1899 is a multi-everything show: Multilingual, multicultural, multigenerational, and with multiple plotlines. Even the most intuitive of viewers are guaranteed to be thrown by one of the plot twists—because spoiler alert, there are multiple!
The eight-episode Netflix series, released on Nov. 17, follows passengers on a cross-Atlantic naval voyage thrown into a series of progressively alarming situations after discovering a thought-to-be-sunken steamship. The mystery-thriller attempts to fill the shoes of Dark (2017)—the previous show written by series creators Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar—packing 1899 with action, mystery, and disorientation. But though 1899 bears many thematic and visual similarities to Dark, it is entirely unique. Though oh-so-slightly predictable at times, 1899 is a delightfully eerie and puzzling series, providing a perfect form of escapism for the upcoming months of dropping temperatures.
A television show is only as great as its actors, and 1899’s cast is stuffed with dystopian television veterans, such as Emily Beecham (Into the Badlands), Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen (The Rain), Miguel Bernardeau (Elite), Mathilde Ollivier (Overlord), and even Andreas Pietschmann, who plays a peripheral protagonist in Dark. With actors that rule this genre, it’s not surprising that the performances are stellar, something best proven through the characters’ abilities to emotionally connect despite the language barriers. 1899 is a multilingual show where each actor speaks their native language. Aside from being historically authentic, this adds to the chaos of the plot as the characters must communicate despite the constant dialectal disconnect. Though there are options for audio dubs, for the most immersive experience, the creators recommend watching the show in the original mix of languages, which includes English, Hindi, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Polish, Danish, and Swedish.
As an avid fan of Dark—and by extension, Friese and bo Odar—I find it difficult to be truly unbiased. 1899 cultivates the ambiance of a hauntingly disjointed steamship: Nothing seems to make sense, nobody understands each other, and everyone has something to hide. This is no doubt a show to watch with all the lights off, perhaps by candlelight if you want to delve into the authentic nineteenth-century experience. The soundtrack seamlessly supplements the show’s preternatural vibe—curated by Ben Frost, it features tracks by Hozier, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, and even Cher. 1899 mesmerizes viewers with its top-notch colour-grading and atmospheric visuals. How can you make a tiny room on a steamship or an imminently aflame house seem appealing? 1899 constructs this appeal, with each and every one of the sets distinct and terrifyingly alluring.
One of the most appealing characteristics of Friese and bo Odar’s works is that there’s no spoon-feeding. The characters do not impart any wisdom or answers but instead are at the mercy of the narrative just as much as the viewers. We are equally shocked at the sudden appearance of a missing steamship, a blue-eyed child, or an anachronistic flashlight (in the nineteenth century?!). Because of this, 1899 is a show meant to be experienced rather than understood. There are so many intersecting storylines, and if 1899 is anything similar to Dark, any loose ends will probably remain unresolved until least expected.
Unfortunately, Netflix has cancelled any future seasons of 1899. With the creators’ renowned knack for intricately planned plotlines and secrets, as well as their consistent reliance on the triquetra (a triangular figure composed of three interlaced arcs) as a defining symbol of the series, viewers will be left with many unanswered questions. Despite the show remaining on the top 10 lists for weeks, Netflix attributed the cancellation to insufficient popularity. So, with the number of laughingly awful series that Netflix is churning out, this cancellation shows the streaming platform is favouring profits over substance. Not the best indication for television in 2023…thanks, Netflix.