Archive 81 Ending Explained: What Happened To Dan And Melody?

Growing up in the era of VHS, there was always something creepy about a broken tape. The hiss, the crackles, and the static ... a well-worn cassette could be absolutely terrifying. "Archive 81" brings this age-old terror into the modern world thanks to Dan (played by Mamoudou Athie), a professional archivist who has been hired to restore some old tapes.

A recent trailer plunged us down the rabbit hole even further. Promising a tale of cursed videotapes in the style of "The Ring," this new Netflix series brings some thoroughly spooky moments, not to mention conspiracies, mysteries, and all-out weirdness. Throw in a remote research facility and it's a recipe for disaster.

All work and no play makes Dan a dull boy.

Of course, it's not long before our favorite archivist is pulled into the creepy world of his VHS restoration project — the tapes depicting a mysterious cult, a God-demon which might just be real, and the final moments of a woman who supposedly died in a fire in 1994. It all gets a bit complicated, with an insidious corporation, some unexpected family ties, and then a promise to save Melody Pendras (played by Dina Shihabi), the ill-fated creator of those cursed tapes.

What's going on with that ending? We might need to back up a bit...

What Exactly Are The Tapes?

"Archive 81" revolves around a series of Hi8 videotapes — the ones Dan is restoring in the present day. Filmed by Melody Pendras in 1994, they're supposedly an introduction to her Ph.D. dissertation that focuses on an apartment complex in New York City called The Visser.

Framed as a social history project, Melody's investigation is anything but. She's actually documenting the search for her biological mother, which has brought her to The Visser after she received a mysterious letter. But her investigation soon turns towards the occult as she stumbles upon a sinister cult that permeates the building.

The cult, run by Samuel Spare (Evan Jonigkeit), seeks to thin the veil between worlds, summoning a God demon known as Kaelego. Their aim is to start the world anew without all the suffering... but it looks as though good old Kaelego has other plans. It turns out that this has been attempted before. Their summoning ritual is based on a sacrificial ritual that was used in 1924, which caused the fire which destroyed the Vos Mansion – the building which originally stood on the site of The Visser.

And when the new cult attempts the same ritual, it's met with similar results. Except, it turns out that Melody Pendras didn't die in the fire.

What Happens At The Ritual?

The penultimate episode of "Archive 81" gives us a glimpse of that original ritual — which took place back in 1924. The mysterious Vos Society (and its matriarch Iris Vos) uses a human sacrifice to open the doorway to Kaelego's realm.

But it's a bit more complicated than that.

The ritual requires several key components — a human sacrifice, a statue of Kaelego (to be covered in the blood of a witch), and the presence of the comet Kharon, which appears in the night sky only once every 70.6 years. Lucky for Iris Vos, she has the human sacrifice part covered with her unwitting housemaid, who arrives on the same morning that the cult takes delivery of its Kaelego statue. And with a party set to celebrate the passing of the comet, it's all lining up rather neatly. The only thing missing is the blood of a Baldung witch — a secret coven that's dedicated to stopping Kaelego at all costs. Thankfully, a Baldung appears at the Vos Mansion in an attempt to steal their sacred text and stop the ritual ... and when she gets killed in the process, her blood is used to fuel the very ritual she sought to prevent. You've got to love the dramatic irony, right?

So, what's all this got to do with Melody Pendras?

Melody is a Baldung Witch... Sort Of

Back in 1994, we learn that Melody Pendras is actually part of the Baldung bloodline. Remember her search for her biological mother? Well, it turns out that Melody was given up for adoption by her mom, who thought she could help her escape the responsibility of being a Baldung witch.

Unfortunately, new cult leader Samuel found her ... and sent her a letter explaining that her mother lived at The Visser in order to lure her there.

You see, Samuel is keen to continue the Vos Society's work. And a good 70.6 years after the original ritual, he aims to give the whole thing another go, summoning Kaelego to usher in a new world. Except ... that doesn't happen. It turns out that the rituals caused the fires which destroyed both the Vos Mansion and The Visser apartment complex. But the ritual doesn't just bring about death and destruction — it also opens a doorway.

Back in 1924, Iris Vos found herself pulled into an alternate dimension — the realm of Kaelego. And in 1994, the same thing happened to Melody Pendras. That's right, she didn't die in the fire at The Visser. But she is trapped in an alternate dimension that's home to a God demon. Not exactly a great alternative.

How does this all tie into the "Archive 81" ending? Let's see.

Dan Uses the Ritual to Save Melody

The entire series has been building towards this moment — the realization that Melody Pendras is still out there. Somewhere. Back in the present day, Dan works it all out with the help of his pal, Mark (played by Matt McGorry).

And they come up with a cunning plan.

Throughout "Archive 81," Dan has learned all of the components of the cult ritual ... and what it does. Realizing that Melody is trapped in this alternate dimension, Dan decides to open the doorway in an attempt to get her back. How does he manage that? Well, it turns out that his employer, Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan) is Samuel's brother, and has been preparing his own ritual chamber in the basement of LMG's secretive compound.

The exact place where Dan has been working.

And since money is no object to the wealthy magnate, he's constructed the chamber with elements from a kharonite meteorite, so there's no need to wait 70.6 years for a fleeting comet. But what about a dose of Baldung blood? Surprise — Virgil's weird assistant who has appeared occasionally at the compound (Jacqueline Antaramian) is actually Melody's mother. And she has a special key to help with the ritual, too — a tuning fork that will help Dan find his way back.

Together, they open the portal into the shadow dimension, allowing Dan to slip through.

Kaelego Throws A Spanner in the Works

Obviously, Kaelego isn't pleased to find Dan orchestrating a jailbreak. But he, too, has a cunning plan. After crossing the dimensional bridge into Kaelego's domain, Dan finds that he's right back in his family home.

But that shouldn't be possible. After all, his family died in a fire.

It's revealed that Dan's family was killed in a house fire after his father, who was Melody's psychologist, scavenged her tapes from the fire at The Visser. Dan's family was murdered to keep the tapes from being used to summon the God-demon. And it turns out that Dan's own survival was a mere accident.

But back to the shadow dimension. There, Dan finds himself at home with his dead family. It's a comforting scene that Dan, at first, seems to accept. But thankfully, he soon snaps out of it. The whole thing is a ruse by Kaelego, to tempt Dan into staying in the shadow realm with him. But Dan won't abandon his mission quite so easily.

Fleeing his old home, he finds himself in a series of twisted corridors, and soon enough, he finds Melody Pendras. Together, they make their escape — following the sound of Bobbi's tuning fork to find their portals back to the real world.

Except, surprise — Samuel is there! Grabbing Melody, he pulls her through one of two doorways, and in the blink of an eye, she appears in the present day. But what about Dan? It looks as though things didn't quite go according to plan.

It's Time to Party Like It's 1994

After saving Melody and pulling her out of the shadow dimension, it looks as though Dan could use a little help himself.

Waking up in a hospital bed, he thankfully made it out alive. But there's a massive twist. It seems that Dan left the shadow dimension through the wrong door and is now in 1994. His nurse confirms it — he was the only survivor in the fire at The Visser.

As the camera zooms out, we see the reflection of the World Trade Center in his hospital window while MTV announces the death of Kurt Cobain on the TV in his room. It seems that Dan is now stuck in 1994 with no way back. But his friends won't just leave him there. Right?

If you ask me, "Archive 81" has created the perfect setup for a second season.

Dan and Melody have effectively swapped places, and it's up to his newfound friends to save him. The only catch? Melody has already spent decades in the shadow dimension. Will she really want to go back in?

Either way, I can't help thinking that Kaelego won't let them get away so easily next time. And with Samuel and the Vos Society still out there somewhere, getting Dan home won't be quite so easy.