Sweet Tooth: Why Does Gus Burn the Tree? What Does the Tree Sapling Mean?

Image Credit: Matt Klitscher/Netflix

Netflix’s ‘Sweet Tooth’ began with a world being reconfigured due to a mysterious and terrible disease. As humans die due to the incurable sickness, a new species of part-human part-animal, aka the Hybrids, emerges. Co-relating the emergency of the Hybrids with the arrival of the Sick pits humans against them. It becomes clear that any idea of a cure for the disease cannot exist without the involvement of the hybrid kids. The journey to find the origins of their predicament, as well as its cure, leads the heroes and villains to a cave in the chilly heart of Alaska, where they find an ancient tree. For Gus, it is important to save Hybrids and Humans, and even though the tree is the only way to do it, he sets it on fire. Why does he do that?

The Burning of the Tree Signifies the Relinquishing of Control

Many people believe that the Sick and the Hybrids were the result of a lab experiment gone wrong. They blame Fort Smith Labs, the scientists, and eventually the Hybrids for all that went wrong with the world. But tracing the origins of the problem, it becomes clear that the reason behind humanity’s post-apocalyptic nightmare is their own hubris.

It begins with Captain James Thacker, who is desperate to find a cure for his disease. He refuses to die so easily, and this leads him to a remote village in Alaska where people are rumored to live disease-free and go way past the age of a hundred. Instead of giving in to what nature had planned for him, Thacker sets sail across the ocean and, once there, digs into the places he shouldn’t. To change the course of nature and save himself from something that cannot naturally be cured, he hacks into an ancient tree, making it bleed so he can use its sap to make a cure for himself. But nothing happens without consequence, and Thacker’s actions lead to the death of his entire crew as well as the appearance of the first Hybrid in the form of the Caribou Man.

While Thacker’s exploration is checked by the disease and the ship never leaves Alaska, the story of his expedition travels a hundred years into the future, leading the people of Fort Smith Labs to visit the place and recreate what Thacker did. While they don’t find the tree, they find its blood that has seeped through the ice over the years, and once again, they challenge nature, trying to figure out a cure for all human ailments. It is humanity’s need to have control over things, their vile greed to take and take from nature without giving back that leads to nature unleashing the Sick on them to rectify the scenario. Still, the humans don’t learn their lesson.

In trying to find a cure for the Sick and to get rid of the Hybrids, the humans seek out the tree once again and completely disregard the consequences, so they are ready to repeat the cycle all over again. That is until Gus decides to break it. By the end, it becomes clear that if one tries to save Humans, they will have to kill Hybrids, and vice versa. Gus is not happy with either result. He wants Hybrids to live, but he also wants Humans, at least the good ones, to live as well. Angry about the conflict, he cuts his hand and bleeds over the tree, believing that his blood and his sacrifice are what the tree wants. This leads him to the other side, where he meets his Pubba, who helps reframe his perspective.

After looking at the big picture from a clear mind, Gus realizes that the whole problem lies with Humans trying to take control of Nature. Their demands never end, and as long as they exist, they will keep asking for more from the world, even if it is at the cost of other creatures. He realizes that as long as the tree exists, Humans will never stop wanting to hack at it and use it to serve their own purpose. When he asks Pubba what he should do and whom he should choose, Pubba tells him to let Nature take its course, which is what will eventually happen, no matter how much we try to control the outcome.

Everything we do bears consequences that further impact our actions and lead to further turn of events. It is a cycle that needs to be broken. Otherwise, humans will never cease to try to take control, and Nature will keep throwing one thing after another at them. The only way to stop this recurrence is to destroy the tree and let Nature decide what happens next. If he doesn’t do that, he, too, will get caught up in the human way of things. He will want to find the cure for the Sick because he wants to save Jepp and the other humans he loves. But then, humans like Zhang will use the sap to kill Hybrids, who will do something else in return to save themselves. Instead of falling into that pit, Gus gives up control entirely. The burning of the tree means he is ready to accept whatever happens next to Humans or Hybrids. He is ready to accept the consequences of his actions and let Nature decide whom it wants to save and whose time has come.

The New Sapling Shows the Extent of Nature’s Power

When Gus burns the tree, he inadvertently destroys the root of the Sick. With the tree gone, the Sick goes away too, and with that goes away, the need to find the Cure. Nature’s will becomes clear: it wanted Humans to go extinct and Hybrids to inherit the Earth and exist in harmony with Nature. The deed is done now; the verdict is out, and it is upon the people to decide whether or not they want to accept it. Most people do. Knowing that this is the new world order, they decide to live out the rest of their days peacefully. Some, like Zhang, struggle to accept this reality, but with the tree gone, there is nothing they can do about it now.

Interestingly, we later see a new sapling emerge from Gus’ broken antler, which Adi Singh was holding on to in his final breaths. What does this mean for the future of humanity? To be honest, it doesn’t really change anything for Humans. There are a handful of them left, and while the Sick is not around anymore, old age will eventually catch up with them, and they are bound to die. With this being the last generation, Humans will go extinct, and soon, Hybrids will be the only ones around. So, even if that sapling turns into a tree, humanity will be long gone by then, so it doesn’t have any consequence on their fate.

The new sapling, in a lot of ways, represents a new beginning. The world is turning over a new leaf with the extinction of humans and the advent of Hybrids. All that has been destroyed by humans is being put back in place, and the world is going back to the way it was supposed to be. The Hybrids are more in tune with Nature and don’t have the exploitative tendencies of Humans yet. In that sense, the burning of the ancient tree symbolizes the demolishing of the old world, and the sapling signifies the ushering of the new era.

The sapling emerging from the antler shows Gus’ connection to the ancient tree and confirms that he was a part of it. Since the beginning, he had proved himself to be a unique Hybrid. Even when he didn’t know about the tree, it called out to him. He could listen to its heartbeat, and he is the only one who understands that it needs to be destroyed. This is because he was made from the blood of the tree, while the rest of the Hybrids came as a consequence of the Sick. In that sense, Gus was the only Hybrid who shared blood with the tree. He was a part of the tree, so it makes sense that a part left behind by him should lead to the birth of a new tree. It is simply Nature taking its course.

Read More: Sweet Tooth: What is in the Cave? What is Blood of the Earth?