Netflix's 'Archive 81' Has the Weirdest Ending It Could Possibly Have

The new horror series sends its demonic-cult premise in a bizarre direction.

netflix archive 81 dina shibabi
Netflix

This article contains spoilers for the ending of Archive 81.

Horror as a genre has little room for subtlety, which is part of its charm. Archive 81, the new horror series on Netflix, isn't subtle in the least, practically hammering the viewer over the head with literary and filmic references so that you know exactly what the show is attempting to do at every juncture. The story, loosely based on the first season of the fiction podcast of the same name, is a hit-or-miss slow burn, much more fun as a game of references and allusions than as a horror series. But picking up on the Les Diaboliques movie posters in the background or the three (3!) Tarkovsky name-drops will do nothing to prepare you for the season finale, the wildest and funniest ending I've seen in a minute.

The show follows video archivist Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie) as he begins a secretive project digitizing and preserving a series of troubling videotapes for a mysterious benefactor named Virgil (Martin Donovan), all filmed in the mid-1990s as a student project by Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi). In the videos, Melody carries around an old camcorder, recording interviews with the residents of a New York apartment building known as the Visser, and begins to suspect that everyone living there is involved in a mask-wearing, Eyes Wide Shut-style demonic cult that meets in the basement. As he and his podcast-host friend Mark (Matt McGorry) delve further into the pile of tapes, Dan's life and Melody's begin to intertwine as time dilates around them, thinning the boundary between past and present.

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If the Kubrick and Tarkovsky allusions weren't enough, the whole thing is also a loose retelling of Dante's Divine Comedy, specifically the Inferno section. There's a Dan, a Virgil, and a medium named Beatriz. Characters repeatedly describe a descent into hell, and the existence of a lost horror serial called The Circle looms in the background. Once you notice it, you can't un-notice it. But the really wild stuff happens right at the end, after Dan and Mark have figured out the cult is indeed attempting to summon a demon into our realm that gains power with every tape Dan watches. The two travel through a portal into the dark dimension that Melody has been trapped inside this whole time (after she got too nosy around the cult), but only Dan escapes. Except, upon re-entering his own world, he's immediately suspicious about what's going on.

When Dan wakes up in the hospital, it appears he's been found amid the wreckage of the burned-down Visser apartment building. When the nurse tells him this, he immediately asks what year it is but gets no answer until he looks at the old TV monitor on the wall just in time to catch a news bulletin about the death of Kurt Cobain. If that wasn't enough, he stands and walks to the window, and right before the episode cuts to black, you can see the Twin Towers reflected in the windowpane right next to him. Because he's in the '90s. In case you couldn't tell yet.

Why the show thought it needed to end on those two specters of fin de siècle 20th-century culture to make sure its viewers smell what's cooking is beyond me, though it certainly fits with the rest of the series' numbing obviousness. I will say that the sheer audacity of how the twist is presented was unexpected, and so darkly funny I immediately had to text everyone I knew about it. Maybe a second season will be peppered with subtle Back to the Future references. Either way, it looks like Dan's going to have to make some videotapes.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.