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The Ending Of School Spirits Season 1 Explained

Watch out! Spoilers ahead for Season 1 of "School Spirits."

Catching modern audiences by surprise with a plot twist is a tall order these days, but the Paramount+ series "School Spirits" is up for the challenge. Like "The Good Place," the series about teen ghosts serves fans with a wild shakeup at the close of Season 1 that changes everything. As it turns out, our presumably dead protagonist Maddie doesn't seem to be dead at all — at least not when it comes to her body.

As for the show's other key players like Mr. Martin and the elusive Janet, well, they're not exactly what they seem. The ending of Season 1 of "School Spirits" doesn't necessarily have a clear-cut explanation. Certain aspects of its twists, turns, and betrayals are up to fans to suss out until we hopefully get a Season 2. But until that happens, let's dive into the murky waters of "School Spirits" Season 1 and analyze just what the ending and all of its implications mean for the series and its future.

What you need to remember about the plot

What happens if you die while at school? Apparently, you get stuck in the halls of your high school forever while your spirit remains a teenager. In other words, it's basically hell. "School Spirits" kicks off when teenage outcast Maddie enters what appears to be Purgatory at her school. It's a state between the living and the next phase of the afterlife where nothing the spirits do affects the living, but the ghosts can interact with inanimate objects.

Upon Maddie's seemingly untimely demise, she finds a group of spirits from various decades trapped in the school, but she's different from the others. Not only does Maddie not remember how she died, but she can communicate with her living best friend Simon — an ability that's out of the norm for spirits. Given that Maddie's body has been missing from the very beginning, Simon agrees to work with her spirit to find answers.

The other dead kids talk about a girl named Janet who allegedly crossed over, but when the resident hippie Dawn crosses over after the closure provided by Maddie's pep talk, her departure is accompanied by a display of supernatural flickering lights. That didn't happen for Janet, who was just gone one day. Meanwhile, the adult teacher Mr. Martin has led the group for decades, but no one seems to notice just how shady he's been from the start. He encourages the kids not to dive into their past, which is the only thing that will bring them enough closure to move on. It's almost as if he's keeping them there on purpose.

Hang on ... is Maddie alive?

Maddie's living friends conclude their investigation in the final episode of the season, and they're unprepared for what they witness: Maddie. When Nicole catches a glimpse of Maddie driving a truck, the group assumes that she faked her death and is responsible for all the chaos that has ensued ever since. As a result, Simon thinks he's been hallucinating his conversations with Maddie's spirit, and she loses her ally in the living world.

Meanwhile, Maddie's merry band of dead misfits sleuth out the school's old fallout shelter (and the location of Mr. Martin's death) where he's kept creepy experimental notes from the group and the objects they died with. After Mr. Martin traps the kids in the fallout shelter, their cries for help trigger a memory for Maddie. When she was still alive, Maddie went to investigate an argument she heard between Mr. Martin and Janet — even though Maddie was presumably still alive at that point. She gets metaphysically pushed back when Janet appears to jump towards her.

In the present, the spirits trapped by Mr. Martin tell Maddie that she can't trust him, and a looming Mr. Martin is the last we see of our heroes. Afterward, someone calling themself Janet flees town on a bus using Maddie's body. Interestingly enough, the bus she takes is from Byway Bus Lines — a subtle acknowledgement that the story veers off from expectations.

What does it all mean?

Like the show melds the lives of the living and dead together, the end of "School Spirits" merges the past and present. One of the series' themes is that nothing is stagnant — even when you're dead. The spirits continue to learn and grow when they're given the space to do so, all while the living kids attending their school change on an annual basis.

Through this method of storytelling, Maddie remembers how she "died" and clues in the audience. Without the bus scene, Maddie's fate would be more debatable, but it's pretty safe to say that Janet hopped into Maddie's body and left her spirit bodiless.

The whole chain of events began with the discovery of bribery money, and Janet posing as Maddie likely possesses the cash stash. The bus attendant snipes at "Maddie" for handing over a "large bill" that she takes out of a knapsack. Fans can do the math on that one.

Janet doesn't seem outwardly evil, though. Beyond the fact that she's running from the town that's hell-bent on discovering the truth behind Maddie's disappearance, Janet seems fearful to be living again. The '50s teen also appears to be on the run from something much more dangerous than the discovery of her true identity and the unfamiliar modern world.

What else could it mean?

There's one significant piece of the puzzle that's easy to miss but possibly changes everything. When Maddie recalls the last moments of her waking life, she appears to hear, and possibly even see, Janet and Mr. Martin arguing. At the very least, she observed some commotion between the two of them.

It seems like all of the suspects have been cleared; no members of the living world attacked Maddie. She was upset and crying alone when she checked out the source of the arguing, and that's when all hell broke loose. Unless there's still a missing puzzle piece, it doesn't appear that she was on the brink of death, which could have explained her ghostly abilities toward the end of her life.

Alternatively, Maddie might have a gift for communicating with spirits that started working before her apparent "death." Now, ghosts have been haunting the halls of her high school for decades, so in theory, something would have had to trigger that ability for her not to notice them earlier. It's even possible that this gift was what allowed Janet to claim her body in the first place. It could also explain her ability to speak to her best friend as a displaced spirit, though we can also chalk that up to the fact that she's a trapped spirit whose body is still alive — technically, Maddie might not even count as dead at all. It's equally possible that Mr. Martin's authoritarian regime over the ghost kids prevents them from accessing their full potential as spirits — maybe they can all do the same tricks Maddie does.

The mystery of Mr. Martin

The plot twist of Mr. Martin shadily preventing the kids from moving on isn't all that surprising to anyone who's been to a group therapy session. From the very beginning, the teacher is cagey and a little sinister. Maddie immediately pushes back against his methods, sparking a revolution of sorts with the rest of the dead teens. During the very first group therapy session, we see Mr. Martin underhandedly thwart any positive epiphanies within the students — which is a pretty simple explanation for why they've all been hanging around for decades.

Yet, for some reason, Mr. Martin protests when Janet enters Maddie's body. We still don't have the full picture of why that is, but one explanation revolves around his hobby of treating the dead kids like lab rats. Maybe he wants more data to clock the ramifications before moving forward with the experiment. On the other hand, his protests could have easily been the product of his need for control, rather than any actual empathy for a teenager whose life is getting stolen.

There are strong implications that the fire Mr. Martin died in seems to have been started by the teacher himself, and Janet died with him. Maybe Mr. Martin killed them both when she spurned his predatory advances, trapping her with him for eternity. Rhonda seems inclined toward this theory. Janet could have taken Maddie's body not out of malice, but because she wanted to escape from the adult who'd likely been controlling her for decades.

Does the cast of 'School Spirits' have any ideas?

The ending of the first season of "School Spirits" hits the mark for an investigative TV show, and Peyton List, who plays Maddie, agrees. During an interview with PIX 11, List noted that the "School Spirits" showrunners also worked on "Pretty Little Liars" — another teen show that nails an investigative component. She also said that it's a "satisfying ending." 

List has some ideas about Maddie that, if proven true, nix the theory that Maddie has some kind of latent supernatural abilities. She spoke to Collider about the ending and insisted that Maddie is a pretty regular girl. On the notion of the teen spirits thinking Maddie is special, List said, "It's a really frustrating moment for them. They've all been stagnant for so long, and it wakes them up to the possibility of something else." She added, "There's nothing really special about Maddie as a person that is any more special than any of them. That's the thing about Maddie. She's a great person, but also so average."

However, List went through Season 1, choosing not to know the ending, so it's entirely possible that Maddie will get a supernatural storyline in the future. On how she and the writers approached spoiler territory for the ending, she said, "They kept the finale on lock and what happened to Maddie a secret, and I'm glad that they did because Maddie didn't know, the entire time, so it made it easier for me. I didn't wanna know." And though they offered to spill the beans to List if she wanted, she opted for a more authentic approach where she discovers things alongside her character.

What the end of Season 1 could mean for the series

The ending of "School Spirits" changes everything for the series. We go from diving into a murder mystery to learning that Maddie wasn't murdered at all. Additionally, the show shifts from being a whodunit to a much more nuanced investigation of life, death, and the ins and outs of the afterlife.

Instead of honing in on finding a killer, a possible Season 2 will have to navigate the rules and limitations of the spirit realm and find a way around them to help Maddie retrieve her body and get her spirit back inside. A natural progression would be an "X-Men"-style storyline where the kids learn to use their powers and test the limitations of the barrier that keeps them stuck in the school. After all, there's no way to get Maddie's body back if they can't actually get to the body.

Like any show that begins as an investigation of one hyper-specific question, "School Spirits" will likely have to reinvent itself on a seasonal basis to keep the mystery fresh. But one thing's certain: If Maddie does get her body back, it will doom her budding relationship with Wally. Alternatively, it would allow her to explore any latent feelings she may have for Simon.

Helping the school spirits cross over

So, what happens to the school spirits if Maddie gets her body back? When it comes to closure, Charley gets far more than Dawn throughout Season 1. He closes up his most significant regret when Maddie has Simon leave a letter for Charley's high school sweetheart to find. Yet, that isn't enough to get him to cross over. Alternatively, Dawn crosses over when she simply hears that she's worthwhile and a good friend; Dawn finally believes it herself after years of people failing to take her seriously.

So, there's clearly something keeping the kids here. One explanation is that the work needs to be done inward rather than outward. Sure, Charley sent the letter, but did he really forgive himself? Most of the kids are long past being able to obtain tangible closure from family and friends, given how long it's been. That likely means the kids aren't being held back by what they do, but what they feel.

Another possibility is that the uncertainty surrounding Maddie and her missing body could be keeping her friends in stasis. Perhaps Maddie's own closure, or the retrieval of her body, will be the key for the rest of the kids to move on. They've become quite close, after all. Maddie's entrance into Purgatory has sparked more change within its metaphysical walls than decades of Mr. Martin's nonsense, so she'll no doubt play a role in getting her friends to move on either way.