Dark: Season 3

Image from Netflix's Dark
Image from Netflix’s Dark

By Kenn Taylor

The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end. So completes Dark, one of Netflix’s best original productions. A series deeply loved but that never quite seemed to break through to the mainstream imagination. 

But I have a feeling its influence and popularity will be long lasting.

Dark draws you gradually into its world. The first few episodes – a missing child, troubled police officers, a small German town filled with secrets – felt like the kind of Scandi-Euro murder drama that has increasingly become a cliché with diminishing returns. Yet, little by little, the speculative nature of the series creeps out from the cave at its centre. Soon enough, you’re dealing with things across space and time and of intense philosophical and technical complexity.

What really sets Dark apart though, pushing it beyond so many other good series, is that it never loses its emotional depth. Your feeling for many of the characters is matched only by your fear and anger towards the ever-expanding cast of people that seem intent on manipulating and destroying them.

Dark leads you by the hand to a place where it presents you with a litany of big, horrifying questions. What we do to each other. What we do to ourselves. What we cover up. What we try to forget. What we will do to get what we want. But also, what we are prepared to do, what we would sacrifice, what we would go through to prevent suffering in others. 

Trauma. Jealousy. Grief. Power. Control. Betrayal. Lust. Fate. Free will. Life. Death. The search for meaning. The desperate grasp for salvation and the flight from endless darkness. Choices that we all hope we’ll never have to face, but which certain characters get wrapped into ever more terrifying spirals of. Not just on our plane of existence either, but on so many other levels that become ever more labyrinthine. 

Dark’s genius though is that throughout, the characters remain painfully, relatably human, as the series always retains at least one finger grip on lived reality. Fundamental questions about existence, quantum physics and morality, are threaded perfectly between the joys of shifting popular culture and the angst of teenage love. You spin me right round, like a record baby.

These factors alone would render Dark a remarkable television series. Yet more things set it apart. 

Its stellar casting, as different actors play characters at different ages, in different ages, but without a blink of disbelief from the audience except of the uncanniness of resemblance. Striking design and cinematography across a small number of settings, the series contained entirely within Winden, the centre of the characters universe. So many of the shots could be photographs, I was not surprised to learn that director Baran bo Odar had shown every department the work of photographer Gregory Crewdson and told them “that’s our look”. The visual impact of the series deepens over time as the same locations, symbols and colours loop through the lives of different characters, creating a powerful sense of recognition and unease. The soundtrack too, varied from Nena to Ben Frost, is often subtle but always resonant.

Dark is not without its flaws. It is incredibly hard to sustain all of this, especially the twists, without it becoming tiresome. They just about manage it by the skin of their teeth. The third series is clunkier, with less intense, thrilling drama and more extrapolation as it tries to cope with the various threads unwound in the previous two. Occasionally, the plot straining the seams can be seen, as so many different lines of speculation are pulled back together so rapidly you get whiplash. 

There are also a few points in this final season when you sense the programme falling a little too much in love with itself. Too many swipe cuts like an 80s kids’ TV show; a few too many melodramatic montages in which the characters stare into the middle distance as a song plays over. Some of this is part of the programme’s mise-en-scène, but this season pushes it towards self-indulgence. These things can be forgiven though, such is the power elsewhere.

The weight of Dark on you, can feel as dense as the uranium in Winden Kraftwerk. Throughout the last few episodes, such was the emotional investment, I kept gripping the chair at some of the more awkward moments, willing them not to fuck it up. As it draws to its resolution though, on that Winden crossroads. Well. The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end. Somewhere, somehow, sometime.

This piece was published by The State of the Arts in March 2021.

The Price

Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Steps are heard in the distance, increasing in volume till a door creeks open, lighting up a dusty attic room and a bitter family history. Arthur Miller’s The Price is one of the late, great American playwright’s lesser known works, but deals with his usual concerns of success, failure and the fractured American Dream.

Opening the attic door is Victor Franz, a middle-aged cop come to finally sell off his father’s furniture sixteen years after his death, and only now because the building is being torn down. His wife Esther joins him on the simple set of faded grandeur amidst the compact black box of the Unity. She implores him to get the best price for the furniture from the expected dealer, for the flat’s contents are almost what Victor’s life has amounted too. He sacrificed his education to care for his father, a businessman bust in the depression, in this loft while his brother Walter abandoned his responsibility to become a doctor, leaving the two siblings estranged. But as the other heir he too must be involved in the sale. Into this tension steps wise-cracking but frail furniture dealer Gregory Soloman, played in fine tragi-comic style by the play’s director Ray Sutton (Steeping in due to the illness of Gordon Craig) who, always dealing with the breaking up of houses and families has seen it all before.

Like all of Miller’s work this is a play based on dialogue, as through the actions of the characters he examines the changing world of America in the late 60s and the nature of responsibility, sacrifice and love within families.

Roy Carruthers as Victor and Angela Mounsey as Esther give subtle performances as the tense couple with Paul Green well cast as the successful but deeply troubled Walter. Being so word heavy the play takes its time to engage your emotions but by the second-half, when the finality of the sale forces all the characters to face the price they have paid for the lives that they have lead, it is nothing short of gripping.

By Kenn Taylor

Red Wire Open 2007

Red Wire Gallery

This is the ninth exhibition to be held at the relatively new Red Wire gallery, located in the historic Carlisle Building on Victoria Street. It was first utilised as artist studios in 2005 and the exhibition space, named after the fire alarm cable that runs around its otherwise white walls, opened in 2006.

This show is the result of an open submission process and the relatively small gallery is crammed with the selected pieces. It is an eclectic mix of work from a range of young artists, encompassing everything from photography to sculpture and even a mechanical contraption.

One of the stand-out works is ‘Xerox F**k’ by Ania Bas and Adam James. This piece is a collage of overlapping photocopied body parts, with more images projected over it in green. The featured bodies appear almost trapped under water or in plastic. With squeezed-shut eyes, squashed flesh and string-like hair, their features are reduced to basic shapes and tones. An original and unusual form of bodily representation

‘Barbi Hystricula’ by Patrick Semple is a peculiar artwork constructed from bone, hair and other materials. Resembling both an artefact from an archaeological dig and something alien from a science-fiction film, it is a creepy and fascinating piece.

A more conventional work of note is Helen Blejerman’s picture depicting an upside-down suburban neighbourhood, part of her ‘Inversions’ series. The piece really brings out the basic forms and shapes that make up these familiar structures in a visually arresting way.

This is an excellent and eclectic exhibition. The pieces are perhaps a little too closely grouped in the small and sometimes overlap on each other, but this has at least allowed a good cross-section of new artistic works to be displayed when so many independent galleries seem to be closing in the city centre.

By Kenn Taylor

‘Edgy Cities, Take a Look on the Westside’

‘Edgy Cities, Take a Look on the Westside’ is an exhibition at World Museum Liverpool that follows on from the 2007 book of the same name by Steve Higginson and Tony Wailey. The authors have joined forces with photographer John Lafferty to create a series of 25 images that aim to represent Liverpool as a unique place and space, a “city on the edge.”

The accompanying text emphasises Liverpool’s distance psychologically from the UK and suggests that in the creation of these images, Lafferty was searching for the ‘ambiguous moment’ as a way to sum up the city.

The photographs are not technically brilliant, but their theme does hold some water. Liverpool is indeed full of ambiguities, and Lafferty well captures this in shots that show fleeting glances of figures in the city’s landscape; working, selling, travelling, waiting and playing, conveying a sense of constant movement without direction.

However, the feeling created by the best of these images is detracted from by other more random photos of architecture and portraiture which don’t have the same power. The poor exhibition space too, which appears to be some sort of meeting room complete with a coat-rail in the middle, doesn’t help matters either.

The last image in the sequence entitled ‘Future?’ is perhaps the most resonate. A man walks down Newington past a piece of graffiti stating: ‘CHANGE?’ Perhaps the only thing we can be sure of in these turbulent times of this ever shifting city. Because the trouble of course with being on the edge, is that it’s very easy to fall off.

By Kenn Taylor