Netflix’s newest horror series Archive 81 starts a little bit like the famous Ringo, in that it involves watching videotapes. Based on the podcast of the same name, the series begins with Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie), a researcher hired to catalog a video archive. The tapes contain the findings of filmmaker Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi), who has been missing since 1994. But the further Dan goes, the more twisted the tale becomes until full-blown cults are involved. This leads to the question: Is Archive 81’s Kaelego based on a real myth?
Warning: Spoilers for Archive 81 Season 1 follow. For most of Archive 81 Season 1, it seems that whatever happened to Melody in her quest to investigate the dangerous Vos Society cult, she did not come out of it alive. The series feels a bit like a whodunit, albeit with supernatural elements that somehow tie Dan and Melody together across space, time, and videotape. But in a shocking twist, Dan discovers Melody is alive; the cult ritual she was involved in went haywire, and Melody was trapped in another dimension, along with the half-demon god Kaelego. It’s up to Dan to save her.
Dan performs the ritual and enters the dimension with the help of a Baldung witch who turns out to be Melody’s long-lost mother. However, he fails to exit with her and instead is snatched back by the cult’s leader, Samuel (Evan Jonigkeit), and left in 1994.
Whether the show gets a second season for Melody to go on a rescue mission to save Dan remains to be seen. Until then, fans have many questions about the mythos of Kaelego.
Some of the show is pulled from the real world. For instance, Baldung witches are taken from a famous chiaroscuro woodcut by German Renaissance artist Hans Baldung, carved in 1510. (Baldung’s art created several common stereotypes that are still used in witch storytelling today, including flying on broomsticks.)
But the mythos around Kaelego is a little more out there. According to the show’s history, Kaelego is a trickster god, one who is able to bend the laws of time and space. Millennia ago, the Baldung coven sacrificed their magic to trap Kaelego inside a pedestal sculpture, but he’s been slowly leaking out in the last few decades as hallucinogenic mold. The Vos Society has been working to free him ever since discovering this, just as the present-day Baldung witches have worked to stop them.
But what is this myth based on? Although trickster gods and demons that snatch one through space and time have existed in legends and folklore for centuries, none of them (not even Voldemort) were ever depicted as mold. There’s nothing in literature that comes close to this, nor does the name Kaelego bring up anything even close in mythology.
On the one hand, that means Archive 81’s creators have managed to do something most horror series don’t: invent an evil magic antagonist out of thin air, which is no mean feat. On the other hand, I have a solution to solving Season 2, and it involves a mop and a large jug of bleach.
All episodes of Archive 81 are streaming on Netflix.