Netflix’s mind-bending horror, Archive 81, is filled with threads taken from mythology and technology and woven into an intricate drama that will make anyone’s mind swing like a pendulum. The plot tries to connect the lives of two individuals living in different timelines who face conflict with an outerworld deity that has its existence in both mythology and xenoarchaeology. It follows an archivist, Dan, who is hired by a suspicious industrialist to restore a collection of camcorder tapes. During the process, Dan gets obsessed with a woman, Melody Pendras, inside these tapes and finds a connection between Melody and his father. Curiosity compels him to go down the rabbit hole to discover what happened to Melody Pendras some 25 years ago.
Created by Rebecca Sonnenshine, Archive 81 Season 1 consists of 8 episodes that are approximately 55 minutes long. The story is based on a podcast of the same name, created by Daniel Powell and Marc Sollinger. So, without any further ado, let’s dig deep.
Also Read: ‘Archive 81’ Review
‘Archive 81’ Plot Summary
Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie) is a New York-based archivist who works for the Museum of the Moving Image. He lost his whole family in a house fire years ago. Dan survived the accident because he was walking his dog in the woods when the accident took place. Due to the childhood trauma, Dan suffers from mental depression, anxiety, and abandonment issues and has also been to a medical institution for the same.
The drama kicks in when Dan receives a damaged (burnt) tape from his senior, Karen, to digitize it for a confidential client. During the restoration process, Dan finds out that the tape was recorded by a female documentary filmmaker, Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi). She was recording footage for her research project on a small community that lived in the Visser apartment in 1994. Dan finds out that a fire broke out in the Visser apartment on March 26, 1994. The mystery circling around this accident is that 13 residents living in the apartment disappeared without a trace, and Dan suspected that one of them might be Melody.
The owner of the damaged tapes and the president of L.M.G., Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan), appreciates Dan’s work and offers him a job to restore the rest of his acquired collection. Virgil offers a hundred thousand dollars, but under one condition. For the restoration process, Dan will have to stay in a remote research facility in the Catskills.
At first, Dan refuses the job when Virgil brings up his family’s death in the conversation. Dan gets suspicious about the industrialists as no one has the slightest idea about his family’s death. The information worries Dan, and he starts scrutinizing Melody’s footage from the tape. In one of the frames, he spots a photograph of Melody with a dog. Dan is certain that it’s his dog, Cleo, that he used to have as a pet. He discusses the uncanny resemblance with his friend Mark Higgins, who runs a podcast show named Mystery Signals on supernatural stories. Mark doesn’t want to believe that Dan could have any connection with a woman who died in 1994. Yet to find answers, Dan decides to take Virgil’s offer and visit the Catskills.
The research facility is built in the middle of nowhere, with fences all around it. There are security cameras to monitor Dan’s actions and no mobile network or internet to communicate with the outside world. Above all, the only landline available inside the house is tapped by Virgil. Dan feels like living inside this fishbowl, and slowly his anxieties kick in, but it’s not what’s outside, but inside the tapes that torment Dan’s peace.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Did Dan Find In The Tapes?
As Dan starts restoring the tapes, a parallel narrative focuses on Melody Pendras. She went to Visser to find out about her biological mother, Julia Bennett, who sent a letter with the return address of Visser. However, in the journey of finding her mother, Melody unraveled some shocking secrets deep buried inside the building.
- Melody’s mother, Julia, abandoned her when she was a child. Thus, she felt connected with Dan, who was going through the same abandonment issues. Due to childhood trauma, Melody had an anxiety disorder, for which she was consulting a psychologist, Steven Turner, who happened to be Dan’s father.
- While living in apartment 2C in Visser, Melody often heard a rhythmic humming sound, which was a prayer chanted by an occult group operating in the heart of Visser.
- The occult cult headed by Virgil’s brother, Samuel (originally named Alexander Davenport), wanted to summon an otherworld deity called Kaelego that existed in the 14th century.
- Visser was built on the ruins of the Vos Mansion, which ran a cult society named Vos Society. In 1924, Iris Vos tried to perform the ritual but burned down her mansion. For some reason, the ritual room survived, which was used by Samuel to complete the unfinished business.
- Every person who summoned Kaelego had a different motive. For example, Iris Vos prayed for a child from the new god, while Virgil wanted to harness the power of the demon.
- For the ritual, Samuel needed a vessel to contain Kaelego’s spirit from the otherworld and give him a human form. Hence, he had been preparing Jessica “Jess” Lewis for it. Samuel and Cassandra had been feeding her the “mold” or Kaelego’s blood.
- This mold (also deemed as the blood of Kaelego) often grew around the place where Kaelego was worshiped and suggested its demonic presence. It infected Jess, resulting in frequent seizures while Anabelle went insane and started seeing Iris Vos, who was trapped in Kaelego’s realm.
- Melody wanted to save Jess from Samuel and thus decided to expose the cult society. However, in the end, Samuel’s muscle man, John Smith, captured Melody. Samuel performed the cult ritual in the basement of Virgil that led to a fire breakout due to an unstable portal. However, Samuel, Jess, and Melody survived the fire. Jess ran out of the building. She, later, became a nun and changed her identity to Sister Mary Cecilia.
- Through the tapes recorded by Jess on her Fisher-Price PXL2000 camera, Dan and Mark found out that Samuel and Melody were transported to another world where they became prisoners of Kaelego because the deity was feeling lonely.
- Dan decided to crack a deal with Virgil to save Samuel and Melody.
While this is the basic timeline of the events that happened in Archive 81 Season 1, the curious question is, where did the Kaelego come from? And why did a fire break out during the ritual ceremony performed in Vos Mansion in 1924 and Visser in 1994?
Who Was Kaelego? Where Did He Come From?
In Archive 81, Season 1, the deity had a connection with both mythology and xenoarchaeology. After Samuel killed father Russo, Melody sneaked into Russo’s office, where she found hidden records that explained the origins of Kaelego. The pedestal sculpture worshiped by the cult in the Visser and Vos mansion belonged to a 14th-century deity who can be referred to as both God and Demon, depending on who you ask.
Kaelego’s sculpture is made of a special gemstone called Kharonite. It is believed to be a part of a comet that crashed on the Earth’s surface millions of years ago. This comet, called Kharon, is named after Hades’ ferryman, who carries the souls of the dead across the river Styx. Kharon makes its visit to our inner solar system once every 70.6 years. In Archive 81, the comet first appeared in 1924 during Vos’ reign, and later in 1994 when Samuel tried to perform the ritual.
It was believed that whenever Kharon the comet made its appearance, it led to the thinning of the veil between two worlds: the earth realm and other realms. It created a hole between the two worlds, bringing the demon of the different realm, i.e., Kaelego, to our domain. Like all demons, Kaelego wanted to recreate the world in his own image, and those who worshiped him would benefit from his rule.
Probably during the 14th century, Baldung Coven feared Kaelego’s dominion and thus sacrificed their magic to trap Kaelego inside the pedestal sculpture. Due to the sacrifice, the portal between the two worlds could only be opened by Baldung’s blood, and that’s where Melody came in.
Melody shared a bloodline with Baldung Coven. Julia Bennett did not want her daughter to bear the burden of her ancestors, so she abandoned Melody. But Samuel found her with the help of Steve Turner and sent her a letter in the name of Julia Bennett to bring Melody to Visser. Because Melody was a Baldung, it was painful for her to hear the demonic prayer or the rhythmic humming, and thus she started digging up the secrets buried in Visser.
Though comet Kharon was named after Hades’ ferryman, the other realm ruled by Kaelego couldn’t be stated as hell or Hades’ underworld. Beatriz Reyes summoned the dead spirit of William Crest without any painful misadventure. However, while trying to help Melody, she plunged into the future, from where Dan communicated with Melody. The bridge connecting these two timelines was probably Kaelego’s domain, which mentally affected Beatriz, like Eleanor and Anabelle.
The Significance of Mold, Video Tapes and Snuff Film’ The Circle’
In 1924, Iris Vos performed the ritual and recorded the presence of Kaelego in spirit photographs. In the present time, Mark told Dan that these tapes and films were considered cursed because people believe that films can capture all kinds of supernatural elements that the human eye fails to see. The philosophy was adapted by a radical group of abstract artists who became part of the Spirit Receivers movement. Eleanor and her partner, Cassandra, were a part of this movement that moved to New York City in 1974 and started living in Visser.
Virgil Davenport believed that the secret to raising Kaelego was hidden somewhere in the tapes recorded by Melody. That was why he wanted to restore them with Dan’s help. At the end of Archive 81, Julia Bennett, who worked at the estate under a pseudonym, says playing the footage thins the veil between two worlds and unravels the spell that holds the door shut. Dan was consistently watching the tapes, which was why he was able to connect with Melody, trapped in Kaelego’s otherworld. It can be speculated that the tapes and the mold created a bridge between two realms.
The mold marked the presence of Kaelego’s spirit, and that was why the VCR was infected with the mold. Throughout the series, the mold symbolized Kaelego’s blood that bound him with a host body or the vessel. Any person who was possessed by the mold was able to communicate with people from the other world. It was why Cassandra’s partner, Eleanor, and Melody’s best friend, Anabelle, painted Iris Vos, trapped in the otherworld in 1924. Later, Anabelle and Dan made contact with Melody, who was transported into Kaelego’s world in 1994. Due to mold and Kaelego’s presence, the previous archivist Thomas Bellows saw faces on the screen and went insane.
The ritual performed by Iris Vos in 1924 was recorded on a film camera. The footage survived the devastating fire in the mansion and was later found by William Crest’s friend, Peter Crawford. The snuff film became William’s inspiration to make The Circle, but as usual, he was possessed by the mold and killed himself like Eleanor. William’s daughter, Evie, found the tape of The Circle on his estate and sent it to Dan for restoration purposes. Later in the series, Evie died too. Mark heard a rumor that she suffered a stroke, but it could be speculated that her death was caused by the mold. The tape that Evie sent to Dan first appeared at the start of Archive 81 Season 1, hinting at the source of all evil, the rituals.
Who Killed Dan’s family?
Through a series of flashbacks, Archive 81 suggested that Dan’s sister was also infected with the mold. She played the demonic prayer on the piano that Dan’s father, Steve Turner, recognized and scolded the kids for doing the same.
Melody sent the séance tape to Steve in Episode 5, which was probably infected with mold and possessed by a demonic spirit. After the fire broke out in Visser, Steve went back and recovered the burnt tapes from the rubble that he hid in a storage facility. However, Virgil told Dan that certain people would go to any lengths to stop the demon from coming into this world. Hence, these people, probably Baldung Coven, burned down Dan’s house and killed his family. His escape was entirely accidental.
‘Archive 81’ Ending Explained
The Baldung Coven sacrificed its magic to lock Kaelego inside a pedestal sculpture in the 14th century. The Vos society believed that this trap door could be opened with Baldung’s book, and blood. Hence, they stole the sculpture and the spell and performed the ritual, but it went wrong. The fire caused due to an unstable portal burned down their mansion, just like the Visser in 1994. In the end, Julia Bennett explained to Dan and Mark that only a Baldung could open the door with the help of the spell and the key. She was living under a different identity in Virgil’s estate because she needed Vigil’s help to perform the spell to bring back Melody from the otherworld.
Julia chanted the spells at the perfect frequency to open the portal between the two realms so that Dan could bring Melody back. In the other outerworld, Kaelego tried to tempt Dan into staying in the outerworld. In an earlier episode, Iris told her housemaid Rose that Kaelego had the power to bring back the dead. In Kaelego’s world, Dan met his dead family and was tempted to stay when he finally gained consciousness. He made a distinction between reality and illusion and decided to save Melody and leave the haunted realm immediately.
Dan found Melody in a church, still waiting for her mother to show up. He told Melody that the realm was an illusion, a trick to keep prisoners forever. Dan took Melody and started following the sound of the tuning fork to find their way out. At this moment, Kaelego showed up and started hunting Melody and Dan.
Dan finally found an escape door to the other realm, but near the escape, Samuel turned up and dragged Melody out of the realm, leaving behind Dan.
The end of Archive 81 suggested that Melody came out of the otherworld, but the sequence didn’t indicate what happened to Samuel, who dragged her out. On the other hand, Dan woke up in a hospital bed on April 8, 1994, i.e., around ten days after the fire broke out in the Visser. The nurse hinted that they had recovered him from the site, and he was lucky to survive the accident. On the news, Dan saw MTV Reporter Kurt Lodger reporting the death of Kurt Cobain, who died on April 5, 1994 and his body was discovered on April 8. Dan looked out of the windows, and the shadows of twin towers cleared his doubts that he was indeed transported to Melody’s timeline, i.e., 1994.
‘Archive 81’ Season 2 Expectations
For some reason, Melody and Dan ended up on different timelines, which was probably due to Samuel’s interference during their escape from the outerworld. Archive 81: Season 2 will further explore Dan’s struggle to travel back to his original timeline and finally meet Melody.
Another conflict that is constantly explored throughout the series is Baldung’s handbook, which was used to liberate Kaelego. Iris told her brothers that the book couldn’t be burned, but Julia may know a way to destroy the cursed book. Season 2 will probably follow the pursuit to destroy the book so that it cannot be used again, and that will finally mark the end of the cult and its rituals.
Archive 81 is a 2022 Occult Thriller Series created by Rebecca Sonnenshine. Season 1 is streaming on Netflix.