SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the finale of Netflix’s “Archive 81.”
After eight episodes of slowly unraveling its cult-centric mysteries and building up its mold-laced mythology, Netflix’s “Archive 81” concluded its first season with a twist that flipped the tape over for a potential second season: Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie) crossed into The Otherworld controlled by the demon/god Kaelego to rescue Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi). On their way out, Dan was shoved back into the post-Visser-apartment-building-fire timeline in 1994 New York City, while Melody was dragged by cult-leader Samuel (Evan Jonigkeit) through the present-day door Dan had entered.
And yes, Dan really has been blasted into the past, and is not trapped in The Otherworld being fooled with another one of Kaelego’s close-enough-to-reality fantasies, according to “Archive 81” showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine.
“I can tell you that he is in the ’90s,” said Sonnenshine, who created the series based on the hit podcast “Archive 81,” in an interview with Variety. “He’s in the real ’90s, and the clue for that is that it does not have the particulates floating around there. He’s in 1994. And the question we’re asking is, we saw people disappear into The Otherworld in different time periods, right? So what does that mean?
“It means there’s little holes, little poke, poke — little entry and exit points. And that people have gotten kind of mixed up in there trying to exit, and maybe didn’t exit through the right door.”
Melody went through the correct exit in the “Archive 81” finale, but with the wrong person. Samuel was the one who yanked her back through to where Dan’s friend Mark (Matt McGorry) and Melody’s long-lost mother, a Baldung coven witch who had opened The Otherworld portal for Dan’s passage, were waiting for them at the Catskills estate where Dan had been tasked with restoring Melody’s Visser apartment tapes by Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan).
When Melody came out, Samuel wasn’t there. But Sonnenshine says he’s definitely somewhere that you’re going to care about in Season 2 (assuming Netflix renews the show).
“Samuel is still very much part of the story,” she said. “And I think Season 2 is, where is Samuel? Where is he? And I think that that is a very exciting branch of our story that we definitely know what we’re doing with.”
That loose end is one in a heap of tangled plot points that “Archive 81” left at the end of its finale, including why Samuel’s brother, Virgil Davenport, had set this entire thing up to begin with, commissioning Dan to restore Melody’s tapes and, in doing so, reveal the Kaelego ritual that at least two different cults had seemingly died trying before.
Davenport denied to Dan that he wanted to save his brother Samuel from The Otherworld that Samuel had been sucked into while attempting the ritual at the Visser in the ’90s with his cult and an unwilling Melody, but Sonnenshine confirms to Variety that denial was a bluff.
“I think there’s a lot of story that we didn’t get a chance to tell in that eight-episode first season,” Sonnenshine told Variety. “But we do know what Davenport is up to and so that is very much a part of Season 2. That’s great that, hopefully, we leave people with questions. I definitely try not to answer questions before people ask them as an audience. You don’t want to frontload information. We have a lot of cool stuff planned for Davenport.”
Davenport missed out on the real climax of the “Archive 81” finale, as Mark knocked him unconscious before Dan ventured into The Otherworld portal (opened by Davenport’s groundskeeper, who turned out to be Melody’s mother) to save Melody from her decades-long prison in Kaelego’s world. While that supernatural location looked a lot like our reality to Dan, that’s only because it was being warped into a place where Dan would want to stay forever — a world where his mother, father and sister never died in a fire and he stayed with them instead of going to walk the dog on the day the house was burned down.
“It’s not a mirror realm. It is based on the psyches of the people who are in there,” Sonnenshine said. “There’s a very powerful god or demon who inhabits that world. And we did drop the information that they can bend reality, basically. And that is what is happening. So we are, through the entire series, I think we are very good about sticking with our characters’ POVs. We’re not going outside of Dan or Melody very often. And if we are, we’re really with Mark. So we are sort of sticking with, what are they going through? What are they seeing? And it just felt like, it could have gone to like a super creepy, crazy world. But it felt more emotional and just felt more satisfying, in a weird way, to have this world that is trying to pull them in. It’s familiar.”
She continued: “Definitely there’s an aspect going on there that it’s like particulates kind of floating everywhere, but we wanted it to feel like it was trying to keep them there. What are these moments? It’s drawing Dan to the moment that everything changed for him, where he walked out the door — but he doesn’t walk out the door this time. Or where Melody was left in a church. She’s there waiting for her mom to come back. We felt like, I think, simple is better.”
If any of this is becoming hard for even the most eagle eyed “Archive 81” viewers to follow, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, because Sonnenshine’s own team was regularly consulting their whiteboards, notes and even an exposition-heavy speech given by Mark to Dan in the finale that laid out the timeline of the show’s central mystery for them — and for some of us who really appreciated it at home.
“Mark’s little recap we definitely felt like we needed in that moment before we moved on,” said Sonnenshine, whose previous credits include “The Boys,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Crossing.” “And some people might feel like it’s too much. Some people might really appreciate it, like you. I think, coming out of serialized mythology shows, I also appreciate a recap sometimes. Overused, they can be a little tiresome. But when you kind reset for people, so they’re not like, ‘Wait, what was that?,’ you just give them a little step stool. That’s just kind of a trope, a convention of complicated, serialized mythology shows and we leaned into it. And Rebecca Thomas, the director of the first two episodes and last two episodes, always said that was her favorite speech in the whole season, because she would refer to that when she was getting lost. She would be like, ‘OK, that. That’s what happened.'”
The “big logistical puzzle,” as Sonnenshine puts it, that was the first season of “Archive 81” was threaded together primarily by Dan restoring the tapes recorded by Melody as she explored the Visser and learned more and more about what was going on there. With all of those tapes now restored and their contents having led Dan to save Melody, that particular piece of the puzzle has been solved — but Sonnenshine says it would not stop a Season 2 from continuing to utilize the “found footage” aspect of the show that is inspired so heavily by the “Archive 81” podcast.
“We definitely are not abandoning it. There are all kinds of ways when you think, oh, how would he communicate with them?” Sonnenshine said, referring to Dan’s current problem of being trapped in the ’90s. “There are all kinds of ways and there’s also other media out there that still exists that we know about in 1994. So we would not abandon it. It wouldn’t be the same device, but it would be a different window with a similar device. We don’t have a renewal for Season 2 yet. We have talked quite a bit. We basically, as soon as we wrapped our room, we started an email chain about ideas for Season 2. So all through production and post, we’ve been compiling and then really sitting down and thinking about what would happen in Season 2. So we’re ready to go, should we be so lucky to get a Season 2, we have some really cool stories to tell.”
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