyone involved.
The fracture Tannhaus created has a presence in other universes. It spreads out through Winden and causes an apocalypse that ruins the town. How the apocalypse happens remains unknown.
Claudia (the final Claudia in the show) gave us a hint in the season finale when she tells Adam what he did wrong and how the universe he lives in truly works:
Claudia: “I’d have liked to spare you all of that. But your path had to remain unchanged. Every step had to be taken exactly as before. Up until this moment.”
Adam: “This… Has it happened before?”
Claudia: “Your trying to destroy the origin, that has happened an infinite number of times. But this here, you and I, is happening for the first time. It’s time you understand how everything is really connected. Everything you have done, everything Eva has done, has upheld the knot for eternity in both worlds. You create yourself forever anew. And so does she.”
The bolded portion refers to the idea that the rules of time travel have changed.
Claudia calls the cycle an “infinite chain of cause and effect,” which has ensued throughout three seasons of Dark.
And here’s the big part:
“Time. During the apocalypse, it stood still for a fraction of a second. And that threw everything out of balance. But when time stands still, the chain of cause and effect is also momentarily broken. Eva knows this. She uses the loophole in your world to send her younger self off in one direction of another, in order to preserve the cycle. And I used it to send myself in another direction, too. To be here today.”
One interpretation is that Tannhaus’ machine disrupts or ruins the physical world with the apocalypse being the manifestation of that.
Dark isn’t always clear about what it’s doing and this is what invites lots of online discussion (which of course is great for the TV series).
These remarks from Claudia can have a bigger impact for the series. It challenges some of our assumptions about what the series has included during the first two seasons, such as the above-mentioned time travel rules.
Adam also asserts to Noah: “Everything in life happens in cycles. Sunset is followed by sunrise, over and over. But this time it will be the last cycle.”
Seasons 1 and 2 of Dark made the TV series appear as if it’s contained inside its own loop. Everything is occurring over and over again but still progressing in its own way.
For instance, the younger version of an old character is really just the newer version of the same character.
This of course happened with Charlotte.
And when Adam meets Jonas, he’s not meeting a past version of himself. He’s meeting a new version who’s identical to who he was in the past. So essentially Jonas is replacing Adam.
It’s not unlike a clone. If you cloned yourself, it’s the same thing as you genetically. But at the same time it’s not you, just a copy. It has its own being, mind, or whatever you’d want to call it.
But the difference in Dark entails these characters repeating the same actions as who they essentially are.
They live in a world where their actions are essentially predetermined because that’s how the mechanics of their world operate.
But for each loop that goes on, there is some change.
Season 3 of Dark helps to bear this out and challenge the nature of Season 1 and Season 2.
For example, during Season 3 Episode 5, young Jonas is killed.
Claudia, in her dialogue above, asserts that she altered her path over these cycles as she figured out how the mechanics of everything works.
Eva has also broken free of the self-contained loop system several times with the disruption of time. But she also paradoxically did it to preserve the loop.
But this also means that breaking the loop is also part of the loop.
Also consider the man with the cleft lip. He is periodically seen with a younger and older version of himself.
He may also be an exception to the “rules of the world” and is responsible for many of the bad events that occur. But he’s a mysterious character.
Other fans and critics believe that when Adam put the pregnant Martha inside the time blob she and her unborn baby died, and the mystery man was birthed from an alternative Martha who wasn’t put inside the time blob.
Technically that could also be the case. But we don’t have much info to go on so we don’t know for certain what the deal is.
He works for Eva; we know that. We also know the actions he’s made to preserve the loop. But little else. There are lots of possibilities and hypotheticals.
When we hear Claudia talking about her plan to end the two universes, she is talking about a process that took multiple loops. All the while she had to do what she could to maintain the loop and keep the laws constant.
The ending of Dark Season 3, explained
Claudia learned more until we reached the ending of Season 3. Of course, this being Dark, we don’t know exactly and more paradoxes are to be had.
Martha and Jonas save Tannhaus’ son and his family from death. But Martha and Jonas only exist paradoxically because of the fact that they died.
If Martha and Jonas never died that means Tannhaus never built his machine. Accordingly, Martha and Jonas couldn’t have saved them.
The last scene of the show involves a dinner party to close the series. It also gives us a paradox to consider.
The broken universes are really felt because we can see that many Dark characters are no longer on the series.
The scene, which takes place in the present, we see a group of different characters:
- Katharina (Jordis Triebel)
- Peter (Stephan Kampwirth)
- Regina (Deborah Kaufmann)
- Woller (Leopold Hornung)
- Hannah (Maja Schone)
- Bernadette (Anton Rubtsov)
- Young 1980s versions of Regina with Claudia and Bernd Doppler
Hannah is with Woller and Peter is with Bernadette. Regina and Hannah are both pregnant.
There’s also who’s missing. Anyone who existed merely because of time travel maneuvering is no longer present.
That means Charlotte is gone. As mentioned previously, Charlotte was her own grandmother, which means her daughters Elisabeth and Franziska are also out.
Ulrich (Oliver Masucci) is gone. This is due to the fact that Bartosz (Paul Lux) was his great-grandfather. And because of the same way it works with Charlotte, that means his kids are gone as well – Martha, Mikkel, and Magnus.
Why did Regina survive?
Her real father was Bernd Doppler. He was the character who operated the nuclear plant before Claudia became in charge.
Claudia never got cancer because the nuclear plant was never constructed.
She’s on her own because she probably never met Aleksander (Peter Benedict), her husband.
The first meeting between Claudia and Aleksander was because of Ulrich’s domineering behavior toward her.
If Ulrich never comes into the picture, Aleksander never does either.
Is Aleksander still around?
He probably exists, but not where we expect him to be.
Bartosz wouldn’t exist.
What about others?
Some less popular characters most likely also don’t exist.
This would include:
- Noah (Mark Waschke)
- Agnes (Antje Traue)
- Tronte (Ulrich’s father)
A lot of Dark and its ending is open to interpretation. The Netflix TV series was mind-bending but well done. Our understanding of the show is likely to change and the meaning of the final season will be debated for years by fans and critics.
It’s one of the great things that keeps TV series in our minds and leads to a lasting legacy for the franchise.