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The Ending Of Feral Explained

Contains spoilers for the "American Horror Stories" episode "Feral"

In our modern era of city living and technological advances, a camping trip can be a great way to reset, recharge, and get back in touch with the splendors of nature. That's the idea that Jay Gantz (Aaron Tveit) had when he brought his wife Addy (Tiffany Dupont) and young son Jacob (Colin Tandberg) to a national park in California's beautiful backcountry. There is also plenty of danger to be found in the woods, though, and unfortunately for Jay and Addy, they learn that lesson first hand when Jacob vanishes while on a walk.

After opening with Jacob's disappearance, "Feral," the latest episode of "American Horror Stories," flashes forward ten years. Jay is at rock bottom. Divorced from Addy, he's obsessed with his son's disappearance and has become a social pariah thanks to the public perception that he was somehow involved. Addy has managed to move on but is still very much living in the shadow of the horrible events of a decade ago.

When a hunting guide named Bob (Blake Shields) who works in the area that Jacob disappeared in approaches Jay with evidence that Jacob may still be alive, Jay jumps at the opportunity to go back into the woods and see this lead through to the end. Although Addy is apprehensive about the situation, the small chance that her son could still be out there is enough to get her on board.

But as Jay and Addy unravel the truth about what happened to their son, they learn the hard way that they should have stayed out of the woods.

Bob had ulterior motives all along

When Bob comes to Jay about the possibility of Jacob still being alive, he presents a theory as to what may have happened. Bob reveals that the remote wilderness has become a hotbed of drug cartel activity thanks to illegal marijuana grows hidden among the trees. He speculates that Jacob may have been kidnapped by one of the cartels.

After getting briefly sidetracked by a strange park ranger named Stan (Cody Fern), Jay, Addy, and Bob stumble onto a cartel base deep in the forest. Except, everyone at the site has been brutally murdered and eviscerated. Realizing something is seriously wrong, Bob decides to tell Jay and Addy the truth. He doctored the evidence of Jacob's reappearance in order to trick the couple into coming with him into the woods and his plan was to steal the money they paid him and then hand them over to the cartel.

That Bob had nefarious plans for Jay and Addy isn't all that surprising. There is, unfortunately, a long history of con artists preying on the families of missing, dead, or ill children who are desperate for answers and an end to their grief. A recent example of this is a 2019 story by Denver7 about scam artists who target the parents of missing children with fake ransom demands. Bob, as it turns out, is one such predator.

And unfortunately for Jay and Addy, they were easy marks. As the first part of the episode demonstrates, Jacob's disappearance was a significant media event and, as his parents, Jay and Addy became public figures because of it. We also know that Jay has spent the decade since Jacob's disappearance obsessed with the idea of finding out what happened. Of course, that doesn't mean they deserved to be scammed by Bob, but they were certainly visible and attractive targets for someone looking to profit off of grief and desperation.

The significance of the wild people in the woods

Bob never gets the opportunity to carry out his nefarious plan. Shortly after discovering the slaughtered cartel, he's attacked and killed by one of the seemingly dead bodies, which sends Jay and Addy rushing back to the ranger station. It's there that Ranger Stan fills them in on what is actually going on.

America's National Park system, Stan tells him, was not actually created to preserve nature, but rather, to contain a mysterious society of feral humans who have existed in the deep wilderness for generations. As Stan lays out, the concept of the "wild man" is one that is deeply embedded in American mythology.

In an essay in The Southern Highlander titled "The Wild Man of the Woods" that details the history of this phenomenon, historian Luke Manget writes that there were "hundreds of [wild man] sightings, encounters, and confrontations that supposedly took place across the United States following the Civil War." The authenticity of these sightings is, of course, up for debate. However, we can see the influence of these stories in everything from the mythology surrounding Bigfoot to movies like "Bone Tomahawk" and the "Wrong Turn" franchise.

Manget writes of the prevalence of the American wild man mythology, "the popularizers of the wild men were reaffirming their commitment to civilization and the expectations of middle-class white masculinity."

We can certainly see that dynamic at play with Jay and Addy. While Jay champions their fateful camping trip as a way to break free of the constraints of modern society, Addy says, "Four-thousand years of progress happened so we wouldn't have to sleep in the woods." While Addy's concerns seem priggish at first, it is worth noting that in the context of "Feral," her reticence to both go on the camping trip and then go on the search for Jacob ten years later turned out to be a good instinct. Like those who helped popularize the wild man mythologies, she sees value in embracing civilization and promoting a fear of the wilderness.

Jay and Addy have a horrifying reunion with their son

Not long after Ranger Stan explains the vast national conspiracy to keep everyday Americans away from the colonies of feral cannibals that live in the wilderness, the ranger station is attacked. Stan is killed and Jay and Addy flee into the woods.

They soon come across a clearing where they find a young feral man sitting on a throne of bones (a detail some fans were very confused by). As it turns out, Jacob is indeed alive. However, he has not only been living with the feral people, but he appears to now be their leader. Jay and Addy plead with him to remember that he's their child but Jacob is unmoved. He gives the okay to his subjects to dine on Jay and Addy and the episode ends with the group of feral people descending on the pair.

As Jay and Addy are torn apart by the feral mob, blood splatters on Jacob's face. He wipes it away with a finger that he then sticks into his mouth. This is a callback to the very beginning of the episode, where we see young Jacob dipping his finger in a drink cup and suckling it. Addy admonishes him when he does this and at first, it seems like an unremarkable depiction of parenting.

However, when the image repeats at the end, it illuminates what is really at the root of Addy's apprehension about going into the woods. Of course, there are wild animals (and wild people) to be afraid of, but beyond the fear of being attacked from something outside, there's also the fear of being changed from within. Whether she knew it or not, Addy was trying to encourage civilized behavior and tamp down Jacob's feral instinct to eat with his hands. But after he was totally removed from civilization, those instincts were allowed to run wild.