This will contain Massive Spoilers for all three Seasons of DarK on Netflix
I honestly think that not only is she among the more interesting characters, but her reasons for why she does things are gravely misunderstood. That being said, I want to state that this is purely my interpretation and I do believe the writers meant for personal interpretations of the complex subtext of this show. So, if you’re in disagreement, I understand, but I want to point out that there’s probably no “correct” way to interpret a character or a story and I think the “explanation” articles / blogs are just people giving their own interpretations and sometimes people have the tendency to confuse their interpretations for “fact” on a fictional story and it becomes the dominant belief. This really annoys me for shows, because eventually it seems that the most simplistic observations and assumptions are then repeated as a self-evident truth such as what has happened to the Breaking Bad subreddit, whereby everything is reduced to being entirely Walter’s fault rather than taking into account the conflict and situation along with the character’s choices therein. I would kindly ask that anti-Hannah Kahnwald viewers step away from the idea of reducing this character to just some narcissistic sociopath and to please consider this perspective from my observations:
The morning prior to the Nielson house party in which Hannah chose to cheat on Michael Kahnwald for Ulrich Nielson (and bear in mind that she had no idea that Michael was literally a time-displaced Mekkel Nielson and had no way of knowing it); she witnessed Mekkel step out of the car. Hannah froze-up and did a double-take; when she was asked what was wrong, she mentioned a familiar-looking face. As a child, we observed Hannah having interactions with Mekkel when Jonas traveled to 1986 in season 1 and by all accounts, the interactions were friendly and they had fun talking. She knew what “Michael” looked like as a child very clearly, whereas Ulrich and Katharina were much older and less observant of Hannah’s friends among her own age group back then.
Now, when Hannah saw Mekkel, what do you think went through her mind? Was it just that Mekkel looked eerily similar to Michael or did she perhaps believe, based on her limited knowledge at that time, that Mekkel himself was somehow the product of her husband’s secretive, illicit affair with Katharina and that he’d been deceiving her for years about it? In season one, she mentions that her husband kept to himself and never really shared himself fully with her. Why would she not have concluded that Michael had been having an affair for years? Later in the same scene where she first sees Mekkel, Michael has a weird reaction to him; I’d argue that this “confirmed” in Hannah’s mind that her husband had been unfaithful for years. She felt stupid and so she cheated on him at the party with Ulrich, only to come home and find Michael’s dead body that night. I’d argue, Hannah most likely believed that Michael had been cheating on her for years and then took his secret to the grave; she must have believed that he had never truly loved her at that point and so latches onto Ulrich, talking about how she loves Ulrich, as a coping mechanism for her confusion and loss. It’s possible she truly meant that she loved Ulrich, but it is also possible that Ulrich was just a coping mechanism for her pain and confusion caused by Michael’s mysterious behavior, Mekkel’s appearance, and the sudden, unexpected suicide. In Hannah’s mind, she must have assumed that her love and compassion had never been “good enough” compared to whatever “illicit affair” that Katharina had with Michael. Katharina had “taken away” Michael in her mind and so she wanted to hurt Katharina as much as possible.
When Ulrich turns her down to focus on his son’s disappearance, Hannah goes to Aleksander with the evidence she’d collected and stored years ago. Now, this is vindictive of her, but her plan was to hurt Ulrich for turning her down. But why did she fixate on Ulrich? Because it meant that Katharina was always better than her. In the end, in her mind, both her husband and Katharina’s husband chose Katharina over her. Whatever love and affection that she gave, no matter how much she pushed for it and tried to share of herself, they always chose Katharina over her. Obviously, this isn’t quite fair as Ulrich had more important considerations due to missing his child, but Hannah had not properly processed Michael’s death and Jonas wasn’t about to share what he learned about his father to her at the time and thus also “keeping secrets” from Hannah too. Hannah actually does share what she knows with Jonas, but Jonas seems stiff and off-put and Hannah is not given any understanding why or what she could be doing wrong to cause Jonas to react that way towards her. Later, a few days after Hannah tries to strike a deal with Aleksander, Jonas and Ulrich both completely disappear. We know one’s stuck in the future and another in the distant past, but Hannah most likely concluded that Aleksander used some illicit connections and arranged them to be murdered and she was possibly next. Hannah blames only herself for it. At that point, her sense of loss is complete and total, and she clearly intends to take her own life. She doesn’t seek out revenge against Aleksander, but simply seeks to end it because no one that she truly loves is left alive and she’s been repeatedly left in the dark without any explanation from all sides. She’s so distraught about losing Jonas that she’s clearly ready to kill herself. The only thing she does prior to this, in order to get revenge on the woman that she blamed responsible for it all, was to lie to Katharina about Ulrich wanting to leave her for Hannah. To make Katharina feel the same pain for the “illicit affair” of Mekkel and the loss of Ulrich as – in her mind – she “lost” Michael to Katharina.
Later, future Jonas shows-up to finally explain things and it stops her from carrying out her own premediated suicide. When Jonas reveals the truth of Michael’s origins, we viewers observe that Hannah is so shocked and ashamed, she clings to Jonas and cries her eyes out as she finally understands that her husband did indeed love her, Katharina did not destroy their friendship by cheating with Michael, and her affair with Ulrich was misplaced revenge that she feels ashamed of and regrets despite any feelings of love for Ulrich. Katharina blames her for this later on, but Hannah is genuinely completely innocent of her part in this messed-up situation and had no way of knowing that Michael was a time-displaced Mekkel. However much people may dislike Hannah, she obviously cannot be blamed for that since she had absolutely no way of knowing about it. Yet, all her misdeeds were possibly based upon this horrible misunderstanding and was that misunderstanding truly her fault? What else could she have realistically concluded based upon the observable evidence without prior knowledge of time travel?
The saddest, and I’d argue most misunderstood part, is that older Jonas is the one who trashes her for this as well. Assuming, like everyone else, that it was due to pettiness, vindictiveness, and selfishness. What I don’t see observed by some commentators is that this was what hurt Hannah the most out of everything else. No one else’s opinion really mattered here, except Jonas’s. Jonas had shared the truth, revealed that he was alive, and had been so happy to see her after so long and yet, he didn’t realize just how much his frank and thoughtless words ripped right through his mother’s heart. It is understandable for us to observe children internalizing and imitating the lessons that parents gave them; but an interesting trait that is depicted in this show, that I don’t see observed as much, is that parents can learn from and internalize the judgments that their own children impose upon them. The children are the ones who know them better than they know themselves in many ways, even if the parents hide things from them. Older Jonas was the only bright hope of Hannah’s life at that point and she probably assumed that time-displacement would prevent the Jonas of her time to come back since she only observed an adult Jonas coming back and the adult Jonas’s shared understanding with her is that causality cannot be changed, so she cannot go save the younger version of her son based upon the shared knowledge that an older version of him has told her. She no longer can be part of the younger version of her son’s life and the older one judges her as selfish and someone who doesn’t need anyone else.
I don’t think many people understand or appreciate the significance of adult Jonas’s words or how they were like a stake that drove right through Hannah’s heart: Her son doesn’t need her, she will never be able to see or meet the younger version of her son as far as she is aware because causality cannot be changed, all she does is hurt others in life, and her own adult son – who grew through a hellish life that she had no control over stopping and who shared so many answers and familial parent / child tenderness as a beacon of hope in a world gone wrong – says that no one needs her. I’d like to point out: every time Hannah does anything selfish or hateful after that point, she repeats adult Jonas’s words like a biblical verse. What this means is: She internalized adult Jonas’s words, because they hurt her that deeply. She has an image of Ulrich and goes to him to finally settle her lingering feelings of love and revenge; her misplaced guilt over Michael and rage at her own stupidity, she carefully controls herself and foists it all on him; blaming him just as Katharina and adult Jonas blamed her. She fucks Egon after repeating the verse that adult Jonas bestowed upon her; observing everyone around her being selfish and out for themselves, because that’s how her grown, adult son views her. She repeats his revealed truth of her “true character” only needing herself through and through on her journey in the past. Since causality cannot be changed, she doesn’t use protection with Egon, and she’s stupefied by the sudden pregnancy; it violates her understanding of causality that she knows is a fact based on what her son told her. She decides that it must mean that she most likely got some form of abortion, because how could there be someone who isn’t in the historical record and doesn’t have any family line as far as she’s aware? Her meeting Katharina’s mother in the past reaffirms her sense of causality and she leaves the cross necklace out of some sense of remorse and compassion for Katharina, perhaps to settle her own guilt and shame over her relationship with Katharina deteriorating due to actions that were well beyond her control. She never learns that this small piece of empathy is what leads Katharina’s mother to kill the adult, time-displaced Katharina in the 1980s. Hannah genuinely thought that she was doing something nice and compassionate, while coming to understand that she’s the “first” Katharina which leaves her with mixed feelings. After that, she tries to do good again by reuniting with her son, hoping to make amends and perhaps explain herself, and live as a peaceful family in the 1920s; only to be brutally suffocated by the one person that she always loved and never consciously betrayed.