We watched it so you don't have to.
The sci-fi mystery The I-Land debuted on Netflix this past weekend, and it has quickly become the laughingstock of the internet (for good reason).
Critics and audiences are absolutely roasting this series — from the writing to the acting to the filming to the editing — landing it a perfect 0% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. There truly isn’t a single aspect of this show that works. And at only seven episodes, averaging about 40 minutes each, it’s a quick watch. But as short as it is, any time spent watching it would be better spent bingeing Unbelievable, another short Netflix show that premiered over the weekend.
You might be thinking at this point that The I-Land sounds like the perfect show to hate-watch, but, dear reader, you could not be more wrong. It’s just bad, and not even laughably so. If you’re still curious about this failed attempt at creating the new Lost, but don’t want to waste hours of your time, have no fear! We’re here to tell you everything you could ever want to know about The I-Land, including how it ends.
What is The I-Land about?
Things start out interestingly enough as a bunch of good-looking strangers rocking the latest in minimalist safari fashion wake up on a tropical beach with no memory of who they are or how they got there.
But this is no Lost — there’s no supernatural mystery connected to the morality of humanity here. It’s actually a simulation taking place in a prison outside Hitchcock, Texas, where inmates are put through increasingly lethal “challenges” on the island to see if they’re redeemable and therefore earn their release. Told through the perspective of an I-Land participant named Chase (Natalie Martinez), as well as her fellow memory-wiped inmates like the ambiguously Southern-accented and confrontational K.C. (Kate Bosworth) and sexual assault predator Brody (Alex Pettyfer), things are so incredibly on-the-nose that you end up feeling stupider the more the story is laid out for you. It’s just all so literal, with characters spitting out dialogue so obvious and head-scratchingly weird that you’re left to wonder if the writers have ever heard how humans speak and interact with each other.
And whereas Lost excelled because of its wonderfully complex characters and relationships, The I-Land throws all that development in the trash in favor of bafflingly dumb plot developments. You never actually care about any of these characters, making the binge that much more tedious. The coolest, most gripping plot developments mean nothing if your characters are one-note, boring, and nonsensical. In fact, you may actually find yourself rooting for the bloodthirsty sharks just off the shore of the island to grow legs, walk onto the beach, and eat every single person there, just to make things interesting.
How does The I-Land end?
After seven episodes comes a final reprieve when The I-Land presents its final “twist” and the credits began rolling. Usually sci-fi mysteries get even more exciting as more information is revealed, making the ending the best part. For some unknown reason, The I-Land bucks that trend, making the finale the least exciting episode of them all.
Most of the finale is just slow exposition explaining everything that happened in the previous episodes. It’s all conversations, rehashed over and over until every character has the same information the audience already knows. But here’s everything you find out over the course of the season: Chase learns that one of her fellow I-Landers is actually her husband in real life, and he committed the murder she’s serving life in prison for. But wait, what about those weird memories she’s been experiencing of committing that murder herself? “Haha,” The I-Land says, “you want an explanation? Too bad!” Those false memories are just never mentioned. Instead, her husband suddenly experiences his own flashback of killing Chase’s mother and just randomly blurts it out, thereby exonerating her. Chase is pulled out of the simulation and then proceeds to expose the corrupt warden of the prison (Bruce McGill), who has been sabotaging the simulation because he doesn’t believe criminals deserve a second chance.
But wait, there’s more! Perhaps because the central “mystery” of The I-Land is never really a mystery at all (we know from the very beginning that this is a simulation), the show decides to go balls-to-the-wall with random contrivances in the finale that get exponentially weirder, answering questions that were never even raised. Like the fact that the simulation is actually just for death row inmates, and the simulation is an “interactive story tree” where each choice determines the next “challenge” until either you “pass” or you die, but the jury composed of “academics” still hasn’t figured out what “passing” even looks like so no one has gotten out yet. And the number 39 that kept appearing in the simulation was actually meant to subliminally remind the inmates of their real lives… but it actually just symbolized the number of steps from the end of the cellblock to the electric chair, which none of them have been in yet since they’re obviously still alive, so how does that even track? Plus, Chase went into the simulation “voluntarily,” and there’s a long waiting list of people who also want their chance to participate to potentially earn their freedom.
All that pales in comparison to the big (almost) final twist, which reveals that Chase (whose real name is Gabriela, because all the inmates are referred to by their last name… except for K.C., because that stands for “killing children,” which was her crime?) is… gasp, old! The finale takes place outside the I-Land simulation, but Gabriela has been seeing herself as her simulation “avatar,” which is young and beautiful. But she’d actually been in prison for 25 years before she began the simulation, and you go into the simulation at the age you commit your crime. There’s no explanation or reason behind this twist other than it’s just the way they created the simulation. This is presented as some huge, emotional reveal that she’s actually old (OMG, she’s old!), but Gabriela yelling, “I am tired of playing by these rules that don’t make any sense!” when she learns that fact takes on a real meta quality. Because, girl, I am right there with you. Nothing makes any sense!
Before The I-Land finally, mercifully ends, the writers throw in a few more everything-and-the-kitchen-sink twists. Not only is Gabriela old (!!!), but climate change has taken its toll on the world and Texas is now a dystopian wasteland. “The water started taking the land” is the way we’re told that the oceans rose so much that Houston is now the coast. Gabriela is then sent out into this new (to her) world with nothing but $200, a bus ticket, and gratitude from the people running the simulation experiment for her feedback. Also, the corrupt warden is sent into the simulation with the same people he was trying to kill. And there’s a cannibal somewhere in the simulation. In the wise, eloquent words of the warden himself: “F— a dead armadillo, that’s the truth.”
Please, make our suffering mean something. Go forth and watch Unbelievable instead.