Netflix’s 1899 Fails Where Dark Succeeded


[Ed. note: The following contains spoilers for the entirety of 1899 season 1 and Dark.]

I like Darkthe German science fiction show who nearly broke my brains out while I was working overtime (literally) by keeping track of its multiple deadlines and complicated family tree. While many puzzle series lose their luster once it’s all been figured out, after repeated viewings of the series, my appreciation for Dark never wavered. Naturally, my hopes were high for 1899the follow-up of Dark designers Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar. It sounded like exactly the type of fun and scary series that would tickle the tinfoil hat part of my brain that likes to fall down rabbit holes analyzing theories, allegories, and hidden connections.

From the very beginning, 1899 struggled to justify the same intellectual and emotional investment as its predecessor. A little like Dark, 1899 takes place in a self-contained environment – this time, on the Kerberos steamer traveling from Europe to New York at the turn of the century. The voyage begins four months after another of the company’s ships, the Prometheus, disappeared with more than a thousand passengers on board. The company owner’s daughter, British neurologist Maura Franklin (Emily Beecham), boards the Kerberos determined to uncover her father’s connection to the Prometheus’ disappearance after receiving a cryptic letter allegedly sent by her brother. , who was a passenger on the missing ship.

Picture: Netflix

However 1899 is the story of Maura, one of the most intriguing elements of 1899 was his international set of supporting characters. In addition to Maura, several other people aboard the Kerberos received their own letters before setting sail, including the grieving German ship’s captain, two disgruntled French newlyweds, a Spanish and Portuguese couple posing as brothers and a Danish family whose matriarch is convinced she hears the voice of God. Although they have nothing in common at first glance, these strangers are bonded by their hope that a new beginning is what they need to forget the pains and sins of their past – and the fact that no not found on Kerberos by chance.

Whereas Dark used its small-town setting to weave an intricate web of connections between characters who crossed four realities and multiple timelines, 1899 distributes information about these characters at a glacial pace, making it difficult to see how one individual’s storyline intersects or affects others. The diversity of spoken languages ​​– which ideally would have been the backbone of a layered narrative with globally rich and interwoven perspectives – quickly turns into an insurmountable obstacle that destroys any potential for the series to develop an emotional core once the characters finally reunited.

Several scenes show passengers embracing each other, confessing truths they’ve been too afraid to put into words before. The safety of making these confessions comes from knowing that their audience cannot understand or respond to these raw discharges, extinguishing any intimacy that would typically arise from these exchanges. There are ways to communicate and make deep connections between languages, and 1899 tries to convince us that this is what is happening – as with the romance between the Polish driver and the Chinese passenger – but there is a colossal difference between telling viewers that a meaningful relationship is forming and making them believe.

In an 1899 image, Kerberos passengers stand facing forward in the ship's dining room.

Picture: Netflix

In Dark, the citizens of Winden were so intertwined that it took hours and multiple rewatches to fully understand the relationship matrix. In 1899, one could spend hours searching for these connections and still find oneself empty. With such thin character development, all that’s left is 1899the plot to carry the full weight of audience interests and expectations – a dangerous situation for any mystery series, and a trap 1899 waste no time before falling into it.

The best puzzle-box shows are those that initially mask the full scope of the mysteries at hand, allowing the audience to gain a solid grounding in the world and bond with the characters. More importantly, this deliberate pacing allows viewers to get to grips with their perceived limits of what the story is about before the true narrative is revealed. Dark did this masterfully, selling the show to viewers as a time travel mystery about a missing boy, but ultimately delivering a philosophical thriller about a multiverse doomsday apocalypse. But rather than take the time to establish these preliminary expectations in order to accentuate their possible subversions, 1899 throws subversions at the heart of things, unfolding twists and turns at such a rapid pace that we learn about the beetles that unlock doors and the secret passageways that lead to nightmarish memoryscapes before learning some of the main characters’ names . By the time the fifth episode rolls around, the (already fairly obvious) truth of what is happening on Kerberos is confirmed: the passengers are not on a ship at all, but rather a simulation of one.

These kinds of global twists are precisely what I expected and expected from a Friese and bo Odar show, as they excelled in Dark. With each passing season, this drama rewrote the rules again – first introducing a third timeline in the apocalyptic future, then revealing the existence of alternate realities in season 2, and finally unveiling that its protagonist Jonas grows up to become the antagonist Adam. With each twist, we learned something new about the people of Winden: how far they would go to protect themselves and their loved ones, how they coped with loss, and how those values ​​evolved over time. Each of these emotional beats became the building blocks for the series’ tower of twists, which culminated when a wormhole about to obliterate multiple worlds and caused by a father’s love for his family was prevented by the love of two teenagers for theirs. Even in the show’s most convoluted, esoteric, or scientific moments, Dark never forgot that it was a story of interconnected, dysfunctional (and in some branches, incestuous) families.

A GIF of the protagonist of Darth Jonas (Louis Hofmann) saying:

Dark summed up in a nutshell.
Picture: Netflix

1899 said it’s about a lot of things – and by that I mean they literally say what the themes are in comic language in the seventh episode, as the characters hammer away about Plato’s cave and debate knowledge of reality as if they had just left a Midtown screening of Creation. Once the writers have carefully groomed the audience on where the show is heading, they pull the last rabbit out of the hat. In the season finale, 1899 reveals that it wasn’t Maura’s father who pulled the strings, but that she was the one who created the construct – a fact that had been erased from her memory, along with everything else from her past before ascending to Kerberos edge.

Maura struggles to come to terms with the truth, especially as she follows the revelation that the mysterious stowaway Daniel is her husband and the creepy boy found on the Prometheus is her son. But any questions about how this knowledge will impact Maura in the future prove moot. In fact, everything we’ve seen all of the characters go through – their traumatic pasts, recent tribulations, and the deaths of a few unlucky ones – proves irrelevant once the final minutes of the season reveal that they’re all in. makes passengers on another ship – a spaceboat.

In a hilarious rote scene, of course, on David Bowie’s “Starman,” Maura awakens from the simulation to find herself on a spaceship in the year 2099 surrounded by her fellow Kerberos passengers, all of whom remain plugged into the build. A wide-eyed Maura walks up to a computer screen and is greeted with the message: “Welcome to reality.”

Maura (Emily Beecham) stares puzzled out of a starship window in 1899.

Picture: Netflix

Because I was such a fan of DarkI gave 1899 a patience and a grace that I wouldn’t usually be able to afford on other shows. I tried really, really hard throughout the season to maintain the faith that the creators would find a way to tie together the disparate threads of the story in one final twist that would raise the stakes of everything that came before. Instead, the twist only revealed that there were never really any stakes.

I have my thoughts on what The Ship Reveal could mean for Season 2, but I can’t bring myself to spend enough time thinking about it to turn those thoughts into theories. When the past doesn’t matter, it’s hard to believe the future will.


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