Dark might be full of references to everything from The Matrix to the Bible, but the Netflix original also breaks new ground when it comes to sci-fi storytelling.
Seasons 1 and 2 of the German series pushed the limits of what time travel narratives can do by leaning heavily into the bootstrap paradox, and Season 3 is doing it again with a terrifying new villain only Dark could create: The Cleft Lip Trio.
Warning! Spoilers ahead for Dark Season 3 Episodes 1 and 2.
We first met this trio of villains in the trailer for Dark Season 3, but it becomes clear in Episode 1 that we're dealing with the same person at three different ages: as a young boy, as an adult, and as an old man. (Presumably, they're separated by the same 33-year increments that define the show's time travel rules.)
The first two episodes of Dark Season 3 show them working together to burn down Adam's secret lair and then kill two people we've never met before — with no explanation.
At this point, I don't know what this trio is called, what they want, or where they're from, but Dark fans have decided to call them the Cleft Lip Trio (CLT for short), due to the noticeable and identical scar on all three of their faces.
I know so little about the Cleft Lip Trio. And yet, I can't stop thinking about them. Part of the reason is that they clearly matter a great deal to Dark Season 3. Similar to Noah in Season 1, this is a man (men?) on a mission, and that mission must be important.
The Cleft Lip Trio is such an original idea for a sci-fi villain. It's a concept most time travel stories couldn't pull off; it's a popular trope that meeting yourself via time travel can destroy the universe, but Dark throws this out the window. And it's a testament to two airtight seasons of complex storytelling that Season 3 can introduce a concept like this and we all just roll with it, knowing we'll get an explanation eventually. (I have at least one theory already...)
The Cleft Lip Trio is also just plain awesome and scary in the best way possible. It's like someone took the idea of creepy identical twins and threw it into a particle accelerator.
I particularly love the way the young and old versions cross their arms in unison each time the adult gets ready to kill his next victim.
Has any other sci-fi story come close to a concept like this?
- You might think Doctor Who, which has tackled the bootstrap paradox before, would have its own Cleft Lip Trio, but it never did.
- Rian Johnson's Looper comes close when young and old versions of the same guy (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis) team up, but it never matched the tension of Dark Season 3.
- If anything, this feels like a bizarre plotline from one of the Kingdom Hearts games where past and present versions of characters interact on a regular basis.
Who is the Cleft Lip Trio in Dark Season 3?
Again, we have no idea, yet. (I'm sure we'll get an answer eventually, but I'm only on Episode 2 so please don't spoil it for me.) That said, I do have a few theories.
My main guess is that the Cleft Lip Trio could be the baby that Jonas' mom Hannah is pregnant with while in the parallel universe introduced in Dark Season 3. In that universe (let's call it Earth 2), Mikkel never went back in time, a young Hannah never married him, and Jonas was never born. Instead, Ulrich left his wife and kids to marry Hannah, who's pregnant in 2019 when Earth 2's story picks up.
The introduction of a new character (even a yet-to-be-born one) has got to mean something. And considering that we're also dealing with an all-new villain, there's a decent chance these two new plotlines could be connected.
It's also worth reflecting on something Adam tells Jonas in Dark Season 2, Episode 5:
A man... lives three lives.The first, ends with the loss of naivety, the second, with the loss of innocence and the third... with the loss of life itself. It's inevitable that we go through all three stages.
Did Adam know about the Cleft Lip Trio? We wouldn't be surprised since they seem to have an issue with him after burning down his secret lair. It certainly appears the CLT and Adam are enemies, which means they might be working against Jonas too, but for now, we'll just have to wait and see. (Or binge the rest of Dark Season 3.)
I'm watching Dark Season 3 one week at a time. Stay tuned for more recaps, coming soon...