Detail of the poster of I Saw the TV Glow, showing the back of Owen's head against a purple glowing TV screen.
(A24)

‘I Saw the TV Glow’ Ends With a Potent—and Hopeful—Warning

Hey, you. You, reading this. There is still time.

Jane Schoenbrun’s new emo-horror film, I Saw the TV Glow, has hit theaters—and wow, what an ending. What’s the fate of Owen, Maddie, and the psychic girls in The Pink Opaque? Is it too late for Owen to seek out his true self? Let’s get into it.

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Warning: this article contains spoilers for the end of I Saw the TV Glow.

After disappearing for years, Maddie returns to tell Owen that The Pink Opaque, the show they were obsessed with as teens, wasn’t just a show. You’ll recall that in the series finale, Tara and Isabel are captured by Mr. Melancholy and forced to drink a poison called luna juice. The luna juice makes them forget who they are, and Mr. Melancholy’s minions bury them alive as they gag and choke, slowly dying.

Maddie drops a bombshell on Owen: Maddie is actually Tara, and Owen is actually Isabel. Their entire lives are a hallucination caused by the luna juice. In reality, they’re both underground, dying. The years that are passing are actually seconds.

But Maddie tells Owen that she managed to get back to the world of The Pink Opaque by burying herself alive. She offers to do it to him, too, but he panics and runs. He never sees Maddie again.

From that point on, Owen begins to age more and more rapidly, echoing Maddie’s fear that her own life was slipping by too quickly to be real. Owen is followed by messages, though. There’s a chalk drawing on the street that says “There is still time.” An arcade game suddenly flashes the message “You are dying.” If The Pink Opaque is real, then something—Tara, the real world, Isabel’s subconscious—is desperately trying to wake Owen up.

This is a good moment to talk about the trans allegory in the film. Director Jane Schoenbrun says, in the film’s production notes, that Maddie and Owen’s fascination with The Pink Opaque is a metaphor for the egg cracking in a trans person’s journey towards self-actualization. Owen’s alter ego Isabel is a girl, and when Owen hangs out with Maddie, we see him take tentative steps towards embracing that identity: trying on a dress, admitting that he feels like something was “scooped out” of him. Even the colors of the chalk drawing are the colors of the trans flag.

And Owen almost gets there. At a kid’s birthday party at the arcade where he works, he has a breakdown, screaming in pain and terror as everyone else freezes, dream-like, around him. He escapes to the bathroom, where he throws up a mixture of grave dirt and luna juice. He then cuts his own chest open to reveal TV static.

But when we see Owen for the last time, he’s closed that part of himself off again. He hurries through the arcade, wheezing and apologizing for his outburst. No one seems to notice him.

Is it really too late for Owen?

If we accept that The Pink Opaque is reality and Owen’s life is the dream, then it’s still not too late for Owen when the film ends.

How do we know? Because Owen is still alive. if he’s still alive in the dream, then Isabel must still be alive in order to dream it. However, the fact that Owen is elderly means that time really is running out for Isabel. If Owen has a few years left in his life, then Isabel may have less than a minute before she succumbs to the poison.

But the point is that, even if time is running out, it’s still not too late for Owen to find himself. And that ending carries an urgent message for viewers: it’s not too late for you, either.

There is still time.

(featured image: A24)


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Author
Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>