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Why did I decide to watch this after Dark?

Sometimes it’s fun to track a pattern: I saw a tweet by Stephen King.

“DARK (Netflix) is dark and complex…and…well…very German. Terrific show. If you get confused, go to MetaWitches and check out Metacrone’s recaps. Detailed and helpful.”

So I check this “MetaWitches” website, only to find out that, at the time of my checking, it didn’t actually cover Dark’s last season. I was looking for different opinions on the ending, so it didn’t help. But the part I read had this:

“While you wait for Dark recaps, I recommend The OA, Twelve Monkeys, Orphan Black, Travelers and Fringe if you haven’t seen any of them already. Agents of SHIELD and Snowpiercer are also good. Twelve Monkeys is probably my favorite time travel show ever, with the most well done ending of all time. Yes, I said it. Orphan Black has a lot more in common with Dark than you’d think at first. I might be convinced to do recaps for 12 Monkeys or Orphan Black someday, if enough people were interested.”

…So, why not?

I had seen the first two episodes of 12 Monkeys back then when it started, and gave up. This time I’ve seen the whole thing.

While I didn’t end up with a good opinion about The OA, Fringe was okay to good (with some occasional brilliant moments) for the first three seasons (I think?), and Travelers truly excellent all the way through. Agents of SHIELD doesn’t belong to this list, and is more a rollercoaster going up and down, but it is quite entertaining and sometimes even rather good for the first three seasons, but I dropped it at the beginning of the fourth because I couldn’t tolerate anymore Skye (everything, from character to actress), downright unwatchable. 12 Monkeys… isn’t entirely shit, and it indeed has some cool stuff.

Let’s see. The first season starts bad. It’s barely watchable and the reason why I immediately dropped it the first time. It’s silly entertainment but too “cliche” to be worth it. But now I have a broader picture. As it goes on and more pieces are being added, the first season gets better. It grows, it becomes more interesting and ultimately it gets relatively fun to watch. But I then met another minor roadblock because the 1st season finale is instead terrible. The slight reset at the beginning of the second season meant I lost all the momentum that the first season gave me, and after the first episode of the second season I was already thinking about dropping it again.

…But I continued anyway, and as it happened with the first season, the more it kept going the more it improved and became interesting. This thankfully continued through the third season, that sailed pretty well, and leading to the fourth and final without losing anymore that momentum. The problems start again with the fourth. The first half doesn’t suddenly drop the momentum, but it gets boring as they go through rather pointless sidetracks. There are good isolated moments, here and there, but everything descends into utter silliness and lots of the same already seen. On paper it might be fun: hey, we got time travel, why not going to the Middle Ages with cool looking armors and swords? Alright, but it’s beginning to show it’s done “just so.” And signs of strain all over the place. Tiring, aimless, filler. It tries to find freshness by moving around, but finds none.

And then… “the most well done ending of all time.” Oh, wow.

The last few episodes of the last season and especially the finale, are UTTER SHIT. It’s just garbage and it’s not an “opinion” or some sort of philosophical disagreement as in the case of Dark. The finale is just ridiculous on the most banal level: it makes Michael Bay’s Transformers look like refined taste.

I mean, the whole show is rather cheap entertainment with silly action scenes and not much pretense. It is what it is, and as I said there’s good stuff (I’ll get to that). The finale, though, is like a stupid version of Lord of the Rings mixed with the worst of Star Wars, copied scene by scene but in a way that just makes it fail even as unpretentious entertainment. It’s EMBARRASSINGLY BAD. And this isn’t some very personal controversial opinion, I think most of everyone who watches it would agree. It doesn’t need any sort of insight or sophisticate sensibility to recognize it as the garbage it is. I could even start posting here direct screenshots from the finale to conclusively prove that point without any other context necessary. Take the very worst of Star Wars, strip the epicness, and leave all the ridiculous tropes, that’s all there is. And people hugging and looking sad for interminable moments.

In general, the finale of this show is so bad that I cannot quickly find something I watched that I can consider worse, or even comparable. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen. The closest comparison I can find is “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” levels of cringe, but even this would have its own merits (as a product of its time).

I’m of course not a movie critic and I don’t write movie reviews here. I deal with themes and concepts, and other stuff I care about. The finale of 12 Monkeys is garbage at the level of movie product, not for the lack of depth of its concepts. But even its concepts completely fall apart on the finale. So I’ll briefly focus on that aspect.

The general setup of the show is that there’s a plague that kills 7 billion people, and in the future they try using a time machine to go back and prevent the plague. Of course it also happens that they often try and fail, only finding out they inadvertently cause something instead of preventing it. Although, it is actually established early in the show that the future indeed changes. Time is somewhat resilient to change, but with enough of a push there are various smaller instances where they manage to trigger a difference. Through the seasons, you obviously also get a love story between the two protagonists.

So what do you expect from a basic level of entertainment where an happy end is guaranteed? Well, they will eventually, after four seasons, get to prevent the plague. No one is surprised about that. And everyone will be happy, including the two protagonists and their love story.

The problem is how they get there, and thankfully all the shit in the whole show is only concentrated in the last few episodes. Everything else is fine.

The problem they have to solve at the very end, beside all the pointless action scenes with them breaking into Mordor/Death Star, shooting and killing all the redshirts, and eventually murder Sauron/Palpatine too (in a scene that is “Revenge of the Sith” but done so much worse that demands to be seen for all the wrong reasons)… the problem is that to fix the plague they also have to “remove” the protagonist. You know, the pattern of Donnie Darko, and now Dark, where a sacrifice has to be made in order to restore order and normality in the world. So the protagonist has to be erased because this erasure is what makes possible the solution of the initial issue, the plague and everything else that is bad (similar to the “knot” in Dark, with the difference that here everyone who belongs to the knot happens to be evil).

And that’s what happens. The protagonist is erased, and with him the whole “journey” of the show itself. We see an aftermath where (after apocalyptic scenes where the whole earth literally blows up) a new timeline is produced. The plague is gone and we see EVERY dear major character, including those who died through the show, once again alive and now so happy. No one remembers anything, it’s a new world where everything is super great.

But this leaves the problem of the “love story.” Because the protagonist was erased, and the damsel doesn’t remember him in this new timeline. That won’t do.

So, the final revelation is that the protagonist has been transported to the new timeline as well. The motivation for this is straight to the point, without even trying to disguise it: it’s said that reality has its rules, and what are rules if you can’t break at least one? They gambled with time through four seasons, so what’s another one?

As in Dark, the idea is that the time-travel machine might as well work as meta-travel: if you can travel in time maybe you can travel to other dimensions too. So they produce a new timeline, make the protagonist travel to the new world, and because he’s the same protagonist who’s traveling, he retains all his memories. He not only doesn’t get erased, but he’s the only one who STILL remembers all that happened. It’s a mirror of Dark because in this case the real anomaly is produced instead of solved. The protagonist shouldn’t have been born in this new timeline, but he was moved there, and now he exists.

But this still leaves the problem of the love story. He’s a guy who remembers everything, but in love with a woman who doesn’t even know anymore who he is? That’s too bittersweet for this kind of show. So what happens? …She has a deja-vu and somehow remembers everything. The power of love that survives through different dimensions makes her remember everything.

That’s the whole thing: a fresh timeline is produced without the plague, the protagonist is the only one to remember because he meta-travels to the fresh timeline, and his love interest is made to remember through a magical deja-vu produced by the power of love.


I don’t even know here if, brushing aside the silliness, the whole thing holds up or not on a basic level. This show is all about hand waving, silly characters’ motivations and stuff like that. It barely holds together but it’s generally fine as an unpretentious piece of entertainment. But I’m left with some questions, that probably lead to major holes that are very similar to Dark when you take them apart to see the inner workings.

As I said, here time travel is shown to produce new futures. You go back, change something, and something changes in the future too. In general one quotes chaos theory, the butterfly example. In the show they are aware of this, constantly repeating that they have to be very careful when going back, because some minor change might instead produce some major change and completely shift the course of history. And yet… This only exists in theory. By the time they reach the final season they jump through time with scores of people, guns a-blazing, killing everyone who happens to look the wrong way. No shit given.

But there are occasions where even death is avoided by going back and doing something different. The problem is that here, as in Dark, they want to have both things at once: a timeline that preserves itself and that can change too. This is weakly motivated by making “time” anthropomorphic, so there are certain things that can be easily shifted, and others that “time”, as an actor, demands going in a certain way. This is even validated, not simply perception, so it is said that “time” doesn’t like the time machine. It gives bad vibes. Time demands things, has certain desires.

It’s okay, it’s banal metaphysical hand waving without much pretense. The rules are silly but what is important is that the show sticks to them. “Time” as a sort of “will” is certainly not “hard” science fiction, but it might as well be the premise to accept here.

The problem is again they make a mess “knotting” the two concepts. And to figure out if “it works” or not would require an effort in un-knotting comparable to Dark, and this show certainly doesn’t deserve as much effort. So I’m not quite sure of the result.

The problem essentially is the same as in Dark: the origin of the protagonist is revealed to be in the future. Creating the same “knot” as in Dark where the future ties back to the past. And in the EXACT same way, the time anomaly is eventually removed to restore order to the world. In the same way, removing the anomaly ALSO removes the possibility of time travel itself, fully Donnie Darko. A loop is closed, falls off. It never existed.

But here we are in a context where time travel DOES produce change. It’s hard to, but it’s possible. Causality isn’t broken here, and it’s why all the way to the end 12 Monkeys works more elegantly than Dark. There are no silly paradoxes (well… conceptually).

BUT… the protagonist’s origin is the END of the last cycle. And this doesn’t make any sense. If we are in a context where time travel produces changes, then it’s mean the story starts at “A”, you travel back, trigger some change, so the timeline produces a divergence “B.” If you then go back again, produce some new change, you create a timeline “C”, and so on. The problem here is that the protagonist’s mother in “A” is only alive at the end of the journey, in “Z.” There is absolutely nothing in this show that introduces meta-traveling between timelines, they only run linearly from the previous to the next. So… There’s no logical explanation how the protagonist can be born, in “A”, if his mother is only alive in “Z.”

There is a confusion that this show never explains, and here too leads to contradiction. Sometimes time travel “causes” the events as they are known (same as in Dark), some other times time travel produces divergent timelines. For example, one of the last plot twists is that the plague is released voluntarily by the protagonists! So the real cause of the plague has always been them! Weirdly enough, this sounds incredibly silly, and yet it’s one of the points that work BEST logically (the ultimate enemy at that point is “outside” the timeline and wants to destroy the world, if they avoid the plague they lose the time machine, so they have nothing to fight back, and so they need to cause the plague to still keep “pursuing” and have a fighting chance).

I don’t know if it’s possible to disentangle this, it’s like splintering timelines are folded into one that is absolute and fixed. But this cherry picking about what can change and what cannot is just that, convenient cherry picking for dramatic effect.

They straddle and ride this ambiguity. For example, the mistake is plain in the last season where what happens is the opposite of what I just described. They know the same history as we do, they go back, they kill Hitler. Because why not. They move from a timeline similar to ours, to a timeline where Hitler is killed earlier. The meaning of this in the show is that nothing changes substantially: Hitler is replaced by Himmler who, in the logic of the show, is no better than Hitler, so proving that killing Hitler wouldn’t have produced any meaningful change. The course of history repeats with just that “minor” death.

But this automatically means they have two timelines. One as we know it with Hitler dead in 1945, the new one where Hitler is dead in 1940. Just because this death doesn’t produce any macroscopic consequence doesn’t mean the timeline didn’t shift. It’s a TOTALLY NEW timeline that just happens to take a similar course, but it’s CLEARLY not the same one. And okay.

The problem is, if you keep producing new timelines, how it’s possible that the MOTHER of the protagonist, a protagonist that already exists before time travel starts to happen, that mother only exists at the LAST timeline? How can the protagonist exist if at the original timeline his mother wasn’t there? Again, this can only be explained if instead of time-travel you have meta-travel: not traveling to a different *time* in the same timeline, but traveling to different (previous) timelines. That’s something they explicitly do during the finale, because they send the protagonist forward to the new timeline. But it’s the very first and only time it happens, so it doesn’t explain all the other cases (and there are many).

In conclusion 12 Monkeys is a radically different show from Dark, but ends up replicating the same problems with its concepts. It’s like a different angle on the same thing, and the more you dig the more you realize they work the same. In both, time travel is created and triggers all kinds of woes, and again in both the solution requires to remove time travel as an anomaly to restore order. In both an ultimate sacrifice is required, an erasure, but in 12 Monkeys then withdrawn in service of happy end. In both we see a time cycle that seems eternal and unbreakable, but both eventually introduce convenient “exceptions” to break it.

There are good things, tho, especially in the second and third season. The whole show is built on the concept of “Your Princess Is in Another Castle”. They think doing something can prevent the plague, like killing a specific bad guy, so they go back, kill the guy, only to find out he wasn’t the whole deal. But even if we have four seasons of this pattern constantly repeating, exactly the same… it works. Every time they go back, and fail, it’s not simply a reset. That would be pointless and frustrating. Instead knowledge grows. We don’t have information made invalid and constantly replaced, we have information that integrates information. They go in blind, because they have nothing to work with, but every time they acquire a new piece, and these pieces are assembled together to generate bigger picture. The sense of frustration is mitigated because this is a journey of discovery.

Knowledge is never sufficient, but it creates at least an illusion of progress. In this, they recreate something valid at its core. Almost a path to wisdom. From the first season to the collapsing finale it’s like being on a desperate chase, against time itself, that doesn’t make any logical sense because it’s a process too blind to succeed. But it is also motivated because it’s the only path available. The gamble way too risky to succeed but fed by desperation, and it creates a rather complex “feeling” where faith is mixed with fate in a meaningful way. A level of metaphysics done well.

Through this journey there are even clever moments. One I have already hinted above: they themselves spread the plague, but only because now the plague belongs to a different context. This deep shift of perspective is metaphysically powerful, way more than probably intended. The proof of how much the show doesn’t simply repeat but shifts in levels. It’s almost like spiritual ascension, done blind (enjoy the contradiction).

Another clever moment is something I’ve just seen done in a masterpiece: a manga titled “20th Century Boys.” Without sidetracking, the ultimate foe “is not who or what he seems” (the princess is in yet another castle, of course, with dark circles under her eyes because she’s truly evil, of course). Hide that duplicity: where you expect one, there are two. If you establish a metaphysical place of consciousness existing out of time, then it’s a place. The Witness’ place. A place that can be visited by various actors. But if it can be visited by many, then it can also be owned. Disguise one for another. Replace one with another. Wear a mask, become a concept, a symbol.

Once again, every time you have your hands on the princess, you realize she’s not the one you want. But it works, because it’s a path of discovery, piece by piece. A curtain that is peeled away, revealing another one, and then another one. It keeps repeating, but it’s a journey of knowledge. It mimics the very ending of Twin Peaks’ third season. Laura Palmer slips away again, Dale Cooper chasing through multiple dimensions. Keep seeking, for knowledge. As it is futile, it is meaningful.

It’s pretty good.

Going back to the beginning: “the most well done ending of all time.”

The opposite: it’s good as long you stop before the worst finale I’ve ever witnessed in a TV show. Or rather: just skip the whole fourth season and maybe watch the Hitler episode for the giggles (it’s the 6th, and it’s definitely worth watching).

I’ve just witnessed the shitstorm on twitter. Most of it goes over my head and I don’t have the desire nor the capacity to measure and understand it. Internet culture these days demands too much to be parsed, and it’s definitely not worth the time required to do so.

The fundamental problem is that the best possible action is: do not participate. And the reason for that is also simple: when an argument is set up in the worst possible way, then no amount of arguing is ever going to “solve” the conundrum. The problem is not people’s opinions and their “factions”, the problem is that the argument itself is set to be inflammatory. It is a “meme”, of a structure BUILT to bring permanent conflict. The purpose is to perpetuate itself, to self feed and grow over time. The key to understand these processes is to stay out of them. Avoid feeding them, because they are “alien”, parasitic.

If we really wanted to have a discussion (instead of finding reasons for conflict), we’d need setting up the context and the theme. The better the set up, the more likely the solution. In fact these days of opinions on the internet, the opinions themselves are worth shit. ALL OF THEM. It would be important instead to set up the field, objectively gathering the data and describing each point of view, how they relate to each other. Only then it’s possible to begin discussing something. The rest is only noise, all of it. Surface noise meant only to reinforce identity of this faction versus that one, and self-congratulate.

One of the best hints is when opinions voiced are non sequiturs. The problem is not WHAT people think, but that people don’t know how to think anymore.

And you can see this everywhere. From anti-vax to those who believe the Earth is flat, to politics, viruses and everything else. I’ve been saying this for a long while because it’s pervasive. We’re witnessing an epistemological collapse, and in each of these cases it is not what people think, but how people think. The argument IS NEVER the important part. It’s not important whether the earth is flat or a geoid or whatever else, what’s important is WHY you believe so. How you got there. If people still knew HOW to think, then we wouldn’t be worried about the content of those thoughts. And now we are too busy trying to correct what people think and believe, without understanding that this is just the beginning of a collapse. You cannot even expect to slow it down. It’s just “memetic”, a thing set on its course that no one can control anymore.

So I bring one example that I just read. It’s not meaningful, it’s not a starting point. It’s just an isolated case that, from my point of view, indicates how the discussion is completely hopeless. It leads nowhere because its only purpose is self feeding indefinitely to fuel some conflict.

I only quote it anonymously, since it’s not important.

[…] this really makes me aware how my early love of SFF was shaped by the stories I stumbled on: queer stories, POC stories, women-focused. My SFF is not The History of SFF.

My SFF is *also the history of the genre*.

And that’s absolutely 100% fine.

Who made me love SFF? Juliet Marillier, Lynn Flewelling, Marjorie Liu, Nalini Singh, NK Jemisin, Jacqueline Carey, Kate Elliott

That’s fine too.

But also: dubbed anime on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, manga, paranormal YA books, fanfiction, Disney; even the Mahabharata on Zee TV.

Still fine.

You can bang on about Campbell; it still won’t make him relevant to the way I approach the genre, or the way the genre is going to be.

And here is the problem.

In the same phrase, she goes from “won’t make him relevant to the way *I* approach” to “the way the genre is going to be.”

Who fucking cares that Campbell isn’t relevant to you? Campbell isn’t relevant to me, like, AT ALL. But I don’t go out of my way to attack SOMEONE ELSE because his views do not conform to mine. Why should the way you approach the genre be MORE relevant?

You, whoever you are, don’t get to decide what the genre is or what is going to be. Your choices and preferences are PERSONAL. You don’t get to APPROPRIATE what isn’t yours.

This is what is incredibly silly with the whole debate. It’s very obvious that The Hugos are used as a sort of ramming ship in a cultural fight. That’s fine too, if you want to give more visibility to certain writers, or shift the field in a way you think is preferable, that’s all fine and part of the exact same process that goes on about everything and everyone. It’s how cultures move. I don’t believe in progress, so for me all the cultural movement is generically a thing that happens, like the wind. It can bring positive change as well as catastrophic.

Yet, no matter how you believe yourself important, or even fundamental, you’re still just a small part of a process that functions even without you. Yes “your” SFF is also the history of SFF. An history that will always be greater and larger than you. And that you don’t get to define or contain.

People have this absolutely ridiculous and impossible desire to impose their own views on something so large and intrinsically alien that exists on a completely different layer of reality. The Hugos, like every other prize or cultural association in existence, don’t define anything, ever. The Nobel or the Pulitzer don’t define “literature.” They are only marketing, and trends, and inner currents, stories of personal successes and failures. It’s all about perception, and nothing is real.

That’s why when George RR Martin is invited at the Hugo, he’s going to talk about *HIS* SFF. Because it’s utterly ridiculous to expect anything else. His view on the Hugos as someone who’s been there for a lot of time, so part of the history of this particular thing.

This is the complete fuck up. People want the Hugos to be THEIRS. Martin instead spoke and celebrated his own cultural background, that brought a generational conflict with the newer audience and the implicit cultural flow that defines the “current” Hugo.

That’s fine too. You want to fight for the identity of this cultural movement, symbolically represented by the Hugo. Okay. It’s like a political party, you can fight for the governance to steer it the way you want, it is part of democracy and the movement of culture generically described above. You could even set up a blog or a youtube channel and give yearly prizes to your very own favorite writers. Totally fine.

By why the fuck you cannot have an ounce of respect, or even acknowledgement, that SFF is not YOURS, and that different people will have their own experience with it? Why cannot you just respect Martin’s experience in SFF? Why should you have the right to overwrite someone else’s view with yours?

I perfectly understand that people realized that Martin wasn’t the best choice for what the Hugos are right now, but that’s a kind of discussion that generally happens before, not afterwards. You don’t care about what Martin spoke about, you were bored, that’s fine. But you have to respect it as his views. If you invite Martin, then it’s only logical that Martin will speak about HIS SFF. If you want a more modern take, then you wouldn’t invite Martin. Would you like him to read a script you wrote so you can put your words into his mouth?

So, you can legitimately decide the cultural angle you want to give a cultural association. You can decide who to invite, to better symbolize the movement you’re dealing with. But you don’t get to go AGAINST someone else because he somehow defiled your cultural purity.

The Hugo might be yours, and yours to define. But the Hugo do not represents SFF, and SFF isn’t yours.

If your “prize” is all about advertisement, self celebration, and reinforcing in-group identity, that’s fine. Hollywood has always worked the same way, all about people reinforcing and celebrating each other to feel better than everyone else. But you’re always going to be parochial. And the more you believe how important, fundamental you are, the sillier you appear.

By the same definition, Martin is going to speak about his SFF. And because it’s “his” that it is generally interesting. Because it isn’t yours, or mine. So you’ll have a different, new point of view. It’s valuable because it doesn’t overlap with yours, so it gives light to a new area. You might not be interested, and that’s totally fine. You aren’t hostage to Martin’s views, you don’t have to read or listen to him. But you still respect it for what it is and you don’t get to cancel it because your cultural agenda has different priorities. You don’t overwrite other people experiences with yours. You won’t call for diversity while hating it, because even Martin’s age and aged views on the SFF genre are a valuable form of diversity. Especially if this diversity helps preserve something that would otherwise be forgotten. Canceled by time.

That’s what is wrong. The arrogance of the absolutism. The war for the hegemony. Imposing your own views, to others. Your moral compass, your sense of superiority. You are the mirror of what you’re supposed to fight.

…Instead for something far more obvious and without even a slight trace of nuance, there are these two twitter messages highlighted just below Martin’s:

That’s almost too perfect. It gets the whole range, from ridiculous false accusations, to threats, and then this arrogant idiot self proclaiming as the spokesperson for “the modern SFF writing community.”

Including the admission that the mob already decided on the truth, no matter what anyone has to say. Even funnier because the cute avatar makes it all the more hypocritical.

Pronouns seem to be a big deal these days. I propose to eliminate “we” and “us.”

Conspiracy theories are interesting from the perspective of auxiliary hypotheses because they often require a spiraling proliferation of auxiliaries to stay afloat. Each tenuous hypothesis needs an additional tenuous hypothesis to lend it plausibility, which in turn needs more tenuous hypotheses, until the theory embraces an enormous explanatory scope.

How to never be wrong – Samuel J. Gershman

The “knot.”

It’s quite a leap, out of context and abstracted, but the pattern is similar. A kind of slippery slope where “truth” is disguised by a progressive retreat, until it becomes too mentally exhausting to pursue.

Conspiracy theories are founded on laziness. For the most part, those who watch Dark and embrace its “concept” are simply lazy enough to accept the explanation as a good one.

Apparent complexity creates a puppeteered truth, a fabricated reality that can confirm and reinforce biases. Or used for propaganda.

These times of pervasive epistemological collapse.

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.


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.

This poor blog of mine.

I was about to add not one, but two ‘reviews’ of books I’ve finished reading. One is half written, the other just needs a second read.

Then I was ranting that I’d like a TV show with nice, mysterious undertones, like Dark, but with metaphysics done well. Dark isn’t the case, at least up to season 3. That’s my challenge.

And then, right when I was about to start Dark season 3, just to enjoy it, and with zero expectations about it being meaningful, I found what appeared to be a complete masterpiece in just 20 minutes, and confirmed it with the whole first episode: Dispatches from Elsewhere.

Thinking about it, and aside from the exceptionally good Twin Peaks 3rd season, there were fun & sometime meaningful metaphysical TV series: Russian Doll, Maniac, Lodge 49, Dispatches from Elsewhere. (I’d also add Lucifer, the first three seasons)

The OA too, but it doesn’t qualify as a good standard with the second season, and it retroactively invalidates the first as being mostly “fluff” without anything solid within. At least without some well executed greater revelation that was expected to come later. But that’s not very plausible, and a product still needs to find its legs while it goes. The OA didn’t, faith is low.

After the sidetracks I’m returning to Dark, the challenge is that the set-up doesn’t support what can be a solid wrap-up. This review I saw linked on twitter disagrees: