1899 Season-Finale Recap: Welcome to Reality

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1899

The Key

Season 1

Episode 8

Editor’s Rating

5 stars

1899

The Key

Season 1

Episode 8

Editor’s Rating

5 stars

Photo: Netflix

Hello, fellow passengers on the journey that is 1899! How’s everybody doing? We feeling okay? Everybody drinking enough water? Despite your best efforts, does your brain have Inception-level headaches? Don’t worry, that’s normal, especially now that we’ve finally reached the end of this voyage, or perhaps more accurately, the beginning (!). If we don’t get at the very least one more season for 1899 to explain itself, I’ll hurl myself into the ocean. Now, whether that ocean is real or a simulation, who is to say. After all, reality is a tricky thing to get a grasp on. Shall we try to unpack this new perspective on the reality of what’s happening on this show offered in this finale episode? I mean, it’s very hard to write a recap with half my brain on the floor, but I promise I’ll try my best.

Let’s start with the group of people who have the least information as to what’s going on here: Our remaining Kerberos passengers. It’s quite a small contingent these days! Eyk is finally reunited with Maura (they share an emotional hug and it’s like can’t this show give me even one kiss between these two? As a parting gift?). Clémence, Jérôme, Tove, Ling Yi, Ramiro, and Mrs. Wilson are there, too. They’re exhausted, to say the absolute least, so when Maura launches into her explanation about how her father is the owner of these ships and that this is all a simulation he’s controlling, they do not have the energy to hear it. Even when Maura points out that none of them can remember boarding the ship and they all received the same letter bringing them here (they all conveniently have those letters in their pockets), they cannot comprehend what she’s saying. I mean, could you?! She’s telling them that their reality is not reality. What she should do is bring them all into one of the memory shafts, but Maura has a lot on her plate at the moment, so she gets a pass. The only one, not surprisingly, who sticks with her is Eyk. The rest run off in search of a way to get off the ship. They don’t want to hear that there is no way off because the ship — and the ocean for that matter — aren’t real. They’ll have to learn the hard way, it seems.

Someone with a little more information to impart is Henry. He’s over in his obsidian covered pyramid land with Elliot and listen, this man is not going to win Grandfather of the Year any time soon. He tells Elliot that Daniel’s been lying to him and his mother is … a terrible person. But unlike Maura, Henry knows the best way to convince someone that everything they believe is a lie is to show them. Looking at the surveillance screens, he explains that all of these people — our passengers — are here because “they made the choice to forget their past” but now they’re all trapped and Maura — who has somehow “fooled” them all. “The only person who can get us out of here,” he says. Please note the use of the word “us” in that sentence. Henry is trapped, too. If he’s trapped, how can he be in control of the simulation?

Henry has much more to show Elliot. Memories can’t ever truly be deleted, he begins to explain. You can try to forget certain things, but they are still there “woven into our fabric,” and even if your brain doesn’t remember, your body always will. He brings him to good ol’ room 1011 in the mental hospital and injects him with a syringe full of something that apparently will jolt some memories he’s lost. Henry wakes up, still in room 1011, but this time Maura and Daniel are there, in more futuristic-looking coveralls and they’re arguing: “You can’t stop him from dying,” Daniel tells Maura, “you have to let him go.” Apparently, Maura can’t be dissuaded. We see her inject Elliot with something and tell him that this is “the only way [they] can be together.” It seems to point to the fact that Maura couldn’t deal with her son dying and so somehow put his consciousness into a simulation. All this time, Elliot’s believed that his mother was the one trapped and he and his father had to work to save her, but as Henry so lovingly puts it to his increasingly upset grandson: “This is not her prison — it’s yours […] You’re trapped in this simulation so your mother can keep you alive.”

It’s Maura who, as a child, was obsessed with the allegory of Plato’s Cave and was frustrated by the notion that we can never truly know what’s real. Even if you believe that God is the ultimate creator, then it’s God’s reality that is real and everything God created is … a simulation — “a doll’s house.” So it seems little Maura was obsessed with this idea and wound up creating her own simulations. Maura is the creator here, not Henry. The only way out, Henry explains, is with the key in the pyramid. And Maura has the key.

At least, that’s what Henry thinks. Meanwhile, Daniel is back over at that closet full of wires, using his triangle device to get it back online. He finds a way into the mainframe (we’re hacking into the mainframe!) and starts messing with the code. Henry, the first mate, and Elliot watch as Daniel begins to mess with the very architecture of the simulation, apparently a big no-no! We see the efforts of his work in a very cool sequences of visuals: Our six remaining passengers trying to find a way off the ship are instead met with more of that black material bursting through the walls and doors disappearing and hallways changing — eventually, now split into three separate pairs, they wind up running in and out of other people’s memory landscapes. In one harrowing moment, Ling Yi finds herself alone in Olek’s memory and some version of Olek rises out of a shed and he’s covered completely in oil. This Olek runs off and rips out a piece of the sky to reveal a portal (this show is really getting the most out of these special effects) and leads them both back onto the Kerberos. The six end up reuniting in the engine room as it all comes crashing down around them.

Henry watches in horror as he realizes Daniel’s not just rearranging code, he’s trying to destroy the entire simulation. He tells Elliot that his father is doing this for Maura — he’ll always choose Maura over Elliot. Hasn’t this simulated boy been through enough?!

We should check on Maura, by the way. She and Eyk are trying to find Henry because she knows he has Elliot and the pyramid, which will allow her to wake up. Eyk’s mostly along for the ride, but his question about how her father could be controlling of their minds is a good one! Maura brings Eyk through Daniel’s memory (the shaft in her room has disappeared, remember), which is probably pretty startling for this guy who still thinks he’s a ship captain from the 1800s. She realizes that “whoever” (it’s her) created this simulation, there must be some logic to it — and it hits her that much like the human brain, there must be pathways connecting everything in the sim. She breaks through the wall and she and Eyk begin making their way through other memories, until they wind up in Maura’s memory and back at the mental hospital. They don’t find Henry, but the first mate finds them. He’s all like I can’t believe you still haven’t figured out what’s really going on here and, like, dude, none of us have because no one will give anyone a straight answer so just relax, okay? You’re not as cool as you think, first mate!!

Maura won’t just hand him over the key, but since the simulation is falling apart there’s no time to waste otherwise it will start all over again. The first mate uses his triangle device to shut down Eyk. Not Eyk! My sweet, sad not-really-a ship captain just unplugged like a toaster! This is horrible for me — er, I mean, for Maura.

Maura’s brought in front of Henry and he spouts off things like “[your brother] is the last one you should be concerned about” and “you’re still not asking the right questions” and it’s like, if she doesn’t know what questions to be asking why don’t you just tell her you insufferable dink! Anyway, he ties her to the chair in room 1011, drops the bomb on her that she and Daneil were the ones who created “this sick mind game” and forced “this path onto everyone” and now they’re all trapped because of her. His plan is to give her a syringe which will erase her memories and begin the simulation over again, while he uses the key and pyramid to get out of the loop and trap her in here forever. Very cool! Also, none of it works.

While we watch the Kerberos explode and get deleted (good-bye other passengers!), Henry turns the key in his office but nothing happens. He realizes that Daniel changed the code so that this key and this pyramid aren’t the exit code anymore. He also changed the syringe Henry gave Maura — remember, in the simulation, everything we’re seeing and what those objects do are all just manifestations of code — so that it wouldn’t send her back to the start of another simulation, but instead it would send her to a safe place where they could meet.

He finds her in the child bedroom they created for Elliot. He explains what he did and that this room was the first simulation they ever created together. And yes, it’s true, she created the 1899 simulation. But! He tells her that once she went into the simulation herself, her brother who took over the entire program. Her father is just as trapped as she is. Ciaran is in control and he must be stopped! “I’ve tried to get you out so many times,” he tells her. He’s not sure how long they have before Ciaran realizes what Daniel’s done to the code, but Maura needs to wake up and she needs to stop her brother “or everything will be lost.” It would be cool if people could add like two more details to their big reveals, but mysteries are gonna mystery I guess.

He shows Maura the new key he made — now it’s a kid’s pyramid that can be activated by her wedding ring. Maura is scared, since she has pretty much no clue what is really going on, and asks if Daniel will be there when she wakes. “Always. I’ll always be there,” he says in a way that makes me think he will definitely not be there and maybe Daniel is a simulation or a failsafe she put in the simulation? Maura puts the ring in the pyramid.

She wakes up in a new place. She’s in a pod, plugged into some kind of machine. When she unhooks herself, she sees there are a bunch of other people plugged into pods in the room with her, they are all still “asleep” — and yes, they are all our main ensemble. We get a good look at each person and perhaps it’s more notable who is not there: Daniel is clearly not there — but neither is Henry (nor Franz, Ada, and the first mate, read into that what you will!). Maura, with her short hair and triangle tattoo behind her ear (!) takes in the shock of seeing these people like this … and then she looks out the window: It’s space! They’re in deep, deep space, guys! We pan out and Maura is on one pod of many, all connected together on a giant spaceship named, you guessed it, the Prometheus. So, technically they were on a ship this whole time, if you really think about it.

Back inside, Maura sees a note taped to a computer screen that reads “may your coffee kick in before reality does.” When the computer turns on, we see the readout. This is “Project Prometheus” and it’s described as a “survival mission” to a set of coordinates. “Passengers: 1423, Crew: 550” and the date? Well, it’s October 19, 2099. Maura gets a message from Ciaran: “Hello sister. Welcome to reality.” Welcome indeed!

This ending is wild. It leaves us with both a million questions while also completely shifting our perspective of the season of television we just watched (as if we’d expect anything less from bo Odar and Friese). What is Ciaran’s endgame? What is Project Prometheus’s objective — is the “survival mission” about finding a new place to inhabit because earth is destroyed? It is about saving the human race by sending consciousnesses somewhere safe? Is the Prometheus in space thing even real or is there another layer of simulation? I could go on, but honestly, what I’m most curious about is the passengers. With this new reality, so to speak, I could see people feeling like what we watched all season long was pointless, but I think bo Odar and Friese are much smarter than that. Remember that while Henry was giving Elliot a dose of the “truth” (speaking of: how much of the truth is Henry actually aware of?) he mentions that our memories are “woven into our fabric.” While these people are clearly not from the 1800s, the memories they are being tormented with must be relevant to them in some way. The “characters” they were playing in the 1899 simulation must be related to who they actually are in 2099, right? All of which is to say: season two, now please.

• Even in the 1899 simulation, there seemed to be pairs of people drawn to each other on a deeper level who weren’t initially paired together — Maura and Eyk, Ling Yi and Olek, Clémence and Jérôme — does that mean in “real life” they’re together and regardless of what memories whoever is in control gives them, they keep finding a way to one another? Is this part of the body remembering what the brain doesn’t? Or am I just over-romanticizing everything?

• A note on our friend the triangle symbol: The upside-down triangle with a line through it is a symbol from alchemy that represents earth. Knowing a little bit more about where our passengers really are and assuming that, at least at one point, they were/are a group on some sort of survival mission to preserve the human race, that earth symbol fits in nicely.

• The episode begins with one of Elliot’s memories. He’s with his mother and he finds … a green beetle. He loves this beetle. He names it Alfred. He wants to keep the beetle in a little tin can so he can watch it grow. Maura tells him he shouldn’t because he probably wouldn’t “want to be trapped in a prison like that” and that sometimes we need to let things go, even if it’s hard. The theme here is very on the nose, but I like that we got an explanation for those green beetles that unlock doors — Maura put them into the simulation because Elliot loved that beetle so much.

• We should talk about the music a little bit, right? I have a feeling some people might roll their eyes at some of the on-the-nose needle drops at the end of these episodes, but damn if I didn’t cackle with laughter when David Bowie’s “Starman” started playing as we got a nice long look at the Prometheus, spaceship version. A perfect, delightful moment.

1899 Season-Finale Recap: Welcome to Reality

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