Let’s see if I can get this straight. In this episode of Dark (“Light and Shadow”), we see the original Martha, dead on the ground in the original Jonas’s house. We see the alt-Martha with long hair reel from the murder of Jonas by the alt-Martha with short hair and a scar. We see the long-haired alt-Martha cut her hair, and we see that version of alt-Martha travel to the original world with the adult Magnus and Franziska to save Jonas from the apocalypse, like she did at the end of the last season. We also see a short-haired no-scar version of alt-Martha imprisoned by Adam and his minions, then strapped down and subjected to the full force of the God Particle blob, channeling the power of two apocalypses in order to abort her fetus (a creature of both worlds) and bring about the annihilation of both worlds in turn. Just for extra fun, we see the elderly alt-Martha, aka Eva, and the adult alt-Martha, her loyal servant. It’s Marthas all the way down.
In many ways the most confusing episode of Dark to date, it’s also one of the simplest to summarize in terms of what it reveals about the big-picture narrative. Operating in the original world, Adam desires to erase both worlds from existence entirely; operating from the alternate world, Eva merely wishes to ensure that the apocalypse occurs in both worlds, so that their lives can continue to exist. It seems that the young versions of Jonas and alt-Martha are the only people with enough information to understand what’s going on who want to save both worlds, from both the apocalypse and annihilation, rather than bring on one or the other from some warped sense of fate.
We also see some characters take ancillary roles in the apocalypse, which finally comes to the alternate world a few months later than it did in the original one. The alternate version of Ulrich finally realizes—thanks in part to lab findings from Charlotte that reveal her father-in-law Helge’s penny necklace and the one found in the bunker are in fact the exact same penny—that the dead boy found in the bunker doesn’t just look like his long-lost brother Mads, he is Mads, either miraculously preserved or sent forward through time. Looking for answers, Ulrich travels through the passageway in the cave system right at the moment of the apocalypse.
Meanwhile, the man with the cleft lip and his older and younger selves take a proactive role in ushering in the end of the world. They separate and monkey around with levers and switches in their respective versions of the nuclear power plant, helping to trigger a meltdown.
And the alternate version of Aleksander Tiedemann gets tired of being blackmailed—as opposed to the original, whose hand was forced last season by the dogged Inspector Clausen’s correct suspicions that Aleksander was a fugitive from the law—and opens the barrels of toxic waste so that local cop Charlotte Doppler will know the truth, unleashing a big glob of God Particle goo. You know what happens next.
We also get some answers as to how Jonas can have been murdered in the alternate reality, where he didn’t independently exist, and still grow to adulthood in the original world. Using an infinity symbol as a visual aid, Eva explains to Martha that there’s a crossover point in the big spacetime knot where divergent paths can be taken—one in which the alt-Martha rescues him from the apocalypse and whisks him away to her world, as she did at the end of last season, and one in which she doesn’t and he hides and survives on his own, growing up and growing old and becoming Adam.
Both Adam and Eva have their own crack teams assembled for this endgame. Eva employs an adult Bartosz and Claudia, an elderly Egon Tiedemann, and both the teen and adult versions of Noah, each of them vital for keeping the labyrinth of spacetime intact. Adam tells alt-Martha that his minions Magnus, Franziska, Charlotte, Elisabeth, Silja (presumably the unnamed girl from the future), and Noah’s sister Agnes are all moved into place to perpetuate the cycle just to get Adam and alt-Martha to the point of annihilation.
It probably goes without saying after all that that we’ve reached the most science-fictional point in the narrative thus far. You have to have a pretty tight grasp on the cast and the overlapping, sometimes contradictory timelines and alternate realities to have the first clue what much of the action of the episode is even about. If people were to accuse the show of disappearing up its own ass, I couldn’t really blame them.
But in the end, what you have here is a story of people being ground down by forces they can barely comprehend and cannot control. There’s a universality to that sentiment; dig past the twelve different versions of Martha or whatever and you’ll see it plain as day.
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.
Watch Dark Season 3 Episode 6 ("Light and Shadow") on Netflix