1899 deserved one review per episode, not because it’s the perfect series, but because it’s undeniably fascinating
The truth is that this review should have come out a long time ago, on the occasion of the release of 1899. Equally true is that, if it had been a weekly series, we probably would have commented and over-commented it episode by episode. It didn’t go like this and we get to talking about it very late. And it is no coincidence, because if it had been madly in love, we would have talked about it a lot. At the same time, 1899 it is anything but a skippable or prescindable series. Not perfect at all, but extremely fascinating.
Finished watching 1899Looking back on the six episodes, some very clear points come to mind. The fascinating construction of the first episode, with the microcosm of the Kerberos transatlantic that is introduced, told and explored. The various characters, the symptomatic mystery of some, even the dislike of others. The next point is the finding of the Prometheus, the sister ship completely deserted, except for a child. We continue: the discovery of the internal passages to the cabins and the appearance of controllers with a steampunk aesthetic that handle a couple of characters.
Moments that lead to a stratification of knowledge of what we are looking at. If we were to imagine it graphically, it would be a straight line going up. At a certain point, however, that ascent ends, a point is reached from which a descent towards unveiling, towards explanation begins: that moment arrives at the beginning of the fourth episode, when the ship begins to show itself as a sort of being living, with black bumps protruding from walls and ceilings.
From there and throughout the last three episodes, the writing of 1899 it no longer works for the accumulation of suggestions, but for clarifying elements, which can be summarized in the figures of the father and of what it turns out to be Maura’s husband, who has been on the ship since the first episodes. They are the only ones to give answers (respectively) to the spectators and to the characters, both with more or less in-depth but explicit explanations, blowing up the very mysterious mystery mechanism kept up to there.
And here comes the underlying problem of 1899: if the construction phase (the straight line that goes up) is well thought out and – net of a slowness that you may not like – is characterized by many moments of interest, the unveiling phase pays the price for a solution that is already too much felt . The characters live inside a simulation, which is always a fascinating and extra-interesting theme, but one that has been deeply codified in our imagination since the days of matrix. They deal with a theme in a straight, flat way, without – let’s say – the intellectual sophistication of one DEVSwhich ended up reasoning on the same elements in a much more theoretical and original way.
A bit like for dark, the feeling is that the authors are very skilled in creating an extremely fascinating and rich reference world, because it was wonderful to get lost in the corridors of Kerberos and discover the various characters in their linguistic variety. But in the showdown something is missing: as well as the third season of dark was a long way from the levels of the first, in the same way the ending of 1899 is far from the starting point. And this despite the fact that the final scene is instead an interesting relaunch towards a second season which appears mandatory (Netflix data permitting) and which in a certain sense reconnects the discourse with the temporal dimension of the same dark.
To continue with the parallel, Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese jumped in: dark it was the series that was born in Germany and became (literally) universal, perhaps also due to the success achieved in the race. 1899 instead it is universal by birth, with its ability to place a line-up of characters of all ethnicities and origins, initially justifying it with the American dream to be reached across the Atlantic and justifying it in the end as members of an intergalactic mission. Provided that it is not a further simulation, in a game of Chinese boxes.
1899 is a series that confirms the merits of dark and adds its own, but also confirms its weaknesses, which coincide respectively with the construction and the resolution. A second season is quite necessary.