The time has come.
Since I started this site, the most common email I get is “Can you tell me what’s going on in Bright Falls? I’m frightened and confused.” After nearly one billion re-watches of the entire Bright Falls series, I’m going to lay down what I think happens.
What follows in an explanation of Bright Falls. If you haven’t seen the series, this is probably the worst place on the internet to be right now. Bright Falls is a magical series full of amazement and horror. You’d be doing yourself a serious injustice to ruin the plot twists without ever seeing it. You can watch it for free on this very site. Make sure you go in order, starting with “Oh Deer” and ending with “Clearcut.”
I have write-ups on each of the six episodes. I did them directly after each episodes came out, so they only contain information up to that point in time. They’re worth reading separately from this. Although there will be some overlap, I can’t cover every observation I made in those posts (or this one would be ridiculously long). If you’re looking for some explanation in the order that events unfold, try the full write-up on each episode.
Alright, are you ready?
There are serious, no-messing-around spoilers below.
The series is a supernatural story of a man who travels to Bright Falls, only to be consumed by the dark presence hidden there. How that’s for a one sentence explanation?
It helps to re-watch the series in the context of the final outcome, so let’s focus on where we end up first. We know by fifth episode that Jake is blacking out and doing crazy violent things. We know by the final episode that he’s lost the struggle against these urges. No mater how you interpret anything else in Bright Falls, I think those few ideas are fairly clear.
Jake is corrupted by the darkness. Jake struggles to fight or escape the inner darkness. Jake eventually loses to the darkness.
Although it may be frustrating to think about, there are only two types of questions in Bright Falls – ones that are answered, and ones that aren’t. Any time you do enigmatic science fiction like this, there are going to be unanswered bits and as an audience you have to just accept that. In six episodes, there’s only so much of a scope for your narrative.
The above explanation about Jake brings up a lot of questions about the nature of the darkness. Those types of things can only be loosely speculated; most are out of the scope of the story. While this would normally be infuriating, the series has a perfect out in Alan Wake. We know the story of Alan Wake will go much deeper into “What is the darkness?” and in a way Bright Falls was created to make us want to know that. In the mean time, think of it like this -There’s something evil at work in the town of Bright Falls. A dark presence is corrupting people. Bright Falls is the story of one such individual.
With that in mind, we can start asking the right kind of questions. When did the darkness take Jake? At what point did he turn? Was it gradual or was there a breaking point? In order to answer these questions, we’re going to have to form some kind of time line. That’s where things start to get a little more complicated.
The first image in the entire series is Jake being pulled out of the lake. Even after the series is complete, this is one of the biggest mysteries. I’ve been assured by the creators that although elusive, the answer is buried somewhere within the series. At first I thought it Emil. Remember that Jake seems to be in Bright Falls to get some information on the doctor. Emil acts very strangely around him. Something’s up. As you can see from an enhanced version of the opening shot, Emil would probably look a lot weirder in a wet suit so I’ve got another idea.
In my original post about episode four, I speculated that Jake was trying to get a new headlight or similar part. We never hear what he’s ordering, only that he’ll have to wait for it. He ends up buying duct tape, so I assumed this was his Plan B. That doesn’t make a ton of sense though, because he has the duct tape at the counter before he’s ordering. He doesnt know about the delay yet. If you rewatch the scene, he’s holding a small slip of paper. Behind the man at the counter, there are shelves full of pill bottles. I think we can confirm that Jake is trying to order his medication. Believe it or not though, Jake’s reaction to the shipment delay isn’t the most important thing in the frame. Check out this sketchball:
I need to take a second to applaud the creators on this one. Someone on this very blog once commented that they thought the diver was the man in the department store. Creative Director Mat Bunnell responded to the specific comment by stating There’s no ‘man in the hardware store’ in the credits. At the time, of course, I thought that meant that a random background extra would clearly not be the elusive diver. Looking back, it more likely meant that a careful look at the credits would reveal that there’s no credit for a man in the hardware store because he has a more vital role. He’s got a name. He’s important.
We do know that Mott is an important character in Alan Wake, but without reading the novel or playing the game we don’t have a whole lot more information available to us. There’s a lot more to say about this character and his connections, but have to save that for when I do the post on Alan Wake.
This is one of the events that makes the chronology so confusing. Bright Falls teases us with the body bag image right at the beginning of the series, but that isn’t where the timeline actually begins. This is a glimpse of what will be happening at the end of episode four. At the end of the episode, Jake makes his way out of the body bag wearing his grey shirt and no shoes. Although he makes a rather humorous attempt to dress up when he visits Hartman again (nice blazer Jake, I’m sure you’ll fool him) the grey shirt and lost shoes are his attire for the rest of the series.
I want to present some evidence for this though, because the chronology is one of the hotly contested points of the series.
I”ll assume you’re with me on the idea that scene 1 of episode 1 is the same scene as at the end of episode four. Episode four shows more of that scene – Jake gets out of the body bag, as seen in the right side of image above, and runs into the woods. Wet, night time, grey shirt, no shoes. Episode five begins during the day, with Jake finally making it to the road. While some think this is a different day or time, the creators have confirmed that episode five starts the morning after episode four’s evening ends.
So it’s the very next morning. Jake is dry, the sun is up, and he’s found his way back to the car. He spent all night wandering around trying to find his way back. When he reaches the road, he finds some broken glass as well as his car. This scene requires careful study, and even then there’s no hard answer. The broken glass doesn’t appear to be from his car. I mean, a normal person would see that damage to their car and inspect it. Then again, Jake just woke up in a body bag. He walked right past (even over!) the glass without a second thought. I guess it’s fair to say he isn’t a normal person, but we can’t see any new damage to the vehicle so I’m going to say it’s from somewhere else.
Alright, time for things to get weird again.
Jake’s trunk is open, and his keys are in it. My first assumption was that he drove here, rushed to get something out of his trunk, and took off into the woods. I thought perhaps it was Sam Smith’s body, which doesn’t seem to have been found. While that’s still a possibility, we know a little more about Jake’s darkened state now. Does it really seem like the man who tore apart that room with an animalistic carelessness would try to cover his tracks? He’s a beast, not a hitman.
I mean, we see someone who’s been taken by the darkness. What do they look like?
That doesn’t look like someone who can drive, let alone someone who cares about concealing a body. If anything, I think it’s more likely that Sam was eaten by Jake than driven off somewhere. Episode four is called Local Flavor, after all. The series reminds us several times (again in episode six!) that these people are more like animals once the darkness has taken hold of them.
My bet is that Jake was driven there in the trunk, or at the very least someone else drove him there and opened the trunk in a hurry for some reason. It’s interesting that there’s rain boots in the trunk as well. Are they Jake’s? Did someone else throw them in there with the intention of heading down to the water? How does Mott tie into this? The questions are starting to become overwhelming again. The best we can do is continue to speculate. Without the series actually showing us, we may never have a real answer. Perhaps there is no “right” answer, or perhaps when need to spend some time with Alan Wake.
Once Jake is back in the car, he drives through the dark tunnel we saw at the end of episode two. Think back to the episode. I bet you forgot all about that guy with the deer head, didn’t you! “Who” is probably the wrong question here. The camera isn’t shy about concealing the man’s identity…it just doesn’t care much either. Who the man is isn’t the concern here.
Jake had just experienced some bizarre flashes while talking to Dr. Hartman, one of which included a brief glimpse of a deer head floating in the water. Could it be the same one the man is carrying? Right before Jake enters the the tunnel, he also notices an image of deer head scribbled on his notes among some other psychotic ramblings. The drawing of the deer head is probably a sort of premonition. It’s like the flashes, showing what’s to come. It’s more an a coincidence that he notices it as he passes the man on the road. It’s similar to the connection he makes when he sees the crazy lady behind bars, only to notice her later in episode four.
When we first saw the notes, they were meaningless to us. Knowing what we do now, they’re worth another look.
NORE MORE LIGHT
IT IS HUNGRY FOR MORE
EMBRACE ME OR FEAR ME
I HAVE ALREADY ARRANGED MY LEGACY
We’ve narrowed down our “when” question. By the end of episode two, there’s already something taking hold of Jake…something that’s almost certainly been there since he crashed into the deer with his car. It’s all over for Jake before it’s really even begun. The darkness lives in him, waiting for its first meal. As he entered the tunnel, there was a similar fade to darkness as the ending of episode six. I think it was in the tunnel that he lost control and maybe even attacked the man. It isn’t out of the real of possibilities that he went after the man or even the deer head, chasing them all the way to the water. Perhaps he tried to devour the deer. He may have also attacked the rabbit you see in the flashes, trying to bury it in the woods as an animal would.
The note pad gives you a glimpse of the darkness, but toward the top it also says he knows. Emil knows whats happening to Jake. Not only does he know the nature of the darkness, he knows it’s happening to Jake specifically. By the second time they meet, he’s looking at his watch – maybe seeing if the sun would still be out. He checks Jake with the light to see how far gone he is. He’s known all along. What we see is his evaluation of Jake’s progress.
So how does Emil know? I think he’s having Jake followed, or at the very least getting information from someone else. Jake’s here to investigate Hartman, and Hartman’s already a step ahead of him. It could be Mott, but at this point it may be Ellen as well. Remember that Jake has already talked to Ellen at this point. It’s a small town, it’s probably safe to assume everyone knows everyone. That’s part of what makes everyone a suspect.
During their conversation in the second episode, Jake says to her You know, I never understood why you moved here. She has a very negative reaction, although she tries to cover it. She says No, I guess not. Maybe her look is disappointment, maybe it’s alarm, but whatever it is she abruptly leaves. Their entire meeting has a lot of similarities to Dr. Hartman’s evaluations.
Don’t forget Jake’s other interactions with Ellen – they’re no less suspicious. It seems like she knows what’s happening, but wants to believe there’s more hope for him than there actually is. When they meet for the second time, she pushes him away. She tells him to leave. She may be trying to protect him…but there’s also that phone call she receives. Who’s on the other end? Dr. Hartman? Deputy Mulligan?
This is only the first in a series of posts picking apart the series. I plan to do future posts on the individual characters, unanswered questions, and what the game Alan Wake tells us. There are still lingering questions…it could be months or even years before we have solid answers. In the mean time, the best we can do is continue asking. It’s time for some peer review.