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The Ending Of Tales From The Loop Season 1 Explained

Contains spoilers for Amazon Studios' Tales from the Loop

What do particle physics, time travel, and parental neglect have in common? It's not a riddle — you'll just need a rudimentary understanding of each concept to wrap your head around the ending of Tales from the Loop season 1.

Released on April 3, 2020, Tales from the Loop is the latest science fiction series produced by Amazon Studios for its Prime Video streaming service. The show is adapted from the eponymous "interactive art book" by Swedish experimental artist Simon Stalenhag, and the unusual source material is certainly reflected through the series' unique visual style and cerebral plotting. Tales from the Loop takes place in a town nestled above a machine called the Loop, which can be unlocked and used to explore our universe's greatest mysteries, effectively making the stuff of sci-fi splendor a reality. 

If that sounds like a strange and compelling set-up for a show, then buckle up, because it only gets weirder from here. Join us as we unravel the ending of Tales from the Loop season 1.

Tales from the Loop is an ambitious experiment in science fiction storytelling

As mentioned, the first season of Tales from the Loop is set in the fictional town of Mercer, Ohio. (Note that Mercer County, Ohio is real, and Mercer is just an unincorporated community.) Underneath Mercer, scientists from around the world conduct experiments that explore the nature of the cosmos using a massive particle accelerator colloquially referred to as the Loop. Many of Mercer's residents — whom we meet throughout the series — are employed by the Loop in some capacity, or at least have their lives touched by the strange experiments taking place therein.

The format of the series is caught somewhere in limbo between a serialized sci-fi drama and a thematically linked anthology series a lá Netflix's zeitgeist-y Black Mirror. While each episode of Tales from the Loop is structured like a little short story — with an internally satisfying beginning, middle, and end — the cumulative effect of the first season feeds a larger narrative. You can think of it as a short story cycle conjured onto the screen, like a cinematic version of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad or Ernest Hemingway's In Our Time.

Given the narrative complexity of the first season, the final episode had a bunch of boxes it needed to check. The finale of Tales from the Loop season 1 had to provide an effective capstone story in and of itself, while drawing together all the loosely bound threads of the preceding seven episodes into a functioning braid. The resulting story gets a bit convoluted. 

Loretta isn't the only character who met her younger self

On the very first episode of season 1, we're introduced to Loretta (Rebecca Hall), a particle physicist working in the Loop who meets a younger version of herself (Abby Ryder Fortson) on the day — in Loretta's past — when Loretta's mother abandoned her. This is important because not only does Loretta provide an important set of eyes and ears for the whole series, but her experience also establishes the reality of these recursive time loops.

Now, on the season 1 finale, entitled "Home" and directed by Hollywood icon Jodie Foster, we see two important characters become victims of advancing time. Loop archivist Klara (Jane Alexander) passes away, and anointed successor Loretta becomes an old woman. Normally, Cole (Duncan Joiner) would be the next in line to take over Loop operations, but his disappearance at the beginning of the Tales from the Loop season 1 finale threatens the scientific legacy of the particle collider.

When Cole resurfaces, he hasn't aged a day. He has been trapped inside time, thanks to the power of the Eclipse, which is heart of the Loop. Back on episode 4, entitled "Echo Sphere," Cole touched the Eclipse in the exact same spot where Loretta's younger self restored the stolen piece of strange matter. After touching the Eclipse, he interacts with MN-7700, another Loop structure which supposedly shows him how long his life will be. What does Cole find? Apparently, that he'll live exactly as long as the long-deceased Russ (Jonathan Pryce). Given the synchronicity with Loretta's story from the first episode, is it possible that Cole is just a younger version of Russ? It certainly isn't impossible.

Cole's snapshot suggests he might be a younger Russ

The final moments of Tales from the Loop season 1 don't offer an easy explanation about the Eclipse or how it affects time in the town of Mercer. What we do get, however, is a deeper nod to the potential symmetry between Loretta and Cole's stories. 

When the young Cole, newly emerged from stasis in time, re-encounters Loretta, he takes a photo of her. This photo shows not the adult Loretta standing before him but the younger version we meet on the first episode. It isn't a pat resolution, but it does lend credence to the idea that Cole's interactions with the Eclipse have caused him to bend time in the same manner as Loretta. He even remarks on the passing of time in the same manner as Russ: "Blink of an eye."

This cliche more than anything else seems to be the unifying theme of Tales from the Loop: it was never going to be a show about hyper-technical scientific exploration. Tales from the Loop season 1 uses the science fictional tool of extrapolation to explore the power of a moment set against the unforgiving advance of time, and that's pretty darn cool.