1899 is another mind-bending show from the creators of Dark. A ship comes across another vessel that was missing for 4 months on their voyage to New York. It is a deep dive into every character and how they shape the reality around them through their actions.
Creators: Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese
Production: Dark Ways
Cast: Emily Beecham, Aneurin Barnard, Andreas Pietschmann, Miguel Bernardeau, José Pimentão, Isabella Wei, Gabby Wong, Yann Gael, Mathilde Ollivier, Jonas Bloquet, Rosalie Craig, Maciej Musial, Clara Rosager, Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Other works from the Creators: Dark
Runtime: Eight Episodes with 60 mins average runtime
IMDB Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 79%
My Rating: 3/5
1899 follows the passengers of a Ship called "The Kerberos" on its voyage to New York. Every passenger on the ship is running away from something dark in their past life and starting a new life in America. The passengers face a dark reality when the vessel called "The Prometheus" which was lost at sea four months ago suddenly starts sending signals to "The Kerberos".
The captain of "The Kerberos" decides to help "The Prometheus" and change the ship's course. The passengers are dead against this decision. The atmosphere on board the vessel turns into more chaos when they find a boy on "The Prometheus" who miraculously survived on the ship for four months without resources. The passengers start to turn against the captain and a psychologist who is protecting the boy.
The plot is confusing and there are subtle hints of the twist at the end through the show's runtime. There is a lot of symbolism relating to the nature of reality and time in 1899. A black pyramid keeps appearing in every episode and there is someone telling the main character of the episode to "Wake Up" at the start of every episode. This alludes to the twist at the end that this is not the reality. It is actually a simulation that keeps running in loops. The similarities between "The Kerberos" and "The Prometheus" were subtle but careful viewers will pick them up on the first watch.
1899 is not as mind-bending as Dark. You will definitely not need to take notes on every scene yet. But maybe in the second season, things will become more meaningful and connect more deeply. You might regret not taking notes on the first season, who knows? The first season of Dark also started on a rather "simple" note.
The final episode of 1899 gives answers to some questions. But it raises more questions, perfectly living up to the reputation established by Dark. Maura wakes up from her hypersleep on a spaceship called "The Prometheus" in search of a habitable planet and the complete show was inside a simulation. This plot twist did not really impress me. I kind of guessed that It was a simulation from the start. The only thing that surprised me is that they were in a hyper-sleep not in 1899 but in 2099. I will certainly watch the next season although that is not confirmed yet. I am actually excited to see where the makers take 1899 next season.
Maura being the creator of the simulation situation is quite shaky at the moment. We know she created it because other people told her. She doesn't have any memory of it. So, I am not completely on board with it. But let's see what the next season brings.
Maura is a headstrong character that always takes charge whenever it is necessary. She is conflicted because her reason for being on the ship is not clear. She doesn't have any memory from before boarding the ship. The only dream or flashback she gets is being injected with some serum in a psychiatric hospital room. The mystery of her being there is the central plot of 1899.
I loved her character throughout the show. But her plot twist impacted my preference. Her being the creator doesn't make sense to me. I understand she did it to keep her son aka the found boy alive in a simulation. But her first interaction with her son was her teaching him to let go when the time is right, to not hold people back when there is nothing you can do to stop them from going. This sounds like her finally letting go of her son, not trapping him in a simulation.
She is an unreliable narrator because of her missing memories. Her husband Daniel is someone whom we know nothing about. I just can't trust him when he says "Maura is the creator of the simulation". There is some deeper mystery.
Eyke is an average character for me. His backstory doesn't really interest me much. His interaction with Maura is not my favourite. He is the most recognizable face in 1899 as the actor played "The Stranger" in Dark. The thing I liked most about his character is he will go against everyone to do what is right. He proceeds to help "The Prometheus" even though all the passengers were against it. But mostly he only reacts to things Maura does. That makes him a boring character to me.
Characters Worth Mentioning
The cast of 1899 is diverse. The characters are from different countries and most of the time speak in their native language. This is truly commendable. Sometimes you will forget that this is a German show. I loved the character of Tove and Ling Yi. The show gives them their backstories and the episodes serve as an introduction to each character. 1899 truly captures the diversity of the cast and gives enough emotional depth to each and every character.
I personally did not like the character of Krester & Daniel. These characters are not significant yet to the plot this season. But I am sure everybody will come into play in later seasons. I am excited to see which character I end up liking the most.
The world-building is in its infancy this season in 1899. We get a good grasp of who is who and what motivates them. Although everything about the world is not super clear, there are hints through out the show that something bigger is at play behind the scenes than what we are seeing. I have my faith in the creators as they proved to be excellent in this department in Dark. Every minute detail can come into play in future seasons and I can't wait to decipher them.
The pyramid or triangle imagery is ever present throughout the show. The shape is often used in symbolizing the nature of reality throughout pop culture and history. The Brazillian author Mary Cagnin claimed on Twitter that the plot of 1899 is plagiarised from her work Black Silence and there are many similarities between 1899 and the comic. The fans later tweeted comic book panels that match the show's aesthetics. The multi-national cast is also present in both.
However, the similarities end there. The plot is quite different. Where both are about simulation, things play out very differently. The pyramid imagery is quite commonly used to add mystery and symbolize loops. So it can't be said that it is directly taken from the comic. Daniel Greene explains the difference between the two quite masterfully in his video.
The show is unique on its own and creates a slow-burn mystery that grips you instantly. I am impressed with the worldbuilding in 1899.
The storytelling is quite good in this one. The use of colour in each frame is perfect. The dark tones add mystery to each scene and cooler tones convey the depressing nature of the world, not much different from Dark. The use of rock music at the end of the episode is jarring sometimes and is in complete contrast to its dark industrial mood.
Also, people tend to monologue in their native language in front of other people who don't understand a single word they are saying. This was quite silly to me. I don't understand how Ling Yi fell in love with Olek without understanding anything they are saying to each other.
The pacing is excruciatingly slow in 1899. This is one thing the show suffers from. People speaking different languages sometimes add to this. It's hard getting into the story. I felt the need to stop watching some episodes or fast-forward it a bit many times. I hope the creators work on the pacing in future seasons. One full episode could be cut if the slow camera panning on the close-up of each character is reduced.
Apart from the pacing, 1899 excels at worldbuilding which made me curious about how it ends. I enjoyed it for the most part except for the pacing problem. This could have been improved. The character work was amazing and I loved spending time and getting to know each character. But it doesn't live up to the standards set by Dark although comparing both would be a bit unfair as I binge-watched all the seasons back to back. Here I would have to wait for the next season which will explain things a bit more.
But if I compare it with only the first season of Dark, 1899 is quite good at what's it doing. It is even better at some things than Dark. Such as building Maura as the central protagonist and someone we should care about.
1899 gives an excellent mystery and complex characters who for some reason bigger than they realize and end up on a voyage to New York on "The Kerberos". The series was a great addition to the sci-fi genre and elevates it. I enjoyed the subtle hints and symbolism that plays out in 1899 to reach the end more than the end reveals itself. I could guess most of the plot twist in episode 4 itself so my mind was not blown away by the reveal.
But I loved the cliffhanger. It makes me excited for the next season and gets my notebooks ready to go in full theorist mode. Unfortunately, that didn't happen this season yet. The symbolism and storyline were pretty obvious, at least based on my belief. The creators could have the last laugh and completely blow me away for underestimating the first season.
The Letter that is not significant after all?
The letter Maura revived from her brother is not explained. It felt significant to the plot but was left unanswered. Why would Ciaran send a letter to Maura telling her to find him if he is controlling the whole simulation?
Who is the Creator?
Henry, Maura's father tells Maura that she is the creator of the simulation. Maura thinks it's her father. Ciaran greets Maura normally when she wakes up. For some reason, I believe Maura is not the creator of the simulation. It's someone who is completely disconnected from the main plot. Or I just don't want Maura to be the creator and am applying the Dark theory here. Who knows?
Of all the years in human history, the simulators chose 1899 as their setting. The creators said it was because the year symbolizes the leap into a new century and change. But what is the in-universe explanation for choosing this year?
Is Elliot alive?
We know that Maura created the simulation to keep her son alive in it. She doesn't want to let go of her. But why was he dying in the first place? His disease is not explained. if he is suffering from disease how can she keep him alive in a simulation?
Did Maura escape the Simulation at the end?
The last scene of 1899 is Maura waking up in a spaceship on course to a new planet in 2099. it is implied that she is now in the real world but I think not. I think she is still in a simulation that has restarted after the last one. After all, nobody said that every simulation will be in 1899 and on a ship, right?
Multinational immigrants travelling from the old continent to the new encounter a nightmarish riddle aboard a second ship adrift on the open sea.