I’ve finished watching 1899 on Netflix, all the way through to its frustrating ending. I have questions.
Warning: Spoilers for 1899 ahead.
The show begins as a seemingly straightforward period piece about a spooky steamship heading from London to New York in 1899. Every one of the passengers, we soon learn, is lying about their past, running from a secret or passing themselves off as someone they’re not. Usually all of the above. That might have been enough of a story for some showrunners, but 1899 hangs a sharp right turn into Lost and Westworld territory, and soon viewers are trying to untangle time travel. And dimensional pathways. And simulations. And transferred consciousness. This show might as well be Star Trek.
Friends ask me if they should buckle in and watch 1899. My answer is kind of wishy-washy. Maybe? It’s good, but not as satisfying as I wanted it to be. A lot of that has to do with the many unanswered questions the show flings at viewers, then just kind of … leaves out there.
Creators Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar told Deadline they’d like 1899 to be a multi-season show, if ratings are good enough. So maybe some of these questions will be answered in a 1899 season 2, but until then, they’ll play in my mind like the numbers from Lost, or the maze from Westworld, or the symbol from Game of Thrones, or … you get the picture.
Is Elliot alive in the real world?
Elliot, the mysterious boy found on the equally mysterious Prometheus, turned out to be the son of Daniel and Maura. He’d died of an illness and his brilliant mother desperately creates the simulation where she can keep him alive. It certainly seems that he’d be dead in a second season, but anything can happen in this world, so maybe there will be resurrection? Or Maura can go back in time and find a cure for whatever illness Elliot had?
What is Ciaran’s deal?
Ciaran is Maura’s brother. At first we’re led to believe he went missing on the Prometheus and that Maura is searching for him. But eventually, it turns out it’s Ciaran who’s running the simulation, keeping his sister and father captive. He leaves Maura a note for when she finally wakes up, but a second season needs to introduce this mysterious sibling so we can find out why he’s done … well, any of the things he’s done.
What is Project Prometheus?
Maura finally wakes up in a new location, a spaceship that’s sailing through space in 2099 as “Project Prometheus,” with 1,423 passengers and 550 crew. We know barely anything about the so-called “project. But it’s listed as a “survival mission,” so perhaps Earth has been destroyed or is about to be and these people, like the migrants aboard the Keberos, are seeking a new homeland.
Is this spaceship a new simulation?
So we end with Maura on the spaceship, and, because she used the new keys (her wedding ring and the colorful pyramid toy instead of the black one) we’re assuming she’s in reality now. But who knows? This could be another simulation, with the real reality still out there.
Is the black virus Virginia had curable?
Virginia Wilson touches a black metallic substance that’s growing and spreading throughout the Kerberos. It jumps to her body, turns her hand black, and appears to spread up her arm to her neck and the side of her face. She’s able to walk around with it but it doesn’t look like she can bend that hand. (Game of Thrones fans will see a resemblance to greyscale, that series’ deadly condition that makes flesh stone-like.) Henry, Maura’s father, and her husband, Daniel, refer to it as the “virus,” making it seem as if a computer virus is crawling through the simulation’s code. Did Daniel cause it with his desperate attempts to fix things? Wherever it came from, it’s got creepy physical effects, and it’ll be interesting to see if a version of it makes it to season 2.
Why was the simulation set in 1899?
It makes for a cool period piece, with geishas and gentlemen and cosplay. But if we assume Project Prometheus is the actual reality, and 2099 the actual date, why would the whole simulation take place on a ship back 200 years before that? As mentioned above, it does create a nice parallel with the immigrants fleeing their homeland for a new world, just as we presume the passengers on the spaceship are desperately looking for a safe place to land.
We might actually have an answer for this one. Showrunner Jantje Friese says the show creators liked 1899 because it’s on a threshold of a new century, stepping from old-fashioned days to a new future. “There was something fascinating about exactly that moment in time,” Friese told Netflix blog Tudum. “What happened in that period is that modernism clashed with old beliefs. More scientific-oriented thinking started [influencing society] while you still had very religious beliefs [also prevalent], and those two things pulled on each other, old and new.”
Did the Kerberos passengers lose their memories?
So the Kerberos passengers can die and then their memories are reset so they can start over in a new version of the simulation. But as the first season ended, passengers weren’t dead. Some (all?) of them are on Project Prometheus. Will they somehow remember their steamship lives? Will we meet them all again as people of 2099 if the show gets a second season?
What’s with 1011, inverted triangles, pyramid toys?
There were a number of unexplained symbols in the show. Maura’s ship cabin and the creepy injection room were both numbered 1011, and that number reappeared often, as did the inverted triangle symbol and a pyramid toy. Show creators Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar addressed these in the Netflix Tudum blog, too. Turns out they loved the mystery of a pyramid or a tetrahedron, and say that shape has a role in simulations and virtual realities.
“The reoccurring triangle symbol itself represents the element earth,” Friese said, in what seems like an obvious nod to the ending and the passengers fleeing Earth. The room number 1011 was meant to hint at binary code, which might give a clue the ship was a computer simulation. But it’ll be interesting to see if these same numbers and symbols reappear in the spaceship, or if new ones sprout.
What are the shiny green bugs?
Mechanical green bugs are used in the show to crawl under and unlock doors, sometimes create doors, and in one case, lead Maura and Elliot to the ship’s captain, Eyk. We know that in life, Elliot had a green beetle he called Alfred and his mother, Maura, told him not to keep it trapped. Seems like Maura created the bug, perhaps so Elliot would have his pet always, but some more details about the bugs would be welcome. There’s certainly symbolism there, as the very bug Elliot wanted to keep captive is opening doors and freeing people.
Did we really need that sexual assault storyline?
Danish character Tove is very pregnant, and we learn that this is the result of a rape that took place in front of her parents and brother. It’s maybe the most horrific scene in the show, and there seems to be no reason for this happening to her except that all the passengers have terrible pasts full of secrets. As the show ends, she hasn’t given birth. Will she even be pregnant if she’s part of the new show? Will the baby ever be born? What about the other passengers’ pasts — will they all be reset? Some of them could be an entire show on their own, including Ling Yi disguising herself as a geisha after accidentally killing her friend, and the mysterious duo of Ángel and Ramiro.