Explaining the ending of ‘Alice in Borderland’

6 days ago
PHOTO: Netflix

JAPANESE series Alice in Borderland has become one of Netflix’s most top-rated shows over the holidays. Up to now, it still continues to rank in the platform’s top 10 PH list.

It’s not hard to see why. Set in a strange Tokyo where mostly everyone has mysteriously disappeared, the remaining survivors must duke it out in brutal, fatal competitions set in place by unknown game masters.

Viewers expecting answers from the Season 1 finale got… some. A lot of threads — dating all the way back to a very prescient Episode 2, which brought many of the season’s main characters together — were tied up. But many more questions remain unanswered. We’ll try our best to tackle each of them.

Massive, massive SPOILERS follow.

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What happened at the Beach?

Ah, the Beach. After the death of Ryohei Arisu’s best friends back in Episode 3, the Beach and the people who rule it quickly became the focus of the show, especially when Arisu and mountaineer Yuzuha Usagi find it and become embroiled in a bitter civil war between this so-called utopia’s two factions.

The Beach was founded for one express purpose: to unite survivors in a bid to collect all the playing cards players collect upon winning the game. However, it’s lately been divided by a rivalry between Aguni (and his militants) and the Beach’s charismatic founder Hatter.

As we saw in Episode 6, Aguni’s faction took control after Hatter was found dead of a gunshot wound after playing a game. But one of the Beach’s executives, Shuntarō Chishiya, thought he had the last laugh on all of them, stealing all of the playing cards the Beach’s residents had all collected.

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But just as he was about to make his escape, the game masters locked the Beach down, fencing off the hotel to turn it into a game: a Ten of Hearts game, the last card the Beach needed to complete its collection.

What are the rules of the Ten of Hearts game?

Momoka, one of the Beach’s residents, was found murdered in the hotel lobby, a knife sticking out of her chest. The game rules, communicated to all the players via mobile phone, were to find the “Witch” — the murderer — and burn him or her in the bonfire just outside the hotel.

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How did they try to find the Witch?

In Episode 7 (the season’s second-to-the-last ep), you can see all the desperate lengths the Beach’s residents went to go and find the Witch. Aguni’s militants began systematically killing everyone, gunning them down where they stood and feeding them to the fire. One key moment in Episode 7 zooms in on Aguni, watching the murdered bodies burning in the pyre meant for the Witch.

Meanwhile, a Beach executive — who was a police forensics investigator in the normal world — was able to get fingerprints from the knife to try to find out for herself who really was the killer. But as she makes her discovery, she is knocked unconscious.

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Meanwhile, the quick-witted Arisu (after being rescued from captivity by the capable mountaineer Usagi) tries to figure out who the killer is on his own. That’s where Episode 7 ends, and we move on to the season’s last episode.

Why does Aguni insist that he’s the Witch?

In the tense confrontation between all the residents of the Beach in the hotel lobby that opens Episode 8, Aguni — the militant leader who let the massacre happen — becomes suspect number one.

But as Arisu correctly figures out, Aguni did not kill Momoka. He actually killed Hatter. Arisu recognized the pain of causing the death of your closest friend(s) in Aguni’s own eyes, and knew that Aguni had turned into a nihilistic shell of his former self, wanting to take advantage of the Ten of Hearts game to destroy the “utopia” that had swallowed up Hatter whole.

But even after Arisu reveals this and tries to convince him to come to his senses and find the Witch, Aguni continues his rampage, daring the Beach to take him down.

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So who really is the Witch, and how did Arisu find it out?

Knowing from painful experience that a Hearts game often involves betrayal and making a fool out of everyone who plays it, Arisu comes to the realization that the Witch is the last person everyone suspects — the dead person herself.

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He tells the crowd that he suspects Momoka herself is the Witch, but Aguni, still hell-bent on destroying the Beach once and for all, grows even more violent. Only Asahi, Momoka’s closest companion, is able to stop him by suddenly declaring that she’s a “dealer.” Immediately, a laser shoots down from the sky and blows a hole clean through her head.

In the stunned silence, Ann, the police investigator turned Beach executive, arrives and confirms that the knife has fingerprints that indicate a reverse grip; indisputable proof that Momoka had killed herself.

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How does the Ten of Hearts game, and the Beach, end?

With the clock ticking down before the end of the game and a fire sweeping the resort, a badly-injured Niragi — Aguni’s top lieutenant — arrives in the lobby and begins to shoot into the crowd. Aguni sacrifices himself to stop his crazed right hand man, dragging both of them into the fire.

With minutes left on the clock, the surviving residents of the Beach throw Momoka’s body into the fire, to join the rest of the victims of the militants’ massacre. The game ends, with their mobile phones pinging them with congratulatory messages.

The survivors then allow the Beach to burn down. Usagi, enraged at everything that happened, wants to attack the remaining members of Aguni’s faction, but Arisu holds her back. One of the militants, shaken with remorse, tries to take his own life.

So, what’s the deal with Dealers?

Reviewing mobile phone footage left by Asahi and Momoka, Arisu and Usagi find out about a secret underground station where people watch the ongoing games. It was there that Asahi and Momoka were made Dealers — secret turncoats who join the games as “taggers” (as in the murderous, horse-masked gunmen first encountered in Episode 2) or as people who help arrange or turn the tide of games. Dealers who fail in their duties, or reveal their secret role, are killed.

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When Arisu and Usagi find the station, however, they see only dead bodies, the telltale holes of laser blasts still smoking on their heads. Chishiya — the Beach executive who stole all the cards — also meets them there, bringing the martial artist Kuina along with him. It turns out that the odd doodle he found in the pockets of one of the taggers in Episode 2 was a subway map marking the exact location of the station.

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It was then that the massive television screens in the station turn on, revealing one of the Beach’s executives, Mira. She congratulates them on completing all the cards needed to move on to the next level of the games. (And, she reminded them gleefully, it only took the deaths of many, many others to get them there.) The survivors would now compete to earn the face cards.

The season ends with a wide aerial shot of Tokyo, as large, enormous airships appear, bearing gigantic tarps of various Jack, Queen, and King cards.

Unanswered questions

While the story of the Beach has come to its tragic, inevitable end, many mysteries still remain. Off the top of our heads:

Who are the game masters?

Will there be a new format for the games?

Who were the people watching, and cheering, in the observation station? And why did they die?

How did Momoko and Asahi’s mobile phone work when all other electronics couldn’t?

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Who else survived along with Arisu, Usagi, Chishiya, and Kuina?

Is Mira a game master? And why is she a Beach executive?

Hopefully, answers will come our way when the next season of Alice in Borderland arrives on Netflix. Of course, you could also check out the anime and the manga on which the show is based. But that — as they say in games — would be cheating.

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PHOTO: Netflix
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