Portals and Spores and A.I. Oh My!

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

When a movie or TV show is done right, everything you see on the screen tells a story. Not just the dialogue, but the music, set design, wardrobe, colour choices, acting and directing choices, subtext and editing.

For some time, I’ve been dismayed by the lacklustre depth of recent movies and TV shows that I’ve watched. I was actually on the cusp of walking away from writing, making movies, and doing analyses.

But then I was introduced to The Nevers and I was immediately hooked. First by Laura Donnelly’s performance as the very damaged Amalia True/Zephyr Alexis Navine. But what grabbed me next was how well it was all put together. The Nevers is an extremely well-constructed show with a sound internal logic. All departments are working together to create a rich, interconnected universe filled with minor details that build and feed the mystery of the Touched.

On my second (and third and fourth) rewatch, I started looking at the series through a screenwriter/filmmaker lens. It was only then that I realized how effectively the producers and editors use cutaways to enhance the story and foreshadow future events.

For those not in the know, the simplest definition of a cut away is the interruption of a continuously filmed action by inserting a view of something else. The most common use of cutaway shots in dramatic films is to adjust the pace of the main action, to conceal the deletion of some unwanted part of the main shot, or to allow the joining of parts of two versions of that shot.

From my very first viewing, even before I truly started to critically review the show, this shot bothered me.

Courtesy of HBO

REX (‘Wrecks’) bumping into Stripe’s foot seemed totally out of place when it happened. But then I started thinking about who could have been transported back to 1896 with Stripe, and a theory clicked into place.

The Outpost/Science Team

Based on what Stripe and Knitter found in The Outpost, plus what Byner found in the computer, the plan was always to go back to 1896 and alter the timeline in such a way as to prevent the environmental disasters that are plaguing the future.

There were at least five scientists occupying the outpost.

Image courtesy of HBO

However, based on this cut away, I believe only four scientists were ever going to go back.

Image courtesy of HBO

Whatever those keys are, there are only four of them. What their function is I can only guess, but for the purposes of scene/story analysis, what they tell us is that only four of the scientists were going on the mission.

So Who Hitched a Ride?

There were only 4 people left alive when the Galanthi left the outpost:

  1. Stripe

  2. Byner

  3. Major Greenbone

  4. Crescent

My belief, after the first six episodes, is that Greenbone went back as Dr. Hague and Byner became Hugo Swann. Crescent is the big question mark but may explain the unknown voice Amalia heard in her vision with the Galanthi Chrysalis.

But there was one more living being in the Outpost we haven’t talked about yet…

What is REX?

REX is an AI developed by the Planetary Defence Coalition (PDC), though it’s likely a Human/Galanthi hybrid technology. I’ve based that theory on the onscreen appearance of the user interface.

Image courtesy of HBO

The core of REX very much resembles the Galanthi in energy/chrysalis form. It also appears to be made of little blue bubbles, similar to the Galanthi spores. Finally, it connects by reaching out with its ‘arms’…in a manner not unlike when Galanthi passes through solid matter.

The REX AI has the ability to connect to systems wirelessly, but when it can’t Byner uses ‘Little REX’ (Wrecks), a Roomba-like drone that can connect to hard-wired ports.

Image courtesy of HBO

REX seems to be an extremely effective tool, though Major Greenbone feels differently: “You developed an AI and left out the I.” That could be simply an offhand comment on how Freelife views PDC tech or it could be more telling—most likely the latter.

Why is REX Important?

Screen time!

REX gets six dialogue mentions in 15 minutes, multiple shots / cutaways and gets more screen time than some of the actors in the future sequence.

The sequence when Byner accidentally activates there portal is the most telling though.

Image courtesy of HBO

Byner discovers the portal and accidentally activates the system, REX is connected.

Image courtesy of HBO

When the system engages a firewall the REX connection is severed.

Image courtesy of HBO

The firewall seems to literally sever REX’s little connecting arms, leaving a portion of the AI on the wrong side of the firewall.

Image courtesy of HBO

Then the Wrecks drone short circuits, which is an indicator of a bigger problem than a dropped connection.

Image courtesy of HBO

I believe that, in one way or another, REX also went back in time with everybody else. So the question is, what form does REX take in the past?

I have two guesses:

  1. The less likely theory is that REX is Dr. Hague’s assistant (“You’re an incomplete machine,” Dr. Hague says to him).

  2. The more probable theory is that the severed REX AI affected the Galanathi spores.

Spore Drive

While there are many hints peppered throughout the series, I’ll focus on two main ones.

First, in the asylum, Zephyr/Amalia says to Dr. Cousens that “The spores don’t affect everyone they hit. I never understood why. But they don’t normally cause random powers. There’s a pattern I’m missing.”

Image courtesy of HBO

Note: For those who haven’t followed the show super closely, the spores are only supposed to act as translators allowing humans to understand Galanthi language and Technology.

The second? Penance.

I feel like this one is a bit more telling. She describes her turn as being able to see electricity, where it is, where it wants to go.

The REX drone seems to follow power to connect to ports.

It is also likely REX had an extensive technical database that was imparted to Penance, allowing her not only to see electricity, but also to be such an amazing inventor.


As with all things in story telling the truth will become apparent as they series unfolds and apart of the fun of watching a fully developed show is looking for the clues left by the creators and guessing what happens next.

It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, though being right is kind of awesome. What matters is that it makes the experience so much better because you’re engaging on multiple levels.

And that’s where The Nevers excels.

For more Nevers analysis, follow Jason on instagram @jasoncmarshall or @jasonmarshallca on twitter for all sorts of nonsense.

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