Dark season 1-2 recap: what happened in the first two seasons of the Netflix sci-fi series?
Everything you need to know ahead of the third season of the mind-bending sci-fi show **CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR DARK SEASON 1 AND 2**
When tuning in to a new series of a favourite show that's been off air for a while, it's always important to refresh your memory regarding the events of previous seasons - and never has that been more true than for Dark, the exceptional German sci-fi series - which returns for a third and final run on Saturday 27th June.
The series has a famously confusing plot and knotty mythology - with seemingly hundreds on interconnected plot threads, characters and timelines, and the second run ended on a pretty major cliffhanger, so it's especially important to get up to speed in time for the final batch of episodes.
With that in mind we've provided a quick recap of the major events of the previous 2 seasons - which we've tried to keep as simple and easy to follow as possible.
And you might also benefit from checking out our Dark family tree, which explains all the complex connections between the different characters...
What happened in Dark season 1?
Let's go back to the very beginning - simpler times before the establishment of multiple timelines. We start the series in 2019 in the town of Winden, with the tragic death by suicide of Michael Kahnwald - Jonas's father. Michael has left a suicide note, but it is removed by his mother, Ines, before anyone is able to read it - instantly providing a sense of intrigue.
Two months later, Jonas has returned to school after treatment at a psychiatric facility, and finds that his best friend Bartosz and his former love interest Martha are now dating. Meanwhile another pupil at the school, Erik Obendorf, has gone missing - while Ulrich Nielsen, who is the father of Martha, Mikkel and Magnus, and is cheating on his wife Katharina with Jonas' mother Hannah, is assigned to the case.
One night Jonas, Bartosz, the three Nielsen children, and Franziska Doppler - Magnus' love interest - attempt to find a stash of drugs that belonged to the missing Erik, but while doing so Mikkel goes missing in a cave near the Winden nuclear power plant. The next day, a body is discovered of a boy a similar age to Mikkel.
Meanwhile, Ulrich continues his investigation, now believing that the disappearances of Erik and Mikkel are linked, and further that there is some connection to his own brother Mads, who went missing while he was a teenager back in 1986. His investigation leads him to a locked door into the nuclear power plant - but he is denied access by Aleksander Tiedemann, who is the director of the plant and the father of Bartosz. Ulrich's police partner Charlotte Doppler discovers that the newly found body was dressed in clothes dating back to the '80s, while numerous strange things begin to happen about town and a mysterious stranger arrives at the hotel owned by Bartosz's mother Regina.
Now this is where things begin to get really weird: Mikkel wakes up and heads home, but something is not right - he somehow seems to have travelled back in time to 1986, exactly four weeks after Mads Nielsen's disappearance. He is taken in by Egon Tiedemann - Regina's grandfather and a Winden police officer - and eventually taken to hospital by Ines Kahnwald, a nurse who is crucially the mother of Michael Kahnwald - do you see where this is going yet?
Anyway, also in 1986 we meet Claudia Tiedemann, who is Egon's son and Regina's mother, and has taken over at the power plant. She is at odds with the former director Bernd Doppler, whose son, Helge, gifts her a book titled Eine Reise durch die Zeit (A Journey Through Time) by H. G. Tannhaus - which will take on a key significance later. We also see teenaged versions of Ulrich and Katharina - who are a power couple at the high school and both bullies, Charlotte who is shocked by the deaths of multiple birds (a phenomenon which has been repeating in 2019), Hannah who harbours a secret, unrequited crush on Ulrich, and Regina, who is a victim of bullying.
Meanwhile, back in 2019 Ulrich is exploring the caves again when he hears Mikkel, who is still stuck in 1986, calling for help - he grows increasingly perplexed. Also in 2019, Charlotte's investigation leads her to believe that the strange happenings in the town are connected to the nuclear power plant, while we discover her marriage to Peter Doppler is ailing - he is having an affair with a transgender woman and is found to have been lying about his whereabouts on the night of Mikkel's disappearance. Franciszka and Magnus grow closer and have sex - while Charlotte's younger daughter Elisabeth, who is deaf, briefly goes missing, only to reappear with a watch that she claims once belonged to her mother and was given to her by a man named Noah. Noah seems to be significant - Helge Doppler, Peter's dementia-stricken father, is soon found roaming the forest shouting that he"must stop Noah" and a friend of Elisabeth, Yasin, is approached by a hooded figure who claims to have been sent by Noah.
Still with us? Good, because Noah now appears in 1986 - as a priest visiting Mikkel, who is now hospitalised due to breaking his leg while trying to head home through the caves. We then go back to 2019 where we discover that another child is now missing - the friend of Elisabeth's who had been approached by the hooded figure. A series of significant events now happen in 2019: Ulrich reacts angrily when Hannah attempts to rekindle their affair, the mysterious man who had checked into Regina's hotel (remember him?) arranges for a parcel to be delivered to Jonas, and, bizarrely Bartosz meets Erik's drug supplier - who, it turns out, is the very same priest, Noah, who we have just seen visiting Mikkel in 1986, but who hasn't aged a day. Curiouser and curiouser...
Things really get interesting when Jonas receives the package from the stranger and finds a strange assortment of items: a light, a Geiger counter, and his father's suicide letter. Jonas reads the letter and at this point one of the key revelations is made - Michael Kahnwald, his father, is the same person as Mikkel Nielsen. Yes, that's right - in 1986 Mikkel is adopted by Ines, changes his name to Michael Kahnwald and goes on to marry Hannah and father Jonas. Armed with the new information, Jonas heads to the caves and sound finds his own way to 1986, after scrambling through a door marked Sic mundus creatus est ("Thus the world was created").
In the meantime, it has become clear that the body that was found just after Mikkel's disappearance is actually the body of Mads - his body still somehow preserved. The investigation continues and the police are finally granted access to the power plant, while Helge Doppler emerges as a key suspect. One night, Ulrich, who has now been suspended from his work, follows Helge and finds a book in his room - none other than Eine Reise durch die Zeit by HG Tannhaus. We then discover that Helge was also a suspect in 1986 - and was questioned by Egon, and that he has been working with Noah - and was behind the disappearances of Erik and Yasin.
Now, as if two timelines weren't enough - it's time to introduce a third! In 1953, the bodies of Yasin and Erik are found by two police officers - a younger Egon Tiedeman and Daniel Kahnwald, the police chief. Then Ulrich - who was trying to get to 1986 but has overshot - arrives and meets some locals and takes the book to it's author H.G Tannhaus, though he is not aware of the book, since it has not yet been written...
Now Ulrich soon comes across the 9-year-old Helge, and realises that if he can kill him now, the tragic events of years later will never occur - so he smashes his head in with a stone and leaves him to die, although he actually ends up regaining consciousness. Of course, attempting to murder a 9 year old child is not really considered an acceptable thing to do, and claiming that he was doing so to prevent future tragedy is not really considered a viable defence, so Ulrich ends up jailed.
Right, now let's head back to 1986, where Ulrich has also been arrested - though he is soon freed, after it turns out he has been falsely accused of rape by the jealous Hannah. Meanwhile, Claudia finds that her dog from 1953 had suddenly appeared and begins to look into that significant book that was gifted to her by Helge. She is also still suffering trouble at the power plant, with Bernd having confirmed that some hidden barrels contain byproducts of a small meltdown, and so she hires a man named Aleksander Köhler, who has recently arrived in town and it transpires is using a false identity, to cover it up. That same Aleksander Köhler is, of course, who we know of as Aleksander Tiedemann in 2019. Also in 1986, we see an argument between Helge and Noah, and it becomes clear the reasons for Noah's abduction of the boys: he was trying to create a time machine, but it failed and they died.
Back in 2019, Regina discovers the research that has been carried out by the Stranger, and Bartosz, after being approached by his supposedly dead grandmother Claudia, ends up joining forces with Noah. Speaking of Noah, he's a busy man - we now see him in 1953, identical to the version of him we've seen in both 1986 and 2019, offering support to Helge's mother - given that her son is still missing.
Now, a word on HG Tannhaus, the clockmaker and author responsible for this seemingly important book. In 1953, he finds and is fascinated by Ulrich's smartphone. Then, in 1986 - now an old man - he is visited by The Stranger, and the pair discuss the theory of time travel through wormholes. The Stranger now confirms what has been apparent for a while - Winden is home to one such wormhole, which allows people to travel 33 years into the past or future. He then brings out a device which he claims is capable of destroying the wormhole, and asks Tannhaus to fix it. When The Stranger leaves Tannhaus compares the device with another version of it, the blueprints of which, we soon find, were given to him by the 2019 version of Claudia (the version who had appeared to Bartosz) back in 1953.
The season one finale, is, as is to be expected, action packed. We find that it was Peter Doppler who had first found Mads' body in 2019 - but he was told to move it by Claudia. We then go to 1986, where Jonas is kidnapped by Noah and Helge, as he is attempting to bring Mikkel back to 2019. Helge's 2019 self has also travelled back to 1986 to try and kill the younger version of himself, but ends up accidentally killing his older version instead. Meanwhile, in 2019 Charlotte is looking into the attack on Helge in 1953 and comes across Ulrich's mugshot.
Jonas soon wakes to find himself in Noah's bunker, where he is joined by The Stranger, who - wait for it - it turns out is an older version of Jonas himself. Older Jonas now attempts to destroy the wormhole using his now fixed device, but it turns out that in attempting to destroy it he is actually creating the wormhole in the first place. As the wormhole is created, 9 year-old Helge regains consciousness and becomes connected to Jonas in the bunker in 1986 - which results in them both jumping forward in time - Helge to 1986 and Jonas to yet another new timeline - 2052, where Winden has become a desolate wasteland. And breathe...
What happened in Dark season 2?
You might think that the second season would start in a timeline that has already been established - buy you would be wrong. Instead, the season two opener finds us in 1921, where we find two men - including a young Noah - attempting to building a passage into the cave that would later be used as the portal. Noah soon kills the other man, and it becomes clear that he is working under the instructions of his older self and a new character called Adam, a facially disfigured man who is the head of an organisation known as Sic Mundus. Adam instructs the older Noah to fetch the missing pages of Claudia's diary - that will apparently be necessary to prepare for the apocalypse, which is set to occur on June 27th 2020.
This takes us back to the original timeline, where it is now 21st June 2020, in other words, six days before the supposed apocalypse. Given that Helge, Jonas and Ulrich have now all been added to the missing persons list, Winden has brought in a new investigator, Clausen, to help Charlotte piece it all together. Meanwhile Bartosz and Martha break up, Katharina desperately searches the caves, adult Jonas shows up again and reveals his true identity to his mother, Hannah and Aleksander arranges for a truck of radioactive waste to be driven into the power plant.
Now, in 2053, in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, we are reunited with the original Jonas - who plans to go back in time and stop the apocalypse but is prevented from doing so by one of the few survivors, an adult version of Elisabeth Doppler, who is now leading the group. Ignoring her instructions not to enter the power plant, Jonas discovers a mysterious large floating sphere inside the particle reactor. He later learns, with the help of recordings made by Claudia, that this is the God Particle - which allows for time travel. But given that he has broken Elisabeth's cardinal rule, Jonas is sentenced, first to death by hanging before she decided to just jail him instead. He's then freed by Silja, Elisabeth's interpreter, and the pair head to the God particle, with Jonas heading inside. Later Silja is confronted by the adult Elisabeth at gunpoint, though Elisabeth admits that she is aware of the existence of the God Particle.
Now, back to the '80s timeline, where we are now in 1987. We are reacquainted with Mikkel (who is now Michael and is struggling to adapt to his new life), Egon (who has retired, is suffering with cancer, and is beginning to wonder about the cases in 1953) and Claudia (who is visited by her older self and given details about time travel). Egon visits Ulrich in the psychiatric facility, where he has been held ever since the events of 1953, and now looks old and haggard, and the pair discuss the case - with Ulrich reprimanding Egon. In a later meeting between the pair, Egon shows Ulrich a photo of Mikkel - which leads to Ulrich attacking him, having to be restrained.
Back in 2020, it is now five days until the apocalypse, and Regina - who is suffering from breast cancer - informs Charlotte and Clausen about adult Jonas' research which she had discovered in season 1. Charlotte is shocked by the evidence - especially the page of Tannhaus' book, given that she, it turns out, was raised by Tannhaus. Meanwhile adult Jonas and Hannah travel back to 1987 and track down Ines and Mikkel, before later returning to 2020 and meeting Peter and Charlotte in the bunker and explaining the time travel theory to a sceptical Katharina.
Meanwhile in 1954, Helge finally returns after having been missing for seven months - now looking disfigured and speaking only to Noah, with whom he has spent the intervening time in 1987, where the pair have been building a time machine. We meet Agnes, a former member of Sic Mundus and Noah's sister, who talks with the elderly version of Claudia and then meets her brother providing him with the location of those all important missing pages. Noah then kills Claudia and retrieves the pages - but appears to be unhappy with what he has found.
Jonas, having travelled using the God Particle, now finds himself in 1921, where he briefly meets younger Noah and Agnes before trying to get back to 2020 through the portal, which is impossible since, of course, it has not yet been built. Soon Jonas is taken to meet Adam, who in another twist, turns out to be yet another older version of Jonas. Jonas refuses to believe that he could become Adam, who clearly has very different attitudes to him, while Adam informs Jonas about a "loophole" that will let him travel anywhere and change the past. Unsurprisingly, Jonas decided to go back to 2019, where he plans to stop his father from killing himself - something he reckons will prevent all of this from happening in the first place.
Back in 2020, the 1987 version of Claudia arrives does some research at the library where she discovers her father's death, which occurs in 1987. Sh then returns back to the '80s timeline - where she convinces Egon to move in with her in an attempt to stop his death. Meanwhile, Aleksander - whose original surname Köhler has now been revealed to Clausen, is under intense scrutiny, and Martha, Magnus, Franziska and Elisabeth find Bartosz carrying the time machine in the caves, taking it off him and abandoning him. Katharina then talks about the time travel revelations with her children, before approaching Hannah for further help. Meanwhile Magnus, Martha, Franziska and Elisabeth return to the caves, and Bartosz explains the time machine, before taking them to 1987. In 1987, Ulrich escapes the ward and retrieves Mikkel - but before the pair can run off together Ulrich is caught by the police and the case is treated as a kidnapping.
Jonas arrives back in 2019 as planned, witnesses his 2019 self leaving the lake, and then shares an intimate moment with Martha. That night 2019 Jonas has sex with Martha at a celebration of Ulrich and Katharina's anniversary - the same night Ulrich's affair with Hannah begins. Meanwhile, 2020 Jonas goes ahead with his plan and tries to talk his father out of suicide - at which point we discover another twist. It turns out Michael hadn't been considering suicide. Soon after, elderly Claudia arrives and explains that Michael must die in 2019 as an adult and Mikkel must travel to the past as a child so that Jonas can be conceived, as his role in the cycle is hugely significant.
The penultimate episode of season two saw three different storylines play out, one in the 1950s timeline, one in the 1980s timeline and one in the 202os timeline. In 1954, Hannah arrives on the scene, identifying herself as Katharina Nielsen and planning to visit Ulrich - seemingly to free him. But in one of the coldest moves ever, she ends up leaving him there instead- claiming that she doesn't that he would leave Katherina for her. In 1987, in trying to prevent her father's death Claudia accidentally kills him, before she is visited by 2020 Jonas who claims that a change to the timeline is still possible. And in 2020, Martha meets adult Jonas and discovers to her shock that he is technically her nephew, while Clausen further questions Aleksander.
In the season finale we find young Jonas and 1987 Claudia wandering through the caves with the machine, with Jonas explaining that her older version had taught him how to save the world, and that Adam wants to destroy it. Meanwhile in 2020 Charlotte discovers that Aleksander buried the radioactive waste in the power plant - adding that she believes Clausen entering the area during the investigation will cause the apocalypse.
In 1921 Noah, having told Adam about the discovered lost pages, tries to kill him - but stops when Adam shows a picture of Elisabeth, who it turns out will become Noah's wife and therefore Charlotte's mother.(which means, of course, that Elisabeth is at once Charlotte's mother and her daughter...) Meanwhile, older versions of Magnus and Franziska, have also turned up in 1921, and along with Agnes shoot Noah.
We then head back to young Jonas and 1987 Claudia who turn on the time machine in the caves in an attempt to connect the past and future, before we see young Noah visit adult Jonas in his 2020 house - giving him a letter from Martha. Young Jonas and Martha then reunite, but it is a short lived meeting - with Adam soon arriving, shooting and killing Martha. At the same time, in the power plant, Clausen opens the radioactive waste drums - which contains dark matter.
In 2053, Elisabeth turns on the machine, while adult Magnus and Franziska do the same in 1921, in doing so activating the dark matter in 2020. As Katharina enters the cave and opens the Sic Mundus gate, the dark matter creates a portal connecting 2053 Elisabeth with 2020 Charlotte and the apocalypse ensues.
And then the big cliffhanger: with Jonas looking over Martha's dead body, someone appears at the door and it is... another version of Martha. Jonas looks, as you would do, extremely puzzled - before the new Martha informs him that she is not from another time, but another world. And with that, the credits roll...
Dark seasons 1-2 are streaming now on Netflix, with season 3 arriving on Saturday, 27th June – check out our lists of the best TV shows on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix, or see what else is on with our TV Guide