Rebecca Sonnenshine reveals all, including big plans for a potential season 2.

Warning: This article contains spoilers about the season finale of Archive 81.

Talk about a twist ending.

Throughout Archive 81's eight episodes (on Netflix now), we're introduced to the plight of Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie), a young man who takes a suspicious job restoring a collection of damaged videotapes from 1994 for enigmatic billionaire, Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan). While restoring the tapes — which belong to a woman named Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi) who was investigating a dangerous cult at the creepy Visser apartment building when she went missing — he forms a mysterious connection with Melody and her investigation.

It all ends with Dan learning that the cult's ritual did happen in 1994, but instead of dying during it as everyone assumed, Melody was actually transported to another dimension, where time is wonky and she's still alive, waiting for someone to get her out. With the help of Melody's long-lost birth mom, who we learn is a Baldung witch capable of doing the cult's ritual the correct way (and thus without major loss of life), Dan travels to this other world. But just before he walks through the portal to safety with Melody, Samuel (Evan Jonigkeit), the leader of the 1994 cult who was stuck in there with her, snatches Dan away. Melody winds up in present day with her mom and Dan's bestie, Mark (Matt McGorry), but Dan wakes up in a hospital in what sure looks like 1994.

The show's final episodes wrap up a lot of the season's core mysteries, while still leaving a lot to explore in the future. So, we got showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine to answer our burning questions and what it all means for a potential second season.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, will there be a season 2?

REBECCA SONNENSHINE: I hope so, but I actually have no idea. But I hope so. It was always meant to keep going. We are always thinking about season 2.

Dan is stuck in the '90s right? It's not some other world we're looking at there?

Yes. I think people do wonder, but yeah, he really is there.

Different shows portray different theories about time travel. Have you had discussions about the particular mechanics of Archive 81's time travel? Like, could there be an old version of Dan running around in present day that we don't know about?

Well, it's funny because I have worked on a time travel show before and some of the other writers have too, so we'd already had like a million discussions about time travel. I think this is kind of a spin on time travel. There's not a time travel machine kind of a thing, but there is, as you were saying, there's two different theories — block universe and expanding universe. I think that I don't want to cut off story possibilities, but I do think more of it as in a block universe. So I don't know if that would be true if there's an old version of Dan. But that's an interesting concept. That's what I like about this version of time travel is that kind of anything is possible. So anything is possible going forward.

One of the show's mysteries is the fire that killed Dan's family, and his own father's connection to Melody, and how the two relate. Towards the end, Virgil reveals that there are two sides, one who would do anything to free Kaelego (like the cult), and another who would do anything to stop that from happening (like the witches). And he says that's why Dan's family perished, because they were caught in the crossfires, but he doesn't actually reveal who was responsible. So I'm curious if you have any ideas on who actually did that.

We definitely know who did that, and that is season 2. There are a lot of little Easter eggs or little things like that, that if you're like, "I wonder if that's something that is part of the mythology and that will be explored further?" And, yes. Some things just didn't actually make it into the season. When you build a mythology series, you build out all this mythology, and then you're like, "Oh, we don't have room for all that." So that was a piece that we ended up saving for season 2.

And I'm assuming what actually happens to Samuel is also part of that, because he just sort of swooped in there at the end to steal Dan away and then we have no idea where he went after that.

When or where he is, that is part of season 2. [Laughs]

Archive 81
Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in 'Archive 81.'
| Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert/Netflix

Let's talk about his brother, Virgil. He says he wants to find out what really happened to Samuel and that's why he recruited Dan to fix the tapes, but when he does find out, he doesn't seem to care much. What can you tell me about Virgil's real end game?

I will say this about Virgil and Samuel: We do reveal they're brothers and then that they are kind of trying to do the same thing. But I think, whereas Samuel very much was a believer — he's a believer in the possibilities and he had a great faith in what he was doing — Virgil is a scientist, he's a businessman, and he doesn't share that space. So it's not like a calling [for Virgil], it's just something else. So that is something that we will be delving deeper into. It's kind of at the top of our list for season 2, because we didn't quite get to it, but also I can say that everyone in the show is doing something that they think is right. There's no mustache-twirling going on here. So there is a very sort of deep reason why he's doing what he's doing. We just won't find out until season 2.

And to get into the creation of this season itself, I know that a lot of Melody's footage was actually shot by Dina. What was the impetus for deciding to do it that way?

So, we did a lot of tests and I think most people would think, oh, you're just going to shoot it and then do it in post-production. But the truth is, the camera itself, the way it moves, the lightness of it, we just felt like if we could swing it, it would be best if the character actually shot the footage inside the scene. And Dina's really good at it. She picked it up very fast and became very natural at doing it, so that it sort of became an extension of her character. And real Hi8 footage, you can't quite recreate it in post.

From the cult, to the videos, to the rituals, to the other universe — there's a lot of world-building going on. How did you decide on the look of the central god/demon figure, Kaelego?

Well, we had to move pretty quickly, just to be honest, because we needed to make the statue of him. And I didn't know what he would look like, but we needed that statue made right away to play. So, designing it, we really went on a very focused and intense path to create this monster, or god, or demon. He is based on a couple of things. But he's kind of a little bit based on Hannibal Lecter, the way he kind of looks up, and he kind of tilts his head down and looks up. That's kind of how the design began, a very still character who watches very intently. And then there was also this notion that, because we are sort of portraying this as a god or demon, that the head would have some sort of crown, because I was referencing medieval representations of Jesus with Mary. Hopefully this is not blasphemous to people. [Laughs] But that's how they were depicted in medieval and Renaissance, as divine, and they had these big round halos around them. I wanted something that had that element to it, so that's how we ended up with sort of what we would call his crown, Kaelego's crown.

You guys also invented the chant and a whole new language used by the cult. What was that process like? Let's start with that eerie chant/humming tune.

So, music is a huge part of the show, and that tune, or the song of the other world, is a big part of it. And that's why we brought on our composers very early in the prep process, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. And they helped create this sort of tune that was going to be used in many different ways, in different sort of incarnations of this tune. They were huge creative partners in creating the mythology of the song. It was very exciting to work with them on that because it's so much a part of the story and the mythology, and they came up with these notes. It wasn't anything that I was thinking it would be, because I thought it'll be like a song, but it's really more of a chant.

Yeah. With breath in it, too.

Yeah, yeah. They recorded so many different versions of the breaths. They're geniuses and we were really lucky to work with them and they really brought so much passion to the project, I can't thank them enough. So that was kind of all early on in the process. We used that on set, we had playback.

And the language?

In terms of the language, we wanted to use something that was very plausible, so we hired a language expert who's a professor who does conlangs, which is constructed languages. Because we were saying it was kind of this Northern European cult, we wanted to base it in Old Saxon. And so we did, and then he sort of made a dialect of that, and it has its own alphabet and is its own thing, but it's based in something real. And so I wrote out the spells and stuff, and then he translated everything and it was a very interesting back and forth, very intense process about the real meaning of the words. Does it mean this, or does it mean this? And then kind of constructing a language that went around that and then teaching it to all the actors. So it was a process, but it was super exciting and fun.

You're no stranger to TV of course, having produced and written for The Boys, The Vampire Diaries, and more, but this is your first time serving as showrunner. What was that experience like for you?

It was awesome. I loved it. I love every part of the process, and I've been really lucky over my career that I've been able to be very involved in the process of making the television shows, the producing elements. I always sought it out, like I'll take on extra work to be more informed about what we're doing here. So yeah, it's a lot, you're making decisions and you're like, "I hope this is the right decision." But ultimately all you can do is make the TV show that you would want to watch. You can't think, well, other people what do they want to see? All I can do, because I'm such a fan of television and shows like this, is talk. We'd talk a lot about what would we want to see, and what would make us excited, and then just try to execute that.

Archive 81 is streaming on Netflix now.

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