The gene pool of Winden, the main setting of the Netflix original series Dark, is a bit of a bog. As it turns out, when you mix time travel and a small community, you get a whole lot of incest and the most convoluted genealogies ever depicted on screen. With all this in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that so many of the fictional German town’s residents are, in a word, messy.
That being said, there are still certain individuals who stand out as far messier than others. Now that Dark has come to a wonderfully satisfying end, we can reflect on the full picture painted by the wonderfully twisted tale. We finally have all the info needed to separate the true trash kings and queens from the merely untidy plebs, and to spotlight those few MVPs who really tried, if not always successfully, to keep their shit together.
In the spirit of ending strong, this ranking starts with the biggest messes first and saves the good eggs for last.
WARNING: Spoilers for all three seasons of Dark ahead.
1. Jonas Kahnwald / “Adam”
Oh Jonas, you human disaster.
Fully cataloging the extent of Jonas’ messiness would be an article by itself, so let’s just hit some of the finer points. There’s him knowingly seducing his own aunt (which even Jon Snow didn’t do). He even uses time travel to ensure he makes his interest known before romantic rival Bartosz does. There’s him masquerading as a cunning time-traveling mastermind for however-old-he-is-by-the-time-he-looks-like-a-golem years without ever stopping to consider that the gigantic knot symbolized by a literal triquetra involves three variables and not two.
And then there’s the fact that every time a mysterious older time-traveler shows up and tells young Jonas to do something, swearing it will make things better, he complies to the letter, is dismayed with the results, and then repeats the process all over again. He only stops this nonsense once he’s lost most of his humanity to his “Adam” persona and becomes the instigator of the mess-making instead of the pawn following instructions, which is just the other, equally bad side of the trash-fire coin.
Perhaps no moment in Dark exemplifies Jonas’ assclownery better than his attempt to prevent his father’s suicide. First, he confronts the man about his suicidal intentions and fails to realize that Michael’s confusion at the accusation is a clear indication he has no such intentions. Then, he goes on to inform the man of the exact nature of his death, handing him the suicide note he had not yet written or even conceived of writing. Why not tie the noose for him while you’re at it, you absolute fool. “I NEVER LEARN” should be tattooed on his forehead as a warning to others.
2. Martha Nielsen / “Eva”
Look, break-ups are often messy, especially when there’s a kid involved. But turning your home town into a genealogical Gordian knot spanning three centuries because you’re in an epic battle with your ex over whether your offspring should be protected at all costs or destroyed at all costs really raises things to a whole new level of flaming disaster.
As Jonas tells Martha, “We’re a perfect match,” and generally speaking it’s true. I challenge you to find a single Dark diehard who did not watch Jonas and Martha materialize in the origin world to save H. G. Tannhaus’s family and immediately think, “Oh no, they’re going to cause the car accident, aren’t they?” That is how messy they are. Still, Jonas edges out Martha for the top spot because there is no seduction of a close biological relative on her part.
3. Ulrich Nielsen
Ulrich accomplishes the rather stunning feat of being the third messiest trash heap in all of Winden while only time-traveling once and doing no dimension-hopping whatsoever. His one trip to the past does make a large mess, but much of the disaster that is Ulrich progresses in a straightforward, linear fashion. First of all, he can’t keep it in his pants. Starting an affair with someone who’s been low-key obsessed with you since adolescence is messy in any context, but hooking up at your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary party really brings it to a whole new level.
While initially involved in investigating the disappearance of son Mikkel in a professional capacity as a police inspector, he gets pulled off the case for being too messy. Of course, Ulrich keeps investigating anyway, focusing his suspicions on Helge Doppler. Following the other man into the Winden caves one night, Ulrich accidentally travels back to 1953 and proceeds to truly outdo himself as far as buggering things up is concerned.
Taking the affirmative “ends justify the means” stance on the “killing Baby Hitler” issue as it applies to future kidnapper and murderer Helge is a controversial approach. The issue, however, is not that Ulrich has a hot take so much as that he does not follow through adequately. If you decide to brain a child with a rock to prevent him from becoming an evil adult, at the very least make sure said child is truly dead before just leaving the body somewhere. Unfortunately, Ulrich’s aversion to commitment extends to all facets of life and not just romantic entanglements.
Beyond not following through, Ulrich doesn’t even try to cover his tracks, unsurprisingly gets caught, locked up, and proceeds to grow old in Winden’s psychiatric ward. He breaks out in 1987 and attempts to kidnap Mikkel to bring him back to the 21st century, but in typical Ulrich fashion, his slap-dash plan lacks any sort of subtlety and they’re caught before making it to the caves. Not only does his plan fail, but it also manages to foil Katharina’s much better-reasoned effort to retrieve Mikkel since adoptive mother Ines takes the boy out of Winden to an undisclosed location, spooked by Ulrich’s kidnapping attempt.
Eva’s world’s Ulrich somehow manages to be even messier, leaving Katharina for Hannah only to strike up an affair with his boss, Charlotte, while Hannah is pregnant with their child. Despite having an even more chaotic romantic life, this Ulrich still manages to find the time to make all the same basic mistakes as his Jonas’ world counterpart. Ulrich is a perfect storm of confidence and not being nearly as clever as he thinks he is.
4. H. G. Tannhaus
Winden’s clockmaker does not just make messes, he makes The Mess. He’s the OG. Really, it’s only the origin-world version of Tannhaus who deserves this ranking. In his grief over the car accident that killed his family, he creates two whole worlds twisted in a tangle so catastrophic they need to be destroyed for the good of all.
Since Jonas and Martha, following Claudia’s instructions, solve the problem by preventing Tannhaus from making the mess in the first place, the inventor doesn’t even have to live with any remorse or guilt over the temporal trainwreck he caused afterward. Talk about making a mess and leaving everyone else to clean it up. The Tannhauses of Adam and Eva’s worlds are still in the middle of everything, but they are more the inheritors of messiness than active agents of disaster, inheriting multiple bootstrap paradoxes in the forms of books they didn’t actually write and machines they didn’t actually build.
5. Hanno Tauber / “Noah”
Where the “Tauber” surname comes is unclear. It’s just one of the many mysteries that makes up the walking headache most frequently called Noah. Raised with sister Agnes by their Sic Mundus member father Bartosz in the early 20th century, Hanno brings messiness to an art form. Between his early indoctrination and innate lack of any chill whatsoever, he never really had a chance of being anything but a natural disaster in a human suit.
The full extent of Hanno’s messiness manifests quite early. He commits patricide at the age of seventeen when Bartosz makes the mistake of openly doubting Adam in front of his son, earning a pick-ax to the back for his troubles. Never let it be said that Hanno doesn’t know how to escalate a situation.
Unsurprisingly, such brutal devotion quickly earns the youngster a place in Adam’s inner circle. Time travel missions lead him to future wife Elisabeth, who quickly latches on to his impassioned speeches about Adam’s promised paradise as a glimmer of light in the grim darkness of the post-2020 apocalyptic wasteland.
Elisabeth and Noah ultimately have a daughter, Charlotte, who is stolen from their cabin as an infant. While Noah does have the common sense to suspect Adam, the other man manages to convince him Claudia was the sole mastermind behind Charlotte’s disappearance. He then gives Noah a notebook he claims will help him discover what truly happened to Charlotte and a henchman, Helge, for assistance.
Noah then proceeds to impersonate a clergyman as a cover for his work building a time machine. He kidnaps boys to use as test subjects, frying several young brains in the process and tossing their corpses across the timeline. You couldn’t make more of a mess of corpse disposal if you actively tried.
Hanno does eventually get a clue, discovering the full extent of Adam’s lies and manipulations from notebook pages he steals from Claudia after murdering her. Enraged, he heads to the Sic Mundus headquarters to kill Adam in retaliation, only for his gun to jam when he pulls the trigger. The same cannot be said for when fellow Sic Mundus follower Agnes takes Noah’s gun and turns it against him. A messy end for a messy guy.
6. Hannah Kahnwald
Hannah. Hannah. Hannah, why?! Ulrich is a snack, it’s true. But think about the cost. Literally no one is worth this much fuss, no matter how pretty his cheekbones are. It’s not just the unrelenting single-mindedness that’s the issue, but her truly unruly approach.
She might be just a kid when she comes up with the brilliant idea to get the man of her dreams to be single again by accusing him of rape, but youthful ignorance really doesn’t go far in trying to explain away the chaotic evil nature of her actions. Particularly the part where she blames Regina Tiedemann for the whole debacle. What did poor Regina ever do to you? What did poor Regina ever do to literally anybody?
It’s unclear if Hannah cooled off on Ulrich as her relationship with Michael developed and then later fell back into old habits as Michael became more reclusive in the months leading up to his death, or if that flame burned brightly all the way through. Either way, Hannah begins an affair with Ulrich at his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and it continues after Michael’s death, only ending when Ulrich calls it off, much to her dismay.
When Ulrich disappears, Hannah manages to track him down in 1954. She gives her name as Katharina to trick Ulrich into agreeing to see her, but ultimately she’s not there to win him over or bring him back. Instead, she’s there to humiliate him to take the golden opportunity to walk away to the sound of him begging her not to leave. Honestly, I can appreciate the ruthlessness, but that doesn’t make her actions any less messy.
Instead of just heading back victorious, Hannah stays in 1954 and has an affair with Egon Tiedemann of all people. Why not pick someone you didn’t know as an over-the-hill excuse of a policeman? I just don’t understand. Anyway, Hannah ends up pregnant, and Egon wants her to get rid of it. But running into young Helene Albers also waiting to get an abortion causes Hannah to change her mind.
She goes to the 1980s to give birth to daughter Silja, whom she raises on her own until she decides to track down Jonas and introduce the half-siblings. Unfortunately for her, when she finds her son in 1911, he’s already gone full Adam. To preserve the timeline of Silja growing up in the post-apocalyptic future raised by Elisabeth, he suffocates Hannah with a pillow and sends his five-year-old sister to the future alone. Why he can’t just steal the kid without killing his mother, Baby Elisabeth style, is very unclear, in typical Adam fashion.
One of the lucky few tangled in the timey-wimey mess of Winden who is not erased from existence by the events of the finale, Hannah gets a happy ending with a new, impressively non-messy guy. Since we only meet origin-world Hannah very briefly, it’s possible that Ulrich’s influence brought out the worst in her and her personal development took very different directions — or that she’s still messy as ever.