Dark may be one of the best original series on Netflix, but it’s also among the most confusing. Its vast web of interconnected characters and storylines, coupled with a plot centered around time travel and parallel worlds, all make it a very mind-bending and challenging watch. That certainly didn’t change with the show’s third and final season.
If the series finale of Dark has you scratching your head and wondering how it all fits together, worry not. We’ve got a full breakdown of what happened in the finale and what it means for the knot of time to finally become untangled.
Warning: this article contains full spoilers for Dark: Season 3!
Finding the Center
Over the course of the series, we’ve come to understand that Dark hinges on a seemingly never-ending battle between “Adam” and “Eva” (older versions of teen lovers Jonas Kahnwald and Martha Nielsen). Eva is devoted to perpetuating the endless time loop that sustains both her version of Winden and its parallel universe doppelganger, while Adam is obsessed with finding a way to break the cycle and destroy both worlds. And between them is the White Devil (or the elderly version of Claudia Tiedemann), who’s sort of a chaotic free agent in this massive conspiracy.
Adam knows the way to end this time knot is to find its center – the moment where the time loop began – and prevent it from happening. However, he mistakenly believes the child of Jonas and Martha is that center, reasoning that a child born of parents from two different realities is the logical catalyst for a never-ending time war. That’s why Adam chooses to annihilate a pregnant Martha in the wormhole. The wormhole itself is the only thing with the power to destroy a being born of two worlds, and once the child is gone, the time loop will be gone with him. Or so Adam believes.
However, Adam finally learns he was wrong about Jonas and Martha’s son being the center. Claudia reveals that there’s a third version of Winden in existence – an original Winden that birthed these two divergent timelines. The time loop was actually created when the original H.G. Tannhaus built a time machine in the hope of preventing the deaths of his family. Instead, his machine triggered the apocalypse in his world and created the two alternate versions of Winden. As Adam finally learns, the key to undoing the knot is actually to travel to the original Winden and prevent the time machine from ever being created.
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How Did Jonas and Martha Alter Time?
The problem with trying to alter the past is that it’s easier said than done. Like a great many time travel-centric sci-fi stories, Dark deals heavily with the theme of fate vs. free will. Those rare times characters try to change their fate in this universe, they’re usually prevented from doing so. Jonas tried to commit suicide, but because his older selves already exist in the time loop, he was physically unable to change his fate. It’s only when the wormhole is activated and time stops for a brief moment that characters can act in ways that defy the established timeline. That’s why two universes exist within the same time loop. One exists because Martha saved Jonas just before the apocalypse, and the other exists because Jonas was left to die.
Ending the time loop in the series finale requires the existence of a third Jonas and Martha. Just before the apocalypse happens, the first world’s Jonas intercepts the second world’s Martha and teleports away. The two characters are briefly stuck outside of time in a sequence not unlike the climax of 2014’s Interstellar, as they see and interact with younger versions of themselves. They finally emerge in the original Winden on the night Tannhaus’ family are fated to die in a car crash. No longer bound by the laws of the time loop, Jonas and Martha intercept the car and convince Tannhaus’s son to return home. The family is saved, and the elder Tannhaus never has the incentive to build his time machine and trigger the apocalypse.
Did Jonas and Martha Get a Happy Ending?
For the most part, Dark can be said to end on a happy note. Certainly, it’s a happy ending for the Tannhaus family. And no doubt the world outside Winden would be grateful to know it was spared a civilization-ending disaster. But as with most things, victory doesn’t come without a heavy cost. The cost of ending the time loop is that both Jonas and Martha cease to exist.
The reason for this is that neither character could have existed without the time loop in the first place. Jonas was only born because a young Mikkel Nielsen (Martha’s brother) was dragged back in time and grew up to become Michael Kahnwald. Michael married Hannah Kruger and fathered Jonas. And because Jonas and Martha’s son is implied to be the father of Tronte Nielsen, Martha couldn’t exist without Jonas. Thanks to the magic of time travel, Martha is both Jonas’ aunt and his descendant.
The majority of the characters featured in Dark only exist because they’re part of this tangled, incestuous family tree. Once the wormhole is eliminated from the picture, they simply cease to be. The final dinner scene is significant because it shows us the small handful of characters who exist regardless of the time loop – Regina, Katharina, Hannah, Peter, Benni and Wöller.
Season 3 makes multiple references to 1999’s the Matrix and specifically the line “a glitch in the Matrix,” which is meant to be that film’s explanation for the sensation of deja vu. However, Dark suggests that deja vu may actually happen when a person experiences memories of an alternate universe. That seems to be what happens to Hannah in those closing moments, as she recounts dreaming about the end of the world and is inspired to name her unborn son Jonas. The time loop is gone, but some small trace of two alternate Windens remains.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.
Source: IGN.com Netflix's Dark: Season 3 Ending Explained