Netflix’s ‘1899’ is a psychological thriller, sci-fi mystery that bends the nature of reality for its characters just as much as it does for the audience. It is a layered story that reveals a new secret with every episode. The more secrets it reveals, the more questions it throws in the mix. It starts with the claustrophobic setting of a ship in the middle of the sea, but by the end, its scope expands to the point where everything gets deliciously muddled up. The end of the first season leaves us with more questions than ever. Here we make sense of what that ending means and where things might go from here for the show. SPOILERS AHEAD
1899 Plot Synopsis
Maura Franklin wakes up on a ship, called Kerberos, headed to New York. Like most other passengers, she has a secret. She is there to find out what happened to Prometheus, the ship that disappeared four months ago, which is also when her brother went missing. While she tries to keep her connection with the ship a secret from others, she suffers from “glitch in the matrix” moments. In trying to make sense of it, things get more complicated when Prometheus is found in the middle of the ocean, abandoned, with no sign of life.
With the help of Captain Eyk, Maura tries to make sense of what might have happened to Prometheus. However, it soon turns out that their own ship is riddled with more secrets than they imagined. The arrival of a mysterious boy also stirs things up in Kerberos as violence and death ensue. The only person that seems to have all the answers is Maura’s father, Henry, who proves to be a very elusive person.
1899 Ending: Who is the Creator of the Simulation?
One of the biggest twists of ‘1899’ is the revelation that everything that has been happening to the passengers of Kerberos is not real. It is actually a simulation, which means that all the conflicts and deaths and losses, and perhaps even memories, that the passengers have experienced have happened only in their minds. Because the whole nature of events is so convoluted, naturally, everyone wonders who made this simulation. And more importantly, why did they make it?
At first, it looks like Maura’s father, Henry Singleton, is behind everything. We first meet him in the second episode where he is shown monitoring the rest of the passengers. Maura also mentions him, saying that it was his company that bought the ships and he has been using it and the passengers in some twisted experiment. She believes that because her brother found out about their father’s vile schemes, Henry did something to him and removed Maura’s memories. However, in the end, this just turns out to be one layer of a very complicated mystery.
The Creator, first mentioned by the boy, is not Henry, but Maura. Back in the real world, she lived with her husband, Daniel, and their son, Elliot. Things had been great for them until Elliot fell sick and there was no cure for his condition. Maura couldn’t bear the thought of losing her son, so she found a way to be with him forever. She created a simulation where the three of them could live as a happy and healthy family. While Daniel didn’t feel so good about his wife’s refusal to accept the reality of their son’s situation, he decided to go forward with her plan anyway.
For their first simulation, Daniel and Maura created a playroom for Elliot. When that turned out to be a success, they decided to build bigger worlds, ones that could feel exactly like the real ones. Slowly, the scope of Maura’s simulation got bigger and things started to get out of hand. At some point, Henry got involved with the project, but he had different intentions.
As Maura mentions in a conversation with Eyk, Henry loved his wife more than his children. His wife fell prey to Alzheimer’s which slowly chipped away at her memories until she forgot everyone she ever loved. Her death hit Henry hard and instead of turning towards his children for comfort, he decided to dedicate himself to studying the mysteries of the brain. Maura’s project of creating entire worlds out of a simulation seemed like a great idea to explore. So, once in it, he decided to take over control.
Things also worked in Henry’s favor because Maura chose to forget some things about her past. In trying to make her remember, Daniel tells her that she wanted to forget the pain, which is why she erased the memory of her own son. This is what Henry uses to his own benefit and creates another simulation, the one with the ships, as an experiment. However, he soon discovers that he, too, is caught in the simulation, and Maura is the only one with a way out.
Waking up from a simulation requires a lock and key. The small pyramid that Elliot has is the lock, and the key is with Maura. Because Maura has lost her memories, she also doesn’t remember where she kept the key. In the hopes of triggering her memory and making her remember the location of the key, Henry runs the same simulation on a loop. Thus, Maura becomes the passenger of a ship headed from Europe to New York in 1899. Henry constantly monitors her, hoping that he might get an idea of where or what the key could be.
Every simulation runs for a week, the time in which the ship is supposed to reach its destination, and every time it fails. All of these loops are saved in the archives, and for the next loop, a new ship is brought out and the whole thing happens all over again. Because Maura is made to forget every simulation, she, and all the other passengers, start from scratch and make the same mistakes all over again. That is until Daniel shows up and starts to muddle with the loop. It takes him several iterations to do it, but eventually, he succeeds, and if not everything, then at least the memories of the latest simulation remain lodged in Maura’s brain and she finally wakes up, breaking free of the prison of her own making, only to realize that there’s more to the reality that she left behind.
While revealing the true nature of the situation that they are all trapped in, Henry tells Elliot about the time Maura read about Plato’s cave allegory. The idea confounds her so much that she starts to question whether a person can really know whether or not their perception of the world is real or just made up by their mind. When her father tries to simplify things using the concept of God, she comes up with more questions. If God is the creator of their reality and they are nothing more than dolls for him to play with, then doesn’t the same rule extend to God’s reality? Who created him and who is puppeteering his reality?
It is with this thought that ‘1899’ leaves us, the idea of a simulation within a simulation within a simulation. The ships and the passengers were inside the simulation created by Henry. Henry himself was in a simulation created by Maura. If this makes her the creator, then the question arises: who created her simulation? Who is the God of her reality? Daniel answers this when he tells Maura that outside their simulation, her brother, Ciaran, has taken control of the whole project. This means that the Creator is actually Ciaran. He is in control of the entire thing and has been playing a game of his own with Maura, Henry, Daniel, and every other person in the different layers of simulation.
Is Maura in Simulation or Reality in the End?
While talking about the nature of reality, Maura and Daniel argue whether the things inside one’s head constitute reality or the things that are happening outside. Maura believes that it is the brain that perceives the things happening inside as well as outside it. Without the brain to process it, there is no difference between real and fake. Daniel, however, believes that while one can be caught up inside their head, it is what’s happening outside that is real. In the end, Maura wakes up to that fact.
All this while, she had been caught up in reality fabricated by her mind. All the things that she believes are real — the ships, the passengers, the fact that she cannot bear children — are actually all fake. Most of them are false memories, but there is no way that she can tell the difference. In reality, she is inside a simulation. So, while her brain makes her believe that she is out and about in the world, she is actually fastened to one place. And as Daniel previously stated, that is reality.
Maura created the simulation to do away with her pain, but things went out of her control. In the end, she discovers that even her father is not in control anymore. He is stuck inside the simulation just like her and every other passenger on the ship. On the outside, it is Ciaran, her brother, who has taken over control of the entire project. And this is where things get tricky.
Even when Maura wakes up from the 1899 simulation, it is clear that she does not remember everything just yet. Her original memories are still out of her mind’s reach. She only remembers what happened in the last loop and what Daniel told her about their lives together. So, when she finds herself out of that place and on a spaceship hurtling through space, the surprise on her face reveals that even this has done nothing to jog her memories. Because Maura is still in the dark about her memories and the world she used to belong to, we can assume that the nature of her reality is still in question.
When Daniel says that Ciaran has taken over the entire project and is the one controlling things now, we don’t know how much control he is actually wielding over the people in the simulation. Because he is orchestrating everything now and he has seemingly made no attempts to bring his sister out of the simulation, it looks like he’d rather she stay there for as long as possible. To make things more difficult for her and the others, it is possible that Ciaran has created one or more layers of simulation. Why he is doing this remains to be seen, but clearly, he doesn’t wish reality to kick in for Maura just yet.
While Maura waking up two hundred years into the future would make one think that she has in fact broken out of the simulation, the difference in time does nothing to prove that this is her reality. For all we know, Maura could belong to the same time as us and it is the simulation that has taken her into the future. The fact that the last scene, just before the credits start to roll, mimics the “wake up” scenes of the passengers also adds fuel to this fire.
We see the same triangle symbol, which has appeared throughout the show, in Maura’s eyes, with the same rotation of the camera. This means that she has crossed one hurdle and has inched closer to reality. Though it remains to be seen how many more of these simulations will be thrown along her way before she can finally start to trust her brain and get a glimpse of what reality outside her mind looks like.
What Happened to the Boy and Eyk?
While Maura finally gets to leave the ship (only to end up in another), the fate of other passengers remains somewhat uncertain. The most important people for her in the entire journey turn out to be Eyk and Elliot. The captain of Kerberos plays an integral role in helping Maura figure out what was happening around them. Elliot, on the other hand, is the piece of the puzzle that Maura’s own mind seems to have created for her. Where do both of them end up by the time the season wraps up?
While Henry might have liked to control the simulations and use them for his own experiments, he doesn’t like to be stuck in one. After none of his usual methods work and he gets his hands on Elliot, he gives Maura a choice. In return for her son, she should hand over the key that will allow Henry to wake up. Daniel comes up with a plan to change the code, and in the meantime, the simulation starts to end and moves into the archives. This is where Maura reunites with Eyk, who was thrown into the archives by Daniel.
While the rest of the passengers decide to find a way to get off the ship, Maura and Eyk try to find Henry’s office. Their search leads them to Daniel’s memory, from where they move on to the memories of other passengers until they eventually end up in Maura’s. Here, they are confronted by Sebastian, who knew about everything all along. When Eyk attacks him, he pushes a button on his remote and Eyk falls to the ground. It looks like he is unconscious, maybe even dead, but he is none. Sebastian simply turns off his simulation, which means Eyk won’t wake up until the next one. He is not dead, he is simply in a temporary coma until he is woken up to go through the same loop all over again.
Following this, Maura is taken to Henry, where she discovers that Elliot is not on her side anymore. Henry showed Elliot that it was Maura who created the simulation and trapped all of them in it. Now, Elliot just wants out of it, however, his plan to wake up using his mother’s key is foiled because Daniel changes the code just in time. As the simulation is destroyed, we find Maura waking up with her memories in Elliot’s playroom. Her son, on the other hand, suffers the same fate as the rest of the passengers.
In his memory, Elliot discovers that his mother injected him with the thing that wiped his memories. Just like everyone else, he is in a simulation too, which means that when the simulation ends, this version of him disintegrates as well. He will now wake up when the next simulation is activated, but in the real world, Elliot does not exist. While it is true that Daniel and Maura had a son, it is also revealed that Elliot was terminally ill. Maura created the simulation to be with her son, but there are hints throughout the show that reveal that Elliot died before that could happen.
The fact that Maura willingly lets go of her memory to “forget the pain” is the biggest clue. As confirmation, we have Elliot’s grave. In the real world, he is buried underneath it, which is why, in the simulation, his playroom shows up in the same place. In a scene, we discover that this is the same spot where Elliot and Maura spent a picnic together, where he found Alfred the bug, and then, as advised by his mother, he let it go free. The place holds sentimental importance to Maura, which is why it makes sense that she buried her son there. So, while Elliot still shows up in the simulation, where he could’ve been written in as just another code, he is dead in the real world.