The new Netflix thriller-mystery series, Bodies, is a spiraling time-warped carnival filled with ghouls from the past, present, and future. As with most stories that deal with time travel, the plot can get a little confusing… which is why we have broken down the show’s core mystery that revolves around a shadowy figure named Elias Mannix (played by the formidable Stephen Graham).
Warning: Major spoilers ahead
Who is the Body?
Bodies opens with the age-old murder mystery trope: a mysterious dead body. Except there’s a twist: the body is discovered in Whitechapel on Longharvest Lane by four detectives in four timelines—1890, 1941, 2023 and finally 2053. The officers are Detective Alfred Hillinghead (Kyle Soller), a family man copper who must keep his sexuality hidden to survive, Detective Charles Whiteman (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), a Jewish officer in a WWII-riddled London, Detective Shahara Hasan (Amaka Okafor), a Muslim officer and single mother dealing with the resurgence of alt-right movements, and Detective Iris Maplewood (Shira Haas), an officer from the future who exchanged her freedom to be able to walk again.
The corpse is a naked white male with a mysterious tattoo on his left wrist and a bullet wound through his eye. While the body first appears (at least chronologically) in 1890, it is later revealed that he is from the future—the year 2053 to be exact. The man is Gabriel DeFoe, a professor and quantum physicist who created a time-traveling machine called The Throat. DeFoe is a member of Chapel Perilous, an underground rebel faction led by Detective Hasan who is now middle-aged and hardened by the death of her son from the bomb that destroyed London in 2023. DeFoe and Hasan aim to undo the devastation Elias Mannix wrought in 2023 by traveling back in time—but their plans are disrupted by Detective Maplewood (Haas) who believes Mannix, her boss, is actually the good guy.
Elias Mannix: The Man Behind the Curtain
As previously mentioned, Bodies revolves around the mean and complex Elias Mannix. We first meet Elias in present day London as a traumatized teenager (Gabriel Howell) who has been chewed up and spat out by the system. We first glimpse Elias through a security camera at the mall where he speaks to the South Asian boy who led Hasan on a wild goose chase toward DeFoe’s body in the first episode. Minutes later, when Hasan arrives, the boy utters the chilling phrase “know you are loved” just moments before he shoots himself.
We, the viewers, are in the dark with Hasan, trying to piece together the fragments of a shocking suicide and yet—there’s something familiar about the other boy’s ice blue eyes that look straight at the camera Hasan will watch later—as if he is beckoning her to come find him. We’ve seen those eyes before. Specifically, in the year 2053, in a hologram of Mannix (Stephen Graham) who is the Head Commander of The Executive, London’s most powerful and covert police force.
Future Mannix is the product of a lifetime of loneliness, rage, and feelings of abandonment. But perhaps the most shocking reveal of the series is that Mannix is the puppeteer behind the loop of his own suffering. In 2053, Mannix traveled back in time using DeFoe’s machine to the year 1890, where he stole the identity of Julian Harker, the son of an eccentric wealthy widow. Mannix as Harker buys his way into London’s elite circles by cheating the stock market and forming the clandestine KYAL society (aka “Know You Are Loved) to hatch his centuries-long plan to create a “utopian” society where everybody knows they are loved.
The members of KYAL know that Mannix is from the future, and worship DeFoe’s multiple bodies that are preserved in creepy tanks. Throughout generations, they have helped Mannix carry out his plot to build a new world—by destroying the old one. Throughout history, members of KYAL commit terrible acts in the name of this “utopian” future, including hiding a nuclear bomb underneath central London.
In Bodies, the year 1890 is significant for several reasons. One being that Mannix, as Julian Harker, establishes the banking company Harker & Co. where the bomb that decimates London in 2023 lies dormant for years. The second is perhaps the most insidious, and frankly, disturbing plot in the series, which explains how teenage Elias plays a crucial role in helping KYAL rise to power in 2053. In 1890, Julian Harker seduces the teenage daughter of Detective Hillinghead, Polly, eventually marrying her and having a child: Elias’ great-great-grandfather. In other words, Elias Mannix created himself.
Fast forward to 2023, teenage Elias has been groomed by his foster parents and secret KYAL members, The Morleys, to detonate the bomb under Harker & Co. After years of isolation and abuse, teenage Elias sways on the precipice of history. As Detective Hasan says, teenage Elias is “not a monster” but he is the product of the monster he will become—unless Hasan and the other detectives can manage to change history.
Breaking the Loop
In 2053, Detective Maplewood shoots DeFoe in the eye as he attempts to stop Mannix from creating the loop in 1890, which ends up splitting his lifeless body across the time/space continuium (hence explaining the initial mystery). This is a theme Bodies toys with during its eight episodes: choices are often predetermined whether it be the effect of genetics or some deeper internal bias. In Maplewood’s case, the choice to shoot DeFoe stems from fear. Without KYAL, she never would have been able to get the device installed on her spine that allows her to walk. Though it’s clear from the tight close-up on Haas’ face that Maplewood regrets killing DeFoe almost instantly.
Days after Mannix and DeFoe are thrusted back in time, Maplewood finds Hasan and together they hatch a new plan to stop Mannix once and for all. Maplewood travels back to 1890 to convince Detective Hillinghead of what’s to come. In a pivotal moment, Hillinghead confronts Mannix (who is cosplaying as Julian Harker), which plants a seed of doubt in Mannix’s mind. In this timeline, Mannix doesn’t find happiness with Polly and realizes that destroying one world to build another one isn’t going to heal his deep-rooted trauma. What a concept!
Fast forward to 1941, Detective Whiteman (Fortune-Lloyd) is about to kill Mannix for orchestrating the murder of an orphan girl he took under his wing. They’ve been here before, but this time, Mannix asks Whiteman to hide a record he made and begs him to leave it for Detective Hasan, who will find the record in 2023. On this record, older Mannix leaves a message for teenage Elias to be played just moments before he detonates the bomb that will change history forever.
The message tells him that the future that was promised won’t bring him love and that love can’t be bought or forced, which convinces Elias not to blow London to smithereens. Phew!
In the past, Hillinghead and Whitehead continue their lives without ever finding that mysterious body. In present-day London, Hasan gets into a cab to attend her father’s birthday party, telling her driver that she feels the world is on the precipice of change. When the cab driver turns around, we see the familiar face of Maplewood! The screen cuts to black.
While convoluted at times, Bodies is a sprawling masterpiece that blends classic sci-fi with dystopian futurism. It winks at our politically divisive present while reminding us that history has a tendency of repeating itself—unless we break the harmful systems that keep the most marginalized in our society trapped in cycles of abuse.