Here's What Happened in the 'Dark' Series Finale
Wait. What? Let's discuss.
Warning: This article contains major spoilers for the series finale of Dark. Do not read any further if you don't want Season 3 spoiled for you.
If you're reading this, you probably just finished Netflix's Dark and are wondering what in the world (worlds??) just happened. Naturally, a show as intricate as Dark must also have a fittingly complicated ending, unraveling not just one universe full of timelines, but three. To understand the series finale, you must first understand what happens immediately before it. Let's break it down.
By the end of Season 3, we know for certain that Jonas is a young version of Adam, the hideously disfigured villain who has been manipulating his younger self and other Winden residents past and future in his world (let's call it Universe 1) as well as the alternate world (Universe 2). Adam is hell bent on making sure that events unfold the way he expects them to from his vantage point on the timeline and is doing this so that he can accomplish his goal of ending the time loop once and for all. He believes this requires him to find the origin moment that kicked everything off and prevent it from happening.
That's why he captures the Martha from Universe 2 (i.e., the one who saves Jonas in the Season 2 finale). Why? It turns out Martha 2 gets pregnant from her brief dalliance with Jonas, and their resulting child ends up turning into the creepy trio, aka the boy, man and elderly dude with identical lip scars who have been creepily killing certain people across the timeline in a seeming attempt to thwart Adam. Adam considers the birth of Martha and Jonas's child to be the origin moment, but he's wrong.
Luckily the penultimate episode gives us a helpful overview of all the stuff we missed between decades as our main characters hopped around the timeline. It begins with time-travel inventor H. G. Tannhaus explaining the thought experiment of Schrödinger's cat, which goes like this: A cat is placed in a box with a lever held in place by a radioactive atom, and once that atom disintegrates, the hammer falls and smashes a vial of poison, which kills the cat. But because it's happening inside of a box, away from human observation, we don't know for sure whether the cat is dead or alive unless we look -- until then, the cat exists in both states of possibility, and by merely observing the experiment, we change its state.
That's a little quantum physics for you, which I won't bother going further into because I'm not going to sit here and pretend to understand quantum physics. But it's important to know that Dark exists in a quantum multiverse, where the possibility of parallel universes is in fact a reality, and a character can be both alive in one universe, and dead in another. That's how Martha is able to rescue Jonas from the apocalypse by traveling from her reality into his, and that's how another major character -- Claudia -- is able to come back from the dead and completely alter the fate of Winden.
Episode 7 also reveals more of the progression of Winden's interconnected family tree. Charlotte, Noah and Elisabeth's daughter, is born after young Noah is sent forward in time and survives the apocalypse with Elisabeth. We learn that Noah's father is Bartosz, who'd traveled back to 1890 with older Jonas, Franziska Doppler, and Magnus Nielsen to help construct the time machine. Noah's mother is Silja, who'd originally been brought to the 19th century by Jonas's mother, Hannah Kahnwald; Silja is Hannah's daughter from her back-in-time affair with Bartosz's great-grandfather, Egon Tiedemann (which means that Bartosz has children with his half great aunt?).
In 2040, as older Jonas, Claudia, and Noah are trying to get the dark matter machine to work, Claudia is also getting advice from her alternate universe self. Claudia kills her other self, and pretends to be her as she "returns" to Universe 2 and speaks with Eva. A year later, future Elisabeth travels with adult Charlotte to steal baby Charlotte from her past self, which sends Noah on his mission back to 1920, where he meets Adam. Adam gives Noah Claudia's journal and tells him to find its missing pages (which, if you remember, is what he was doing during Season 1).
In 2052, old Claudia rips the pages out of her book and sends Jonas back to "destroy the knot" and make sure his younger self does everything he's supposed to do (which is also where we meet him in Season 1). Universe 2 Bartosz shows up and delivers young Martha to Eva, who gives her her facial scar, but in Universe 1 Adam feeds Martha to the dark matter, which is supposed to destroy the knot forever but doesn't. He is shocked that he still exists, and even more shocked when old Claudia, a.k.a. the "White Devil," walks in.
Claudia explains the obvious to Adam: by constantly trying to make sure the knot never happens, he and Eva in her universe are actually forcing it to happen every single time. It's Adam and Eva who are to blame, and the "origin" isn't in either of their worlds at all -- it's in the very first universe, Universe 0, which was split into two when H. G. Tannhaus turned on his time machine. The only way to kill the knot is to go back to the origin universe and prevent it from ever happening. Tannhaus didn't build his machine because some time traveler told him to: he built it because he was trying to go back in time and save his family from dying. Claudia explains to Adam that when Tannhaus turned on his machine, for a fraction of a second there existed a pocket of non-time, a "loophole" outside of the knot that she says can be used to go back and stop everything.
Adam uses Claudia's machine to go back and transport Universe 1 Jonas into Universe 2, so he can save Martha from being delivered to Eva and together they can find the loophole. Jonas zaps himself and Martha into the origin universe and they go down into the caves, where a door opens up as soon as Tannhaus turns on his machine. At first, they find themselves in a starry in-between universe, where they each see each other as children, looking through their closet doors. They're then transported to the origin universe, and stop Tannhaus' son and his family from driving off the rainy bridge. Jonas tells Martha "we're perfect for each other" as they vanish into dust.
Cut to Hannah, Katharina, Regina, Benni, Torben Wöller, and Peter Doppler having a dinner party in the Kahnwald house. When the power goes out, Hannah has a premonition of an apocalyptic event that destroys Winden. The six of them toast to "a world without Winden" and, as the power comes back on, Hannah says that she's always liked the name "Jonas" for her and Wöller's unborn child.
What does this all mean? In a recent interview, I asked co-creators Baran bo Odar Jantje Freise to explain. "It was very important for us to end the show on a very normal kind of a scene," he said. "But with all the knowledge that the audience has, it will not feel normal at all. And especially the very, very, very ending of that scene is definitely not ending on a dot, but having a dot and then waiting. And then there's a question mark, because we love movies or shows that end like this, without being open-ended."
In a show that's all about fate and determinism, the creators liked the idea of an ending that gives the audience a little bit of choice. "We really like ambivalence," co-creator Jantje Friese said, "and I think that ending is very ambivalent and once you've seen it, it kind of shows who you are. How do you want it to end? It leaves the possibility for you to choose whether you feel happy or sad, or whether it's bittersweet. It's all there, it's up to your interpretation."
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