Posts Tagged ‘horror’

“The Alienist” thoughts, Episode Five: “Hildebrandt’s Starling”

February 20, 2018

Just when it seemed they’d cracked the case, it turns out the investigators on “The Alienist” don’t have a clue what’s really going on. Frankly, neither do I. Ain’t it grand?

With this week’s episode, “The Alienist” has reached the halfway mark of the season. It has also arrived at that most deliciously frustrating stage in any murder mystery: the point at which the detectives, fully armed with information and deductions, make their move, only to discover that they’re still several steps behind their quarry. For heroes and villains alike, this has the potential to be the most engaging and revealing moment in any such story. It can show us how the heroes deal with adversity and the villains with unexpected good fortune (if not so good for his hunters and victims). Lucky for us viewers, “The Alienist” is emerging from this stage of the race firing on all cylinders.

I reviewed this week’s fun episode of The Alienist for the New York Times.

“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” thoughts, Episode Five: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

February 15, 2018

Watching Jeff’s final confrontation with Andrew prior to the murder is painful, then, both because of what he gets right and what he gets wrong. “I don’t know what you stand for,” he shouts at Cunanan. “I don’t know who you are. You’re a liar. You have no honor.” Correct on all counts — possibly lethally, so if you figure this contrast in their outlook is a big part of what drove Andrew to kill. But when Andrew rightfully points out that he believed in and supported Jeff while his beloved Navy treated him like shit — “I saved you!” — Jeff bitterly retorts “You destroyed me. I wish I’d never walked into that bar. I wish I’d never met you.” He says he wants his life back, as if Andrew took it from him, instead of Bill Clinton and Uncle Sam. Andrew doestake his life away, eventually, mere hours from that moment in fact. But in a sense, he was just an accessory after the fact. Jeff signed his own death warrant the moment he decided, in the face of society’s hatred, that some principles are worth fighting for anyway.

I reviewed last night’s episode of ACS Versace for Decider. This is a great show.

“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” thoughts, Episode Four: “House by the Lake”

February 15, 2018

“You can’t do it, can you?” “I can’t what?” “Stop.”

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is what Matt Zoller Seitz once described, by way of a subtitle to his blog, as “a long, strange journey toward a retrospectively inevitable destination” — the titular murder, seen in the cold open of the very first episode. We’ve already seen where we’re going; what’s left to the show is to depict how we got there. Even those swept along and killed by Andrew Cunanan during the journey seem to sense it. Hence the exchange above. Promising young architect David Madson is the love of Andrew’s life, to hear Andrew tell it. He’s a man to whom the murderer is so fanatically committed that he not only slaughters his rival for David’s affections, his own former love interest Jeff Trail, with a hammer, thus beginning his murder spree, but then manages to convince the shellshocked David that he has some how become an accomplice to the crime and must flee by his side. As time wears on and the shock wears off, David grows less pliable to Andrew’s nonsensical advice and admonishments, but also more honest with himself about where his journey as the Bonnie to Andrew’s would-be Clyde will end. He has no more hope of survival than Andrew has a chance of shutting the fuck up and telling the truth. He can’t do it, can he.

I reviewed last week’s episode of ACS Versace, another tremendous piece of work, for Decider.

“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” thoughts, Episode Three: “A Random Killing”

February 15, 2018

I’m glad, in that beautiful terrible way tragedy can make you glad, that Marilyn Miglin gets the last word of the episode, even as Andrew continues shopping and driving and killing on the way to his appointment in Miami. She returns to her gig hawking her signature line of fragrances on the home shopping channel almost immediately — a gutsy move with which the show challenges us to continue to feel empathy for her as she slips into the uncanny valley between sincerity and showmanship, just as the mere presence of any older woman with a glamorous background triggers our societally induced suspicion and revulsion at female failure to remain young. “He believed in me,” she tells her audience, completely honestly. “How many husbands believe in their wive’s dreams? How many treat us as partners? As equals? We were a team for thirty-eight years.” That’s what they were, even if it’s all they were. That’s an achievement. That’s what Andrew destroyed.

Marilyn ends the episode by recounting the advice she got when she first began selling stuff on TV, a technique for connecting with the camera and the people on the other side. “Just hink of the little red light as the man you love.” She stares at the light, at the camera, at us, and as the impenetrable black mascara of her wet eyes closes and the scene cuts to black, her thoughts are ours to imagine.

I reviewed episode three of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, a truly magnificent hour of television, for Decider. Thank you for your patience with this flu-delayed piece.

Julia Gfrörer: A Void Does Not Exist

February 13, 2018


The 207th meeting of the NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium will be held on Tuesday,  Feb. 13, 2018 at 7pm at Parsons School of Design, Kellen Auditorium (Room N101), Sheila C. Johnson Design Center. 66 Fifth Avenue (off the lobby). Free and open to the public.

Julia Gfrorer on “A Void Does Not Exist.”

Gfrorer discusses the effect of leaving negative space in a work and how useful a tool it can be for controlling the emotional tenor of a story. People have an instinctive dread of emptiness (“horror vacui,” “nequaquam vacuum,” “nature abhors a vacuum”) which means as creators we tend to avoid it, but for a reader it can also be soothing, hypnotic, sensuous, and magnetic. A void isn’t necessarily a “nothingness”: something happens because of it. She will give examples from her own work as well as work that’s influenced her.

Julia Gfrörer is a writer and cartoonist. She graduated from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA, and now lives on Long Island. She has published several handmade comics under her own imprint, as well as two longer graphic novels, Laid Waste and Black Is the Color, with Fantagraphics, a leading independent comics publisher. Her work has also appeared in numerous anthologies and publications, including Cicada Magazine, Arthur Magazine, Kramers Ergot 9, and two volumes of Best American Comics. She recently translated and illustrated excerpts from a medieval French heraldic text for 2dCloud’s MIRROR MIRROR II anthology, which she co-edited with her partner, writer Sean T. Collins.

This starts in like 20 minutes! If you hustle you can make it, NYC!

“The Alienist” thoughts, Episode Four: “These Bloody Thoughts”

February 12, 2018

Four episodes in, understanding what “The Alienist” does and doesn’t do well is a walk in the park. Well, it involves a walk in the park, at least.

The stroll in question is taken by Sarah Howard. Tasked by Commissioner Roosevelt with delivering John Moore’s purloined sketchbook to Dr. Lazlo Kreizler — whom she would otherwise as soon avoid, after his callous inquiries about her father’s suicide — Sarah finds the doctor people-watching in a local park. The person he’s watching, specifically, is a mother who once drowned her two young children in the bath. Protected from prosecution or institutionalization by her family fortune (sound familiar?), she now pushes an empty baby carriage around the park, doting on an infant only she can see.

Empathizing with such a person is a bridge too far, Sarah tells Kreizler. But the doctor points out that while the drive to kill may be alien to Miss Howard, the societal pressures faced by all women — “to marry, to have children, to smile when you feel incapable of smiling” — are as familiar to her as they are to the murderous mother.

“Society formed her,” he states bluntly, suggesting that everyone has the “raw materials” to become a killer, lacking only the external spark to make them “combustible.” It’s a provocative payoff to an exchange between Sarah and Kreizler earlier in the exchange, which seemed like simple black comedy at the time: Angry at the doctor for his attempts to glean insight into murder by probing her own psychology, Sarah sneers, “I don’t believe I have it in me to kill a child.” Kreizler smiles reassuringly and says, “You might surprise yourself,” as if he’s encouraging her to apply for a promotion or run a 5K.

If only “The Alienist” had the same faith in its audience’s ability to understand the complexities of its characters’ minds that Kreizler has in Sarah’s. Take the sequence in the park. It’s not for-the-ages dialogue, but the writing is certainly clear in its emotional and intellectual intent (Daniel Brühl and Dakota Fanning’s characteristically restrained performances make the gruesome details of their exchange even more memorable.) But the end of the sequence lays aside the scalpel and breaks out the sledgehammer: As Sarah contemplates Kreizler’s sad tale, children sing a schoolyard rhyme about putting a baby “in a bathtub to see if he could swim,” while a close-up practically immerses us in the waters of a nearby fountain. It could hardly be less subtle if the script had called for Ms. Fanning to turn to the camera and say, “Get it?”

I reviewed episode four of The Alienist for the New York Times.

“The Alienist” thoughts, Episode Three: “Silver Smile”

February 6, 2018

“The Alienist” started its series premiere with a beat cop discovering a severed human hand. It began its second episode with an undertaker lighting torches fueled by decomposition gases in the bellies of corpses. This week the showrunner, Jakob Verbruggen, who is also the episode’s director, steers the series in a decidedly less disgusting direction, although the subject matter is no less disturbing: What is the etiquette for informing a high-society couple over lunch that their son may have murdered a young boy prostitute? Should one wait till after dessert, or just jump straight in?

Thomas Byrnes, the corrupt former chief of the New York Police Department (played by Ted Levine, who still bears the murderous imprimatur of his role as Buffalo Bill in “The Silence of the Lambs”), clearly feels his wealthy patrons the Van Bergens have no time to lose if they wish to keep secret their son’s possible involvement in the recent child slayings. The exchange is shot through with dark, absurdist humor by Byrnes’s hilariously long walks from one end of the Van Bergens’ lengthy dining table to the other. “Willem has got himself in water a bit hotter than usual,” he says to Willem’s mother, portrayed in a surprising, tight-laced cameo by Sean Young.

“Thought you should know now,” he adds, before hoofing it back to Mr. Van Bergen (Steven Pacey), who sits at the other end of the table, chewing a spoonful of pudding. “There’s no later.”

A comedy of manners? In a squalid period piece full of mutilated bodies? Yes, and thank goodness. Levine’s craggy deadpan, Young’s “well I never” fan-fluttering, and a second surprise cameo, from Grace Zabriskie as John Moore’s disapproving mother (Zabriskie played Sarah Palmer in “Twin Peaks”), temper the gloom and grime with charmingly effective humor. In Byrnes’s visit to the Van Bergens — which, by the way, gives us our first real hints as to the identity of the killer — and in moments like Mrs. Moore’s jumpy reaction to a ringing phone (“Oh! Loathsome machine!”), the writer Gina Gionfriddo gives us room to breathe after immersing us in so much horror and squalor.

I reviewed episode 3 of The Alienist, the best of the bunch so far, for the New York Times.

“The Alienist” thoughts, Episode Two: “A Fruitful Partnership”

January 30, 2018

“The Alienist” does, however, play to the cheap seats in another way common to period dramas of its ilk: period-appropriate gore and squalor, and as much of it as you can stomach. The episode’s first shot is of a corpse, one of many laid out in a morgue and illuminated by flames lit to burn off the gas inside each cadaver’s bloated belly. A visit to the tenement home of the Santorellis, whose child was one of the victims, reveals a waterfall of sewage, a horde of screeching rats and a baby left to crawl through the hallway while the parents scream at each other inside.

Irish cops beat witnesses to a pulp. Underage sex workers in revealing drag attach themselves like leeches to prospective clients. The eyeless heads of slain humans and cattle stare blindly and balefully at us through the screen. The contrast with the opulence of the opera house and restaurant where Kreizler and his companions convene is striking, sure, but it’s also about as subtle as Captain Connor’s interrogation methods.

I reviewed episode two of The Alienist for the New York Times. This portion of the piece is mostly surrounded by stuff I thought was pretty decent, but I wanted to highlight this passage because man does this stuff get grating after a while. It’s so over the top that it makes it hard to take the rest seriously.

“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” thoughts, Episode Two: “Manhunt”

January 25, 2018

Just two episodes into the series, Darren Criss is cementing the status of his portrayal of Cunanan as one of the all-time great on-screen serial killers, not just calling to mind Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, Tom Noonan as Francis Dolarhyde, Ted Levine as Jame Gumb, or Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, but actually earning the comparisons.

He’s certainly helped in this respect by Smith’s script and the direction of People v. O.J. cinematographer Nelson Cragg. The reference set they assemble for Andrew to inhabit includes a genderbent shower scene by the beach with Andrew’s ersatz friend and escort manager Ronnie (a warm, wounded, marvelously understated Max Greenfield), combining Psycho’s defining visual with the pre-shower/murder rapport between Norman and Marion Crane, not to mention its star Perkins’s closeted sexuality. (A motel also figures prominently, again with roles reversed: Andrew’s the guest on the run from the law, not the person at the front desk, and he must ingratiate himself to her instead of the other way around.)

Elsewhere, a scene of excruciating sadism, in which an underwear-clad Andrew dances to the Big ‘80s strains of Phil Collins and Philip Bailey’s pounding “Easy Lover” while an escort client slowly suffocates beneath the duct-tape mask Cuanan wrapped around his head (“You’re helpless…accept it…accept it…ACCEPT IT…”) drags the male-on-male-gaze subtext of Bret Easton Ellis and Mary Harron’s respective American Psychos squirming into the harsh Florida light. Simultaneously hitting Pulp Fiction‘s gimp sequence, Boogie Nights‘s “Sister Christian”/”Jesse’s Girl”/”99 Luftballoons” coke deal gone bad, and Silence of the Lambs‘ Buffalo Bill/”Goodbye Horses” buttons as well, this is a scene people will remember. (A closing scene in which Cunanan prefaces his usual torrent of bullshit about his life by straight-up saying “I’m a serial killer” to a prospective suitor also tears a page from the AP playbook.)

And in the most chilling allusion of all, Ronnie — a sweet guy who moved to Miami because he’d heard “people like living by the ocean who don’t have much living left,” then got unexpectedly healthy, and now dreams of opening up a small florist shop with the money he and Andrew have amassed from his escort gigs — knocks on the bathroom door and finds Andrew in full Manhunter Great Red Dragon mode on the other side, the top half of his face rendered obscure and inhuman by the duct tape he’d applied to himself. Because the context of each of these scenes is so specific to who Andrew and Ronnie are, none of it feels derivative or plagiaristic, the way the generic King/Carpenter/Spielberg rehash of Stranger Things does, for example. Indeed, it’s no different from the way it alludes to Christ telling Peter he’d deny him three times when Andrew tells Ronnie, who’s desperate for connection even as Cunanan flees, “When someone asks you if we were friends, you’ll say no.” As I’ve argued before, the horror genre exists in conversation with itself, and Versace is simply using the language established by its forebears to tell a story all its own.

I reviewed the extraordinary second episode of ACS Versace for Decider.

“The Alienist” thoughts, Episode One: “The Boy on the Bridge”

January 22, 2018

Playing the title character presents Brühl with a tough task. Dr. Kreizler spends his non-sleuthing hours dealing with the living, not the dead; his work with troubled and vulnerable patients — children in particular — requires sensitivity, gentleness and genuine care. As such, aloofness, arrogance and the other traits that typically define maverick masterminds like Kreizler would be out of character. In its way that’s a blessing: Do we really need to see the umpteenth knockoff of Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House? Indeed, Brühl imbues the alienist with a plain-spoken dignity, even in the moments when his behavior is demanding or shocking by the standards of his day.

But there’s a reason you don’t often see the phrase “eminently reasonable visionary” used to describe fictional detectives. (To be fair, with all due respect to our fictional Times colleague John Moore, sexually magnetic crime-solving newspaper cartoonists are rarer still.) Kreizler is so calm and so conscientious that he has a tendency to fade into the meticulously constructed background as a result. When he finally does something truly weird, delivering a concluding monologue about his need to “become” the killer in order to catch him — to “cut the child’s throat myself,” psychologically speaking — the change is so sudden and stark that the lines land with a thud.

The fact that serial-killer procedurals from “Manhunt” to “Mindhunter” have painted their protagonists by pretty much these exact same numbers doesn’t help either. It’s true that the source material here predates the current surplus of unstable cop geniuses, but this adaptation of a 1994 book about an 1896 crime must still move and thrill us in 2018. Like the killer himself, who escapes Kreizler during a peculiar pursuit through an abandoned building after taunting him with a grisly trophy, the answer as to whether it will remains elusive for now.

I’m back in the New York Times to cover The Alienist all season long, starting with my review of tonight’s series premiere.

“The Assassination of Gianni Verace: American Crime Story” thoughts, Episode One: “The Man Who Would Be Vogue”

January 17, 2018

However you feel about Ryan Murphy’s other projects, ACS‘s debut season, The People v. O.J. Simpson, is unquestionably his apotheosis. In conjunction with writer-creators Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Murphy revisited a media-circus murder case nearly everyone thought had been exhausted of any creative or sociopolitical potential, and the result was a kaleidoscopic, knockout-powerful examination of racism, sexism, celebrity culture, journalism, the judicial system, the rise of reality TV, domestic violence, police misconduct, and the whole goddamn human condition. It was one of the best television shows of all time, full stop. Can Murphy, now working with writer Tom Rob Smith and adapting journalist Maureen Orth’s book on the case Vulgar Favors, draw water from that same dark well a second time?


I reviewed the premiere of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, the brilliant new season of American Crime Story, for Decider, where I’ll be covering the show till the end.

The Beat’s Best Comics of 2017

January 14, 2018

“In a year that many have found bleak and depressing, Mirror Mirror II managed to channel this energy into one of the most riveting visual experiences of the year….the best horror comics anthology available.” —Phillippe Leblanc

“This book should win all the design awards for 2017. It’s as magnificent as the contents are (purposely) horrific.” —Heidi MacDonald

I’m honored to that Mirror Mirror II made the Beat’s Best Comics of 2017 list twice over, once courtesy of Phillippe Leblan and again via Heidi MacDonald. Perpetually grateful and glad so see this book reaching people. Buy it here.

Rob M’s Favorite Anthologies of 2017

January 7, 2018

Mirror, Mirror II, edited by Sean T Collins and Julia Gfrorer, published by 2D Cloud
I’m not going to lie, this one really messed with me. If I were listing comics that challenged me the most in 2017 (which Alex Hoffman has done in the past), this would have been number one with a bullet. I wasn’t sure what to think when I first finished it. Did I like it? Is it the kind of anthology that can be liked? Collins and Gfrörer push to the very edge without going over it, with stories that show the strong link between eroticism and horror. It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever read.

Rob McGonigal named Mirror Mirror II one of his favorite anthologies of the year at Panel Patter. Can’t beat a lede like that.

Netflix Turned a Creative Corner In 2017 With Originals Like ‘Dark,’ ‘Suburra’ and ‘The Punisher’

January 2, 2018

Call it the Lilyhammer of the Gods.

In February 2012, Netflix established its creative model right out of the gate. Its first original show, Lilyhammer, starred “Little” Steven Van Zant, fresh from playing a mobster on The Sopranos…as a mobster, albeit one who’s relocated to Norway for witness-protection purposes.

The road from Lilyhammer‘s quirky Sopranos rehash to Stranger Things‘ unabashed theft from ’80s pop-culture staples is not a particularly long one. All that changed was the company’s self-identification as a creator of original content rather than an online video store, and its subsequent accumulation of user data and development of a predictive algorithm to deliver the goods.

Many of the network’s original series —”original” being a relative term— speak to this desire to please the crowd with things that have already pleased them. Why have only one off-beat comedy about the mildly crazy lives of young people set in New York (Master of None), for example, when you can also have one in Chicago (Easy) and Los Angeles (Love) as well? It’s too bad Donald Glover titled his show Atlanta and took it to FX, or else I’m sure Netflix would have something on the docket for that youth-culture mecca as well. In a more traditional move, reboots are common, from the campy (Fuller House) to the acclaimed (One Day at a Time). And that little row of Netflix Original rectangles contains enough grim-visaged cops, crooks, and killers to look like a photo array you’d use to identify suspects in the world’s most focus-grouped crime.

Which is what makes shows like DarkThe Punisher, and Suburra: Blood on Rome stand out. From the outside, these 2017 debuts seem like status-quo programming. But each veered of the course they could have cruised down effortlessly, taking creative risks that yielded entertaining and provocative results.

Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action: Over at Decider I wrote about the possibility that Dark, The Punisher, and Suburra represent a creative turning point for Netflix, in which the sheer volume of material the network puts out is now enabling some shows to complicate and interrogate their genre elements rather than serving them up straight.

The 10 Best Comics of 2017

December 22, 2017

MIRROR MIRROR II edited by Sean T. Collins & Julia Gfrörer

Darkness is as intimate as a caress and as distant as history in this chilling anthology of horror comics….This collection doesn’t just feel haunting; it feels corrosive.

Mirror Mirror II, the comics and art anthology I co-edited with my partner Julia Gfrörer ( @doopliss ), was named one of the 10 Best Comics of the Year by The Verge. As always, I’m so pleased to learn how this book has reached people.

The 10 Best Musical TV Moments of 2017

December 20, 2017

2. The Young Pope: “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO

“Sexy and I Know It” is Paolo Sorrentino’s ambitious, emotional, confrontational series about an autocratic American-born pope in miniature. Granted, using LMFAO to represent your drama about faith, loneliness, power, corruption, and lies is a bit counterintuitive compared to, say, summing up Twin Peaks with a song from the Twin Peaks score. That’s the joke, in part: It’s very stupid, and therefore very funny, to watch the Holy Father dress up for his first address to the College of the Cardinals while Redfoo drawls about wearing a Speedo at the beach so he can work on his ass tan. Girl, look at that body … of Christ?!

But like so much of The Young Pope, there’s a much deeper and more serious meaning beneath the craziness and camp. To wit, the brand of tyrannical, uncompromising religion the pontiff formerly known as Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) embraces depends on craziness and camp. Look at the obscene decadence of his subsequent entrance to the Sistine Chapel, borne on a litter like an emperor of old. Listen to his megalomaniacal speech, demanding that the Church remake itself in his bizarre and imperious image. Watch how he demands his followers demonstrate their obedience by literally kissing his feet. It’s a contrast to the self-aware silliness of “Sexy and I Know It,” yes, but it’s a contrast achieved by taking that song’s boasts as deadly serious claims to superiority. He’s got passion in his pants and he ain’t afraid to show it. Spiritually speaking, anyway.

I wrote about the 10 best music cues on TV this year for Vulture. As is always the case with lists of this nature when I write them, it is objectively right and I shall brook no dissent.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Ten: “eps3.9_shutdown-r”

December 15, 2017


The best part was the axe murder.

When Dark Army fixer Irving drives the blade into corrupt FBI Agent Santiago’s chest, and eventually many other parts of his body, a lot of things happen at once. Bobby Cannavale is finally given a chance to cut loose after a season of playing Irving as a model of chatty, casual restraint; now he can go full Gyp Rosetti, and it’s a thing of beauty. Moreover, Mr. Robot has had horror in its DNA, from Tod Campbell’s often eerie cinematography to the roots of fsociety’s iconography in a slasher film; an axe murder seen in that light seems almost overdue. Finally, an explosion of intimate, savage, gory violence after a season full of tension and sadness, in which even a gigantic series of terrorist bombings is witnessed only at a remove, takes all of the show’s unspoken resentments and hatreds and buries them in a warm, wet body, over and over again. “These are for me,” says Irving as he sends his traumatized and cowed new slave at the FBI, Dom DiPierro, away. They’re for everyone on the show, really.

I wish the rest of Mr. Robot’s Season 3 finale (“eps3.9_shutdown-r”) cut half so deep. Instead, it’s a claimant for the most disappointing episode in the history of the show — a profound narrative miscalculation that sees the show retrench rather than create new possibilities, yet also denies the basic sense of completion and catharsis you’d think such a retrenchment would require. Axe murders aside, it just sort of sits there, waiting for something else to happen.


All told, it doesn’t surprise me that the finale, and the season itself, is being held up by other critics as a return to form. It was — to a fault. Audacious episodes like the Tyrell Wellick spotlight and the long-take high-rise thriller, the highlights of the season for me, now feel like respites in a long act of creative backpedaling, to get the show back to where it was when it was a zeitgeisty phenomenon during Season 1. “Like 5/9 never happened”? More like if Season 2, a phenomenally bold season of sweepingly despairing and vicious television that risked alienating the audience the show had built, never happened. We’re headed back to the start, and that’s not a ride I’m sure I want to take.

I reviewed the season finale of Mr. Robot, which made one baffling and disappointing narrative choice after another for an hour, for Decider. A truly dispiriting letdown.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “Alpha and Omega”

December 15, 2017

The true innovation and genius of Dark — the thing that separates it from even the most entertaining time-travel stories, from Back to the Future to The Terminator to The Time Machine itself — is that it’s not just an exciting riddle about creating and escaping time warps for you to try and solve, nor a chilling look at a dark future we wish to avoid (until that final scene, anyway). As I put it in an earlier review, “Dark’s true interest isn’t in the characters’ inability to escape the spacetime loop, but in using that premise to explore their inability to escape their own nature.”

The adult Jonas makes this point explicitly to his younger self. In the middle of a speech about how he has to leave the teenage Jonas locked up in Noah’s chamber, because his experiences inside will be necessary to make him the man he becomes, he drops what almost feels like a non sequitur: “Why did you kiss Martha?” Then he elaborates: “We’re not free in what we do, because we’re not free in what we want. We can’t overcome what’s deep within us.” At this, the younger Jonas begins sobbing, begging his older self to stop talking over and over again. “I want everything to go back to normal,” he says.

But there is no normal. Just as the wormhole locks the people of Winden in an inescapable loop of misery, so too do their own unchangeable natures and desires. It’s the boldest wedding of time travel to a provocative psychological theme I’ve ever encountered. For that reason alone I’ll follow Dark into the future.

I reviewed the season finale of Dark for Decider. It ends with my least favorite scene in the series so far, and it’s a bit deflating to see it reach the end zone only to trip over its own untied shoelaces, but whatever. Still a show to be reckoned with.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Everything Is Now”

December 15, 2017

It occurs to me now that among its many other antecedents, Dark feels like a version of Lost folded in on itself, in which the action on the magical, spacetime-traveling Island and the secret-revealing, surprise-laden, character-driven backstory flashbacks all occur simultaneously. “Everything Is Now” indeed.

I wrote about the baroque complexity of Dark’s penultimate episode for Decider.