Who took the teens and where did they wind up?
Warning: Full spoilers for Season 1 of Netflix’s The Society follow. You can read our spoiler-free review of The Society here.
While Netflix’s The Society most definitely has strong supernatural and metaphysical elements, the bulk of its first season revolves around a class of high school juniors and seniors trying to forge a way to survive inside an isolated small town with limited supplies.
Peppered within it though are little blips and clues about the teens’ crisis – particularly in the premiere and finale. It’s not like the kids don’t know that something bat*** has happened to them, it’s just that they have to devote a ton of time and energy to actually not dying (or not killing each other), and it tends to eat up a lot of their “mystery box” investigation time. After one trek into the freaky woods that now surrounds the town winds up with a girl – Emily (Chloë Levine) – dying, their core directive becomes “we need to freakin’ figure out how to govern ourselves.”
So what has happened to this group? Nothing’s been answered, but theories abound. Not just from viewers, but by the teens on the show as well. Let’s dig in by starting at the end.
DID WE LEAVE OR DID THEY LEAVE?
In the final stretch of the season, Gordie (José Julián), acting as part of the Committee for Going Home, gives everyone an update on the situation after half a year of turmoil. He has no concrete answers, but through his ruminating, he ascertains that it’s the teens who have left proper Earth.
Having pared everything down to two options – either everyone else is gone or they’re gone – Gordie decides, based on some out of place stars and the lack of satellites between Earth and the moon, that they’re the ones who are not in the real world. Whether it’s a pocket dimension, an alternate plane, or purgatory, no one knows.
The upside to this, he says, is that it means the real world still exists somewhere. With everyone and everything, they left behind.
At the very end of the finale, after a coup masterminded by her cousin Campbell (Toby Wallace) takes Allie (Kathryn Newton) out of power, we switch over to… the dog who died.
Yes, one head-scratching element to the teen’s town of “New Ham” was that there was a lone stray dog in there with them. The poor pooch eventually got off-screen killed by Campbell in his attempt to emotionally control Elle (Olivia DeJonge), but here, in what we assume is the original town of West Ham, it’s still very much alive. And being comforted by Harry’s mom, Karen (Anastasia Barzee)…
There she is, wearing a yellow ribbon. She heads inside the building and proceeds to read Peter Pan to all the young kids of West Ham, with all the parents standing around them. All wearing yellow ribbons, which memorialize those who are missing and/or have fallen.
So then are the parents and children in their own pocket universe?
As represented by the plaque behind Karen, with all the teens’ names on them (which looks a lot like the Citizens of New Ham sign being put up in the penultimate episode), this is still West Ham. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t have a tribute to just these teens. They’d be missing the entire world too. And also, they probably had to go out of town to get this big of a plaque. For all intents and purposes, as Gordie suspected, the teens poofed away and everyone else stayed put.
BACK TO THE START
Now let’s sift through what we know.
In the first episode, Harry (Alex Fitzalan) and Kelly (Kristine Froseth) see his mom, along with Sam and Campbell’s dad and uncle (the latter being their assumed family connection to Allie and Cassandra), yelling at this guy (Chaske Spencer)…
Sam and Campbell find a letter naming him “Mr. Pfeiffer.” And there’s probably a reason his name rhymes with “Piper” since things seem to have gotten very Pied Piper-esque with him. There’s a foul smell in the town. It went away, but then it returned. Pfeiffer offered to remove it for a huge fee but the letter stated that Sam and Campbell’s dad and uncle refused to pay.
That’s when Pfeiffer (and two other unknown bus drivers, making three busses in all) shipped the teens off to the Great Smokey Mountains, courtesy of the Parks Department, to chill until the smell died down and the Department of the Interior and EPA could investigate. Just the high schoolers over the age of 16.
Then a weird thing happened. All the teens fell asleep. Sure, it was late, but all the teens? Their bedtime suddenly became 10 pm? Anyhow, this meant when they arrived back in (what they thought was) West Ham, it was a surprise.
THE SINS OF THE PARENTS
We don’t know the exact reason the teens were taken. Are they being punished or are the parents? Did all this come about because West Ham is somehow cursed? Most likely, sure, the grownups are to blame. Specifically, the upper crust of West Ham, but we don’t know enough about their specific drama to really dig at the mystery. Only that Kelly’s dad and Harry’s mom were having an affair. But we never even met Kelly’s dad so it only feels like we’re scratching the surface here with regards to a believable reason why all this chaos unfolded. Ostensibly, Pfeiffer only swiped the teens because the town refused to pay him.
THE WRITING ON THE WALL
…there was biblical graffiti.
On the day the teens were bussed out, there was a passage from the Book of Daniel written on a brick wall in West Ham (writing that was not present in the town the kids wound up in). It’s Hebrew that translates to “You’ve been weighed in the balance, and are found wanting.”
This town has been judged by something from beyond. Something connected to Pfeiffer and his mystery odor. The smell of sulfur is connected to both God and Satan, depending on what part specific area of the bible you’re covering, though over the centuries it’s most definitely become a commonplace calling card of the Devil. But the graffiti would suggest more that the town was being measured and judged for its sins by God.
In Daniel itself, the writing appears during a feast held by the king – Belshazzar – while he holds a massive feast and drinks from vessels stolen during the sack of Solomon’s Temple. It was the “hand of God” which writes the message that Daniel translates for Belshazzar and in the end, because of this judgment, the king’s empire crumbles and falls into enemy hands. Nothing about the king’s teenager being shuffled off to Battleworld though, so we’re still at a bit of a loss here. Also, we assume that graffiti was still around back in West Ham so it could have just been the work of a zealot in town.
The verdict? No hard answers yet, but we’re definitely left with enough of a satisfying soft answer to make us want to learn more. The cushiony revelation is that, yes, West Ham still exists and it’s the teens who are gone. Did they vanish without a trace or did they actually die? Like, did all the busses fall off a mountain and the bodies were recovered? Given the yellow ribbons and the plaque, it feels like a “we don’t know what happened to them” type of deal.
Matt Fowler is a writer for IGN and a member of the Television Critics Association. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler and Facebook at Facebook.com/MattBFowler.