This episode’s prologue opens with Martha waking up from a dream/nightmare. Jonas and her making love and then of her hands covered in blood, greatly distressed. It is as if Jonas and Martha have swapped places. Middle Jonas is watching her, holding a letter addressed to him. It has been opened. We are in 1888. Parallel Martha enters the laboratory where Magnus, Franziska and Bartosz are. They cannot believe their own eyes. Martha is alive. (”She’s alive! She’s alive!”) Jonas soon puts them right. And Martha bluntly reveals the truth: ”I’m not Martha”
Katherina also wakes up. However this is 22nd September 1987. She is in Mikkel’s new bed having traveled there in Season 2. We see the wake of Mads Nielsen and the atmosphere is heavy with guilt as Jana accuses Tronte of not being there when Mads went missing because he was having an affair with Claudia Tiedemann.
Next we see Claudia in the post-apocalyptic Winden having found refuge in the police station. It is 22nd September 2020. A radio is broadcasting inside. A voice explains that scientists believe the reason for the catastrophic event in Winden was a freezing of time for a fraction of a nanosecond on 27th June 2020. This created a surge of tidal waves and extreme weather phenomena causing outages that knocked out all electromagnetic capabilities, plunging the world into darkness, and, an incessant deluge of rain. Claudia is nursing Regina. A red light covers her. Like the blood-red glow emanating from the cave when parallel Martha is performing the rehearsal of ‘Ariadne‘ in Episode 1.
Next we see other survivors. Peter and Elisabeth are living in the caravan. They visit the military checkpoint set up around the restricted zone looking for the others. There are 5 days left before it is walled up. Someone is watching and following them. Martha is being interrogated as nobody believes her. Jonas calls her a liar and grabs her violently. The group stop him. There was something in the letter. But what? An old man enters. He is blind and gently touches Martha and comments that she must be the reason for the fractious mood Jonas is in. This could be Tiresias, the blind Theban prophet of the god, Apollo and straight from the Greek tragedy ‘Oedipus Rex‘ by Sophocles.
Meanwhile in 1987 Katherina has gone to the school to hand out leaflets of the boys who are missing. She meets Ulrich, Hannah and herself. This is a very dark version of ‘Back to the Future‘ with no comedy and no famous DeLorean sports car. Ulrich mentions the ‘lunatic’ as being responsible for the disappearances. Katherina is curious. Shouting ”What lunatic?” at Ulrich who turns away with ‘No Future’ emblazoned upon his jacket. However, Hannah tells her that he was the man who tried to take ‘Michael’ into the caves. Katherina explodes telling her to keep away from ‘Mikkel’ and ‘Ulrich’. Hannah looks at her quizzically. More deja-vu it seems.
Tronte in 1987 is looking for clues as to Claudia’s disappearance. He meets her secretary who tells him about the old woman and the dog meeting Claudia. We then see Claudia place a photo of Tronte upon the wall in the bunker. She is building that photo gallery that we saw in the very first episode of ‘Dark‘. Peter is looking at a wall full of photographs of the dead. Charlotte is not there. Hope springs eternal.
Tronte is driving past that bus stop in Winden and notices Regina sitting there. He stops and gives her a lift. Tronte asks about the old lady visiting her mum. Regina knows nothing. Tronte asks if Claudia ever mentioned him. Regina is bemused. She motions with her head in the negative. She is uncomfortable and gets out. Tronte is obviously her father but cannot tell her. We see Claudia making the tape that we had heard before about the ‘God particle’ which once stabilised could take her back and save all of them, looking at her wall.
Peter and Charlotte enter the home of Jonas. It is a very popular destination in both worlds. The person following them reveals themself to Elisabeth. It is a young Noah. He looks at the discarded family photos. He tells Elisabeth he is looking for food but his hand gesture shows he obviously knows she is deaf. She responds that she is looking for her mum and sister. Her father appears and rushes to protect her. Noah tells him that when he (Peter) is killed he will protect her. Remember the photo of the older Noah with Elisabeth. He is true to his word.
We return to the Tannhaus Machine Factory in 1888 and Bartosz apologises to Martha and tells her that Jonas has changed. She asks about the old man she saw. We see him talking to Jonas who is still holding that letter. Tannhaus asks if the woman is a traveler. Jonas says nothing. Tannhaus continues. Our work here will lead to ‘Paradise!‘ he declaims. We have heard that before. A ‘Paradise‘ where no calamities cannot be reversed and pains removed before they even exist. A ‘perfect world‘. As he speaks he touches the top of his walking stick which has ‘Sic Mundus Creatus Est‘ etched into the silver handle. The Garden of Eden before the Fall not created by God this time but by Promethean ‘fire’ and human hubris. A most deadly combination. Jonas doesn’t look convinced in the slightest now. What was in that letter?
Katherina goes to the mental hospital and asks the Nurse on duty to see Ulrich. ”The Inspector?” the Nurse responds. The Nurse refuses, thinking she is an attention seeker. Katherina notices the name tag:’Helene Albers’. It is her mother?! Katherina notices the St Christopher around her neck and explains that St Christopher (the patron saint of travelers) renounced the devil and carried Jesus into the world and declaims ”I’ve traveled a very long way”. The scene is heavy with deja-vu and of the uncanny. She takes her daughter to see her son-in-law an old, grey-haired, broken man imprisoned for 33 years. Katherina touches his wrinkled hand and promises to get him out. The eternal recurrence of Nietzsche and its concomitant suffering, personified in Ulrich.
At the power plant Claudia’s secretary is locking the office to leave when she notices an intruder in Claudia’s office. The Furies are here. She threatens to call the police. They are unmoved. The mature Fury tells her, quoting a line from ‘The Tempest‘ which is spoken by ‘Ariel’ a spirit who serves the magician, ‘Prospero’ (Adam?):
‘Hell is empty. And all devils here.”
He then removes the cheese-cutter as the others cross their hands in unison and the mature Fury strangles Jasmin. It is as horrific as it gets. Tronte returns home and his wife is sitting on the sofa no doubt mulling over the past and pointedly, touching her snake (Ouroboros?) bracelet. He tells her he has seen Regina. Her response is that she has always suspected, he was the father. You have to decide she tells him. Is it them or us? Tronte gently caresses her hand. It seems that men in Winden get away with an awful lot and the woman have to pick up the pieces and carry on. Plus ca change.
Meanwhile future Regina is dying slowly and painfully of cancer in the apocalypse. A figure appears in the darkness of the shadows and lifts their hood. It is an aged Tronte, her father. He touches Regina’s hand gently just as we witnessed him touching his wife’s hand just a moment ago or 33 years. ‘It must happen‘ he tells her and proceeds to suffocate his daughter with a pillow declaiming: ”She said: ‘Its the only way to save you”’ How does killing someone ‘save‘ them exactly? Sounds like the eschatology associated with fanatic cults and extreme religious observance.
Peter and Elisabeth are back in the caravan. Elisabeth wants to know what the boy had said to her father. Peter will not say. She asks him why he carries the brown journal with the triquetra symbol on it. She wants to know where her mother and sister are. She is angry. She wants answers. We will find them he promises. Then we see that photo of Noah and Elisabeth with their baby, Charlotte. It is 22nd September 2053. Charlotte is looking at the photo as fall-out drops, like fresh snow, upon the dark dystopian landscape. Why should Hell be hot? They are living, like our ancestors once did, in the Winden caves. Charlotte looks very unhappy and Elisabeth tries to console her own daughter. It is very unnerving to see such generational confusion. It is uncanny (unheimlich) in the Freudian sense.
Bartosz takes Martha to the secret chamber of the ‘Sic Mundus‘ where he explains that old Tannhaus is the last survivor and that his father tried to go beyond the rules of space and time. ”They tried to build a time machine?” says Martha. She is right. But with the help of Jonas now. Bartosz asks her who ‘Adam’ is. The ‘Adam’ that killed the other Martha. She is surprised that Bartosz does not know. ‘He is Adam. Jonas‘. Immediately we splice to the older Martha and she begins to pontificate like Adam. More eschatology. She sits in a chair in a room similar to the ‘Sic Mundus‘ but less cluttered with objects and photos. She moves to her altar piece. It is a diptych of Adam and Eve in the Renaissance style. Both Adam and Eve hold an apple in their hand whilst the serpent (Lucifer) watches, camouflaged by the very tree of knowledge itself. Paradise is about to be lost.
The elder Martha tells Jonas that even though he believed the world would be better off (if he had never existed) that it is not necessarily true. Her world will still meet its apocalypse in 3 days time even though he (Jonas) never existed there. On the ground are written the names of all those who will die in both cataclysms. Both parallel worlds converge on the infinity sign. They are names chiseled in cold, hard, dead, stone, yet, in ‘Sic Mundus‘, on the bunker wall and throughout this episode there are photographs everywhere of those people, alive and well. The contrast is profound and deliberate.
For these photographs are a moment of time, a ‘fraction of a nanosecond‘, captured forever, unlike the finite cataclysm at Winden. Yet the existential tidal wave that emanates from them all and their eventual demise is the pure essence of ‘Dark‘. And more prosaically, when the person we love has gone a photograph is the next best thing, painful though it may be to remember them. In a photograph time is frozen, stopped at that instant. It does not reset after the photograph. The end and the beginning, the beginning and the end. A real glimpse into infinity. Not a mathematical or hermeneutical sign but a captured piece of infinity.
Photographs, memory and loss haunt this episode of ‘Dark‘. Jonas is really nothing more than a ghost in Martha’s parallel world: ‘A glitch in the matrix‘? The missing Mads Nielsen is buried without a body and Peter searches (like others) for Charlotte and Franziska and their bodies to bury and mourn. For without their bodies the ‘survivors’ are left with only the loss, and the memories, forever contained within their photographs, which will provide some solace but can never give closure, whether in Winden, or in its parallel iteration.