“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “Past and Present”

“Past and Present,” the aptly named third episode of Dark, continues its predecessors’ pattern of being hella reminiscent of a past genre work. In this case it’s Richard Kelly’s melancholic cult-classic science fiction film Donnie Darko, which the episode echoes in ways that feel more like homage than out-and-out swipes.

Yes, Mikkel has indeed been transported back in time through some kind of “crossing” (to borrow the term from Jonas’s late father’s map) in the caverns outside of town. After his unpleasant run-in with his parents and grandmother — the former are assholes, the latter is too distraught by her missing son Mads to do anything but grab the kid and beg him for information — he wanders to his school, only decades in the past. As he wanders around in a skeleton costume that looks like the one Donnie wore in the film except a few sizes smaller, the totally-’80s style of the town’s teens are paraded in front of the camera while a Tears for Fears song plays on the soundtrack (“Shout” here, “Head Over Heels” in the movie).

Would it be nice if shows stopped doing this kind of thing? Even good shows? Yes. The Punisher, for example, was strong enough on its own for its in-your-face (ahem) borrowing from the climax of 28 Days Later… in its penultimate episode to feel completely unnecessary, though perhaps not ethically or creatively ruinous. And Dark has enough going on to render this hat tip superfluous. Admittedly, though, the line between homage and theft is a blurry one, particularly in horror, a genre more in conversation with itself than any other. I could rattle off scene-by-scene comparisons in, say, Get Out or The Descent with the movies their filmmakers clearly know and love. But those two films are animated by a spirit that is unmistakably their own. Dark isn’t at that level, but it’s operating with enough sophistication to provide context for nods to its antecedents, instead of simply constructing itself out of nothing but such nods.

I reviewed the third episode of Dark for Decider.

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