Truly Mind-Bending: A Review of the Mystery Science Fiction Series ‘1889’

The show introduces many psychological concepts that pose various philosophical questions.


English actress Emily Beecham portrays Maura Henriette Franklin/Singleton in the Netflix series 1899. (Photo Credit: Vera de Kok, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

From the brilliant minds of the creators behind the hit seriesDark’, ‘1899’ is a mind boggling thriller mystery that will be sure to have viewers eager to find out what happens next. This is a captivating show that will be sure to challenge your perception of reality and possibly drive you into a minor existential crisis — in a good way!

If you’re looking for something to play on the side as you are multitasking on some other activity or scrolling through social media, unfortunately this show is not for you. Due to the complex plot, this series requires the viewer’s full attention to each detail, as everything holds some sort of significance to the plot.  

As mentioned earlier, the creators of ‘1899’, Baraj bo Odar and Jantje Friese, were also the masterminds behind the immensely popular series ‘Dark’. ‘Dark’ is another mystery thriller that achieved international success and set the stage for other acclaimed international shows like ‘Squid Games’. With a rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a total of 25 award nominations (including 8 wins) ‘Dark’ received an overwhelming amount of positive reviews from fans and critics. Due to the widespread popularity of ‘Dark’, fans were extremely excited for the release of ‘1899’. While it’s extremely challenging to surpass the high amount of success ‘Dark’ gathered, ‘1899’ was still able to capture the attention of many and get nominated for three prestigious awards as of 2023.

The story is set in the year ‘1899’, and follows a ship full of passengers embarking on a voyage aboard the Kerberos, a ship bound from London to New York. Maura, the main protagonist and a doctor that specializes in the brain, sets off on this journey in search of her older brother. The first mystery introduced in the series is regarding the whereabouts of the Prometheus, another ship from the same company that had vanished four months prior and held hundreds of passengers including Maura’s older brother. Alongside Maura, there are numerous passengers with diverse backgrounds, each carrying their own secrets and aspirations for a better life in New York. We gain a glimpse into their lives as well. However, a series of mysteries begin to unravel, disrupting their lives and bringing them into chaos.

‘1899’ draws much inspiration from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and this text is referenced numerous times throughout the show. It is used to develop a prominent theme around distinguishing between perception and reality. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave delves into how our backgrounds and experiences heavily influence how we perceive certain events. To briefly summarize, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave begins with a group of prisoners who have been chained to a wall their entire life and have seen nothing but a blank wall. They are then shown shadows on the wall, and because they were locked up their entire life, they assume the shadows to be of reality, despite the average human understanding that shadows are more so a fragment of reality. “None of this would exist if it weren’t for the mind to experience it. And going a step further, it actually might not exist at all. We’ll never know whether the stimuli in our brain are caused by a reality or a construct of one.” This is a quote by Maura that was repeatedly mentioned in reference to the Allegory of the Cave and the events that unfolded around her. Not only was this quote powerful to the plot, but it also made viewers ponder about it themselves and question their own reality. 

“Our memory has no guarantees at all, and yet we bow more often than is objectively justified to the compulsion to believe what it says.” This is another quote from the series that is able to encapsulate the main theme of the show, which tackles the human tendency to trust our perceptions despite unreliability of our memory. Throughout the series, there have been numerous philosophical questions that will be sure to break the fourth wall and challenge the viewers’ own perceptions and their world. 

Before you start watching ‘1899’, it’s important to ensure that you’re watching with subtitles instead of the dubbed version to fully immerse yourself in the experience. Unlike many other series where characters will speak the same language, one of the most fascinating features of ‘1899’ is how the directors approached the language aspect of the show. The characters in the series all speak their native languages, which adds depth and authenticity to the storytelling. In the setting and time period of the show, it’s realistic that characters wouldn’t naturally understand each other. This language barrier forces the characters to rely on indirect communication cues, such as body language, to comprehend one another.

Despite the language barrier, the characters are able to form strong bonds as they navigate through a series of mysterious events. Similarly, another remarkable aspect of 1899 is its diverse international cast. With over 20 languages being displayed and spoken fluently by the actors, the show presents a rich tapestry of cultures and backgrounds. Through the diverse characters, we gain insight into various lives, social classes, and backgrounds of the time period. The show highlights the differences between the lives of the different classes at the time as well as some conflicts that initially take place between the upper and lower classes. While traveling to the same destination, we are shown the lives of passengers of different social classes as well as the captain, workers, and stowaways and how they all contribute to the ship dynamic and play significant roles in the unfolding events. 

Unfortunately, Netflix has not decided to renew 1899 for a second season. However, despite its cancellation, the first season still remains something that’s worth the watch and provides a unique and mind bending experience that will be sure to get you hooked.

To watch ‘1899’ on Netflix (subscription required), click HERE.

This is a captivating show that will be sure to challenge your perception of reality and possibly drive you into a minor existential crisis — in a good way!