Netflix's Dark is one of the most intricate time-travel TV series ever. Originally starting in a 2019 setting, it focuses on the quiet fictional German town Winden, which is really wrapped in webs of deceit. From extramarital affairs to secret pacts covering up a nuclear power plant disaster in the '80s to shadowy figures seemingly kidnapping kids, the series revolves around the protagonist Jonas Kahnwald trying to figure out how his dad's suicide ties into all these strange events.
With a temporal cave at the heart of the mystery, Jonas realizes he can traverse the timestream in 33 year intervals, and the story going on to span 1953 and 1986 as well. However, while Jonas is the heart of the story, Winden has other key families who fit together like pieces of a puzzle to unravel what's happening with the town and its seedy secrets. With Season 2 looming this Friday, let's look at the background and overall role these families play.
THE KAHNWALD FAMILY
Dark opened up with Jonas' dad, Michael, hanging himself and leaving behind a letter for his son. This family's undoubtedly the most integral part of the show, since this was the catalyst for the Stranger to start leaving Jonas clues after he returned from receiving therapy in Paris. Jonas began to look into the cave, as well as his own background, thanks to these hints, and realized that there's more to his dad's suicide than meets the eye.
Jonas' mother, Hannah, also has a key role, as she was secretly having an affair with Ulrich Neilsen. However, this came to a halt thanks to the series' other flashpoint, when Ulrich's youngest son, Mikkel, getting lost in the cave when Jonas and some of the town's kids went to look for drugs. This despair drove Ulrich to break the affair off, However, in '86 we learned that Hannah had been obsessed with him since they were teens, which shaped her as a woman scorned.
As for Season 1's big twist revealed, Michael is he's actually Mikkel, who went back to '86 through the cave. He was treated at the Winden hospital by Ines Kahnwald, all while the doctors thought the time-displaced boy was mad. She'd eventually broker a deal to adopt him knowing he was from the future, and Mikkel would grow up as Michael in this closed-loop.
Jonas would discover this later on via the Stranger, traveling to '86 himself to see young Hannah and Mikkel meeting, which culminates with the Stranger revealing he's actually Jonas from a dystopian future who needs these paradoxes to occur for some endgame.
THE NIELSEN FAMILY
Ulrich's story goes way back to the '86 where his dad, Tronte, was a reporter who had an affair with the head of the power plant, Claudia, instead of than investigating what eventually became the nuclear disaster that turned the cave into a wormhole. Eventually, Tronte and his wife, Jana, would have Ulrich and a younger son, Mads, only for the latter to disappear in '86 the same way Mikkel did in 2019.
However, Mikkel was actually kidnapped by Noah, a sinister priest, for his own time-travel experiment, with his body then ending up in 2019. This drove Ulrich mad and he set out to find Mikkel in the cave, not knowing what it could do it him. His marriage to Katharina was already on the rocks, and he ended up in '53 as well. He wasn't able to find Mikkel, but he tried to murder a young boy, Helge, who he felt was his son's kidnapper in the future. However, Ulrich would land in jail, left to rot away as a madman over the decades.
Katharina's feud with Hannah turned out to be even more bitter than we thought, as it was revealed that a jealous Hannah lied and said Ulrich tried to assault Katharina in the '80s. Katharina, tried to maintain focus as Ulrich went missing as well, opting to take care of her remaining kids, Magnus and Martha. Their family continued to be tied to the Kahnwalds, however, since Jonas broke off a relationship with Martha. Since she was Mikkel's sister, only Jonas knew that she was really his aunt.
THE TIEDEMANN FAMILY
When Ulrich tried to kill Helge in '86, he was taken prisoner by Egon Tiedemann, who unknowingly hated that era's teenage Ulrich as well. Egon was on his way out the police force at that point, still heartbroken over his wife Doris apparently leaving him years prior. Flashbacks showed that Doris secretly had a lesbian affair in '53 with Agnes (Ulrich's grandmother), who moved to Winden with her son, Tronte, to escape an abusive husband.
Egon's legacy would play a key role, though, since he and Doris' daughter, Claudia would go on to become just as important as the Stranger. She grew to be in charge of the power plant cover-up in '86, and ended up understanding what the cave could do eventually when the future version of herself from 2019 came back and revealed the truth. Future Claudia divulged key information about the Box, the same device the Stranger used in his time-travels.
At this point, middle-aged Claudia finally understood she was destined for something more, especially in the wake of her affair with Tronte. This came full-circle when old Claudia in 2019 inadvertently worked in tandem with the Stranger (aka middle-aged Jonas) to try to seal the wormhole for good.
Claudia's daughter, Regina was seen in 2019 running a failing hotel and suffering from cancer. Her past revealed that her husband Alexander was a runaway bandit Claudia hired to work at the plant. After he cleaned up his act, changed his identity and rose up the ranks. They had a kid, Bartosz, who grew angry about losing Martha to Jonas, and sadly, he'd fall in line as Noah's disciple, although he's yet to really do anything drastic. As for Alexander's future, Hannah found out the truth about his past and the season ended with her in a massage session, blackmailing him to ruin Ulrich's life, with neither realizing he was already marooned in '86 desperately looking for Mikkel.
THE DOPPLER FAMILY
The Dopplers were integral thanks mostly to Helge, a disturbed and traumatized person. His dad, Bernd, was in charge of commissioning the nuclear plant in the '50s. Helge was bullied in school during this time, and became obsessed with killing birds, which is what drove Ulrich to attempted murder when he met the child. Beating him with a stone is why we'd end up seeing Helge's face disfigured in the future.
He'd survive but this experience would ruin the boy's life, which allows '80s Noah to turn Helge into his right-hand man. Helge went on to be the muscle Noah used to kidnap kids like Mads, so the priest could experiment on them with his own time-machine (a torture chamber-esque chair). Old Helge in 2019 would repent, however, and come back to '86 to try to stop his middle-aged self by crashing a car into him. While the older Helge died, middle-aged Helge would be taken to the hospital, barely surviving this assassination attempt.
Helge's son Peter secretly worked with Tronte, at the behest of Claudia, after finding Mads' body in 2019. She also worked with them on the wormhole in Helge and Noah's torture room, waiting for who we thought was young Helge, who was locked in this same room in '53.
With Jonas in this same room in 2019, both made contact with each other when the wormhole opened, young Helge was transported to '86 with teenage Jonas shot to a post-apocalyptic future in 2052. Peter's cop wife, Charlotte, was investigating all this, which led to her discovering her partner, Ulrich, in '86, and helped her finally grasp the closed loop they all lived. Her daughter Franziska was in a relationship with Magnus, and her mute daughter, Elisabeth, lost her friend Yasin to Noah and Helge as well, with the victim's body being teleported to the nuclear site's commissioning in '53.
THE TANNHAUS FAMILY
Finally, H.G. Tannhaus is someone who has a lot to do with the entire temporal vibe of the show courtesy of the Box Jonas and Claudia use to time-travel. In '53, we saw that he was a clockmaker who was interested in physics and engineering time machines. Old Claudia would travel back to this time period and leave the blueprints for the Box, with middle-aged Jonas also having several meetings with Tannhaus to discuss his future work.
This Jonas also brought him the A Journey Through Time book that Tannhaus wrote in the future, as well as radioactive material from the power plant, all so he could turn his Box into a wormhole generator. This book focused on temporal passages and the sun-moon cycle, which would help everyone understand why the wormhole only became active every 33 years due to a cosmic alignment. Ironically, Helge would give this same book to Claudia in '86 as part of an unrequited love.
Apparently, Tannhaus was always destined to make these Boxes for Claudia and Jonas -- it's just that the material he was missing came from decades later. It's worth noting the clockmaker was revealed to be Charlotte's grandfather as well, but that family tree has since been kept obscure.
Interestingly, Ulrich also tied into Tannhaus' life in a major way, since he sought refuge in his workshop in the '50s. He was actually Tannhaus' first experience with a time-traveler, although the scientist didn't believe it at the time.
This changed when Ulrich was arrested by Egon, leaving behind his cell-phone from 2019 in Tannhaus' shop. He'd end up using the electromagnetic wave it emitted as the final piece of the puzzle needed to complete the Box so older Jonas could use it to try to close the wormhole in 2019. This led to young (battered and bruised) Helge's displacement from '53 to '86, and young Jonas being shunted to 2052; carrying on with the Stranger's mysterious long-term plan.
Created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, Dark stars Oliver Masucci, Karoline Eichhorn and Jördis Triebel. Season 2 arrives Friday on Netflix.