1899 (2022): Analysis of the Characters & Their Memories, With a Touch of Plato’s Cave Allegory
Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese are quite the masters in their novel brand of mind-bending creations. They exuded the dexterity to infuse the cleverness of puzzle-making with the art of storytelling. The three seasons-spanning series, ‘Dark’, is their magnum opus at that. Like Marvel’s hugely popular villain, Thanos, they also seem to be on a quest to collect ‘Infinity Stones.’ If ‘Dark’ was their ‘Time’ stone, ‘1899’ is their ‘Reality’ one.
The puzzle is not complete in ‘1899’, yet. They are sure to bring more seasons of it. The storytelling part in this series is fascinating with a touch of confusion nevertheless. With a plethora of unique characters with different mother tongues, ‘1899’ has perhaps even upped the complexity borne by ‘Dark’. Whether it manages to put the pieces as neatly as ‘Dark’, that is to be seen.
Related: 1899 (Season 1) ‘Netflix’ Review: Dark Follow-up By Jantje Friese And Baran Bo Odar Is Frustrating & Fascinating In Equal Measures
Here is an analysis of most of the main characters of the story and what we can expect from them in the future.
** SPOILERS AHEAD **
As mentioned above, 1899 questions the fabric of reality. It cleverly extrapolates on Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’. People in a cave, facing the blank wall will see the shapes of the shadows. They will think that is the reality if they are not aware of the existence of the other side. The side they have their backs on. Where the Sun rises and its light hits on the real objects that cast those shadows.
All the characters in 1899 are on a voyage. A journey for a better life ahead. What starts as a mysterious survival thriller gradually forays into science fiction. As one mysterious event continues to succeed another, it becomes evident that the characters are trapped. In all sorts of realities. They are trapped in their own mind, as well as trapped in the futile voyage, which is nothing but a simulation. A computerized program, alluding to a ‘Matrix’-like alternate reality.
The Importance of Memories
The simulation is hinted to be the work of one Henry Singleton. It is behavioral experimentation. It launches a handful of people (Who perhaps wanted to escape their own crushing realities) into an 1899 ocean voyage. The experiences they go through are watched for voyeuristic pleasures. By Henry. Everything that happens on the ship is part of that experimentation. However, there are secret trapdoors, assigned for everyone, which would take the characters to their darkest memories.
These memories guide the actions of the characters, and thus their consequences. Henry Singleton’s study is, after all, on that same topic. How specific triggers dictate the same response from a human being, even if they are not aware of themselves.
Maura is the daughter of Henry Singleton. And at the end, she is revealed to be the creator of the 1899 simulation. The Boy (Elliot), found in the second episode is Maura and Daniel’s son. Elliot is probably dead in ‘reality’. The denial of this tragedy led Maura to use her father’s program to create this particular simulation and create Elliot there. Because in this simulation she would not lose him.
Memory: Maura’s memory shows her back at the location of a grave. Elliot’s. And the location is not far from the mental institute, designed by her father. She is tormented by a memory of nurses dragging her away whilst she kept on shouting at her father, asking why she cannot remember things and the whereabouts of her brother, Ciaran. She later remembers her father injecting her so that she loses her memory and becomes part of the simulation.
Future: Maura is the only one who wakes up at the end, with help from her husband. She finds out that it is her brother, and not her father, who is running the simulation show now. And also, in reality, she (and some of her fellow passengers) is in 2099. Not in a ship, but in a spaceship, hurling toward infinity. She would have to deal with her brother as well as help her friends in the simulation. It would also be intriguing to see how Maura reacts to her newfound memory of her being the creator to be reunited with her dead child. Will that motive return to her? Will she turn against the people who want to ‘wake up?
Daniel is Maura’s husband. But as she does not remember, Daniel introduces himself to her as her neighbor in the simulation. Daniel is driven by love. He is the only one whom we actually see board the ship. Which indicates his awareness of reality. In Plato’s allegory of the cave, he is the one who has looked over his shoulder.
Daniel enters the simulation to help Maura wake up. To the reality. The motive seemingly for him is to rescue Maura from this simulation. Henry would tell Elliot that Daniel loves Maura more than him. As a father, it is understandable that Daniel also feels the same compulsion to stay in the simulation, so he could be there with Elliot. However, in the simulation, Maura does not remember Daniel. That is why he chooses for Maura to wake up because the sim does not fulfill what Maura perhaps wanted. To be together with her son, with Daniel. That is not possible if she never remembers anything.
Memory: Daniel’s memory is of loving moments with Maura. Clearly indicates what drives him to go to various lengths in the simulation.
Future: Daniel is still stuck in the simulation. Like everyone else. He also corrupted the simulation with some virus and changed various codes. It does seem he possesses a fair bit of knowledge and understanding about the underlying mechanics of it all. If Maura is out of the sim, Daniel could be the important proponent for all other passengers of the ship.
Elliot is the mysterious force that drives Maura and Daniel. He is their son and in reality, he is dead. It’s his presence that made the desolate Maura create the simulation. He was not aware of his ‘deceased’ status until his grandfather, Henry, forced him to ‘remember’. It is a bit strange that he did not choose to fill Maura in when he got the chance, perhaps Daniel reminded him not to. His silence was the trigger of many behavioral outputs from most of the passengers.
Memory: Elliot’s memory is a fond one of his mother. When Elliot found a beautiful beetle and wanted to pet it by keeping him in a box, Maura asked him not to. Emphasizing on the importance of one’s freedom and how that should not be sacrificed for another person not being able to let go. Ironically that is what Maura could not do, of course. She could not let Elliot go.
Future: Elliot is supposed to be dead in ‘reality’. However, he exists in the 1899 simulation and is currently with his grandfather, Henry. It is to be seen how it plays out in the future. And also there is always a possibility of ‘Is he really dead? ‘
Eyk Larsen is the tormented and begrudging captain of the Kerberos ship. Headstrong and noble, he is the leader of the pack. He is not unfamiliar with the grief of losing his wife and all his children in a fire. Eyk is trying hard to figure out everything. In Cave Allegory, he is the one who can turn around to see the other side, but he needs someone to guide him. Can Maura be the one? There is palpable chemistry between them. A friendship, waiting to be turned to love.
Memory: Eyk’s memory is of his most traumatic experience. When he came back to see his house on fire. A fire set by his mentally unstable wife. This memory clearly haunted him and also made his subordinates question his sanity and thus his decisions. Which led to a mutiny. At a certain point, Eyk himself questioned his sanity as well.
Future: Eyk is ‘killed’ in the simulation. However, ‘death’ in simulation is probably something like switching off the system. The Maura in the simulation is definitely attached to him, as he is to her.
Interesting trivia: Eyk is can rearrange to the word ‘Key’. And Maura carried a key around her neck.
Ling Yi and her mother Yuk Je sneaked into the ship. Although of Cantonese origin, Ling Yi is constantly trying to pass off as Japanese. We gradually get to know why. Ling Yi has, perhaps inadvertently, enrolled herself as one of the ‘girls’ of Virginia Wilson. She is, at one point, offered to Lucien. Ling Yi, in this entire voyage, coming to the saddening compromise, only to find true love with Olek is a fine arc for her. Needless to say, Ling Yi is well and truly believes in the simulation. With her new-found love, she has all the reasons not to look for reality. The shadows in her cave are too fascinating for her to consider them to be untrue.
Memory: Her memory shows the moments when she killed her friend Mei Mei. She did not mean to, she wanted to make her sleep while taking her place on the ship. But due to misjudging the amount of the dose, she kills Mei Mei. And then with her mother throws the body into the river.
Future: Ling Yi and her mother are seen when Maura leaves her pod in the spaceship. Their memory clearly indicated their doubts about whether they should be on the Kerberos ship or not. They took the place of another. One has to wonder whether that is the scenario in ‘reality’ as well. Whether they also snuck into the spaceship for the Ciaran’s experiments.
Jerome and Lucien
Jerome and Lucien represent the two sides of the coin. As Jerome’s memory reveals, these two were friends once. But Jerome was betrayed by Lucien and spent years in jail as a result. So, when Jerome ‘boarded’ the Kerberos ship, he has only one thing in mind. Revenge.
But it turns out, Lucien has his deserved share of bad luck as well. His masquerade as a highly decorated lieutenant earned him a shot at French aristocracy, but he could not be happy with that. He is diagnosed with a fatal disease and his life with his high-class, beautiful wife, Clemence, is not going the way he hoped for.
Both Jerome and Lucien are too occupied with their respective motives, of revenge and of exasperation, to face and see the Sun shining in their direction from the cave. Both of them would require greater force to realize that this is all a simulation.
Memory: The memory is of Jerome, but it features Lucien heavily too. The two friends were at the frontier when Lucien found the perfect way to ‘desert’ the war with glory. Jerome, as an honorable and honest man, did not agree with that. Lucien betrayed him and imprisoned him. While masquerading as a senior ranked officer, he told the officials that Jerome was the deserter.
Future: Lucien died of his disease in the simulation. Whether that is different than switching off, remains to be seen. Also, there would be a question of whether Jerome’s revenge for Lucien has any bearing on the ‘real world.’ Clemence and Lucien’s rocky relationship has shown some signs of reparations but Clemence has also shown a fondness for Jerome as well. That would be another aspect to look into.
Tove (Along with Krester, Anker, Iben, and Ada)
Tove and her family are the Norwegian Second class passengers. Apart from the pregnant Tove, the family has Krester, Tove’s oft-neglected brother; Anker, the conflicted father, Ada, the innocent little sister and the ferociously devout Iben, the mother. Krester is homosexual and that is a source of great shame for Iben. It is implied both Tove and Ada love Krester. So does Anker. But they are not vociferous enough in front of their mother’s asinine conviction towards God.
The family has too much conflict and has to be too invested to even consider that this could be a simulation. Iben’s constant reminder that everything is within God’s plan would also rule out any one of them thinking that any human could produce this.
Memory: Tove’s memory features every one of the family members except Ada. The Norwegian family used to be farmers. When Krester was found fooling around with one of the farm owner’s sons, he was cornered by that owner. Tove saved Krester from being killed, but the gunshot wounded him.
The furious landowner told the family that as Krester took his son’s innocence, he was going to take the same. And he proceeded to rape Tove. Without even a single raise of a finger from Anker, Iben, or Krester. Tove realized she has to be the one defending herself. She fought back and eventually killed the landowner. The child inside her is presumably from that encounter.
Future: Barring Tove, every one of the family died one way or another. Ada was switched off by Daniel. Krester jumped off the ship. Iben and Anker drowned in the sinking ship together. Tove with other survivors of the ship is still stuck in the simulation. Again, how much she and her family’s story is real remains to be seen.
Olek is a Polish worker. Hard-working and loyal. During the mutiny, he risked his own life to side with his captain, Eyk. He was sympathetic toward Ling Yi. Even without understanding each other’s languages, the moments they shared, are probably the most romantic ones in this series. Olek has a brother and from him, he has received the invitation to go to America, with the picture of the Statue of Liberty.
Memory: Olek’s memory was not explored. But the place of his memory is shown. A snow-clad environment with signs of violence.
Future: Olek, with Ling Yi, is stuck in the simulation and perhaps would not want the simulation to end.
And the Rest:
These are the characters we can expect would be explored more in future seasons.
Angel and Ramiro are the two lovers. Angel, clearly the one belonging to the higher Spanish society, does not always respect Ramiro. However, Ramiro has nothing but love for him. Angel died in the simulation, but Ramiro is alive in the simulation
Clemence, Lucien’s wife, is helpful and perhaps loves Lucien nevertheless. But her husband’s cold response has made it tough for her to push through. She has formed a friendship with Jerome. She is still alive and trapped inside the simulation.
Virginia Wilson, the noble lady with penchants for gossip and flesh trade. Not a lot is known about her. Her fluency in multiple languages indicates several possibilities. Her getting corrupted by the virus-like spreading inside the simulation could mean a different end for her.
Henry Singleton and Ciaran are seemingly the other two creators. Nothing is known about Ciaran at this stage, except that he is now running simulations. Henry is supposedly the main designer of the entire system that helps generate multiple simulations. But, how he himself got trapped inside the 1899 simulation is a thing of mystery indeed.
Sebastian, the first mate of captain Eyk, has been working for Henry all the time. And Franz, who spearheaded the mutiny against Eyk, dies while trying to save Tove. Sebastian is aware of the simulation but Franz is definitely not. What are they in reality, or do they actually exist in reality; again those possibilities are shrouded in mystery.
Questions for All Characters
Is Maura’s reality ‘reality’?
Knowing Baran bo Odar and Friese, the complexities could only rise from here. As Henry told what young Maura had asked him once. How do you ensure the reality you are perceiving as reality is indeed ‘the reality?’ Ciaran’s message of ‘Welcome to reality’ could also be part of another simulation. The doubt of ‘real or not’ over 2099 Prometheus would always be there.
In Plato’s Cave Allegory, what if what the cavepeople see on the walls are not shadows? But reflections. What if the other side is a mirror of another side? And that ‘another side’ is also a reflection of another different and subsequent side. Where do the layers end?
Who else is dead in real life? Or never existed in reality?
If Elliot is dead in reality and not in the simulation, who else could be the same? Ada for sure is a big contender at that as she was not part of Tove’s memory. It is possible that Ada was also killed, perhaps by the same landowner. And just like Maura, Tove and her family signed up for this simulation to be nearer to their deceased loved one.
And there is always the possibility of some characters never even existing in real life. They could be stock characters of the simulations. With predefined actions to trigger responses from the characters who are trapped inside the simulation.
Then there is the entire layer of an unreliable narrator. Maura has already been presented to us as an unreliable narrator. But what if Daniel is also the same? He mentioned false memories can be planted while talking with Maura. Within the simulation as well, how much of the memories are fabricated is not known.
All in all, 1899 is successful in doing what it intended to do. Pose more and more questions with possibilities of complexities rising even further, as you think about it more. One cannot help but crave for the next seasons.