Category Archives: Arrival


Part 1: illusion of sufficiency (Dark explained away)
Part 2: what does work (Deus Ex Machina)
>> Part 3: what doesn’t work (bootstrap paradox)

Bootstrap Paradoxes

Here we are at what doesn’t work.

What doesn’t work, then? The knot.

The knot and many (all) of its facets. A good number of those are necessary parts of the plot that go deliberately unexplained. Maybe because they would be too forced and not flow well in the story, creating a too gigantic and extraneous info dump. But there’s also the feel that things were simply hand waves because the thing face-planted against its own lack of coherence. You dig deep enough and find unsolvable problems, so to avoid them, you keep digging, but horizontally. Trying to fool everyone else. Practicing distraction.

For example: who creates the golden ball, the meta-traveling device that Eva uses and eventually ends in Claudia’s hands? Who tells Eva about the loophole, or how does she find out?

The knot itself, is a gigantic bootstrap paradox. Eva’s world (that we called “Beta”) is a world without a Jonas. She invades Adam’s world (“Alpha”) to bring Jonas to Beta, create the “origin” (her son), and through the origin manipulate events in both worlds so that Alpha and Beta would be fused together in a Moebius strip, a time knot that goes across both worlds before completing one cycle (the symbol of infinite “8”).

But how can Eva know of a Jonas in a alternate world, if Jonas doesn’t exist in hers?

Things get too complicate to follow in a really large chain of circular cause and effect like the overall knot, and then think about concepts, so instead of tracking details I’ll try to take out the most simple of bootstrap paradox, and analyze it for what it is.

The simplest version I’m aware of, back in Alpha world and when we didn’t know a Beta existed, is Claudia use of her portable time travel machine to go back in time, and bury the time machine so that her younger self will be able to use it.

This is, very obviously, a bootstrap paradox, and of a very bad kind.

Question: Who gave Claudia the time machine?
Answer: Herself, she took it from the future and brought it back in the past.

The same happens to the construction itself, because Tannhauser in Alpha doesn’t create any time machine on his own. He’s handed the book he’ll write in the future, so he can read it and write it, and he’s also handed the project of the time machine, so he can study it. He’s even handed a broken one, so he can study both the real machine and the plans. Everything he does depends on the same stuff being brought back from the future.

Now lets go through another story to make things simple:

One day, at dawn, Jonas suddenly wakes up in his room. He heard some weird noises coming from downstairs. So he goes to see what’s going on, and finds a big rhino standing in the middle of his dining room. Eventually, after moments of bewilderment, someone will call the fire department and they’ll be able to take that hapless rhino out of the room and into a nearby zoo. No one will ever be able to explain how that rhino ended up in Jonas’ house, though. Especially because the rhino is big, and the door too small. In fact, the firefighters had to take down half a wall to transport the rhino outside: a mystery.

For us, though, as external “readers”, the story has indeed an explanation: Claudia was feeling like playing pranks. A few years later she goes at night into the zoo, where the rhino is kept. Then she uses her portable time machine to travel back in time, and into Jonas’ house, bringing the inculpable rhino with her…

This simple story is functionally IDENTICAL to the paradoxes that Dark creates. The problem is that they come into existence without a real motivation.

Continuing from above:
Question: How was it possible for the rhino to appear in Jonas’ house?
Answer: It was brought there by Claudia, who found it at the zoo, in the future.
Question: But then why the rhino was at the zoo?
Answer: The firefighters brought it there, after they freed it from Jonas’ house.

This is the fucking causal loop. The past has its origin in the future, that has its origin in the past.

Does it make any sense? No. Then why people watching Dark largely accept it? Because you’re hit by a storm of details, as obfuscation. You don’t see clearly the moving parts, so it sort of seems to make sense, being complex enough to give the illusion of coherence. When you strip it bare, it’s obvious, but when you dress it up and put on it a nice bow, it’s …okay.

But that’s of course not enough for me. Why doesn’t it work? Why a circular causal loop isn’t acceptable?

Its function is fine. In general we’re used to a chain of cause and effect, that’s our reality. Within the context of Dark this chain of cause-effect isn’t broken, it simply loops around, but it’s functionally correct and identical in the linear perception of time. If we use a longer loop, we have a series of events, each one caused by another before. We only find out, as a sort of deja-vu, that we continue to return to the same event if the causal chain loops. In reality, where the causal chain doesn’t loop, we still have events linked one to the other, we can backtrack the chain, and continue back and forward to infinity. In the loop, the infinity is in the motion, but from the linear point of view it functions in the exact same way.

This gives us the idea of an hypothetical object that can function. The feel of a weird object, but not an impossible one. That’s why at least some of us accept it, even if it’s a paradox. It seems weird, but not absurdly so.

Now let’s examine what doesn’t work.

As I was saying, the problem isn’t “function”, but “being.” Ontology. The nature of existence. Not a problem of how the object operates, but WHY and HOW it is there. Who, or what, put it there. It CAN be there, because its functioning is fine. But why is it specifically there?

What was hidden in the story I wrote above is its IMPLIED CONSEQUENCE. Until we have bootstrap paradoxes made of common objects like a pocket clock or a necklace, that seems all fine. But what about a fucking rhino?

What I mean is that the moment we accept the existence of “bootstrapped objects” (or people) we accept the magical appearance of ARBITRARY objects. All around us things and people can suddenly appear without cause. Because their nature of being simply requires them being recalled from the future.

BUT WHO PUT THEM INTO REALITY?

Again, they function. It is fine. The question is: why this and not something else? Why Elisabeth and Charlotte, but not Georgina and Ivana? Who decides who appears and who doesn’t?

In the real world it’s A instead of B because of causality itself, but the bootstrap paradox splits function and existence. It creates objects that can function, but why, specifically, are they there? Why this and not that? why not millions of objects, small and large, all appearing without origin?

The consequence of this thesis, the possibility of this paradox, COLLAPSES REALITY. It’s a conceptual black hole that devours everything, because the nature of existence, ontology, becomes ARBITRARY. Ontology (existence) get unlinked from causality. So causality becomes wholly independent, creating objects out of nothing. Arbitrary object. WHO DECIDES (or determines) what does exist and what doesn’t?

“Hey, my name is Claudia. I kind of need a time machine, right now. Thank you. I’ll make sure to then send it back to my past to properly bootstrap its existence, don’t worry.”

This is, in a word… convenient.

And yet, because of the thousands of words I’ve written above, we know what a bootstrap paradox is. Perception. So we know WHY these impossible objects exist within Dark: they are written.

We know that in a fixed time loop change can happen only if it comes from OUTSIDE. External intervention. Bootstrapped objects can logically exist, as long SOMEONE EXTERNAL put them there. The hidden hand. The Deus Ex Machina.

Bootstrapped objects (and people) REQUIRE meta-travel, require external intervention. Something from outside, looking in. Something truly alien (foreign) to the internal dimension.

So ask yourself: who’s external and with the power of intervention, to Dark? The fucking writers of the show. (hello, it’s The OA)

A writer does exactly this. He creates characters and puts them “there.” Writing IS meta-traveling. A writer can conjure things into existence BECAUSE he’s external to the fictional dimension. External intervention.

Things are bootstrapped in Dark because they are… written. And because they are convenient in their appearance.

They can function fine, when they are there. But WHY are they there, in that specific form? For the plot. To tell a story. Because they are convenient.

This is what discloses its nature: this instance of bootstrap paradox isn’t science, it isn’t a philosophical concept, it’s instead a fictional device.

Who created Eva’s world, who told her about Jonas, why the giant family tree generated by the origin produces those specific characters but not others. The whole knot is functionally fine, but has no logical existence. No logical reason that isn’t that it’s being invented by a writer. Since we’ve seen it’s entirely “spurious” from the original world, and can be easily unraveled, it means that it doesn’t exist. IF it exists, and it has that specific shape, is just because that someone wrote it that way. A creation from nothing. Who’s responsible? The only hand in the room that thinks of being invisible: the writer!

And that’s of course not an acceptable solution. If they wanted to go to metafiction, they had to do explicitly, or use a character to produce bootstrap paradoxes because their actual origin was separated from a dimension that ceases to exist, like the finale. But the original “knot”, of Alpha and Beta, Eva’s motivations and the whole spurious family tree… so the largest construction in the show… has no foundation and is CANONICALLY flawed. They simply tell us bootstrap paradoxes are “real”, and being real make them not need rational explanation.

The origin of Adam’s world, Alpha, isn’t explained. The origin of Eva’s world isn’t explained. The origin of the knot, Alpha + Beta, even if it comes into existence all at once, isn’t explained. When they exist, fine. I can see how they function, and the way out. But how were they formed? Why they have the shape they have? Why Alpha and Beta and not a million of others, all arbitrary? Why those people, belonging to an impossible knot, why them and not someone else?

Jonas existence is fine. Mikkel travels back, marries Hannah. That works logically. Jonas doesn’t magically appear, at this level. But if you keep backtracking you see it’s the whole Ulrich family to be bootstrapped, eventually including Jonas. In the end all these things just magically appear, to give shape to a giant knot of characters and events, of Alpha fused with Beta, whose cumulative existence doesn’t make any sense. It’s just so complex that most people give up thinking about it and accept it as it is.

An illusory casual chain: you go back from one link, find another, go back again, find another… it all seems grounded just because the chain is so long you don’t immediately notice the point where it stops working. Most people won’t. Sleight of hand.

They fucked up, because they had an ambitious plan but didn’t have an equally clear vision to support it. The concept they aimed at was too high for their reach. They tried, they failed.

As I wrote in the first part, Dark still is an admirable construction, really well built, majestic even. But it’s like a tree canopy without a tree trunk below. Its central pillar isn’t simply flawed, it DOESN’T EVEN EXIST. Because they thought one was not necessary. That the tree canopy just sat there, suspended on air. Pretending “it just works.” The illusion of coherence.

The end.

After more than 8.000 words I think I’m done. I’ve left 30-40% of my notes out, there are countless other things. But still more than enough for me now. An important part that is left out is linking all these theories back to discuss again Watchmen, Arrival, and everything else (language theory, paradoxes of self-reference like Liar’s Paradox, Godel incompleteness and so on). But that also relies on notes that are months and even years old. It’s an impossibly large argument that I’ll leave for another time.

(I’m writing this after I’m done with the whole thing and now re-reading: the difference between my theory and most theories on the internet is that those theories establish that when a loophole is used two split realities are created. This for example means that the knot continues to exist, we just have two major alternate realities, one where Tannhauser’s son dies and generates the knot, one where he doesn’t and lead to the finale. But all that shit doesn’t simply vanish, it stays there in different quantum states, existing and not existing depending on who’s looking. Aside from the fact this is the product of childish interpretation of Schrodinger’s Cat, my theory instead says that when the loophole is used, the alternate dimension produced is THE ONLY ONE that exists. The reason why Beta doesn’t erase Alpha is because Eva actively knots them, so that this knot makes possible their existence as one thing, where one depends and sustains the other. Otherwise, one is created, the other goes away. That’s why, in the finale, when they create a new origin world, in my theory that world/dimension is the only one that is left in existence. Everything else is gone. Consequently, when in the origin world Tannhauser activates the machine, he erases his world and creates the knot. Then the knot is erased, and replaced by a new origin world. Every time a new world is created, the preceding one is gone. This is a more elegant solution for me, and it’s more coherent with the canon, since the canon implies Jonas and Martha are gone, not simply stuck into some separate, and silly, quantum dimension…)

Part 1: illusion of sufficiency (Dark explained away)
>> Part 2: what does work (Deus Ex Machina)
Part 3: what doesn’t work (bootstrap paradox)

Circular family tree, and its unraveling

I’m not going to explain here the things the show explains well (in the sense that the show’s explanation is fine), there are so many websites and videos that do that job, showing how so much is actually really well made and meticulously put together. Lots of small details, references, links between characters. The overall picture is indeed daunting and impressive, awe-inspiring in its complexity, an overall masterful construction. Like clockwork, opening it and seeing all the small parts precisely built and arranged.

The one that works better for me is the circular shape, and concept, of the family tree at the end of the third season. There’s especially a chart on the wikipedia that is well arranged.

At the end of the second season the biggest revelation was the Charlotte-Elisabeth-Charlotte paradox, but with the third season we realize instead this is not some weird feature happening on the side, it’s the actual CORE.

It creates the concept of a ball of yarn, linking the family trees and the events. With the finale, and the removal of time travel, it’s like pulling one end and see this ball of yarn unravel… almost completely. You realize a number of characters will simply vanish, not just Jonas and Martha.

Part of the implied journey of Claudia would be exactly this: find out who’s “real” and who’s created by the time anomaly. When she realizes that a great number of people are “spurious”, and especially having found out that who she cares about (herself and Regina) are outside this mess, she decides to erase this current reality through the solution that we see happen.

(see me here crossing all those that I think are certainly gone)

At its core this is just a pure Donnie Darko: the current time travel knot is seen as some sort of evil corruption that needs to be eradicated to make things wholesome again. In Donnie Darko, Donnie is eventually “instructed” to sacrifice himself in order to resolve the anomaly. In Dark… Claudia is the bunny (even if moved by more egoistical motivations). She instructs Adam to do what Donnie does. A sacrifice to fix the timeline and make things “normal” again (they aren’t normal, but we’ll see this later).

I’ll examine this more in detail, but I appreciate this construction. The elegant unraveling of the ball of yarn, the way the family tree(s) was all connected, forming this overall giant loop that links all the families together. That’s rather well executed.

Claudia, as a logical and functioning Deus Ex Machina

Here we get to the real deal (and, if you scroll, you see this part being unreasonably long). It’s a mess. It’s a mess not because it’s especially dense, but because it’s made of two parts, and this is what created ripples all over the internet.

The two parts, when fused, become: the bootstrap paradox.

The bootstrap paradox is the meta-narrative knot. Because it doesn’t just represents the time-knot within the show, but it’s also the knot of the discussion here.

ALL OF US who have watched Dark to its end get split into two groups: those who think that the bootstrap paradox needs to have an explanation, otherwise the whole plot has no rational motivation to exist and makes no sense at all, and those who think the explanation of the bootstrap paradox is that… it’s a paradox. The foundation of Dark establishes this is the nature of time, that this paradox is real, and so there’s nothing to explain.

In the previous part I wrote that Dark gives a sufficient feel of depth because someone who studied a bit of philosophy, epistemology and ontology KNOWS that paradoxes do not exist. They do not exist and they cannot be found, without unraveling the whole concept of human consciousness. Human mind, and reality, isn’t compatible with the concept of paradoxes. Yet we use the concept and the word commonly in our daily life. And that’s why Dark can get away with it. It’s a common concept. But it works, for us, because the concept depends on the nature of representation, not reality.

More simply: paradoxes exist within models and representations, not reality. Paradoxes surface to point where our framework isn’t sufficient to correctly represent reality. When we have simplified and abstracted too much.

That’s why when you produce and find a (apparent) paradox that’s a sign you’ve made a mistake. It’s not the signal you’ve discovered something spooky and weird, it’s the signal you’ve messed up.

But this isn’t a philosophical treatise where I demonstrate paradoxes cannot exist and why, the purpose is to show that the bootstrap paradox specifically cannot exist within the context and rules Dark itself has established. It doesn’t work. This one paradox, not paradoxes in general.

One step back, I said all of us divide into those who accept the paradox and those who reject it, but this is also the mess I’ve pointed at: Dark uses two types of bootstrap paradoxes. It’s Dark itself that produces one form of bootstrap paradox that is inexcusable, illogical and self-contradicting, and then another whose solution exists, and is entirely logical and coherent with the given rules. Dark itself shows that the bootstrap paradox CAN be explained, if you do your job well.

In this first part I’ll re-explain what’s essentially an hypothesis about Dark’s finale. Why it can work logically, and why it can work ONLY this one way. It’s still an hypothesis because it’s merely coherent with all Dark established, but still speculation since what I’m going to say… hasn’t been shown. What I say is going to be COMPATIBLE with canon, but is not canonical. Because not explicitly shown.

Since we’ll deal with convoluted stuff, let’s spoil it from the beginning. Dark’s concept of time is like “solid determinism.” It means that time is fixed, and no character within this structure has “free will”, in the sense that every action is already inscribed in. Nothing can be altered.

There’s only one (logical) way to break this cycle: external intervention. This isn’t just one trick we have to break the cycle. It’s the ONLY trick. And it works. That determinism is very easily disrupted the moment you can create an interference. Something coming from the outside that slips in. Chaos theory, on complex systems (reality is of course a complex system), says that even a super-small variable introduced can trigger LARGE upsets all over the surface of the system. One tiny nudge and that fancy determinism goes ALL to shit.

Back to Dark: we need external intervention, even to create the POSSIBILITY of variation…

Let’s stop here a moment for a small sidetrack. In Dark time doesn’t cycle. Even if the canon tells you, again and again, that time DOES cycle. This is just utterly stupid and it’s worth clarifying. If something cycles identically, then there’s no point “ahead” of the cycle. Something doesn’t move onward if it’s always identically the same. Identity opposes variation. There is no motion, no distinction. If we observe a wheel turning identically, we measure these cycles because we reference the movement of the wheel with our external point of reference of time. We know the time, we know the position of the wheel. But in Dark there isn’t any meta-time tracking the progress of time. Time is one thing. We know that when the knot is formed (the two dimensions of Adam and Eva), it forms ALL AT ONCE, already incorporating ALL the actions of ALL characters. Characters within, perceive time linearly, but time itself appears in existence all at once. Without meta-time to track progress, and without progress because rules establish that nothing is different and everything is perfectly immutable, it means that nothing can fucking cycle. To determine a cycle you need at least two distinct points. It needs to move to cycle. But you cannot have two points of a thing that is fixed and identical. This is VERY important because it allows to then find WHEN the thing is kicked onward and the actual cycle happens. Sidetrack over.

Let’s start collecting these basic concepts. We have this universe, that is deterministic and fixed, it DOESN’T cycle. It’s called block-universe, in the sense that it’s fully formed and self-consistent. A syllogism: if we know the block universe is fixed, and the characters inside part of this universe, then no character will have even the hypothetical option to produce a change. How can this block universe be disrupted then? We already know: external intervention.

Here I go for a little story I’ve created to explain how time-travel works. It will feel like over-explanining, but I like to wrestle complex things to make them as simple and plain as possible. You either have patience and enjoy this journey, or not. It will be useful because we will set all the rules, then we’ll play the game.


Let’s use an arbitrary cycle-block of years. It starts in 1950 and ends in 2000. Exactly 50 years. The theory of the “loop” wants that in the year 2000 there’s an apocalypse that resets time to 1950, and then it keeps cycling endlessly.

Let’s take any person who DOESN’T time travel, still part of this loop. Let’s say this guy in 1950 is 20 years old. Then in the 2000 year he’ll be 70 (his initial 20 + 50 of the cycle). At that point, from year 2000 we go back to 1950, but everything resets (this person doesn’t time travel), so he’s back as his 20 years old self, with no memory of the previous cycle (and the reason why we already know that nothing actually cycles, but it’s not important here). This is the standard: when the entire cycle loops memories don’t carry over to the next cycle. It’s a clean wipe.

Now let’s use a time traveler. Take a traveler, with a time machine, whose journey is set like this: a minute before the apocalypse he opens a gate and time travels back to 1990. Let’s also say that, before time-traveling, the traveler is 20 years old in 1990.

At the first go, the traveler is 20 years old in 1990, lives to 30 when we get to 2000. Goes through the first portal back to 1990. Lives again normally from 1990 to 2000, then travels back, always the same.

That means that every time he hits the 2000s he’s 10 years older, because he keeps going through the 1900 -> 2000 segment, over and over again.

It also means that a time traveler can perform “infinite” time jumps, that aren’t strictly infinite, because he keeps linearly aging. So he can only travel and experience the world as long he doesn’t die of age. As long his own personal linear time lasts. A finite amount.

This type of time travel allows the traveler to retain all his memories. All the information he gathers by going around the timeline is information that accumulates. Because these are internal jumps, and are of a different type from the overall 2000 -> 1950 world-time-loop we established above.

Internal time loops let travelers build information, general loops instead wipe that information and restart clean.

Explaining it better in the context of Dark: let’s say that whenever our traveler jumps back to 1990 he meets his younger self. Let’s also say that the traveler, before dying of old age, performs 7 jumps in total (so he gets to 90 years old). Since all these jumps are “internal”, the traveler will meet, already at the first jump as at the last, seven copies of himself at the same time. All of them being there at once. Each 10 years older than the other. Because these are internal jumps and so all coexistent and part of the same overall cycle.

From this we can deduce some general rules: it’s not possible to transfer knowledge from an overall cycle to another. When someone dies, his own memories are wiped with the cycle. But instead as long he lives he can jump internally and retain all he finds out.

(here I start using some conventions. “Alpha” defines Adam’s dimension, “Beta” defines Eva’s dimension. Won’t be used here, but I’ll also use Z1 as the original world and Z2 as the output of the finale)

All this, exactly as written, applies to the character of Adam in Dark. Adam/Jonas is a time traveler, within Alpha, who gathers knowledge by jumping around internally while he ages in his linear time. Of course he cannot send this knowledge to the NEXT overall cycle, because all memories are wiped and nothing carries over.

…But there’s another type of traveler in Dark: the meta-traveler.

A meta-traveler is Eva-Martha. From Eva’s Beta-dimension she INVADES Adam’s Alpha dimension, and “kidnaps” Jonas. She doesn’t simply travel internally within her native Beta, but she crosses over to Alpha.

Another meta-traveler is Claudia. She works for Eva, who entrusts her for the technology to travel to Alpha, and collaborate (or spy) with the other Claudia in Alpha.

Meanwhile in Alpha we have Adam, who between all these three is the only one who doesn’t know about this meta-traveling. In fact that’s why his plan to kill Martha and the “Origin” ultimately fizzles: because he’s not aware of the Beta world and so he doesn’t know there’s another Martha going around and still preserving the knot. He’s only aware of one half of the thing, and so his plan doesn’t add up.

…The other two, Eva/Martha and Claudia, not only travel internally, but also externally between dimensions.

This meta-traveling creates the premise for the “loophole.” We established above that to change this fixed cycle there’s only one way possible, external intervention. Well, meta-traveling IS external intervention. In principle.

Bingo? Nope. What we find out is that this meta-traveling isn’t external, it’s instead… delusional. This is what causes many headaches for a lot of people watching Dark, because they face a contradiction: we see through the first two seasons that some characters (like Ulrich) try to break the cycle only to *produce* what they tried to cancel. Yet we see Eva, as another blatant example, who actively works to PRESERVE the cycle, as if the cycle needed active intervention or risk going off the rails.

The solution to this apparent contradiction is that Eva is just as delusional as Adam (not really, but a complete explanation needs more pieces). what Eva does is PRODUCE the cycle. Because the cycle is not what it seems. We’re led to believe there’s an Alpha-Adam world with its cycle, and a “parallel universe” Beta-Eva, where Jonas normally doesn’t exist, with its own separate cycle. This is false. What we have is instead a Moebius strip (the “8” symbol of infinity). One half is Alpha, the second half is Beta. The actual cycle is Alpha and Beta as ONE cycle made of two parts, fused together as one. That’s why, for example, Eva sends that creature of pure evil that is her son to produce the incident in the nuclear plant, in BOTH worlds. She’s the hidden hand between many important events. She isn’t preserving the cycle, she creates it as it is.

Therefore, meta-traveling between Alpha and Beta cannot count as actual “meta”. It LOOKS LIKE it’s external, because it’s either external to Alpha or Beta (interference in Alpha created by something that arrives from Beta, breaking Alpha’s stillness). But now we know the cycle is the FUSION of Alpha and Beta, so what comes in Alpha from Beta comes still from WITHIN the overall cycle. It doesn’t break any fucking pattern. It IS the pattern. Eva ends up just as caged as everyone else.

So? How’s the finale is possible (since it is logically possible, this is the conclusion I’m driving toward)? If we need external intervention and meta-traveling isn’t it, from where does it come from?

Well… Claudia. Claudia? Claudia is just internal to the loop as everyone else. So logically she’s just as trapped. What gives Claudia an utterly magical status that lets her steps out of the thing, give it a kick, and send it onto a wholly new course? Well, it’s the fun part. It’s also the part that Dark doesn’t show, so we have to speculate, staying within the rules we’re given.

To explain this I’m going to create some premises. These premises might appear arbitrary, but trust me, I only use them to simplify the solution, and they aren’t necessary.

The first premise is to set up the context. In the original world Tannhauser feels sad, this motivates him to create the device that eventually produces the mess as we know it, by succeeding essentially. So we assume that the moment Tannhauser’s machine is activated, Tannhauser’s dimension ceases to exist. Gone. In the part above we assumed (within Dark’s concept) that when a dimension is created, that dimension is created as fully formed all at once. It’s not built linearly, it’s built at once even if its logic still is compatible with a linear perception.

So, Z1, the original world of Tannhauser, ceases to exist. Is immediately replaced by what we identify as the “knot”, or the fusion of Alpha and Beta. You can think the knot as a cycle, but we know this is a superficial perception, the knot appears into existence as fully formed, and it’s stable, static. It doesn’t really cycle because time doesn’t move. The linear flow of time is trapped in there, and we know the only disruption possible needs to come from outside. But outside there’s no disruption because Tannhauser’s world is gone. When the knot is created, that’s the ONLY world/dimension that exists. Outside there’s only the void of emptiness. And so it looks like a dead end: we need intervention from outside, but the set-up establishes there’s nothing outside.

It’s like a locked-room mystery where it’s simply impossible to have a solution. There’s just no leverage.

But we have a Claudia, and we have a loophole.

What Adam believes, is plausible and legitimate. An Alpha dimension, that loops on itself. He just happens to be wrong because there’s this loop, but it’s built by the fusion of Alpha and Beta. Eva knows this, but she wants to PRESERVE this cycle, apparently happy enough of how things turn out. Who’s not happy at all, is Claudia, who knows what Eva’s doing, knows this knot being built of Alpha and Beta. Through her own travels back and forth Claudia also puts together the overall family tree, to find out that both herself and her daughter aren’t caught in that messy web. And that’s why she decides to unravel it… who cares about everyone else if both her and her daughter end up in a better place? She’s just another player of the game who’s been served a lucky hand.

Up to this point I’ve explained why characters do what they do, but I haven’t explained HOW Claudia does what she tries to. So let’s move to examine the loophole.

We know there’s a loophole, because I’ve introduced it above, the meta-travel. Eva can travel to Alpha and kidnap Jonas, creating the knot itself. The knot is created through the loophole that Eva uses. Traveling between Alpha and Beta. But Eva uses the loophole to preserve the knot. Eva then entrusts Claudia to perform various activities, without realizing that Claudia eventually finds out she’s outside the monstrous family tree and there’s a possible alternate dimension where both her and her daughter are much happier. Adam doesn’t know the loophole, Eva knows it, but uses it to preserve it, Claudia knows it, through Eva, who carelessly trusts her, but eventually Claudia has her own wishes, and decides to use the loophole to BREAK the cycle. She is in that unique position because she knows how (the loophole) and wants to (because she’s researched the family tree and understood its anomaly, and that it can be unraveled, returning to her “normal”).

Here we find the first of the two keys needed to open the lock of the locked room. The loophole creates alternative universes. This is an exception to the rules of Dark. We had established that time is fixed, solid, no change possible unless from outside. But during season three we know there’s ONE EXCEPTION: the loophole. The use of the loophole splits dimensions, because it creates real change. Beta is split from Alpha. Adam, who didn’t know of the loophole, was logically believing in Alpha being autonomous. But there’s Beta. Beta is a divergence. An actual change. This is THE FRAUD, the key. Eva could have used the loophole to produce change, but she didn’t merely because she willed the cycle. She worked to produce it. But the loophole doesn’t HAVE TO produce a cycle. The dimensions can be split. Eva split them to then forcefully bend both Alpha and Beta to be fused, but all this isn’t mandatory in the rules, it’s simply produced by her personal will.

Claudia, who’s entrusted to this knowledge by Eva, betrays Eva to develop her own agenda and pursue her own goal. Her own goal being to weed out this time travel mess, because she knows she has a better alternative. She CAN use the loophole TO bring change. Because that’s what the loophole does as it was defined: produce change. Unless that change is produced by an Eva, that simply uses it to generate a larger mess. It could have been just an Alpha looping, like Adam believed, or Alpha + Beta, aka the knot. Or maybe 16 dimensions all entangled together into a giant mess, even if that’s quite hard to motivate.

What I mean is that there isn’t anything mandatory that says there needs to be one dimension looping, or two, or twenty. We just happen to have two, the knot. And then have a Claudia that doesn’t like it, and has reasons to disrupt all of it.

We know what Claudia wants to do and why, but HOW can she escape the loop?

We established above that when an entire cycle loops (the overall fusion of Alpha and Beta, in this case) all the memories the characters have, are wiped. This means there’s no way for Claudia to pass over information to the next cycle, so that 100, or 2000 cycles later she might find out something new. In fact we know that when the second cycle starts, everyone is hammered down into the same roles. So, the second cycle is going to be identical to the 2.000.000 cycle, and so on.

The trigger is the first. And here we obtain the second key, that is already enough to open the lock and explain what we see.

We know that when we are at the second cycle, we’re already locked in. But that leaves a door open in the very first cycle.

Yet, canon wants that when Claudia reaches Adam she tells him that the cycle has gone on and on, and yet again she also tells him it’s the very first time they met at that point. I’ll try to stay within this.

Claudia needs to act at the very first cycle. So she does know (has to) about the loophole before the first cycle closes. And she has to use it, before this cycle closes. What she could do, but isn’t shown, is to use the loophole to do something else rather than immediately go to Adam to close the thing. She needs to know more, first.

So… during the very first cycle, Claudia of the Eva world goes to Claudia in Alpha, collaborates, shares information, including the information about the loophole coming from Eva. She doesn’t need to understand everything at this point, just knowledge of the loophole. As I said, the distinction from Eva is that Claudia can use the loophole for different ends, rather than simply preserve the knot as Eva does.

Claudia takes the meta-travel device, and uses it as information-transfering device. This sounds completely weird, so I’ll explain it better. Before the first knot closes (she would be trapped if she doesn’t act before the end of the first cycle) she uses the device to travel to another dimension, lets call this “Gamma.” This is possible, it’s what Eva does when invades Alpha from Beta, to then fuse the two. But Claudia doesn’t want to fuse anything. When her old self at the end of the first cycle travels, she travels to her younger self, to tell her EVERYTHING SHE LEARNED. Pay attention here. This isn’t time-travel to a younger self. She isn’t doing this through the time travel machine. She’s using the golden ball, and she travels to a younger Claudia of ANOTHER DIMENSION. Because, as we see in the split of Alpha and Beta, this type of travel and loophole creates a discrepancy. The younger Claudia, with all the information revealed to her by an older Claudia, is divergent from a younger Claudia that doesn’t know anything.

What happens at this precise point, when Claudia meta-travels, is that she creates an alternate dimension that copies IDENTICALLY the knot. The (A+B). She creates an alternate dimension where everything is exactly the same, with one single exception: Claudia. She obtains a Claudia that knows all the stuff that the older Claudia told her. Now she’s young, she has another ENTIRE LIFE to go around and learn shit. At the end of the cycle, when she gets old, she uses the devices, makes a new copy and transfers the new knowledge to a younger self. OVER AND OVER, until she’s tired of this shit.

She acquired god-like power, became a literal (and logical) Deus Ex Machina, since she’s external to the machine. Every time she copies the world, she has freedom to act independently (the external intervention I introduced at the beginning).

This world is copied identically as long she takes care to replicate the actions that her older self made, in a similar way as Eva was doing. Trying to preserve the cycle, essentially. But only so that she could continue to gather information, and eventually find out the optimal solution to tear it apart. When(ever) she will find that solution, she will use the device to go to Adam, hand him the mystery ball and tell him: “Take this, and go end this shit.” Game over.

Consider the detail: she HAS to preserve the knot. This isn’t like the other cases where the knot is automatically preserved no matter what people do. The difference is that the world is copied identically with one exception: Claudia. And because this is a wholly different copy, it isn’t locked into a pattern. Claudia is external. If she doesn’t work to preserve the knot she can have all sort of major repercussions coming from her own divergent actions. In fact she’s in the position to create INFINITE divergent worlds. RADICALLY divergent. Totally new timelines. That’s what the loophole does, creating divergences every time it’s used. Claudia just happens to believe and desire that her best choice is going back to the “normal” (the “new normal” since Tannhauser’s son isn’t dead and talks about his vision of angels).

In fact it’s a “new normal” because it’s not a return to the origin world, that’s completely false. The origin world is gone. What is created is a copy of the origin world where Tannhauser’s son is alive. Claudia simply decided this was the best choice among infinite options.

In the end Claudia was the ONLY player, since she has been the only one to find a way out before the first cycle ended. The only player on the field. Adam knew jack shit. Eva did, but worked to fuse the worlds and remain happily trapped within, Claudia is the only one who was handed the keys for the lock by a clueless, unsuspecting Eva. She found herself as the director of the show.

Again, the loophole creates divergences. We ended up with the (A+B) knot merely because Eva wanted to save both worlds at the same time, and the fusion was the only way to keep both, so used the loophole for that end (there’s a lot of silly handwaving, but Eva needed Alpha fused with Beta, since Jonas doesn’t exist in Beta natively). But with the device in the hands of Claudia the loophole doesn’t create anymore convoluted artificial knots, it creates new realities. And Claudia has free reign. She can change everything.

Super-summary: Dark gives us a concept of time as a fixed and immutable structure, including internal time travel loops than cannot alter what happens in any way. It’s all fixed and deterministic. But during the third season an exception is introduced, a loophole. The use of this loophole, at a precise moment, can introduce a discrepancy, a real change. And it does so in the classic time travel way of creating an alternate dimension where things take a different path (the classic “Back to the Future” canon). Only two characters know and use this loophole, Eva and Claudia. But Eva actively works to save both worlds and fuse them together, a Moebius strip, making them dependent on each other and creating this A+B “knot.” Claudia instead decides to use it for her own ends and, eventually, to unravel that knot. It is mandatory that the loophole has to be used BEFORE the first cycle completes, otherwise the characters would be already caged in. Therefore the loophole is either used every time, or never. Eva uses the loophole every cycle, to re-create and preserve the knot, with no other possibility to alter its course beyond what it is. Claudia instead can use the loophole first to “copy” the (A+B) knot, and then study it through a number of different cycles, because she can use the loophole to keep everything the same with one exception: herself. She uses it at the first cycle to become external to the loop and seize her agency, repeats this through an unknown number of following cycles/dimensions, then uses it one last time after she’s completed her plan, to instruct Adam and send him to destroy the knot. The finale we see.

We’re far from a complete solution though. This whole ordeal explains the ending, and explains how Claudia can become Deus Ex Machina. It explains how it was possible to break free of the knot, and how to return to the origin. It also explains why the return to the origin ISN’T a bootstrap paradox. It’s just a new divergent reality that begins from a convenient starting point. Aka: before the time travel mess, to prevent it. And it can prevent it, instead of causing it as everything that happened before, because Claudia (and then Adam) didn’t time travel, but meta-traveled using the loophole. If she simply time traveled to save Tannhauser’s son, she would have caused the incident (because time travel is an internal loop, so it cannot produce any real change). And that’s why, again, Jonas and Martha DO NOT cause the incident, as many people instead expected: it’s a divergent word, produced through the loophole, through meta-travel.

In Tannhauser’s true original world, his son is dead. In the “new” world the son is alive. They aren’t the same world. We aren’t back to the origin. This is the same that happens in Donnie Darko: a time anomaly is created, during its development Donnie is trained by the bunny to be an instrument to the solution of the anomaly, and Donnie’s sacrifice “fixes” the anomaly, returning the world back to how it was. But it’s not the same world, because Donnie’s gone. In Dark and Donnie Darko both, the anomaly left a faint trace. It existed, developed, was resolved, and with its resolution it “fell off” subjective perception. As if time was like a tree branch, then a “leaf” develops, is bent around and closes on itself, to eventually excise itself and “fall off”, leaving a faint trace, while the branch continues on its path… slightly altered. A faint trace.

If Claudia didn’t find a way to escape the cycle during its first loop, then time would have hit a “cul-de-sac”, an inescapable dead end. Either continuing forever, or deteriorating as in Donnie Darko (where time collapses if not fixed).

And yet again, we’re far from a complete solution. I’ve said at the beginning the problem is having this part of the bootstrap paradox that can be explained logically, and another that doesn’t work at all. This part I’ve examined here works because it deals competently with the fundamental distinction: perception and reality. The bootstrap paradox APPEARS in perception, but doesn’t exist in reality. It is the limited subjective point of view that creates the illusion of a paradox.

If “characters” are trapped within their own dimension of experience, then they have a limited “cone” of subjectivity and information. Limited knowledge. That’s why things that “magically” appear can do so. A meta-traveler is a traveler from outside. He can step-in unseen and create interference. He can transform reality, because while he operates within reality, he still operates outside the limited perception.

If the rules of TIME AND PHYSICS are the rules of reality, then they can play around perception. Like a toy. A paradox can appear within limited perception, but can also be explained in reality.

A bootstrap paradox can be EXPLAINED by imagining what is there but that isn’t seen. Something that has to exist but wasn’t perceived. We see a paradox, but we see only the limit of our vision. Always the same core concept of Bakker’s Blind Brain Theory.

Now we know that yes, bootstrap paradoxes can be explained logically. No, paradoxes don’t exist in reality. They exist in conscious perception. The paradox is in the map, not the territory, especially when the map (perception and representation) isn’t correctly modeling the territory (reality). We’ve seen Dark creating a bootstrap paradox that can be explained through these patterns, that can be solved. And yet it’s a trainwreck. Because the main paradox is left unexplained and not explainable, with the canon telling us that paradoxes just exist and don’t need a logical motivation.

People confuse this as a problem of cause and effect. A cycle of cause and effect that links past and future, in a loop. Accepting this circular paradoxical pattern. But that’s not how it works. Dark has a serious and deep philosophical problem with ontology. Ontology is about existence, not function. The cause-effect loop of a bootstrap paradox tells us these objects can FUNCTION, but it doesn’t tell us that they can EXIST. This is what I’m going to write in the next part.

>> Part 1: illusion of sufficiency (Dark explained away)
Part 2: what does work (Deus Ex Machina)
Part 3: what doesn’t work (bootstrap paradox)

Spoilers unbounded. (spoilers may also touch other stuff, like Donnie Darko, Watchmen, Arrival…)

This is going to be hard to write, especially because I already know I’m going to be dissatisfied, since I like completeness when I write about this stuff. It’s going to be impossible to be complete here. There are too many angles, and the most interesting ones, like the general philosophical concepts that go beyond Dark itself, are giant sidetracks that would take way too much time to analyze.

I’ll start by saying that Dark is complex even if I try to summarize my personal reaction. I “casually” followed the first two seasons, but I prepared for the third, so that I had a much clearer picture about the family trees and tangle of plot. The first two seasons were still mostly straightforward to follow in their main story beats, but many nuances and minor characters got over my head. This time I did my homework. I had low expectations about the show finding an elegant conclusion, and for the most part it was WORSE than I expected. The solution itself was something I guessed right away from the beginning of this season, and simply because it’s identical to Donnie Darko (the yanking out of the problem: the moment they show Eva-Adam, and their symmetrical goals, you realize they both have to go). Nothing else, when it comes to concepts and ideas, was introduced (aside one thing, but that is very poor). The last episode itself, the one that usually needs to make an impact or at least try for a plot twist, went precisely as expected, and was very dull to watch. Probably the episode I liked the least among all three seasons.

So, the whole thing is a giant failure: it didn’t succeed to provide a logical explanation (for its plot, its concept), but at the same time it’s also not garbage. The show is a really good TV show overall. It’s well executed. And some of its ideas, like the circular structure of the family tree, and how it falls apart in the end, are really, really good. Claudia’s journey, even if for the most part not shown, is really good.

…But, despite some excellent ideas and great execution, Dark pivots entirely around a central concept, and this central concept is fatally flawed. It completely collapses on itself. It’s not just a plot hole one can decide to ignore… It’s the whole framework, the whole structure that sustains Dark as a concept. And it’s a train wreck.

This adds another dimension: for most viewers the finale and overall explanation is going to work. From what I expect, and what I’ve seen, most people embrace the logic behind that finale, and many of them even think it’s a great one, even a PERFECT one. Saying that Dark succeeded where Lost failed (excuse me: DARK and LOST, because ambition is better represented by caps lock). I can see why. Dark gives the illusion of complexity, of deep philosophy for someone who never read actual philosophy, science for someone who doesn’t know how science works.

Dark is “sufficiently” complex to satisfy. Made for an impressionable audience, but in the end no more than pure illusion of depth and meaningfulness. A well made fraud. LOST, despite its many flaws, contains a lot more earnest values, and for me stays on a wholly different level than Dark (and not really comparable as productions, anyway).

A bit like its own conclusion, Dark has that fatal flaw that, when you pull that one string, it unravels everything. And nothing remains.

… but it’s still a great show. One whose concepts, quality of philosophy and science is really bad. But we’ve also seen what happens. The fatal flaw of Dark is also the one shared with Arrival and Watchmen, and these two, even more than Dark receive critical acclaim. (while Arrival is indefensible, Watchmen has a lot more than that concept, so Watchmen’s quality and reputation don’t depend on its concept of time travel)

Since I want to keep this post at a mostly sane length, I’m going to write about only three aspects, but they will touch every most important point.

The good stuff:
Circular family tree, and its unraveling
Claudia, as a logical and functioning Deus Ex Machina

The bad stuff:
Bootstrap Paradoxes galore

The good things outnumber the bad things two to one, if I went in detail to list everything, the good things would hugely outnumber the bad things. So is this good? Nope, because as I said, all the good things “hang” from the single bad one. Everything falls off after that central point fails.

What’s more important to understand is that the writers of Dark didn’t just fail to provide a good “solution” for the Bootstrap Paradox, that then I might have judged as too weak or unsatisfying. They instead decided that the Bootstrap Paradox DOESN’T NEED A SOLUTION. The paradox “just exists.”

One might think: okay, it’s science fiction, time travel doesn’t exist either. This is just a fictional concept where both time travel and Bootstrap Paradoxes exist, at the very foundation of that fictional make-believe. You either accept it for what it is, or you entirely reject, and argue endlessly about, science fiction in general…

The real problem is instead a different one. Once you set up those rules so that the Bootstrap Paradox exists, and doesn’t need a logical explanation, using those same rules in its premise (ironically) everything else ALSO unravels. It’s not simply to accept/refuse the paradox, but that if you accept the paradox also everything outside of it ceases to exist. It’s a black hole, a thing that self-destroys.

So again, it’s not just about accepting its existence, but the fact that its existence causes the collapse of everything around it. Ironically, again, as a perfect metaphor of Dark: an impossible thing that leads to its own ERASURE.

But while on the fictional level the erasure happens in the story, and the finale we see. The Bootstrap Paradox instead erases Dark at its meta-level. As a product that tries to be coherent, and fails. It erases it outside the fiction because it doesn’t work. A thing that wants to exist, but it doesn’t because it’s a giant misunderstanding, clumsy philosophy and even worse “science.”

Dark is an impossible story. One that shouldn’t exist, as long we care for logic and coherence. A story killed by its own ambition. A recursive loop of NIHILISM, where what is created destroys the possibility of its existence. A BOOTSTRAP PARADOX.

(and yet, we know what paradoxical objects really are: the product of misunderstanding. Nothing so fascinating.)

This was my overall “take” about the show in general and its concepts. Now I’ll go more in detail about the three points listed above.

– Who watches the watchmen?
– How to avoid what’s unavoidable?
– How to kill a god? (not everything that shines, shines)

These are three notes I scribbled down after re-reading Watchmen and watching the TV series. It takes me some effort to go back and remember what I meant at the time… The first is straightforward, the second comes from the comics, the third is from the TV show (third or fourth episode?). All three represent a similar kind of self-referential loop.

The second one is framed by the plot in the comics: there’s a crisis that’s brewing and reaching the tipping point. As in a simple causal system, humanity is driving toward its annihilation. How to avoid this, how to avoid the inevitable? That’s Veidt’s plan.

The third comes from a weird metaphysical story told by Laurie in a phone booth. You can interpret the story narratively, since each character in that story is meant to represent those classic Watchmen characters and their moral conundrums, but I was interested in the metaphysical workings. The grinding cogs that made it move. We’ll return to this later in this twisted commentary…

I could have probably written something wiser about this, at the time, but I forgot. The point is, at that third episode I thought that maybe Lindelof came up with something good, after all. Some good answers to tricky metaphysical problems. The potential was tangible, because of that one scene.

…Sadly this wasn’t the case.

I’ve only seen the show once, haven’t dug anything from the internet as I use to do, and when I watched it wasn’t even in the best of environments for undivided attention. This to say I might as well miss the big picture. It also applies to the comics, that I read many years ago. After a recent re-read I do think it’s impressive quality, and very, very complex, with many layers that can go entirely ignored (and it’s also a rather heavy read, not particularly enjoyable as a form of entertainment). I certainly missed a lot in it, and these days my mind goes for its own sidetracks that I only can see, but I lose track of main avenues. One that I found recently through another tangent is that Rorschach was conceived as a satire of objectivism, this also being conformed by Moore in interviews. I couldn’t even make the connection after I read it because it doesn’t make any sense, but now I understand better the angle. I did see the right-leaning extremism and absurdity. This is not the place for me to explain how I see Rorschach (not positively, for sure, but not uniquely bad either), I just wanted to point out I missed something BIG, like this link to objectivism, I’m guilty, and I might miss other stuff too.

Watchmen defies a simple treatment, it soars above. And so it can be read at different levels. Even if you pick little from it, it’s still quite significant and satisfying. There’s just one aspect that doesn’t work well, and that is also inelegant, and that’s what I wanted to write about because it’s a recurring theme here, linked to previous things I wrote about Ted Chiang and Arrival. It’s related to Alan Moore’s metaphysical (or physical) position that I think he calls Eternalism, and that imagines reality as a solid where time is experienced linearly by humans, but that is all already fixed, like strong determinism. This concept is also what links his recent monster of a book that is Jerusalem, to Watchmen.

Now… The TV show is so devout to the source material that everything it does is already in the comics, including mistakes. This means that what I see as “wrong” in the TV show was already present in the comics. And unless I’m missing some elephant in the room, it’s also conspicuously wrong. Not a tiny detail you can gloss over. I haven’t checked, but I cannot be the only one writing about it, it’s gigantly macroscopic.

I’ve written before that I don’t have any problem with the proposition of eternalism, as long some rules are followed. Moore doesn’t follow them, though. One important rule is that you can, in theory, observe time as a solid, and so perceive it in one immediate instant as Dr. Manhattan supposedly does… but only if this observer remains PASSIVE. Dr. Manhattan in the comics is NOT passive in multiple occasions, including scenes where he describes to others facts that are going to happen in the future (often just dialogues about to happen… to the dumbest character in the comics, this is quite convenient as I’ll show later). This interference creates logical holes and makes the narrative frame fall apart. Moore somewhat goes around this problem, at least at the crucial point. At the climax of the story Dr. Manhattan is confused and his ability to perceive the future is unreliable, because the teleportation of the squid monster to New York created some sort of interference (the tachyons that intrigued also Philip Dick, see one of the “recent” posts).

This idea was readily adopted in the TV show too. The reason why Dr. Manhattan can live a normal life, at least for that segment, is that he was able to create a “blind spot.” A portion of time unknown to him, unseen. Yet, as the TV show explained, he was still able to fully perceive what came before and after. He knew that story would end in tragedy, and he says as much at the beginning (to Angela, he even tells her how long it will last, the blind spot).

All this was well done because nothing in the TV show was “baseless,” all the most weird ideas were simply taken from the comics and used faithfully in a very creative way. Competent sleight of hand. Good.

The problem is that along with the cleverness they also inherited the stupidity… and then made it WORSE. That one spot where it all falls apart. Unraveling with just one tug.

Let’s move closer to this critical point. In the TV series when Dr. Manhattan meets Angela he repeats one of the tricks he showed often in the comics: he tells her that she’s the one who is going to tell him, in the future, information he shouldn’t know yet. And then she does, somewhat proving that his powers are real, after all. This is… fine. The trick is delivered through distraction, essentially. The claim is made, then the conversation goes on a while, and by the time the crucial point is reached Angela has forgotten the initial point. Nothing that happens here contradicts the thesis, the thesis being that Dr. Manhattan sees what will happen, and so none of the participants gets to “act freely”, especially in relation to the ultimate vision. When you deal with something like this it is quite convenient to write the scene so it doesn’t contradict your thesis. The problem is: a thesis is valid when it works logically, not when you sidesteps the contradictions conveniently. It means that I can easily propose, instead, a number of logical experiments that would PROVE, unambiguously, that Dr. Manhattan’s power just cannot work the way it works. These experiments are valid because there’s no logical way around them. The only way is AVOIDING them, writing scenes that do not engage with scenarios that present contradictions. But again, it’s just a convenient trick to avoid facing the fact that the thesis just doesn’t work and isn’t coherent with the premises it itself set.

In a controlled scenario, with no convenient distraction, Angela could easily contradict Dr. Manhattan’s predictions.

Yet, this isn’t totally airtight: you could still assume that Dr. Manhattan uses sleight of hand to introduce his predictions only in those limited cases where the information on the prediction doesn’t end up screwing the prediction. So, he can only tell Angela when he knows Angela will be tricked into the same behavior, and will avoid other cases where a contradiction would be triggered. This way around is still imperfect, to a very close examination, but it’s fine. Within the context of a TV series it is an acceptable compromise.

The problem is that Dr. Manhattan is conspicuously NOT PASSIVE. In the comics there’s the fact he’s confused and, in the end, he cannot do anything to prevent the main event, but in the TV series Dr. Manhattan is the main vector, not a passive observer. He’s the one who sends Veidt, Laurie and Wade away, to perform what they will perform. He is active in the timeline, acting on the basis of what he knows, manipulating events.

The real contradiction isn’t this one, but another that is quite macroscopic. On twitter, before the last episode aired, I asked Jeff Jensen: “I wonder, does Watchmen blindly embrace time paradoxes and contradictions within, as tropes and homages, or will it have something to say of its own?” He didn’t reply.

I was honestly curious because I still thought maybe they had figured out something to find an answer to this problematic core. It turned out they didn’t, and even the final scene was only a retread of The Leftovers: just tickle the audience with an ambiguous finale, open to interpretation. I’ve already seen that. On twitter I commented: “Watchmen ends the same as The Leftovers. With Lindelof still looking for answers.”

In this case “the question” isn’t whether Angela got the powers or not, that’s misdirection. The question is about the contradiction. The giant, gaping logical hole at the CORE of the whole TV series. Again, this hole was already in the comics, but in THAT case it wasn’t the pivotal point, it wasn’t the main vector. Morally, in the comics Dr. Manhattan might be worse even than Rorschach, and he does kill him. All his aloofness is a fraud and Moore certainly painted him very negatively. He’s inhuman and selfish, he gets a treatment (from the writer) that’s very similar to Rorschach himself. No one in the comics is spared, no one comes out in a positive light. They are all creeps and frauds.

This is the one point betrayed in the TV series, that is in love, instead, with at least some of its characters and wants them be GOOD. Especially Dr. Manhattan, who becomes both very human and a benevolent god. The classic trope of self sacrifice done for the loved ones.

And nope, Dr. Manhattan is still a fucking criminal, in the TV series too, despite the misdirection. And here we comes to the contradiction (and maybe me missing some elephantine detail). If I understood it correctly, the main mcguffin of the whole story is that the sheriff is killed. Why is he killed? (whodunnit and why?) Because Angela in the future sends information to the past, through Dr. Manhattan that has this power, to her grandfather. The grandfather who misunderstands the information, wrongly deduces the sheriff is a criminal, and eventually gets to kill him.

Where’s the responsibility? Well, clearly Angela’s not to blame. She was unaware of the implications and only realizes them when it’s too late. She has no power on the whole situation, no choice. But there’s still DOCTOR FUCKING MANHATTAN present on the scene. The same Dr. Manhattan who doesn’t give one fuck if one innocent is murdered for a misunderstanding (or is it guilt for sins of the fathers?). The same Dr. Manhattan who instead intervenes when it comes to save his loved ones.

The Dr. Manhattan who steps in and out the story as he sees fit, while blaming others for HIS actions. And even ending morally celebrated because he saved the day (and loved ones).

The same Dr. Manhattan who loves women and drops them like sacks of potatoes when he’s done with them, replacing them with younger, more attractive ones. Two in the comics, one in the TV series. The same Dr. Manhattan who should be above the instincts of men, and hormones. But what’s clearly a CONDEMNATION of a shitty god *in the comics*, becomes a fucking celebration of a benevolent god who loves his family in the TV series.

What a great way to fuck it all up, Mr. Lindelof.

We still haven’t got to the contradiction. When Angela tells his grandfather about the crime he himself will execute in the future, she makes it happen. Creating the worst kind of time loop. But fine, causality in a time loop gets warped, the problem is that in this specific instance it’s not just causality that goes to shit, but LOGIC TOO. Yes, Lindelof has done this in LOST too, a bad idea stays just as bad. When reiterated it just shows malice.

The is no logical way to explain this scene. It’s just outside logic. And there’s no a-logic metaphysical possibility. Moore’s eternalism isn’t made on illogical premises. It still wants to be a coherent system.

Paradoxes DO NOT EXIST. What we consider paradoxes, or contradictions, are the visible sign that we fucked the interpretation. That we got something wrong in OUR description. The contradiction is never foundational for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who cares to study philosophy (when not immediately evident).

There needs to be a source for Angela’s information. It doesn’t matter where and when, or if time goes around, but it still needs a logical trigger in order to exist. There’s nothing remotely similar to a source shown in the TV series. There’s no single explanation that can verify what happens.

I was really curious before the last episode because it was so blatant. I was expecting they had an ace up their sleeve and found some clever trick to make it work. There was nothing. Lindelof was just content enough by employing a typical sci-fi bootstrap paradox without understanding how it works (there are bootstrap paradoxes that are logical, the origin being just hidden away). Like a nice homage. He couldn’t be arsed to make sense of it, or use it intelligently. Nope, he had to make the paradox itself the pivot and main vector of the whole series, right from the first episode.

He uses as pivot the most stupid of paradoxes, no question asked (hello, The Leftovers, we see the same superficial mistakes again!), and then even ends up rehabilitating Dr. Manhattan as a good guy. The one who’s truly responsible of it all.

Because in the end there is one solution to this paradox, even if it’s the one NOT intended by Lindelof (and very clearly). Dr. Manhattan is not swimming in the aquarium, he’s not “one of us”, living the same life as everyone else. He’s the fucking writer. He sits right next to Lindelof arguing what should happen next. He WILLS the plot, because he writes it, the way he wants. That’s why he’s able to step in and out. That’s why he can carefully shape scenes so that they cannot contradict the thesis. That’s why he can make Angela give his grandfather information that doesn’t exist, anywhere: because it’s Dr. Manhattan who planted that information, who wrote the scene, who made a paradox a paradox. He wrote the dialogues. He makes sure that everyone follows the script because he wrote the script and he wrote those characters. He admired Veidt and plays with dolls. And he ends up writing the story where he ends up as a hero. Because he’s full of shit.

Moore made his own mistakes with Dr. Manhattan and eternalism. But they were minor and he didn’t fuck up the overall concept at the core: that all these heroes were all fucked up, Dr. Manhattan more than everyone else. Lindelof studies and mimics everything so carefully that it’s all a labor of pure love… Only to fuck it all up.

How it is possible that a show so well put together, down to the smallest detail, doesn’t have a problem founding itself on a blatant, enormous contradiction? I don’t understand.


Edit:
and… only after writing this whole thing I realized that Dr. Manhattan, might be completely in the dark, literally, about the whole deal with the sheriff, because that whole event could be encapsulated within the blind spot of his life as a human. So he might be entirely unaware of all that happened to the sheriff, so that he didn’t know that an innocent would die. Angela understands, but then doesn’t inform Dr. Manhattan of anything. I’d have to rewatch the scene to see if the part in the future makes sense. Still… there’s the bootstrap paradox.

Here we are again.

Ted Chiang has recently released a new short stories collection, and within it he has repackaged and repurposed the exact same faulty concept of time and free will. The difference is that it has been pared down to just ONE page, so it’s all the more easy to handle (and debunk).

I’m referring to the story with the title “What’s Expected of Us”. I haven’t read more than that, and I’m also discouraged for doing so.

I’m sorry but I can’t take Chiang seriously anymore, and I can’t take seriously anyone who considers him a decent writer, either. You cannot drag an idea for so long without noticing how deeply faulty it is, and keep preaching as if it’s gospel. Okay that you dressed it up nicely in “Story of Your Life”, but here it’s stark naked, and I’m astonished that you have no shame showing it.

I’ve written a few comments recently about Dark and its bootstrap paradox. And even this short story by Chiang is a variation on the same theme, and generally amounts to a simplification of the more interesting and articulated Newcomb’s Paradox. This just to reiterate there’s nothing new under the sun, just another coat of obfuscation by Chiang, that for some inexplicable reason people seem to mistake for insight and great sci-fi.

The concept here is a “Predictor”, that is just a basic box with a button and a light. The premise is that free will doesn’t exist, and the predictor works by flashing the light one second before someone will press the button. The device being of course infallible.

Let’s start here: I absolutely accept the premise. The premise no free will exists, and human behavior can be deterministically predicted with absolute accuracy by this device.

The real problem isn’t determinism and free will, the problem is that Chiang makes this device operate in a completely dishonest way, in order to HIDE and dissemble the magical trick it is based on. This is what he writes to describe the practical use of the device:

But when you try to break the rules, you find that you can’t. If you try to press the button without having seen a flash, the flash immediately appears, and no matter how fast you move, you never push the button until a second has elapsed. If you wait for the flash, intending to keep from pressing the button afterward, the flash never appears. No matter what you do, the light always precedes the button press. There’s no way to fool a Predictor.

The first example doesn’t seem very plausible. The idea is you’re trying to press the button as fast as possible, but “the flash immediately appears”. It still takes a whole second, so the thesis is that you cannot press a single button faster than a whole second. And that’s already hubris, but let’s move on.

The second example is more interesting because it actually describes what it would REALLY happen if such device existed: you want to fool the device, so you wait for the light just so you WON’T press the button. And the consequence of this “deliberate choice” is, correctly, that the flash never appears.

This example is more interesting because it reveals something hidden. If the predictor never makes a prediction, then it can never been proven wrong. The device correctly functions by avoiding the one state that would compromise its function, by proving the prediction wrong. Without a prediction there’s no possible confutation. This is just like saying you cannot disprove something that doesn’t exist (argument from ignorance or variations).

The solution to this is to avoid this dishonest way of shaping the conundrum that Chiang uses, and instead see what happens if the prediction is FORCED (instead of evaded), so that it can be appropriately tested.

“Most people agree these arguments are irrefutable, but no one ever really accepts the conclusion. What it takes is a demonstration, and that’s what a Predictor provides.”

And that’s exactly what I’ll do: demonstrate that Chiang’s concept is logically faulty and produced by misleading premises. To do this I’ll create an experiment, just like what Chiang did in the story, with a few variations so that I can properly test the predictor with the sensible data.

As I said, this has nothing to do with free will and determinism, so I can prove the fallacy by removing even more variables. Instead of predicting human behavior I just need the predictor to be connected to a computer, and still prove that it will fail. The predictor simply has to predict whether on a screen the letter A or the letter B will be shown. The basic function of the predictor is the same as in the story (“it sends a signal back in time”). So the predictor sees which letter is shown on screen, in the future, and sends it back in time the result for the prediction.

The new trick in this experiment is that the computer that executes the process that will show either the letter A or the letter B on screen, takes the predictor’s prediction as INPUT. So that if the predictor predicts that the letter A will be shown, then the computer will display the letter B on screen, effectively contradicting the prediction. No matter what the predictor predicts, the process is built to contradict it.

In every single case possible the prediction is going to be invalidated. Hence, the logical fallacy that is at the core of Chiang’s concept. There isn’t even a single case to make this work, and the reason is exactly because of the logical fallacy.

Explanation: what happens in this example/experiment is that the moment when the prediction is sent back in time, that information is new information that alters the global state of the system, and so shifting it to a new, different state. It’s not that the predictor “doesn’t work”, it’s that every hypothetical prediction that is made triggers a change of state of the system.

For a better comprehension: the problem here isn’t again about the plausibility of determinism, and so the possibility of prediction. Predicting the behavior of a deterministic system is of course logically possible. The real problem we have here isn’t about determinism and it isn’t about prediction either. It’s INSTEAD about a process built on self-reference and recursion. The prediction here informs the system it tries to predict, and doing so recursively alters itself. We can imagine to ideally get to the end of this process, as if hammering down these time loops in their ultimate state, when all it’s done. But the point is that the process we are observing is one of infinite regression. So that it never closes, and so that, without a closure, can’t be predicted. Unless the prediction is itself separated from the system, without informing it directly and without triggering the self-reference.

This works EXACTLY like the liar’s paradox. In this well known example we have a phrase that alternates between two states, true and false, that recursively feed on themselves, with self-reference, so that they endlessly shift between those two positions. Until human beings observe and heuristically classify this as a “paradox”. It’s not, accurately, a paradox, it’s just a recursive, self-referential system without closure, and so we make up our own human simplification by assuming that a system without a closure “doesn’t make sense”, and so it’s a paradox. Something that cannot be hammered down logically in a fixed position, since it’s built to shift endlessly.

So, you can predict the evolution of a deterministic system where the prediction itself is separated from the system being predicted. But you CANNOT create a self-reference within the system without facing the consequences. That self-reference recursively altering the behavior, triggering an infinite regression that, by avoiding closure, makes the prediction impossible too, since the idea of a prediction implies that the system being predicted assumes some fixed final state that can be mapped.

This is also the reason why what Chiang writes next is even more absurd and ill informed:

“People used to speculate about a thought that destroys the thinker, some unspeakable Lovecraftian horror, or a Gödel sentence that crashes the human logical system. It turns out that the disabling thought is one that we’ve all encountered: the idea that free will doesn’t exist. It just wasn’t harmful until you believed it.”

This is just magical thinking: the idea that a “belief” can trigger some special, unprecedented effect. This happens just as consequence of the logical fallacy at the foundation of the whole concept. What actually DOES happen is that a logical system “cannot crash”. Because it’s built on logic, it observes and operates on logic, and whatever hypothesis of something non-logical would be simply unseen by such a system. And if something is unseen and unperceived, it doesn’t exist. It never becomes experience. It never enters or even interacts with the environment (hence we pass the threshold and step into pure metaphysics, that Chiang obviously can’t deal with, being blind to what he’s observing).

The idea that “free will doesn’t exist” is locked off, out of experience. Because you cannot become aware of something embedded. The awareness of lack of free will doesn’t bestow free will, so it produces no change at all. No emancipation.

Chiang continues tripping on this, since he started from a faulty proposition:

“My message to you is this: Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma.”

The truth is the exact opposite of what he says here. Nothing is “essential”, and especially “your belief” is completely irrelevant. The truth is that there’s no escape from this system, so no matter what you believe, the result is immutable.

He partially admits it in the following paragraph:

“There’s nothing anyone can do about it”

So, logically, it’s really not important what you “believe”, because beliefs aren’t magical, they aren’t transcendental, and so they cannot help in any way out of this process. What you believe is irrelevant.

The opposite is true: you have no freedom to exit the belief in free will, because you cannot act on the premise of the absence of it. You cannot be exempted from what we can generally call the “human condition”, and the human condition is built around the *perception* of free will. Whether this perception is fundamentally and truthfully “free” or just an illusion, is irrelevant, because we are chained to this state, and its truth-ness or false-ness are both unverifiable and with no consequence. Hence they do not exist (we can assume “as if” they don’t, since it’s indifferent relative to our present state, as good epistemology would dictate).

Human beings are structurally chained to free will, because the nature of human beings is perspectival, partial. Caged within the system that builds them. In a similar way, you cannot predict determinism from within the system you’re trying to predict. Free will, like determinism, can only be factually proven by exiting the system (of reality). Until we remain caged within, we continue to submit to (perception of) free will, and the nature of self reference that doesn’t allow closure and so accurate, complete prediction (as to say: the Laplacian demon can only exist outside the system it is observing, otherwise it’s also bound to self-refence and incompleteness/non-closure).

That said, not all bootstrap paradoxes are logically faulty. I always thought that Wittgenstein’s Tractatus is a form of metaphorical, and logically valid, bootstrap paradox. There are ways to hide the origin, that’s the trick. Not so much, as in Dark, that origins don’t exist. But there can be patterns where origins could be “missed”, or unperceived. Unseen. There are ways for the world to “fall off” from its root, and so appear as if suspended. Independent. Just like consciousness.

It’s all about perception… and truth. Because so, if we value truth, we cannot value Ted Chiang, whose work is like that of an illusionist who tries to obfuscate so much more than reveal. Appearing to be smart and deep through the use of misleading intuition pumps.

EDIT: After writing this I searched online for other comments about this specific story and found one in particular that matches mine but that more directly ties with the example of the story:

“Consider the Free Will Device, put next to the predictor. Free Will Device is actually entirely deterministic, and doesn’t have any free will of its own. It consist of photocell which watches the LED on predictor, timer, which gets reset to 0 every time light hits photocell, and actuator which pushes the button when timer reaches 2 seconds. If predictor blinks within those 2 seconds, there won’t be a button press, and if predictor doesn’t blink, there will be a button press.”

EDIT2: I noticed later that the story here is from 2005, so I now have no idea if it pre-dates Arrival or whatever. But maybe Ted Chiang could be forgiven for dredging up some faulty old story. Still, this is Ron Hubbard type of quality, and so it’s fairly condemnable for its poor philosophy, regardless of when it was written.

Very little to say, this time. Well, specifically. What I have to say will be more meandering.

Dark is still a very good product to watch. It’s all about the execution and the seriousness of the drama that makes it get away with its absurd conceits (there are a few… moments, this season).

This time (but also the first) I just didn’t want to put the effort to learn again who all those characters are, and their names. I remembered very little of this whole convoluted “who’s who”, whose son, who cheats on who, and so on. And I was right because after a few episodes the plot surfaces anyway and the little details foggily fall back. I just don’t care.

As the episodes go by, and the patterns clear out, I started to think it was all very, very predictable. Minute to minute it still keeps me engaged, the tension is always there, but then the episode is over and there’s not much left on the table.

Right up to the last minute of the last episode. Then I laughed. I also laughed at the finale of the second season of The OA, even if in that case it was much worse.

That last bit was not just predictable, but also clumsy. In season 1 we’ve seen the present and past being explored, then the season ended with a teaser of the future. So if with season 2 we have explored past, present and future… what’s left? Oh right.

The problem isn’t so much the bland predictability of this development, that becomes unexpected just because you don’t think possible they’ll make such an obvious move, but that season 2 as a whole is just a “filler”. Nothing being added. They just push on the pedal to show a bit better the potential of those rules they already established.

While waiting for Dark I started to watch “Lucifer” as a kind of pop-corn entertainment. And it does its job splendidly. It also underlines a pattern I don’t personally like, so here’s a quick rant: people bore me. I have enough of people. Dark is, essentially, soap opera with some sci-fi sprinkled over. The meat and bone of the show is still the boring people’s drama. People loving, people crying.

Even WORSE, season 2 of this show decided to write THIS into its mythology. Made this stupid “Adam” villain whose purpose is trying to make sense of the bad metaphysics. And so he explains how PEOPLE are moved by PASSIONS, the mechanics of PAIN and DESIRE. And how all this baggage essentially erases their FREE WILL and causes this time loop to be a fixed, immutable loop. Locking people into their behavior. You know, Bakker, but shallow:

Men being moved by their passions, by something that precedes them and on which they have no control, and so they aren’t ‘agents’, because they are moved by what comes before. …That all makes sense from the point of view of the science. We have now a tale of the world that does without human agency, where all matter flows equally. With no metaphysical intrusion. But more importantly, without any anthropocentrism. The recipe of the world needs to describe and entail the whole world, equally, without putting any human being on a privileged throne of being.

…And yet the show fails to conform with its goal, because again it needs to compromise for its public, and so fall back to relatable, anthropomorphic concepts. Like a villain. And so this pointless Adam that for some illogical reason represents the ‘beginning’, or a trigger. If “time” is truly god, as it’s been said at a certain point, then it again comprises everything. If this time loop is fixed and immutable, then there’s no epistemological distinction between minor and major events. Nothing changes, even minimally. And this same rule needs to apply even to a blade of grass being bent by the wind some kilometers away, unseen by all.

Got it? The process is the king. Without a distinction, without a beginning. Without an agent.

Thankfully this idea of Adam having some sort of privileged status has been discarded, at least for the time being. But during those dialogues between Jonas and Jonas (Adam), I kept wondering how the hell could he believe he could change anything, when season 1 already established and proved how ill-conceived was the idea. What’s different now? Nothing. And that’s why season 2 is filler. It just introduced this anthropocentric red-herring of believing this Adam character having some special feature. Some deus ex machina or, rather, man-privilege. Turns out, for the time being, he does not. So season 2 opens and closes its illogical hypothesis, and simply pushes its metaphysical dirt under the rug of a parallel world. Yay?

There’s something else, though. They haven’t just tried the anthropocentric angle (that really is just a variation of classic “dualism”, and consciousness being distinct from the physical), but also tried the ‘other’ way. One idea they briefly toyed with was the possibility of a new particle playing a role. A “God’s particle” that could somehow trigger some new, unprecedented effect. But once again the point is that it’s all a self-feeding process. Whatever particle is ALREADY part of the process. It doesn’t arrive into this picture as ‘new’ material able to somehow derail this train. Physics is part of physics. There is no ‘beginning’, or extraneousness to this process… Unless it comes from somewhere else… And only to be welded into the same, but much bigger structure overall.

When you use paradoxes, what makes them meaningful is their solution. Unless you are a magician who speculates on keeping the tricks hidden. Otherwise a paradox that is left as a paradox only hints at a logical fallacy. Something that doesn’t quite follow. During season 2 they mention a few times the ‘bootstrap paradox’ as something clever. They don’t even try providing a solution, as if they believe it’s the simple statement of a paradox that is meaningful, that makes it possible. The epistemological possibility of paradoxes.

There is an apple. There is a paradox.

But nope. That’s not how paradoxes ‘work’. The bootstrap paradox, for example, is solved in the classical ways of time travel. It’s a system of parallel worlds, working like branches. So what happens is that something, indeed, always has a causal origin. No rules are violated. When the loop is closed what’s left (visible) is only the loop itself. The origin, the root of the process, doesn’t cease to exist in the complete sense. It’s simply hidden away, out of reach. Hence this paradox isn’t a true paradox, but only the sleight of hand that hides the trick. That cuts away the logical explanation. It’s not about the existence of a paradox, but the fickleness of perception.

For Dark, we had the mechanics already established through season 1. Season 2, then, explored the possibility of finding exceptions to those rules, but failing. I was definitely intrigued when they were suggesting the possibility of those exceptions, but they were all revealed as empty and vain.

At its core, season 1 was built on a concept that just doesn’t hold up logically. There’s not much to add because season 2 just explores a few dead ends, and all its promises of showing something new are ultimately disregarded.

All this means that this season 2 is metaphysically inert, and I watch this stuff for this reason. And I’m bored of people drama, and there’s very little left beside that.

Lucifer, I was saying, isn’t all that different. We don’t get soap opera here, but we do get procedural. So same as Dark is soap opera with some sci-fi sprinkled over, Lucifer ends up as a procedural with some mythology sprinkled over, and thankfully a main character (and actor, really) that somewhat holds it all up. Here I am, watching these shows for what they have hidden in the gaps. The weird angles, that immediately disappear if you aren’t looking closely. Ghosts in the machine.

Lucifer (I was saying) does something you absolutely don’t expect. Because it does for the metaphysics way, way more than what “Dark” can do. It’s so much deeper and subtle, despite being hard to catch.

On one hand Dark promised so much, and delivered nothing, with some clumsy missteps that make me doubt it will ever get somewhere even with its announced third season. Lucifer instead promised absolutely nothing beside that pop-corn entertainment, but while juggling those metaphors it really does breach the fabric of reality. It really pushes past perception, playing with various layers and curtains. Make believe.

It seems I spend all my time complaining, but we do have some good stuff. The third season of Twin Peaks was metaphysically excellent, for example. Lucifer shows glimpses of genius (episode 6 of the 2nd season, an episode that is otherwise quite dull). Travelers was very good. Both The OA and Dark, despite being more ambitious, were mostly interesting failures.

Quick addendum:
There are a few things that Dark does better than Arrival, others less so. The metaphysics of Arrival worked so one who witnessed the future was then compelled to make it identical to how it was seen. So we can say that one was brought to ‘will’ that same future, in that exact way. In Dark instead we see characters desperately trying their best to CHANGE the course, and fail. Here the solution in Arrival is forced and artificial, but more logical. But Dark instead is more consistent with its presentation. By showing how a daughter can become the mother of her mother, they demonstrate that time is simultaneous, that it doesn’t develop through actual casual loops.

Annihilation seems to be some sort of sister product of Arrival. I had problems with the way Arrival structured its theme, but the movie was still exciting and interesting to watch. Annihilation not even that. It’s a movie without even ONE good idea, filled with flashbacks that only add bland sentimentality, and with an elaborate final scene that is inspired visually but that only apes symbolism without putting anything of value within. It’s as if one took the final sequence of 2001 Space Odyssey and stripped that visual fancy eye-candy away from any deeper meaning.

The problem is: the large majority of the public is stupid but enjoys thinking itself clever. As long a movie apes the motions of something clever and “mysterious”, most people are going to believe it. They are going to believe about deeper meanings, esoteric revelations and whatnot. The dumber the movie, the smarter they feel. And Annihilation is really dumb.

So this is what we got, straight from the wikipedia:

It received praise for its visuals, performances, direction, and thought-provoking story, but, suffered from being deemed “too intellectual” for general movie audiences.

They think it’s too smart.

an impressively ambitious—and surprisingly strange—exploration of challenging themes that should leave audiences pondering long after the end credits roll

a bracing brainteaser with the courage of its own ambiguity. You work out the answers in your own head, in your own time, in your own dreams, where the best sci-fi puzzles leave things.

deserves several viewings, and your brain’s whole attention

In order to be smart you’d have to actually say something. This movie suggests, without saying. This is the usual technique when you have nothing to say: you just pretend and let people imagine whatever they like. It’s typical illusionism.

That’s why I tend to agree more with this description instead:

I’d say this film is more “feels-provoking” than “thought-provoking.”

That’s euphemisms to say it’s manipulative.

Once the basic context has been established in the movie, nothing else is being added or even expanded. Some sort of thing arrived from the sky and produced an area where all life forms experience strong mutations. The movie ends with the spectator having the exact same information delivered already in the premise (the final revelation is that the bubble causes the DNA to “refract”, which is a functional synonym of “causes mutations”). Simply put: the movie goes nowhere. It’s more like a documentary on visual effects. It’s, if you want to be kind, esthetic poetry.

Maybe I’m too harsh but I resent when I watch a movie for two hours and the movie doesn’t even offer one worthwhile tiny idea that I can take away from it. And because the movie itself only delivered some pathetic horror scenes amidst the sentimentality bits, it was also annoying to watch. At least sometimes movies can be bad movies but still offer interesting themes and ideas. In this case it wasn’t entertaining and I haven’t taken anything worthwhile out of it either.

Without having read the book (and currently no desire going there) I don’t know if there are some actual ideas that have their legitimate roots there, so I can’t say that my “explanation” of the movie is complete. What I got out of it is that this organism interacts as an agent of change. The movie explicitly defines it “annihilation” and it is described as a process.

But of course on top of this mechanistic process that affects all biologic material there’s also contact and interaction with the “real” deal: human consciousness. That’s what makes the movie disappointing, because it’s like they had an infinite number of possibilities. The potential to really go deep. But absolutely nothing happens.

When the process interacts with consciousness what we get is that the squad of women progressively dissipates to one woman (to mirror the “morale” the movie infodumped at a previous point: that often organisms seek self-destruction for no reason). As in Arrival, the plot seems to be justified through sentimentality, but I honestly didn’t grasp the reason why one only survives. Without the book I cannot even know if some lack of “symmetry” is an artifact left by the imprint of the book itself, or a deliberate choice. For example you could interpret the finale by saying that the goal of this organism was to infiltrate humanity. So “mission accomplished”. But why two “doppelgänger” instead of one? Why the bubble didn’t dissipate when Kane came back? And why it did instead dissipate only when Lena does?

You could hypothesize that while Kane killed himself, leaving the doppelgänger, Lena instead tricked the organism into suicide. That’s quite silly, but it seems coherent with some themes in the movie (apoptosis). But this solution doesn’t hold up, because in the final scene we are shown identity between Kane and Lena. Either both are “transformed”, or both are the same. This suggests that whatever happened, happened to BOTH, in the same way. So why, again, does this organism disappear after producing two new organisms instead of just one?

You can justify that as poetic license. Plot-wise Kane came back for Lena, and Lena came back for Kane. The cycle is complete at that point. But it’s just artificial and not satisfactory.

There’s only one idea the movie does play with, and it’s the one I put in the title. This is the central point, but the problem is that the movie does nothing with it, beside simply using it. The Ship of Theseus is a philosophical concept that focuses on the idea of “identity” and what it truly means (or the illusion that builds it). In the context of this movie: what happens when all the cells in your body are recreated, are you still the same person? Are you a different person? But if you are a new person, why do you still feel like “you”?

This idea is implicit in the movie. We end up with two doppelgängers, so two “copies”. Does it mean that both Kane and Lena died and what we have now are two “impostors”? The idea that this organism recreated only the physical shape of these two individuals, in order to “infiltrate” humanity, doesn’t hold up, because they both retain, for example, language. Both Kane and Lena return not just with a physical body, but also with knowledge of human language and behavior. Human language and behavior that you aren’t BORN WITH, but that are built by living in a society. That means that these doppelgängers not only retained the physical features of their originals, but also the *minds*. How much of those minds? Well, we cannot know, but if they retained so much of that human knowledge it means they probably retained all of it. Minus some silly recent memory wipe as if they smoke a large amount of weed?

In any case, without the confirmation of the book, this is what I recognize as the central theme. These two doppelgängers might be complete, accurate copies. So how can we say that something “new” was produced if what we obtained is identical to what we started with? With the two original bodies gone, nothing was destroyed, and nothing was created.

It was all a dream.