5 Theories About Hulu's 'Palm Springs' Ending That'll Melt Your Brain
Most romantic comedies have a feel-good, uncomplicated quality about them that helps relax viewers, but Hulu's newest release will probably make your brain hurt. Like its predecessor Groundhog Day, Palm Springs explores a love story that develops within one endlessly repeated day, but unlike the Bill Murray film, the new movie has a particular sci-fi bent and even attempts to explain how the time loop could be happening. The result is a complex ending that could mean vastly different things to different viewers, and these theories about Hulu's Palm Springs ending run the full gamut of what could have happened to Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti).
Spoiler alert: This post will spoil the end of Palm Springs, so don't read on if you have not yet seen the movie. There are a lot of rules about the time loop in Palm Springs. The anomaly is connected to a mysterious cave in the desert, and when someone enters that energy-filled cave, they are stuck repeating the day of Nov. 9 in an endless cycle. Falling asleep, dying, or re-entering the cave just causes the person to wake up at the beginning of the day again, meaning there is seemingly no escape from the time loop.
Well, that's what Nyles thought, anyway, but at the end of the movie, Sarah claimed she figured out how to get out of the time loop and finally make it to Nov. 10. After teaching herself quantum physics, Sarah theorized she could use explosives on themselves inside the cave to propel them out of the loop. After blowing up in the cave, Nyles and Sarah finally woke up on Nov. 10 and seem to have escaped the time loop... but the ending isn't super clear about that and fans have a lot of different theories about what actually happened to them.
1. They escaped the time loop.
The simplest (and most calming) explanation of the ending is the one that seems most obvious in a cursory viewing: Sarah's plan worked and she and Nyles escaped the time loop. The final scene clearly shows they managed to make it to the day after the wedding, as the pool owners finally returned home to kick Nyles and Sarah out. The mid-credits scene also showed Roy (J.K. Simmons) realizing Nyles escaped the loop, as he ran into a version of Nyles that had never met him before at the wedding.
2. They can never truly escape the time loop.
This time stuff is never simple. According to this theory, a version of Nyles and Sarah may have escaped the time loop, but technically they are also still in it. This means the version of Nyles that Roy speaks with in the mid-credits scene is still destined to fall into the time loop himself. In a sense, there really was no way for Nyles to ever truly stop repeating Nov. 9 because there will always be a version of himself stuck there.
3. They wound up in an alternate dimension.
Since Palm Springs exists in a universe in which time loops are possible, there's actually another possibility about what could have happened to Nyles and Sarah at the end. The two may not have jumped forward in time, but instead jumped into an alternate dimension. Parallel universes are a big thing in quantum physics, and the final moment in the movie seems to make a case for this, as the scenery shows a herd of dinosaurs wandering the desert — not exactly the norm for the original dimension they started in.
4. They died and are in the afterlife.
Similar to the alternate universe theory, there's also the possibility that Nyles and Sarah died in that cave — I mean, that's usually what happens when you strap a bunch of bombs to your body and then detonate them. So then, what are fans seeing in that final pool scene? That would be Nyles and Sarah's version of heaven: They've escaped the time loop and are free to be together. This theory would also make sense of the dinosaurs, since they could symbolize Nyles and Sarah's love (according to Palm Springs writer Andy Siara) and would definitely be present in their version of the afterlife.
5. Sarah is destined to return to the time loop as Nana.
One minor character stood out to a bunch of viewers, and there may be a very important reason for that. Nana Schlieffen's (June Squibb) few comments seemed to indicate she was also stuck in the time loop — her first line to Nyles revealed she's been to "many weddings," and when Sarah was preparing her escape, Nana knowingly said she knew Sarah had to be going now. Her character could be even more complex than just another person stuck in the loop, though.
Perhaps Nana is actually Sarah herself. There's an argument to be made that Sarah may have succeeded in escaping the time loop, grew old with Nyles, and then decided to return to the loop after losing him in order to spend more time with her now-deceased partner. Since she knows how to escape the time loop, there's no real downside for an older Sarah to go back into it.
The writers of Palm Springs have said they wanted the ending to be ambiguous, so none of these theories will ever be "the right one." Really, it all comes down to how you want to see the ending, but the most important aspect is that Nyles and Sarah wind up together, which remains true in all of the theories.