Netflix’s ‘Archive 81’ is a haunting journey that unfolds over multiple timelines. When Dan Turner, an archivist, is hired to restore tapes from a building that burnt down years ago, he makes an unlikely connection with the woman who filmed them. As he watches the tapes, Dan gets inextricably pulled into the investigation of a mysterious cult carried out by Melody Pendras and becomes convinced he can save her from a horrific end.
The frequent twists and surreal setting of the narrative make for a complex story with many moving parts. If you were left with some questions after the season finale, we’ve got the answers. Let’s take a closer look at ‘Archive 81.’ SPOILERS AHEAD.
Archive 81 Season 1 Recap
The story opens with Dan, an archivist for a museum, restoring a few badly damaged tapes for a mysterious client. The client, Virgil Davenport, the CEO of a shadowy multinational corporation called LMG, offers Dan a lucrative payment in return for restoring the rest of the recordings as well. He reveals the tapes are from the Visser building, which mysteriously burnt down in 1994.
After some initial hesitation, Dan agrees and soon finds himself in a remote research compound where the tapes are stored and where he is to stay for the duration of the assignment. As the archivist begins going over the tapes, he notices strange connections between Melody Pendras, the young grad student filming the tapes, and his own past.
Through the tapes, we are made privy to Melody’s story, which unfolds twenty-five years ago as she moves into the Visser building with the intention of making an oral history report on the old residential structure. However, Melody finds her new neighbors strangely aloof and is further mystified when she begins to hear ominous sounds in the building. After witnessing a strange gathering in the basement, the incredulous filmmaker realizes that most of her neighbors are in a cult.
Melody continues to record the strange occurrences in the building and gets increasingly paranoid. Eventually, she becomes convinced that her neighbors plan to sacrifice Jess, a fourteen-year-old resident of the building, to complete their mysterious ritual. As Dan watches the supernatural footage shot by Melody, he begins to experience strange occurrences in the remote facility he resides in.
After hallucinating speaking to Melody, Dan eventually realizes that their conversations are real and that through the tapes, he is somehow connected to the young filmmaker. He confronts Virgil about knowing that the tapes are haunted, and it is revealed that the shadowy CEO’s brother, Samuel, a resident in the Visser building, was also deeply involved in the cult.
Archive 81 Ending: Where is Dan Turner? Is He in the Other World?
As Melody’s story continues, we see her frantically search for young Jess even as the building’s residents and caretaker try to stop her. Eventually, the filmmaker is captured and taken to the basement, where she is made to witness the cult’s murderous ritual. The members chant and seemingly open a doorway to another world, through which Samuel takes Melody, and the two disappear. Shortly after that, the Visser building burns down.
Realizing that Melody is trapped in a supernatural dimension or “the other world,” Dan enlists the help of his friend, Mark, to break into the research facility containing the tapes. After overpowering Virgil, the archivist and his friend venture into the basement to find it arranged to perform the very same ritual that was performed in the Visser building many years ago. From what he remembers from the tapes and with the help of the remote facility’s caretaker (who turns out to be a Baldung witch), Dan steps through the doorway and into the other dimension. Amidst the surreal surroundings, he finally locates Melody, only to watch her get abducted by Samuel, who pulls her into another “doorway.”
We then see an incredulous Melody appear in the basement of the remote research facility where Dan’s companion, Mark, frantically asks where his friend is. Season 1 closes with Dan waking up in a hospital where the nurse tells him how lucky he is to have survived the fire. When Dan asks which “fire” she is referring to, the nurse clarifies that he is the only person to have been recovered from the fire at the Visser building.
Thus, the show ends on a fittingly ominous note, with Dan seemingly trapped within the very world he spent so many days watching on the tapes. By the dates seen on the television in his hospital room, it is clear that Dan is in the year 1994. The fact that he has gone back in time is also emphasized when we see a reflection of New York City’s Twin Towers in the window next to him. Specifically, Dan seems to be in the year 1994, ten days after the mysterious burning down of the Visser building.
However, Dan might not have only gone back in time but is also likely stuck in the “other world,” which belongs to the half-god half-demon Kaelego and is accessed through the ritualistic doorway. When he first walks through the doorway, the archivist encounters his family, magically brought back to life despite having died in a fire when he was a child. According to the Baldung witch, time functions differently in the “other world,” which would explain Dan’s strange jump to 1994.
Thus, the archivist is now stuck within the very same supernatural world from which he attempted to rescue Melody. Since the witch said she could only keep the doorway open for a few minutes, it seems like our hero is stuck in there, and Melody is in the future, having come out of the doorway that Dan entered through. This also makes for an interesting conclusion to season 1 as the two central characters essentially find their roles switched. From Dan trying to rescue Melody, the tables have now been turned, and the former is stuck inside Kaelego’s world while Melody is finally back in the real world.
What Happens to Melody?
Melody finally escapes from the “other world” and returns to reality, albeit twenty-five years in the future. From what we know, we can piece together that after being pulled through the doorway by Samuel, Melody spends years trapped inside the surreal dimension. In fact, the only reason that Dan can interact with her through the tapes is that he sometimes sees the real Melody that is stuck inside the “other world” instead of seeing a recorded version of her. As the witch (who turns out to be Melody’s long-lost mother) mentions, the tapes allegedly thin the gap between worlds, allowing seekers to access alternate dimensions.
Despite Melody being free, she is still an anomaly since she has returned twenty-five years in the future. Additionally, the fact that she is seen being pulled by Samuel doesn’t bode well for her as it implies that the cunning cult leader is also around and likely trying to reopen the doorway. Thus, though Melody is back in reality and reunited with her mother, she is clearly not out of danger. Furthermore, it is now also up to her to try and rescue Dan.
Where are the Residents of the Visser Building? How Did the Visser Building Burn Down?
The residents of the Visser building all mysteriously disappear after the fire, making it impossible for Dan to track down any of them. In fact, no deaths are reported in the blaze that destroys the building since the bodies of the thirteen tenants are never found. The fact that they are involved in a supernatural cult seems to be the cause for the disappearance of the residents, and they are seemingly evaporated during the ceremony to open the doorway.
Since they are no longer in the real world nor in the “other world,” it seems like the residents of the Visser building (except Samuel and Melody) are killed and completely vaporized during the cult ceremony and subsequent fire. This is hinted at when it is revealed (by Iris Vos’ brother) that most people participating in the ceremony will die. In fact, the only other resident who survives the Visser building fire is young Jess, who doesn’t take part in the ritual but records it.
Near the end of season 1, it is mentioned that Jess changed her name, became a nun, and moved to Haiti. The Visser building burns down because of the supernatural cult ceremony that is carried out inside of it by Samuel. Though this is never enunciated, it becomes apparent when we learn that the Vos mansion, which occupied the land the building was constructed on, also burnt down after Iris Vos conducted an identical ritual in it seventy years ago.
Read More: Where is Archive 81 Filmed?