[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Dark Season 3. Read at your own risk!]
The only thing Dark fans knew to expect of the third and final season was that it would be complicated, and the Netflix drama did not disappoint. But that's why we're here to untangle the knot and explain that timey-wimey ending.
For the majority of the series, we thought there were only two sides in the war to control time: Adam's (Dietrich Hollinderbäumer) and Claudia's (Lisa Kreuzer). But the Season 3 premiere revealed there's a third led by Eva (Barbara Nüsse), who is the future version of Martha (Lisa Vicari) from the mirror universe. While Adam wants to destroy both worlds, Eva wants to keep the cycle intact, and Claudia just wants to save Regina (Deborah Kaufmann), regardless of what world that's in.
Jonas (Louis Hofmann) meets Eva after the teenage mirror world Martha rescues him from the 2020 apocalypse by bringing him to 2019 in her and Eva's world. The Martha who saved Jonas then leaves him on his own -- there isn't even a mirror world Jonas he can find because in Eva's world Mikkel (Daan Lennard Liebrenz) never travels to the past -- but Jonas finds the past version of mirror world Martha and starts to teach her about time travel under instructions from Eva and the adult version of Martha (Nina Kronjäger). Even though this version of Martha isn't the Martha he first fell in love with in Adam's world, Jonas and Martha still have chemistry and wind up having sex. (And yes, it is still incest even though Jonas doesn't exist in this Martha's world because they still share DNA.)
The pair then set out to stop the apocalypse in Eva's world. It's set to happen on Nov. 7, 2019, because this is the day the adult Aleksander (Peter Benedict), wanting to unburden his conscience, willingly opens the yellow barrels to come clean to the adult Charlotte (Karoline Eichhorn) about covering up the aftermath of the 1986 accident at the plant. But when Jonas and Martha are on their way to stop the barrels from being opened, Jonas realizes this might once again be a trick to cause the apocalypse -- much like how Adam had previously tricked Jonas into convincing Michael/Mikkel to end his life. So Jonas and Martha instead head to Eva's lair, where a future version of teenage Martha from a different reality shows up and kills Jonas while her past self watches in horror. (We'll get to that whole "different reality" stuff soon, bear with us.)
Heartbroken over Jonas' death, the past version of Martha agrees to accompany the adult versions of Magnus (Wolfram Koch) and Franziska (Carina Wiese) from Adam's world when they appear to her with promises of reversing events and saving her loved ones. This is obviously all a load of lies. Adam tricks the past Martha from Eva's world into working for him by promising that he will tell her the origin of the cycle so that she can destroy it in exchange. Thus, we learn it was on Adam's orders that this Martha rescues Jonas from the 2020 apocalypse before dropping him off in 2019 in Eva's world… where he gets murdered by an alt reality version of her future self.
Meanwhile, the future version of the Martha who had already rescued Jonas (but who is not the future Martha who kills him) goes to cash in on her deal with Adam and travels to 2053 in Adam's world, where the leader of Sic Mundus has his new home base set up. To his credit, Adam does tell Martha what the knot connecting the two worlds is, but she was not prepared for this truth: it's her unborn son with Jonas. And of course, she never would have gotten pregnant with Jonas' child if Adam hadn't instructed her to rescue him, making this betrayal even more convoluted.
We learn that Martha and Jonas' son, who remains nameless, grows up to become the time-traveling assassin team that works for Eva to help maintain the knot that keeps the cycle intact. (He is also who wrote the Triquetra notebook that has played such a key role throughout the series.) It's because of him that Eva is so dedicated to stopping Adam and maintaining the knot, because to break the cycle would be to erase her son from existence since he's born of both worlds. This is also why the alt reality teenage Martha decides to kill Jonas -- to save her son's life.
The fourth episode of Season 3 heavily implies that Martha and Jonas' son is also Tronte Nielsen's (Joshio Marlon) father, with the adult version of the son (Jakob Diehl) telling Tronte he was the one who named him and later referencing having previously worked for the church, something Agnes (Antje Traue) said her husband had done. So if you're keeping track of the show's complicated family trees, if Martha and Jonas' son is Tronte's father, that means Martha is her own son's great-granddaughter and Jonas is his son's great-great-grandson -- as if Martha and Jonas being aunt and nephew wasn't bad enough.
Because Adam doesn't actually believe in paradise and just wants total annihilation of both worlds, after revealing the truth to the Martha who rescued Jonas he moves forward with his plan to destroy the origin -- Martha's unborn son. This is only possible by using energy from the apocalypses in both worlds and by killing Martha (again). Adam straps Martha into a chair situated under the God Particle and says that, despite having told her they were perfect for each other several times in the past, he and Martha are wrong in all worlds. Then he kills her and their son in what looks to be very painful fashion.
Meanwhile, Eva hatches her own plot to stop Adam by splitting reality through a loophole that's created when time stands still during the apocalypse for a fraction of a second. That teensy nanosecond when time stands still is the only moment when people have the ability to deviate from the predetermined cycle. Eva uses this loophole to send the adult version of mirror world Bartosz (Roman Knižka) to rescue his younger self so that this Bartosz (Paul Lux) can stop mirror world Martha from rescuing Jonas from the apocalypse and bringing him to Eva's world. However, this split reality is also what allows Jonas to grow up to become Adam since the Jonas who survives the apocalypse hiding in the basement exists in a different reality than the Jonas Martha rescues and who is killed by alt reality Martha in Eva's world. Not to mention, the alt reality Martha also wouldn't exist if it weren't for the split reality, since Adam kills the Martha who rescued Jonas. (This show!!!)
While Adam and Eva both do everything they can to achieve their opposing goals, they remain the two people responsible for the cycle continuing as is, and in this cycle both Reginas die (the one in Eva's world dies from cancer, the one in Adam's world is killed by the elder Tronte [Walter Kreye] on adult Claudia's [Gwendolyn Göbel] orders). Although the adult Claudia from Adam's world gets recruited by her mirror world self to work for Eva, after remembering the promise from her older self that Regina will live if everything goes right, Claudia realizes there must be a third option besides following Adam or Eva. Trusting in her older self, the Claudia from Adam's world kills her mirror self and then sets out to find the true way to break the cycle, since both Adam and Eva are wrong about what the origin really is.
As Claudia discovers, there's an entire third world -- the origin world -- and it was in that world that H.G. Tannhaus' (Arnd Klawitter) son Marek (Merlin Rose), daughter-in-law Sonja (Svenja Jung), and granddaughter Charlotte are first killed after their car is run off the bridge in 1971. A grieving Tannhaus then dedicates himself to finding a way to go back in time to save their lives and starts building a time machine to do so. (See: Charlotte was right when she said she was at the center of all this, and she isn't just an egomaniac.) However, when Tannhaus first tries to use the time machine on June 21, 1986, it doesn't work as intended and causes the origin world to be split in two, creating Adam and Eva's mirror worlds where everyone is doomed to suffer on an infinite loop.
After Adam kills Martha, the old version of Claudia shows up to explain the true origin of the knot to Adam, sharing that he and Eva are the glitch in the matrix, not their son. As she reveals, the only way to untie the knot is for the teenage Jonas from the reality where he wasn't rescued and the teenage Martha from Eva's world to travel to the origin world and stop Tannhaus' family from dying in the first place.
Using the apocalypse loophole in both worlds, Adam rescues the Jonas who wasn't saved by Martha in the split reality Eva created. He then sends this Jonas to the mirror world to grab Martha before she can go with the older versions of Magnus and Franziska to work for Adam.
Martha and Jonas travel to June 21, 1986, in Adam's world, when the passage was first created, so that they can slip into the origin world through a bridge that momentarily connects all three universes. The pair arrive in 1971, shortly after Marek, Sonja, and their infant daughter Charlotte leave H.G. Tannhaus' house following a fight in which Marek accuses Tannhaus of caring more about wormholes and existential questions than being a good father.
Just before Marek, Sonja, and Charlotte's car arrives at the bridge where the fatal accident occurs in the original reality, Jonas and Martha appear in the road in front of the vehicle, causing them to pull over. After Jonas and Martha tell Marek the bridge is closed and cryptically share just how much his father loves him, Marek is convinced he's seen angels and returns to Tannhaus' to reconcile. Because of this, Martha and Jonas succeed in destroying the origin and both Adam and Eva's worlds are wiped from existence. But before they disappear into nothingness, Jonas and Martha reaffirm that they are perfect for each other and end their existences holding hands.
As a result of Martha and Jonas' actions, a lot of characters no longer exist, since they were part of the knot. This includes: Jonas, Martha, Magnus, Mikkel, Ulrich, Mads, Tronte, Agnes, Noah, Charlotte, Elisabeth, Franziska, Bartosz, and Silja. But other characters who had died in Adam or Eva's worlds -- such as Regina, Peter, Katharina, and Hannah -- are alive in the origin world, and Egon didn't die in 1987 while Claudia looked on.
The series ends with a scene set in present day Winden in the origin world where Regina is hosting a dinner party for her friends: Katharina (Jördis Triebel), Peter (Stephan Kampwirth) and Benni (Anton Rubtsov), who are together, and Hannah (Maja Schöne) and Wöller (Leopold Hornung), who are also together and expecting their first child. During the dinner, the electricity goes out and Hannah has a moment of déjà vu while looking at a yellow raincoat. This prompts Hannah to share her very Adam-like dream about wanting the world to end and be replaced by unending darkness. As if that wasn't ominous enough, we then learn that Hannah is thinking about naming their son Jonas.
Whether this is hinting at the beginning of a new cycle with an Adam 2.0 or is just hinting that some version of Jonas will exist in this world -- and hey, maybe even be happy -- we have no idea. It's possible that the way you interpret the ending is a litmus test for your outlook on life. If you're a nihilist, you may now be concerned that the dinner party's wish for a world without Winden may still prove true, despite everything that Jonas and Martha sacrificed. If you're an optimist, maybe you see this as a happy ending and assume Hannah was just being a downer because her M.O. has always been to ruin everything.
Much like the mystery surrounding how Wöller injured his eye, it's likely that this is a question we will never get a concrete answer to.
Dark is available to stream on Netflix.