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Breaking Down the Ending of Netflix's German Space Thriller The Signal

Peri Baumeister as Paula Groth in <em>The Signal</em> Credit - Anika Molnar—Netflix

Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Signal.

"Hello."

That's the one-word message that German astronaut Paula Groth (Peri Baumeister) hears being repeatedly transmitted through space in sci-fi thriller The Signal, now streaming on Netflix.

It's a simple communication, but one that sets in motion a dangerous chain of events for Paula, her husband Sven (Florian David Fitz), and their 10-year-old daughter Charlie (Yuna Bennett). The four-episode miniseries opens on the morning that Paula and her colleague Hadi (Hadi Khanjanpour) are set to return to Earth after a stint aboard the International Space Station (ISS). We see the pair hurtling toward the ground as Paula hesitates to push a button that will manually deploy their capsule's parachutes and Hadi begs her to reconsider. She ultimately does launch the parachutes, but it's clear there's something bigger going on.

(L-R): Florian David Fitz as Sven Groth, Yuna Bennett as Charlie Groth, Nilam Farooq as Mira Hiraj, and Uwe Preuss as Rainer Beu in <em>The Signal</em><span class="copyright">Anika Molnar—Netflix</span>
(L-R): Florian David Fitz as Sven Groth, Yuna Bennett as Charlie Groth, Nilam Farooq as Mira Hiraj, and Uwe Preuss as Rainer Beu in The SignalAnika Molnar—Netflix

Sven receives a strange call from Paula. Then, the plane that Paula and Hadi are flying home on mysteriously disappears over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 178 people on board and leaving Sven and Charlie desperately searching for answers about what actually happened. As the father-daughter duo begins to uncover what at first seems to be an unbelievable truth, The Signal jumps back and forth through time (and space) to slowly allow viewers to piece together the mystery at its center.

How does The Signal end?

In the three episodes leading up to the finale, it's revealed that, while in space, Paula heard and recorded what she believed to be a signal from extraterrestrial beings moving closer to Earth. She shared this information with Hadi, who at first tried to convince her that her supposed discovery was the result of the chronic hallucinations she had been suffering from since experiencing a bad acid trip. Paula was at first totally rattled by the idea that the whole thing had been in her head. But after realizing Hadi had been working to sabotage her since learning she wanted to share the news of the signal with the other astronauts onboard the ISS—thereby sharing it with the wider world—she knew she was onto something.

Eventually, Hadi trapped Paula inside an isolated section of the space station and began depleting it of oxygen in a desperate attempt to force her to divulge her calculations for the time and place the aliens would supposedly arrive on Earth. She relayed the information and Hadi freed her, only for her to reveal she was broadcasting everything she was saying on the radio. On their way back down to Earth, Hadi explained to Paula that he had been blackmailed into acting against her and never wanted to hurt her. But it wasn't until Paula reunited with the billionaire philanthropist funding her and Hadi's mission, Benisha Mudhi (Sheeba Chaddha), that she figured out who was really behind what had happened.

(L-R): Katharina Schüttler as Nora and Sheeba Chaddha as Benisha Mudhi in <em>The Signal</em><span class="copyright">Sifeddine Elamine—Netflix</span>
(L-R): Katharina Schüttler as Nora and Sheeba Chaddha as Benisha Mudhi in The SignalSifeddine Elamine—Netflix

Following Paula's death, Sven and Charlie come to learn that all the major world governments have agreed that any UFO should be blown up on sight. But it turns out Paula purposefully broadcast the wrong date and time to throw those in power who would want to put the aliens off their scent. Believing Paula secretly gave Charlie the real information while talking to her from the radio of the ISS, an unwitting Sven seeks out Mudhi for help. However, as Mudhi flies them out to the desert location of Charlie's coordinates, Sven learns it was Mudhi who arranged for Paula and Hadi's plane to be brought down.

Mudhi's motivations for wanting to make first contact with the aliens are a bit vague—something about breaking the "vicious cycle" of history—but after a UFO again fails to appear, she orders her assistant Nora (Katharina Schüttler) to kill Sven and Charlie. Feeling guilty over all the blood she has on her hands, Nora secretly allows them to live and the two finally figure out that Charlie only had the right location for the aliens' arrival. Paula covertly gave the other half of the information, the correct day, to Sven in a cryptic voicemail she left for him before getting on her flight and trusted that her family would be able to put the pieces of her puzzle together.

Three months later, Mudhi has been arrested and Sven and Charlie make their way back out to the desert to await the aliens' arrival. However, in one final twist, the object that crash lands on Earth is not actually a UFO, but the Voyager 1 probe launched by NASA in 1977 that carried a phonograph record containing a message of greeting from the human beings of Earth. The repeated, "Hello," that Paula heard was a result of the record player glitching and one part of the message playing over and over.

No aliens arrive on Earth, but the show ends with a montage of news reports concluding that "somebody out there sent the probe back" and that it should be viewed as a reminder that humanity needs to find a way to band together.

"This event reminds us that a long time ago, we wanted to be something. That we had a common message," one broadcaster says. "At this moment, we feel a profound sorrow, because we have not lived up to that message. We never came together, we never became one. The message that we received today didn't come from a foreign planet or another civilization. It came from us. We know what we have to do. Something has to change."

Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com.