Hit or Sh**: Netflix’s DARK

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.


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DARK carefully places itself just outside of—or perhaps just above—the STRANGER THINGS formula. Only the mystical forces at Netflix know what shows get watched and how often, but I’d wager that the terms “‘80s Throwback,” “Missing Children,” and “Paranormal Sci-Fi” generate a staggering amount of hits. DARK delivers a surprisingly fresh, satisfying narrative on all three of those market-tested fronts. There’s a persistent sense that the show owes large parts of its existence to demographic information so specific that it can, for example, parse the exact story elements necessary for optimal audience nostalgia. This adds to the painful levels of anxiety caused by this genuinely chilling series.

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Hey, at least they won’t be able to spy on us once they

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DARK opens angrily, with a foreboding quote about relativity followed by a visceral suicide scene set to some unholy hybrid of shrieking violas and nails on a chalkboard. We’re then given some rapid-fire introductions throughout the pilot. Despite all the grotesque crimes and grisly deaths, the sound remains the most fear-inducing element. There’s frequently torrential rain that leads to squishy sloshes through mud-covered woods, and an abundance of violent, nefarious activity that lends itself to gruesome crunches and chilling snaps. All of this cacophony receives near-constant support from the most frustratingly haunting two notes of violin.

Another hastily and jarringly-introduced element of DARK is its willingness to murder children. On top of the dead dad from the opening scene, there’s currently a dead kid for each of the two episodes I’ve seen. I’m guessing that the body count has no intention of staying that low. Further pushing the shock factor, the boy’s eyes have been turned to bloody craters. Mutilating children can feel like a cheap attempt at earning a spot on the list of media teenage boys use to gross each other out, but in this case, the mutilation serves to add unique tension to a situation audiences might be getting overly familiar with. We’re promised even more conceptual depth in the second episode, when it’s revealed that the burning is the result of the antagonist’s nefarious time experiments.

We’re not given much info about the perpetrator of these heinous acts right away, though we do know that he wears a hood, loves longs walks through rainy woods, and has a curious obsession with time. For now he’s a standard issue Murder Dude, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out to be a demonic vessel of some sort. The paranormal aspect of the show has so far only revealed itself through the town’s elderly citizens. A number of old folks experience eering premonitions of something, but unfortunately all most of them can say about it is, “it’s happening again.”

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Speaking of repetition, it would appear that DARK plans on getting time-trippy at some point. Beyond the doomsaying septuagenarians, the series’s core group of kids spring the plot into action by simultaneously discovering the aforementioned mutilated corpse and having the most precocious member of their party suddenly go missing. The kids are further connected through their parents, who all have relationships with each other completely unbeknownst to either age group. The parents also give us a degree of foreshadowing by pointing out that the current disappearances remind them of a disappearance from three decades ago. This seemingly huge information dump is made comprehensible by exceptional editing, and grouping the characters by age provides further clarity along with being thematically consistent.

The only worry I have about the quality of the rest of the series concerns the police department scenes. Watching cops be very concerned about a missing child—and watching the Main Cop be extra concerned—can’t really be made exciting. I understand it’s necessary, especially in the beginning, but I’m hoping that the focus stays on the kids. Or the demons. Or the old people. Anybody besides the police, really. If you want R-rated STRANGER THINGS, look no further than DARK.

Verdict: Hit

DARK is available to watch in its entirety on Netflix

Dan Blomquist is a guest contributor for Crossfader and writes about important things sometimes, but mostly about television. He believes that memes are the future and that free will is an illusion.

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