Edwin Paine In ‘Dead Boy Detectives’ Explained: What Did Edwin Learn in Hell?

Edwin Paine is one of the protagonists in Netflix’s Dead Boy Detectives. Out of the several characters, Edwin stands out as an enigmatic and troubled teenage ghost trying to escape not just his punishment from hell but also his own struggles with his sexuality and his identity. Having been brought up in the early 1900s, he still expresses traditional values from the time. Along with his best friend, Charles Rowland, he runs the Dead Boy Detective Agency to help lost souls cross over to a peaceful afterlife. The series explores Edwin’s battle with despair against those who wronged him while he and his friends go on adventures, solving cases in the town of Port Townsend.


Spoilers Ahead

How did Edwin die?

In 1916, Edwin Paine was just a teenager attending St. Hilarion’s boarding school when tragedy struck. His classmate, Simon, along with a group of bullies, devised a plan to scare Edwin as retribution for his perceived indifference towards Simon. Unaware of the consequences, they used a borrowed book of witchcraft, believing it to be harmless. However, to their surprise, the book proved to be genuine, and their attempt at a prank unleashed the demon Sa’al. In a twisted turn of events, Sa’al claimed Edwin as a sacrifice, killing everyone present. Despite Edwin’s desperate pleas of innocence, the demon dragged him to hell, punishing him for a crime he did not commit. Later in the series, when Edwin finds himself back in hell, he comes face-to-face with Simon once again. Simon confesses that his actions were driven by a desire for Edwin’s attention, which Edwin had unwittingly ignored. 


How did Edwin meet Charles?

Despite his sentence in hell being a mere technicality, Edwin endured decades of torment before finally escaping in 1989. Upon returning to Earth, he revisited his former school, St. Hilarion’s, only to witness a disturbingly familiar scene: a group of teenagers bullying another helpless boy, reminiscent of his own past. This boy was Charles Rowland, who had been forced to stand in a freezing lake at night after defending a Pakistani student from bullying. Seeking shelter in the school’s attic after escaping the ordeal, Charles encountered Edwin, who provided him with a warm lantern and comfort. Initially skeptical of Edwin’s claim to have studied at the school in the 1910s, Charles came to terms with Edwin being a ghost. As hypothermia claimed Charles’ life, turning him into a ghost, Edwin stayed by his side, reading stories and offering solace.

When Death arrived to take Charles to the afterlife, Charles expressed his unreadiness to leave, suggesting that he and Edwin stick together for a while. Despite Edwin being bad with people, Charles saw something different in him, and an unlikely friendship blossomed between these two dead teenagers. Their bond was forged in the face of shared trauma and loneliness and marked the beginning of a new chapter for Edwin and Charles. What started as a chance encounter evolved into an eternal companionship.


What were Edwin’s reasons for starting the agency?

Edwin and Charles had started the Dead Boy Detective Agency to help lost souls like themselves. It was out of goodwill, as they wanted a purpose to live for as ghosts. This reminds me of an idea explored in the series ‘The Good Place,’ which explores the effects of a purposeless eternity even in the afterlife. We humans need a purpose to continue our journeys through existence, and if the afterlife does exist, even heaven would be the same as hell if there was no purpose. 

Although this idea isn’t outright explored in Dead Boy Detectives, it propagates through Charles and Edwin’s actions when they start this detective agency. With overpopulation, more and more humans die each day, and more of these souls deserve closure. For Edwin and Charles, helping these souls serves a purpose. With each case, they meet new souls, and this eternal life doesn’t become monotonous for them. However, Edwin has his own personal reasons for starting this agency. He believes that helping lost souls would ultimately bring leniency to his judgment when he is finally taken to the afterlife. Perhaps Edwin’s understanding is somehow rooted in his sexuality being a sin as well. He was born in a time when homosexuality was criminalized, and he believes that liking another man is a sin that will grant him an eternal punishment in hell. 


How did Edwin feel about Crystal and Niko joining the agency?

As a neurodivergent person, I feel Edwin might’ve himself been one. He resists change and prefers to confine himself to a perfect system he has created for himself. When Crystal walks in, Edwin’s perfect life is disturbed by her presence. Moreover, Edwin is also a little jealous of her taking Charles’ attention, especially when Charles is quite obviously into her. Edwin has been secretly in love with Charles, which makes matters worse. However, he begins to accept Crystal’s abilities and makes friends with her. Edwin was not used to new people, even when he was alive. He was an introverted person and struggled with making friends. He never got the chance to evolve as a person after having died as a teenager and spending decades of torture in hell. 

After accepting Crystal’s presence, he becomes familiar with Niko pretty easily. Perhaps his relationship with Charles was never threatened by Niko, and that gave him a better headstart in his blooming his friendship with Niko. In fact, Edwin becomes closer to Niko than to Crystal. She encourages him and sees through his shortcomings. Niko was also the first person who made him realize that loving a man is normal, reinforcing his own belief in himself. 


What does Edwin learn in hell?

After being dragged back to hell by the spider demon, Edwin musters the strength for another escape attempt. In the depths of the underworld, he encounters a personification of Despair, one of the mortal sins in Christianity. Despair seems to feed off Edwin’s conversation with Simon, his former bully, a confrontation that reignites Edwin’s long-harbored resentment. Edwin had always felt wronged by those who bullied him, and it seemed only natural for him to harbor despair towards them, given that their actions had condemned him to an eternity of suffering in hell. However, as he comes face-to-face with the embodiment of Despair itself, Edwin gains an understanding of his own inner turmoil. In this moment of revelation, Edwin realizes that until he lets go of his despair towards his wrongdoers, he can never truly be free. This epiphany prompts him to take a courageous step by forgiving Simon and even offering him an apology. Despite enduring a century of torture, Simon’s sentence comes to an end the moment Edwin extends forgiveness, breaking the cycle of anguish that had bound them both.

What can we expect from Edwin in Season 2?

As the protagonist of the series, Edwin has a lot in store for the second season. Now that the Dead Boy Detective Agency has been made an official organization for the Lost and Found Department, he will have more autonomy to operate his cases. But again, he hasn’t been cleared from his sentence from hell, and the spider demon might even follow him again. Edwin will come face-to-face with more of his own woes and might even come to terms with his queerness. 


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Shrey Ashley Philip
Shrey Ashley Philip
A teacher, photographer, linguist, and songwriter, Shrey started out as a Biotechnology graduate, but shifted to studying Japanese. Now he talks about movies, advocates for ADHD awareness, and embraces Albert Camus.

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