Sweet Tooth: The Cave, Explained – Will The Tree Of Life Grow Once Again?

There exists a fine line between curiosity and greed when it comes to human endeavors to conquer the unknown, and as history has shown us innumerable times, it’s a line we have crossed quite often—to bring peril to our own doorstep. Be it either with pioneering inventions, ground-breaking discoveries, or ventures into new land, inquisitiveness has eventually given way to dastardly means to seize control of everything, which might stem from the egocentric approach of mankind. Likewise, in Sweet Tooth, in the early 20th century, explorer/scientist Captain James Thacker’s attempt to find one cure for all ailments brought him to the far-flung polar region of arctic Alaska, where, in a cave in the farthest corner of the land, he found something so incredible—it had the potential to alter the course of human history forever. However, as instinctual human greed took over Thacker’s mind, his transgressive act indeed changed the course of human history forever—but not in the way his curiosity had intended to. The cave and Thacker’s actions create a lasting mystery throughout the course of the final season of Netflix’s Sweet Tooth, which we will try to unravel through our understanding of the narrative. There are also similarities and differences with the source material, i.e., Jeff Lemire’s comic-book series of the same name, which we will try to highlight in the discussion as well.


Spoilers Ahead

The Tree of Life had found its place inside the cave

The reason Captain Thacker traveled to the arctic Alaska was to find the mythical ‘Fountain of Youth,’ which allegedly provided the native tribespeople with longevity and immunity from diseases. Thacker himself was afflicted by a seemingly incurable hereditary muscular degenerative disease, which led him to venture to the distant north as a last resort. In the brutal, inhabitable terrain of the Arctic, he found the cave, which supposedly contained the mythical life-extending element. However, inside the cave, Thacker came across a giant antler-form primordial tree, and as a series of events transpired later on, we learned this tree was connected with the miraculous panacea of native tribespeople, the outbreak of the sick, and the introduction of the hybrids to the world. 


In various cultures, the Tree of Life acts as a symbol of the diversity in the ecosystem, the integral balance between life and death, and even of rebirth. It is the connection that binds all living beings through its roots, acting as the universal vessel of life. In a similar vein, the antler tree inside the cave can be perceived as a representation of the Tree of Life. Its connection to the nearby vicinity granted prolonged life to the native population. As we see, the presence of an immunity-enhancing microbe was discovered by Birdie and other Fort Smith researchers. The fact that the tree indeed had a connection to the life forms as well is seen through Gus, who had multiple visions of the cave (as did Aditya as well, despite being a human) and inexplicably sensed its location on a number of occasions while traveling in an unknown land. However, as Thacker decided to unlock its mysteries by striking it with an axe, aptly by the perpetual symbol of human exploitation of nature, miracle and horror were simultaneously released by the proverbial “Blood of Earth”—the sap of the tree. The deadly viral outbreak identified as being caused by the H5G9 virus was unleashed upon Thacker and his crew as a form of cosmic punishment, but at the same time, a miracle happened in the form of the introduction of the hybrids. 

Thacker’s associate, Burke, had fathered a son with a native tribal woman, who turned out to be the first hybrid in Netflix’s version of the Sweet Tooth adaptation. Contrary to what viewers had known so far, the artificially born deer hybrid child, Gus, wasn’t the first of his kind. Munaqsriri, the child born during the first phase of the viral outbreak, was the first hybrid, whose birth was connected with the tree as well. Interestingly enough, hybrids were immune to the viral outbreak, and hence, they can be perceived as the better alternative to humankind as well. Hybrids differ from humans in a number of ways, notably how they are more attuned to nature through the use of animal senses, and in the future, they will be able to form a harmonious relationship with nature. Whichever element of the tree sap triggered the sudden hybrid birth was responsible for striking a perfect communion between humans and the natural world, bridging the gap that had been widened as humanity was losing its connection with nature. As a response to Thacker’s sin, the Tree of Life brought both a curse and a boon to the world—a perennial cycle of maintaining natural balance.


Given how Sweet Tooth has environmentalism as one of its important themes, man-made ecological collapse is the focus of narrative criticism, which is well exemplified by the lore of the antler tree inside the cave.

How Did The Mystery of the Cave Differ in Comics?

However, in comics, the mystery of the cave differed quite a bit compared to the live-action adaptation, and it had a darker, sci-fi-oriented storyline. In comics, Thacker’s associate Simpson had found a graveyard of primordial gods, and as he mistakenly opened the grave of the Inuit god of the hunt, Tekkietsertok, the viral outbreak and hybrid birth-triggering elements were unleashed into the world. Simpson had a hybrid son (the first hybrid), who lived his entire life in captivity—alone, without an identity. Compared to this, the approach taken in Netflix’s version of the story is much more hopeful, which works well with the tone of the narrative as well.


Will the tree of life grow once again?

In the series finale, Gus attempts to stop the accelerated spreading of the sick by offering his blood to the tree sap (somewhat believing in Aditya’s deranged sacrifice narrative), but to no avail. The tree cannot be healed, and the only way to stop the sickness induced by it is to destroy what remains of the tree as well. This is the natural course that Pubba had mentioned. After getting a vision from Pubba, Gus burns down the tree, which instantly wipes the sick out of the world. However, contrary to initial suspicion, this doesn’t affect the hybrids in any way, as they continue to thrive in the future, creating a new civilization after the eventual end of humankind. Humanity had its time on earth; now its essence will live on among the hybrids.

However, this is not the end of the antler tree itself, as within the collapsed cave lies Aditya’s lifeless body, holding a part of Gus’ antler, from where a tiny sapling is seen to be sprouting out. The Tree of Life is a symbol of rebirth, which is highlighted in the scene, which suggests that the antler tree will return to its past form in the future, preserving the essence of life as hybrids know it. 


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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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