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The Ending Of Palm Springs Explained

Since Groundhog Day was released to theaters in 1993, people have been obsessed with time loop stories. You can see time loops in virtually every genre and every medium. Primer is a hard sci-fi take on time loops; Prince of Persia: Sands of Time took the time loop and made it a game play mechanic; Happy Death Day brought time loops to mainstream horror.

What's a little more rare is the focus on the comedic love story within a time loop that Groundhog Day made so famous. Rarer still is when that romance involves two people sharing a time loop together. We saw a glimpse of that story in the Netflix series Russian Doll with Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) and Alan (Charlie Barnett), but we get a whole lot more of it in the new Hulu original movie, Palm Springs.

Palm Springs is a love story between hardened time loop veteran Nyles (Andy Samberg) and time loop newbie Sarah (Cristin Milioti). Nyles and Sarah get up to a lot during their undetermined time reliving the same day — there's synchronized dancing, elaborate deaths, and more than a little drinking.

In the end (spoilers), Sarah figures out a way to get herself and Nyles out of the loop, but thanks to some complicated pseudo-science and an open-ended mid-credit sequence, you might be wondering what really happened at the end of Palm Springs. Allow us to explain.

Sarah's Palm Springs time loop escape theory

One difference between Groundhog Day and Palm Springs is that, unlike with the former's time loop, the latter's cannot be escaped through living a "perfect day." Sarah tries to have a perfect day and it accomplishes nothing. She does, however, eventually discovers one of the perks of a time loop: An unlimited time to research and learn.

Using eternity to become a genius theoretical physicist, Sarah concludes that the only way out of the time loop is to blow it up. The way Nyles and Sarah both wound up in the time loop in the first place is because they walked into a magical cave created by an earthquake. Either of them can kickstart the loop over again by walking into the cave.

Here's how Sarah breaks it down: "We are trapped in a box of energy. We get out of it by escaping the box in the 3.2 seconds it takes to travel through the loop itself. We blow up ourselves and the cave during that window. And if we detonate the C4 at the exact right moment, it will propel us out."

The most important thing to keep in mind as we unravel Palm Springs' ending is that Sarah did test her theory with a goat. Sarah straps C4 to said goat, sends it through the cave, and blows it up. The next cycle of the loop, Sarah discovers that the goat is no longer there. Theory: The goat has escaped the loop.

Palm Springs is not an escape for everybody

Long story short, after a lot of anxiety, Nyles agrees to enter the cave with Sarah and they do blow themselves up, resulting in both Nyles and Sarah making it to tomorrow. At first glance, this might suggest that they have escaped the time loop forever.

Before we can wipe our hands and call this "and they lived happily ever after," we have to talk about the other person in the time loop, Roy (J.K. Simmons). Early on in Nyles' time in the loop, he meets Roy and decides Roy's life might be better in the time loop. Nyles is wrong, though, and Roy gets so mad that he starts hunting Nyles across the endless days like they're in the time loop version of The Most Dangerous Game.

Nyles and Roy mostly patch things up (they had eternity to get over things), but while Sarah does tell Roy about the escape plan, he never makes it. In the mid-credits scene, Roy shows up to the wedding Sarah and Nyles are attending. When he approaches Nyles, however, Nyles has no idea who Roy is and doesn't know anything about a time loop.

So, that's it, right? Nyles escaped the time loop, therefore the version of him from the time loop day only exists in the world of tomorrow. The Nyles in the time loop day is just a version of Nyles who only lives the day once. 

Palm Springs 2: What about the goat?

Time loop stories don't need to make perfect sense, because despite how episodic and repetitive real life can sometimes feel, time loops don't actually exist. Here's the thing that makes explaining the ending of Palm Springs a little tricky, though: There's one tiny thing that doesn't add up, and that's the goat. 

Remember how Sarah knew her plan to escape from the time loop would work because she tested it on the goat, and the goat disappeared? Well, if that's how the time loop rules work in Palm Springs, then why is there any version of Nyles or Sarah still present in the loop Roy experiences after the supposed escape? There are two theories to be entertained (beyond "chill, it's just a movie"): That the goat died, or that the loop isn't really over until everybody, including Roy, escapes.

It is absolutely possible that the goat was very unlucky and wound up exploded into a billion sub-atomic particles stretched across the multiverse. It is equally possible that Roy is not entirely over Nyles trapping him in a time loop, and that the fact that Nyles is still in the loop in any form means that Roy can drag Nyles (and Sarah) back into the time loop for round two. What we're saying is that the creators of Palm Springs left themselves open for a sequel, and that's what the ending of the film really means. See you in the next time time loop, maybe!