Archive 81 Season 2 Isn't Happening, So Check Out The Podcast Instead

"Archive 81" is no longer alive at Netflix. The streaming service confirmed that the show has been canceled after only a single season. It's a cancelation that has folks wondering about the massive black box of Netflix's metrics, given that the public-facing side of those metrics pointed to a very successful series.

"Archive 81" was developed for streaming by showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine and produced by James Wan's Atomic Monster. It told the story of Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie), a young man with a traumatic past hired to restore video tapes damaged in an accident. The show jumped between Dan in the present and aspiring filmmaker Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi), who is filming the tapes back in 1994. As Melody seeks to plumb the secrets of the ancient Visser Building by interviewing its residents, Dan tries to figure out what happened to her and the building itself.

The show ended on a cliffhanger in its first season. Sadly, that cliffhanger will never see a satisfying conclusion onscreen. What a lot of viewers didn't realize, however, is that "Archive 81" is based on a podcast of the same name.

Horror still works in the audio realm

The podcast "Archive 81" was created by Daniel Powell and Marc Sollinger. It began releasing episodes in 2016 and was part of the same horror podcast boom era that gave us "Lore," "Limetown," "The Black Tapes," and "The Magnus Archives." Given that two of those podcasts were turned into television series and another has been in development as a show since 2018, that's good company to be in.

"Archive 81" the podcast is slightly different from the television show of the same name. The basic premise remains largely the same: archivist Dan (voiced by show creator Daniel Powell) is tasked with restoring tapes given to him by the faceless corporation LMG. These tapes are the records of Melody Pendras (voiced by Amelia Kidd), a young woman interviewing people who live in the mysterious Visser Building back in the 1990s. As Dan archives the tapes, he finds himself drawn into a deeper conspiracy.

What's changed are the specifics. In the podcast, Dan is an audio archivist, restoring Melody's old audio tapes and saving them on a digital medium. Melody and Dan also lack the supernatural relationship across time found in the television show. In the podcast, Melody's longterm partner, Alexa, is a supporting character. (This change did not make fans of the podcast happy.)

Most importantly, the podcast is part-horror anthology. Dan and Melody have stories that progress further with each episode in the first two seasons, but the focus of each episode is a different story of the supernatural from a resident in the Visser Building. It is "found footage" in audio form. The streaming show is a more straightforward narrative, touching upon different versions of these stories in some way, but never really focusing on them.

Dive into the cosmic horror

"Cosmic horror," sometimes referred to as "Lovecraftian horror," is that fear of the unknown, the things that the human mind cannot comprehend. The "Archive 81" podcast lived comfortably within the cosmic horror genre. The streaming show did touch slightly upon some of the horror found in the podcast, but not really sticking with any single interviewee blunts the effect. Something is happening in the Visser Building in the '90s and it's something that's subtly touching each resident, even if they don't know why they're suffering.

Take Craig, the gentleman who's the focus of episode seven of the first season in the podcast. When he's interviewed by Melody, he reveals that his issue is that once a day, every day, one person appears faceless to him. And this problem persists with that one person forever. Craig relates this happening to his live-in girlfriend, which ruined the relationship. Can you love someone if you can't even see the emotions on their face? As a result of living with this trauma, Craig now works at a train station, hoping that the person that appears faceless that day will be someone he never has to see again.

The podcast "Archive 81" plays host to a number of subtle, haunting stories like this. That's what builds this feeling of dread and isolation in both Dan and Melody. Is something really happening in the Visser, or are they losing it? And how long could you, the listener, have survived in similar situations?

Where season 2 could have gone

"Archive 81" ends with Dan taking part in a ritual that'll free Melody from the pocket space she's been trapped within since another ritual that took place back in the '90s. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a hospital looking out on the Manhattan skyline. And he sees the World Trade Center, leading viewers to think that Dan is either in the past or in an alternate reality. It's likely the second season would mirror the first, but with Melody in the present trying to reach Dan.

The podcast heads toward a different horizon. Dan is still transported, but he ends up in The City, an alternate dimension hellscape ruled over by massive Leviathans who fight over the inhabitants by making their monstrous concepts manifest. It leans further into the cosmic horror, into the weirdness that one can play around with when you're not tied to a visual effects budget. Dan doesn't even make the transition over to this reality in a form that one could call entirely human.

If season 1 of the podcast is gazing into the abyss, then season 2 asks what would happen if the abyss swallowed you whole. Despite the enhanced unreality of Dan's situation in the second season, it still retains a bit of the horror anthology feel of the first season. The third season features a new cast of protagonists entirely, while still leaning on the same format.

What we'll miss out on by not having season 2

I don't think season 2 of "Archive 81" would've gone as far as the podcast did. In an interview with Variety, showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine confirmed that Dan had ended up back in the '90s. "I can tell you that he is in the '90s," she explained. "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? So what does that mean?"

There was still potential to play around with the New York that Dan found himself in. In the finale, Dan briefly finds himself in the Otherworld, the show's version of The City. A reality inhabited by a demon that can make thoughts and dreams manifest. It would have been potentially interesting to reveal that the '90s New York Dan finds himself in isn't entirely our reality. A world that's familiar... but off.

Sadly, we'll never see that reality on film. You can still enjoy everything the original "Archive 81" has to offer however. The podcast has told its tale across three seasons, alongside two smaller side stories. You can find the entire thing at the official site, which includes links to the podcast on your audio platform of choice. If you loved the show, the podcast might deliver more of what you're looking for and a complete story this time around.