You don’t need a degree in quantum physics to understand that very last scene
(This article contains big spoilers for Hulu’s “Palm Springs,” including details about the ending. In case that wasn’t clear from the headline.)
Unlike something like “Dark” on Netflix, which is built to tie your brain in knots with its time shenanigans, Hulu’s “Palm Springs” is more about making you laugh and feel some nice human emotions. So even while it’s teasing the audience with some quantum mechanics, it doesn’t really get too far into the weeds on how its “Groundhog Day”-ish time loop works.
That’s probably a good thing. Getting too mired in the details of quantum theory and multiverses and all that stuff would just be a distraction. We’re here to watch Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti do some shenanigans and establish a deep emotional connection, not for lengthy scenes of exposition.
So director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara give us just enough detail to help make sense of how multiple people could be caught in the loop at different times. There’s a bit of tease in the late going as Sarah (Milioti) spends a long time learning about quantum physics so she can find out how to break out of the loop, but that brief montage doesn’t give us much concrete information. It’s just shorthand for “she figured it out,” more or less.
That being said, “Palm Springs” being so light on the details means you might get tripped up by the very last scene. In that scene, which interrupts the early part of the end credits, Roy (JK Simmons) tries to talk to Nyles (Samberg) at the wedding that was at the center of this day that repeats forever. But Nyles doesn’t recognize him.
The two have a long rivalry within the loop, with Roy doing all sorts of horrible things to Nyles as revenge for Nyles getting him stuck in the time loop. So the two definitely know each other. So it’s a surprise to Roy that Nyles doesn’t know him.
The reason Nyles doesn’t recognize Roy here is, of course, because Nyles and Sarah escaped the loop together. Roy quickly realizes this, because Sarah had called Roy and told him about her plan. So Roy puts two and two together and realizes Sarah’s plan worked.
So if you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering about the sort of mechanics behind this scene. And, to be honest, this is kinda the only place where the internal logic of “Palm Springs” might fall apart a little bit.
So what’s happened here is that with Nyles out of the time loop, Roy is interacting with “vanilla” Nyles — basically, the person Nyles was before he entered the loop. That seems simple enough.
But if you’re getting tripped up here, it’s probably because of something Sarah said when she was telling Nyles about her plan to get out. She had developed a theory based on quantum mechanics, and had tested it on a goat that she sent into the time cave with a bunch of explosives strapped to it. She said that she knew the plan must have worked, because that goat was simply gone.
“I don’t know where she went, but she is not here anymore,” Sarah says. The implication being, as I see it, that the goat no longer exists in their time loop universe, and that it didn’t reset with the day like everything else did in Palm Springs and beyond. It’s a vague enough line that it could mean something else, but I’m not sure why she would phrase it like that if they could just go visit the goat right then.
So if the goat is no longer around in any sense, then it wouldn’t follow that Roy could go talk to this vanilla version of Nyles at the wedding after Sarah and Nyles got out. Nyles should also be erased from the time loop universe.
Honestly, though, this isn’t all that important. “Palm Springs” doesn’t need to be airtight, because the focus is really on the characters and their relationships with each other. And this thing with the goat is minor in the grand scheme of this story — it’s pretty easy to just let it go.
What’s more intriguing is the big picture implications of that last scene with Roy. “Palm Springs” makes a nod to the multiverse earlier on, but this scene really drives it home. Are Nyles, Sarah and Roy creating new universes every day during the loop? When they get out, which version of the day do they continue on from? If Roy leaves later, would Nyles and Sarah still know him or would he get versions of them that only went through that day once?
I don’t have answers to any of those questions and, again, I’m not hugely worried about it. There are no answers, and that’s ok because it’s not the sort of movie that I’m looking for those kinds of answers from anyway. Aside from the goat thing, “Palm Springs” is pretty close to airtight.
Regardless, the point here is that this scene exists to show Roy that there is a way out of the loop, and Roy can follow Sarah and Nyles out if he decides to do so. It’s a happy ending! Despite everything 2020 has done to drag us down, at least we have “Palm Springs” to make use briefly feel better about things.
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