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Netflix cancels Archive 81 after one season

But here’s everything we know about the mysteries the show’s showrunner was saving

Dan watching a video of Melody in a still from Archive 81 Photo: Netflix
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

Beneath all its brooding horror and its found footage, Archive 81 is pure Netflix thriller nonsense. Following archivist Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie), called in to restore a collection of videotapes warped by a fire at the enigmatic Visser apartment building in 1994, the mystery is constantly mounting from every angle.

But that wasn’t enough for Netflix, who announced on Thursday they had cancelled the show after just one season. Although Netflix seldom reports any sort of viewership numbers for its shows, Archive 81 peaked at the number two spot in the streaming site’s top 10 lists, and stayed there for three weeks (and even reached number one in other countries’ top 10).

Ultimately Archive 81 answered a lot of its central mystery by the season finale (something not all mystery box shows are willing to do). But the series did not simply barrel towards a tidy ending. Showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine said she intentionally left some juice in the tank for a season 2. Here’s what Sonnenshine planned to do about two of the biggest mysteries the show left off on:

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the end of season 1 of Archive 81.]

What happened at the Visser

A cult looking at their idol in a still from Archive 81 Photo: Netflix

After reviewing hours and hours of Melody’s (Dina Shihabi) tapes, Dan discovers that what was happening at the Visser is regular old cult stuff — but they do happen to be a cult based around real magic. The Vos Society was trying to free the demon Kalego from a statue that a Baldung coven had trapped him in around the 1300s.

Virgil (Martin Donovan), the mysterious tech CEO who hired Dan to restore the tapes, believed that Melody burned down the Visser and killed his brother Samuel (Evan Jonigkeit). But as the tapes reveal, Melody got the teenaged Jess (Ariana Neal) free from being potentially sacrificed, but was unable to stop the ritual entirely. The ritual is what caused the fire, burning down the Visser and obscuring the fact that Melody and Vos leader Samuel got sent to Kalego’s “Otherworld.”

While that’s one mystery squared away, there’s still others looming — like, for instance, what happened at Dan’s house when he was a child, burning down his home and killing his family. While Dan discovers his father knew Melody and some of the shenanigans going on at the Visser, Sonnenshine has confirmed that she planned to more fully reveal the story behind the house fire in a potential season 2.

“There are a lot of little Easter eggs or little things like that, that if you’re like, ‘I wonder if that’s something that is part of the mythology and that will be explored further?’ And, yes,” Sonnenshine told Entertainment Weekly earlier this year. “Some things just didn’t actually make it into the season.”

What happened to Dan

Archivist Dan looking shocked as he puts in headphones in a still from Archive 81 Photo: Quantrell D. Colbert/Netflix

After going into the Otherworld to rescue Melody, Dan gets separated from her and wakes up to find himself in an apartment … in 1990s New York, Two Towers reflection and all. But if you were thinking that there might still be some otherworldly shenanigans playing tricks on Dan’s perception, Sonnenshine assures you there aren’t.

“I can tell you that he is in the ’90s,” the showrunner told Variety of the final shot of the season. “He’s in the real ’90s, and the clue for that is that it does not have the particulates floating around there. He’s in 1994. And the question we’re asking is, we saw people disappear into The Otherworld in different time periods, right?

“It means there’s little holes, little poke, poke — little entry and exit points. And that people have gotten kind of mixed up in there trying to exit, and maybe didn’t exit through the right door.”

With the Otherworld spitting people out in various points in time, Sonnenshine says that means Samuel is “still very much a part of the story.” Were Netflix to renew them for second season, Samuel and Virgil’s stories would have been a much bigger part of it.

“It’s kind of at the top of our list for season 2, because we didn’t quite get to it, but also I can say that everyone in the show is doing something that they think is right,” Sonnenshine said to EW.

Had the show been renewed, there certainly would’ve been more material: The podcast the show is based on has aired three seasons. Sonnenshine confirmed that when it does, there would’ve been plenty of cross-media magical madness.

“We definitely are not abandoning [the found footage aspect]. There are all kinds of ways when you think, oh, how would he communicate with them?” Sonnenshine told Variety. “It wouldn’t be the same device, but it would be a different window with a similar device. [...] We’re ready to go, should we be so lucky to get a season 2, we have some really cool stories to tell.”

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