Warning: major spoilers for the Bodies finale.
“I hope they feel like they’re coming down from a trip or out of a trance,” said Bodies showrunner Paul Tomalin when asked what he hoped viewers would take away after watching his adaptation of Si Spencer’s graphic novel of the same name. Job done. Eight-episode mystery Bodies tells an extremely ambitious story, and deserves to be filed alongside 1899, The OA and Sense8 in Netflix’s trip/trance sci-fi category.
Fans of that category will know that it’s a perilous place to be when it comes to recommissioning. All of the shows above were cut short after failing to break through to a wide-enough audience – perhaps as a result of their complicated philosophical and sci-fi ideas, or perhaps for not managing to prove quite as much fun as their high concept ideas promised.
Luckily for viewers, Bodies’ characters and plots do reach a satisfying conclusion that means a recommission isn’t required – even if a slightly cynical attempt to leave a door open for a potential return has been tacked on to the end. Let’s explore that ending, and any lingering questions…
Why Did Teenage Elias Disappear?
After briefly reuniting with his birth-mother Sarah outside her house, Elias and 2053-Hasan vanished into thin air. By deciding not to detonate the nuclear bomb in 2023, Elias had interrupted his continuous loop of travelling back to 1890, setting up the circumstances of his own birth and ultimately becoming the commander of a new society, and thereby erased his own existence (and that of 2023-Hasan) in the new timeline loop.
Teenage Elias was persuaded not to carry out the detonation by his older self back in 1941, whose loop had been manipulated by Maplewood and Hillinghead so that he remained isolated and unloved. 1941 Elias recorded a secret message that he entrusted to Whiteman before begging Whiteman to kill him. Whiteman left Hasan a clue as to where the record was hidden. After travelling back to 2023 from 2053, she found the record and played it to teenage Elias, who accepted that he needed to sacrifice himself to save others.
So, Elias Mannix Was His Own Great-Great-Grandfather?
Yes. Which meant that he married and impregnated his great-great-grandmother – Polly Hillinghead, daughter of Alfred. To sum up: 2053-Elias travelled back to 1890 where he took on the new identity of Sir Julian Harker, married Polly and with her had a son named Hayden (“Hayden will grow up and he’ll have children, and their children will have children, and one of them will be my father”) who became a police officer in Whiteman’s department. Hayden Harker fathered a son named Daniel, who took his mother’s surname of Barber.
Danny Barber then deliberately fathered a child with 15-year-old drug addict Sarah Mannix in order to produce Elias Mannix, the subject of his own “Know You Are Loved” doomsday cult. Elias was taken into care aged four, and led a miserable unloved life which motivated him to create the KYAL or Know You Are Loved world, using the excuse of the terrible nuclear blast to rebuild and restructure society into what he believed was a better place that would bring him happiness and the experience of love, but which created a two-tier system of those who accepted his world and those who rebelled against it.
Chapel Perilous, Gideon Defoe and “The Throat”
In 2053, an anti-Mannix resistance group existed under the name “Chapel Perilous” (a literary and psychological term meaning a dangerous trap that dates back to Thomas Mallory’s 15th century work Le Morte d’Arthur, and which was also used by writers T.S. Eliot, Dorothy Hewett and various others, as well as being used to define a paranoid psychological state by philosopher Robert Anton Wilson). That group was led by Shahara Hasan, who’d lost her father and young son in the 2023 blast, and by physicist Professor Gideon Defoe (aka The Longharvest Lane dead body).
Through investigation of “the Deutsch Particle” (perhaps named for real-world physicist and quantum computation professor David Elieser Deutsch?), defined in the show as “an abnormal neutrino trace that defied every natural law”, Defoe discovered the existence of “The Throat” – a source of temporal displacement, or as it’s described in the show, “a pocket full of weird” – that splits people into multiple states of time or essentially, time travel.
Mannix used The Throat to travel back to 1890 and start his whole cult-wealth-bomb timeline loop off, and Defoe used it to try to stop Mannix, which actually kick-started the whole loop by dragging the four detectives into Mannix’s story.
The Four Bodies, the Missing Bullet and the Tattoo
Iris Maplewood shot Gideon through the eye at the exact moment his body was being split into multiple states of time by The Throat, which created four versions of him that each landed in the same location – Longharvest Lane in East London – but in different time periods. The bullet (eventually) killed him in all four time periods, but as his body had travelled through time when he was shot, it didn’t create an exit wound and didn’t come with him through time but dropped to the floor in his present when he disappeared.
Whenever anybody travels through The Throat, it strips them naked (also removing any cyborg tech like Iris’ spinal column) and marks the inside of their wrist with its symbol in the shape of three vertical lines intersected by a fourth horizontal line. That was the shape on Gideon’s wrist when he was discovered as a corpse in all the timelines, the one scratched into the brick in Longharvest Lane by Hillinghead, and the one Whiteman used to alert Hasan to the presence of the “It’s all lies” record he’d hidden in the back of a police photograph in The Silk pub.
So, Everybody Else Survived?
More or less. In Gideon’s notes, Maplewood found maths predicting that his body would land back in Longharvest Lane in his own time four days after he travelled through The Throat. She went there to wait for him with a high-tech medical neck brace that kept him alive, but then travelled to what she assumed was her own death in 1890 in order to stop Mannix’s loop for good. That achieved, you presumed that Maplewood was presumably stuck in 1890 but somehow she managed to end up in 2023 driving a cab containing Hasan in a last-minute twist.
Everybody else did make it. By averting the 2023 nuclear blast in the newly begun loop, Hasan’s father and son survived, as did Iris and Alby’s parents. Because Defoe’s body never landed in 1890 or in 1941, both Hillinghead and Whiteman (and by extension, little Esther) were never dragged into the whole mess, and they survived too, even becoming better people for it.
Polly Hillinghead obviously didn’t marry Sir Julian Harker/Elias in this new version of events, or get shot by Whiteman, and by the looks of the posters advertising her concerts seen behind Whiteman in the 1941 final segment, she became a famous pianist playing theatre shows.
Did Mannix Really Regret the Bomb or Was He Manipulated?
That’s the question. It was Elias’ adoptive father Andrew Morley – part of the Know You Are Loved doomsday cult – who suggested to Hasan that Elias would come to regret the bomb, thus giving Chapel Perilous the idea of trying to convince Elias that his plan wouldn’t lead to love and happiness.
That plan worked. After Maplewood travelled back to 1890 to tell Hillinghead everything, he successfully sabotaged Elias’ happiness by sowing a seed of doubt in his mind about the certainty of what he was doing. That seed grew, distancing Elias from his formerly beloved wife Polly, who was distanced from him and their child in turn when Elias told her that he was responsible for her father’s death. The result was a lifetime of isolation and hostility, not the happy ending Elias had sought.
The fact that Elias left his younger self the message not to go through with the bomb detonation shows that his own happiness was his only real concern, not guilt over the half a million deaths he’d caused by detonating the bomb in order to build his so-called utopian society.
Why was Maplewood in 2023 at the end?
We delve into those closing minutes here (but in short – they’d finished the story but wanted to justify a potential return if Netflix commissioned one, so it was tacked on).
Finally: What Did it All Mean?
A lot! To look at its choice of detective characters – a Muslim woman of colour, a disabled woman reliant on technology to walk, a Jewish man in 1940s London, a closeted gay man at a time when homosexuality was still 80 years from being decriminalised in the UK, Si Spencer and Paul Tomalin’s seems to be in part a story about outsiders, intolerance, and social and personal acceptance.
The character of Mannix, whose deep personal trauma drove him to destroy so many lives in a quest to soothe his soul and create what he saw (but others clearly didn’t see) as a utopia, questions the motivations of political leaders and how their personal drive affects the people they rule.
The fact that Mannix was deliberately exposed to his childhood trauma by the machinations of his doomsday cult, who needed him to experience pain so that he would seek to correct it and thus create them, could be a critique of political systems such as capitalism that keep people in continual pursuit of fulfilling needs that were created by the system itself…
Or, you know, maybe it’s just about guns, corpses, bodies in jars and twirly-whirly time portals? All valid answers.
Bodies is available to watch now on Netflix.