You do realize that the bulk of the culpability for you rolling your eyes at the mention of teen dramas falls right on Netflix, right? One can hardly blame you for being done with teens that almost never look, talk, or act their age. It isn’t that even the teen representations in the ’90s or the early 2000s on TV were entirely in consonance with real life. But we did find a lot more synchronicity between our own predicaments and those of the characters in “One Tree Hill,” “Gilmore Girls,” and “Freaks and Geeks.” And if you’re a part of the generation that didn’t grow up with these pop-culture cult classics and you can go the distance without frowning at the fashion choices you’re likely to deem awkward now, what are you doing not giving these amazing shows a shot? This seems like a good place for me to stop before I get derailed too far off-topic and say what I really meant to say in the first place. It may not be all that fair or wise to write off teen shows entirely and make a whole sub-genre pay for the Netflix-born atrocities. And Paramount’s brand-new teen-paranormal-thriller-comedy-whodunnit (oof! That’s a mouthful.) “School Spirits” may just be the harbinger of the shifting winds. Could it be the start of something wonderful, i.e., contemporary teen shows that actually make you feel things other than vexation? It may be too early to say for sure. But I’m hopeful.
There’s Been A Murder
Maddie is in the thick of some of anyone’s worst fears coming true. Imagine this: you’re dead, your spirit is haunting your high school grounds, the popular kids don’t even remember your name, and you have just learned what your red-flag-bearing boyfriend has been up to. Wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemies, right? Well, somebody did wish it on Maddie, who is now made to see Split River High School’s principal make a formal statement to the students urging them to keep Maddie in their thoughts and hope for her quick return. Now, here’s the thinker. Nobody other than Maddie’s spirit and, of course, the perpetrator responsible for her murder, knows that Maddie is dead. I mean, unless you count in Charley and the other spirits that quietly haunt the school they all died in and even run a ghostly emotional support group led by Mr. Martin. Other than the bloodied boiler room, the cops haven’t really been able to make heads or tails of the sudden disappearance of the student, who, for the most part, kept to herself.
The ones most affected by Maddie going AWOL are her friends Nicole and Simon. Walking against the grain of what every sign is pointing to, Nicole is hoping against hope that her friend is still alive somewhere out there. Simon is of a different belief. However much it may pain him to think of his friend in the line of people who will never come back, Simon’s gut tells him that if Maddie were alive, she would’ve found a way to let him know somehow. Plucked ruthlessly and all too early from life, Maddie’s spirit doesn’t have the privilege to float around aimlessly until the time comes for her not to be stuck in the “great” beyond anymore. Every devastating attempt at crossing the school threshold brings her right back to the boiler room—the place where Maddie took her last, gasping breath. Having to see her blood being wiped off the machinery isn’t particularly a treat for Maddie, either.
What Does Maddie Remember Of The Time Leading Up To Her Death?
It must not be easy for Maddie to wrap her mind around her death when she hasn’t reached the afterlife with her cell phone. But where could it be? The 4:3 aspect ratio of Maddie’s turning her eyes to the recent past finds her getting excited to see a movie with her friend Simon. As with any best friend who doesn’t approve of a boyfriend whose blue eyes don’t really eclipse his red flags, Simon isn’t too fond of Maddie’s boyfriend, Xavier. Looking out the window of her classroom, Maddie finds Xavier playing hooky and walks up to him to find out why. Xavier’s swift excuse may be vaping and reviving his dead cell phone, but when Maddie keeps an eye on him and watches him text someone with the phone that he claimed was dead, she knows that he hasn’t really been truthful. All Maddie can remember now is that her own phone ran out of power just as she received a text.
The life that Maddie was assigned could not be deemed an easy one, no matter how desperately one tries to cling to the glass-half-full theory. Losing her father when she was a kid was hard enough for little Maddie. But having to parent an alcoholic mother who was in and out of rehab and found it impossible to abstain from turning to the bottle turned Maddie’s life into an ordeal even grownups would find taxing. Maddie remembers her mother’s car pulling up at the school, but what she can’t recall is if she had actually met her mom before her death took place. If the progressively enigmatic circumstances of her death aren’t hard enough on Maddie, seeing her own posters vandalized by bullies and being unable to cause a change in the world of the living will only make her misery grow tenfold.
What Is Maddie’s Dynamic Like With The Other Spirits In The School?
A girl as young as Maddie probably hadn’t had a lot of existential thoughts crowding her mind when she was alive. What comes after death may not have been a contemplation that Maddie concerned herself with, but finding a group of spirits whose schooling-spans are dated back ages was surely not the picture postcard version of the afterlife that Maddie would have ever thought up. In charge of softening the landing for Maddie is Charley, a kid who died from a horrific anaphylactic shock after eating french-fries fried in peanut oil. Charley can be a bit too clingy for someone who, I’m sure, needed to take his time when he was new to being a spirit. But he has given in completely to Mr. Martin’s lessons of letting go of the past and breaking free of all earthly chains so as to attain eternal peace someday. The only thing that Charley does hold on to is a crush he still harbors for a boy he went to school with. Maddie isn’t ready to buy into the whole metaphysical group therapy thing, and Mr. Martin’s not allowing her the space to even come to terms with her death is certainly not helping.
Amongst all the spirits that are stuck in Split River High School, Maddie is the only one who can’t recall how she passed. Knowing how the rest of the ghosts kicked the bucket comes with the territory for Maddie. What hits her with the force of a meteor is learning of Rhonda’s shocking murder at the hands of her own guidance counselor. More interested in keeping mum with a lollipop in her mouth and only opening it to throw shade, Rhonda isn’t as friendly as the other ghosts. The one who is a bit too friendly is Wally, the certified jock who bid goodbye to sports and his life itself right on the field. There’s an awkward air between Wally and Maddie that Wally makes worse every time he sneaks up on her to start up a conversation she’s clearly not interested in having. The show does get a kick out of a few cringe-worthy moments of comic relief, which are usually limited to the shenanigans of the supernatural breakfast club.
The worst of it (I hope) is the donut drama the ghosts take part in during one of the meetings that ends with Wally making some very questionable noises while devouring the jelly bun. Maddie doesn’t really have a choice when it comes to being around the obnoxious group of ghosts. For spirits that have been around for ages, nobody seems to have a clue about what really goes on within the ominous confines of the school. The only ghost who does somewhat get through to Maddie, thanks to his relentless pestering and latching on to her like a nuisance, is Charley. Exercising his ghostly rights and being a peeping Tom in the boy’s shower, Charley finds it easy to open up to Maddie about the hopeless restrictions and judgment he faced as a gay kid in the 1990s. Everything Charley does, including showing Maddie the dispiriting sight of the dead marching band that is cursed to go in circles for all eternity, is to make Maddie grateful that it didn’t turn out as bad as it totally could have. But it can’t be reasonable to expect Maddie to immediately shrug off the trauma of waking up dead, and that too without knowing who killed her. However, much Mr. Martin may nudge her to let go, the only course of action that makes sense for Maddie is to find out the exact circumstances of her death. She isn’t ready to follow his advice and write her own obituary. Not when all she can ponder over is what will become of her mother, who relied solely on her daughter’s constant support.
Why Is Xavier The Prime Suspect In Maddie’s Disappearance?
It’s hard for Maddie to helplessly watch her mother fumble in grief and be escorted away from the microphone as the school gets ready to proceed with a vigil for the missing girl. Eschewing the phony concern that is more to put up a front of caring than to take important measures, Simon is keeping away from the ruckus. In class, his frustration comes out in the form of a complete meltdown, which doesn’t even spare the well-meaning teacher. Simon has long been keeping his mouth shut about Xavier’s shady demeanor. Now that Maddie isn’t around and his worries for his friend are getting the best of him, Simon lashes out at Xavier for not showing any sign of distress. When an angsty fight breaks out between the two and Xavier’s backpack is ripped open, Maddie’s phone falls out of it and sends the entire classroom off the rails.
As Xavier awaits his penance outside of the principal’s office, Simon has already made up his mind about Xavier being the one who killed Maddie. Disappointing the entire school that is waiting on an answer, Xavier is let go without much of a punishment. Maddie has her hands tied as she helplessly watches Simon attack Xavier and get punched in the face. While everyone else is practically picturing Xavier in the electric chair, Maddie’s heart breaks at the thought of her boyfriend being connected to her murder. Away from everyone else’s eyes but within her ear’s reach, Xavier comes clean to the investigating officer, who happens to be his father, about why he had Maddie’s phone in his possession. Xavier had given free rein to his impulses and had recurrent sexual rendezvouses with Claire, a cheerleader who goes to the same school. When Maddie saw him skipping gym class and sitting in his car, he was actually waiting to meet up with Claire. In the panic of the moment, Xavier sent a text meant for Claire to Maddie instead. That was the text that Maddie received before her phone died. Xavier had stolen Maddie’s phone to try and delete the text before she could see it. To keep more harm from befalling his son, Xavier’s father instructs him to remain indoors strictly and avoid speaking to anyone.
As the vigil is about to start and Simon morosely looks out the window to see the candle-bearing crowd, Maddie waits beside him and wishes that she could comfort him. To their shock and Charley’s, who is also present in the room, Simon’s longing for his friend allows his vision to rupture the veil between the two worlds, and he sees Maddie’s spirit. In his many years of existence in the realm of the dead, Charley has never seen a spirit that was perceivable to a person. He chooses to keep it to himself, away from the knowledge of the other spirits that haunt the school. Simon and Maddie can’t concern themselves with the bizarre design of the universe when grander worries loom larger over them. With their minds set on suspecting Xavier and Claire as the two people behind her death, Maddie and Simon take up the job of looking for evidence that incriminates the two.
What Does Simon And Maddie’s Investigation Unearth?
Nothing can really be put past a teenage boy in love, especially if he has time and again shown dark inclinations. It wasn’t his love for Maddie that Simon suspects to have been Xavier’s driving force. His working theory is that Xavier aimed to attest to his feelings for Claire by getting rid of his girlfriend once and for all. Yet, what we see of Xavier’s treatment of Claire tells a whole other story. He would rather be left to his thoughts than communicate with Claire, even when she attempts to reach out. Xavier even connects with Maddie’s mother, and his remorse for ever treating Maddie with any kind of dishonestly bears the tone of absolute sincerity. It isn’t just Maddie’s ardent search for her murderer that makes her impulsively give in to Simon’s theory. Whether she outwardly communicates it or not, being cheated on by Xavier certainly hasn’t been a carnival ride for Maddie. The uncertainty of everything surrounding her death may be unimaginably overwhelming for Maddie, but she wouldn’t let pettiness cloud her judgment. Lackadaisically watching a swim practice, Maddie sees something that makes her remove Claire’s name from the list of possible suspects.
Witnessing Claire distraughtly saving a girl who passed out in the pool, Maddie concludes that Claire isn’t someone who would be foul enough to kill a person. Maddie takes Simon to the abandoned auto shop where she used to meet up with Xavier to get away from the world. Looking through the debris around the place, Simon gets his hand on a piece of metal that looks to be a part of Maddie’s real cellphone. Maddie and Simon aren’t willing to hand it over to the police. Not when the investigative officer himself may be trying to bury evidence against his own son. The most compassionate among the teachers, Mr. Anderson, gives Simon a more flexible deadline to turn over his book report. Maddie implores Simon to relinquish the evidence to Mr. Anderson and asks him to look into it. When the police canines whiff something suspicious in Anderson’s classroom, it turns out to be the paper that Maddie had turned in before disappearing. The investigation’s frustratingly slow pace makes Simon and Maddie keep a keen eye out for clues that can assist them in solving the mystery. Late at night, the two continue their search in the same spot where they find a piece of Maddie’s phone. Frightening the two to no end (especially considering that one of them is actually a ghost. Sheesh!) Mr. Anderson shows up at the spot and asks Simon to keep his distance from the investigation. From that one menacing interaction itself, Mr. Anderson replaces Xavier in Simon’s list of prime suspects.
Maddie isn’t willing to be convinced by Simon’s idea that the teacher may be involved in her death. Yet every time she reminisces about the kind of relationship she had with Mr. Anderson, he comes off exceedingly creepier. He had shared his digits with Maddie and given her a free pass to call him day or night. He had even taken a step further and opened up about his own experience with an alcoholic parent to make Maddie comfortable enough to seek his help if the need arose. Dismissing every legitimate suspicion Simon is throwing her way, Maddie wishes to be tethered to the notion that Mr. Anderson is one of the good ones and that he could never do her any harm. Unable to reason with Maddie, Simon takes his case to Nicole. Nicole may not be ready to wrap her mind around the idea that Maddie is no more, but she would go just about any distance to help solve the mystery of her friend’s disappearance. She keeps Mr. Anderson distracted while Simon steals his car keys to break into it. As Simon expected, the piece of evidence that Mr. Anderson was supposed to hand over to law enforcement is still very much there in his glove box.
‘School Spirits’ Episode 3: Ending Explained – Could Mr. Anderson Be The One Behind Maddie’s Murder?
Evidence may have been stacked against Xavier from the get-go, but he never really seemed to possess the kind of absolute lunacy it takes for someone to kill a person. Moreover, if he was smart enough to get rid of the corpse, he wouldn’t have held on to the cell phone and carry it with him to school. It doesn’t take a lot to absolve him of the crime because the suspicion against him was groundless, to begin with. Nicole gets a shocking notification on her phone that says that Maddie has liked a picture. Following the clue with the hope that Maddie is alive, Nicole climbs up to the old elevator control room, which used to be Maddie’s refuge away from the noises of life. Assuming that she knows something, Xavier follows Nicole up to the room. Nicole’s fear that he has sneaked up on her to kill her as he did Maddie is soon cleared out by Xavier, who urges her to provide her support to Maddie’s mother in her time of need. Losing hope in law enforcement, Nicole and Xavier join Maddie’s mother and form their own search party to look through the woods. While making her case to Simon, Maddie looks back at the time her mother crashed her car, and she had to turn to Mr. Anderson for help. She can’t get herself to believe that the man who saved her life could be the one who ended it. Consumed in her thoughts, which are now more desolate than she ever could expect, Maddie has no interest in taking part in the spirit-group activities to which she has been invited. She does end up giving in to Wally’s request, as a no-consequence rash drive through the campus seems too good an opportunity to release some tension to miss out on. When she convinces Rhonda to help her figure things out about Mr. Anderson, Rhonda reluctantly looks back at the fateful time in her life when it all changed for her. Majorly neglected by her parents, Rhonda needed someone who would prioritize her more than anything else. And that is when her guidance counselor entered her life as a beam of hope. He guided her through college applications and made sure to keep the fire within her alight. But when it was time for him to face the fact that she was going to slip through his fingers, his demons got the better of him, and he ended up murdering the girl, who would have had a bright future ahead of her otherwise. Learning of Rhonda’s fatal ordeal, which was caused by someone she trusted, makes Maddie rethink her previous notions of Mr. Anderson. A search in the school library allows Maddie to discover a crucial piece of the puzzle. The room where Rhonda was murdered has been walled up and divided in two. She also realizes that the only spaces in the school where Simon can see her and talk to her are the very spots that bear the haunting memories of deaths. As Simon and Maddie look through Mr. Anderson’s classroom to confirm their conjecture, the man himself shows up and seems to be having a fiery argument with someone over the phone. In his frenzied state, Mr. Anderson mentions giving Maddie some cash—something that Maddie can’t recall. When he leaves the premises, Simon and Maddy continue their search and discover a pile of cash hidden in the paneling of Mr. Anderson’s classroom. Meanwhile, Nicole has located a crucial piece of evidence in the woods. She has stumbled upon the movie ticket that belonged to Maddie, and the mud boot prints on it seem to be Maddie’s. Maddie’s location remains as much of a mystery as every other detail surrounding her death. Even if Mr. Anderson didn’t kill Nicole with his own two hands, he is clearly not the benevolent, friendly teacher that he’s pretending to be. It’s entirely possible that the money that he claims to have given to Maddie is the reason why he stooped so low as to kill a student. Receiving the money is certainly something that wouldn’t fall between the cracks for Maddie. Could the money belong to a shadier group of people who would not take kindly to him stealing it and would make him pay through the nose? Or am I way off? There’s definitely more to everything than meets the eye. Only future episodes will have all the answers that I can’t wait to find out.