I Saw the TV Glow's Confusing and Bleak Ending, Explained

Behind a heartbreaking cry for help is a devastating yet persistent hope.


Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow is about television. But like television, it’s also about life. It’s also a deeply weird movie with a final act that will likely leave you at least a little confused (and perhaps totally lost). Some have called the movie’s ending bleak and even cruel. But if you choose to believe it, I Saw the TV Glow’s ending is incredibly inspirational. So what does I Saw the TV Glow’s ending mean? We’re going to do our best to explain a movie that’s admittedly left open for interpretation.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the ending of I Saw the TV Glow. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, we recommend watching it first before you continue reading this article. Still here? Let’s dive in!

Wha Is the Plot of I Saw the TV Glow?

The A24 feature, recently released on VOD, follows Owen (Justice Smith), a loner who found meaning in high school through tapes of a young adult Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque show called The Pink Opaque. Owen’s parents won’t let him watch the show at home, but his schoolmate Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) sneaks him episodes recorded on VHS tapes. Over time, the two form a close bond through their shared love of The Pink Opaque.

The movie takes a turn when Maddy runs away from home. With his best friend gone, Owen lives a low-key life with his parents. He gets a job at the local movie theater and gradually becomes an adult. One day while grocery shopping, Owen sees Maddy again. They go to a bar where Maddy reveals a theory about the very world they live in. She believes their entire reality is nothing more than a construct created by The Pink Opaque’s big bad, Mr. Melancholy, and that they are in fact the show’s protagonists, Tara and Isabel. She came to this revelation after paying a man to bury her alive and managing to dig her way out.

An older Owen apologizing in the last moments of I Saw the TV Glow.


Owen’s first reaction is to rebuff her, but that night he has a traumatic experience that seems to hint Maddy’s theory is right. The scene is intercut with shots of Maddy watching as he tries on a dress. The next night, Maddy urges Owen to be buried alive like she was so he can wake up as Isabel just as she woke up as Tara. But it all proves too much to Owen and he runs home, never to see Maddy again.

Twenty years pass, and Owen is now a middle-aged man living in his parents' house with a family he insists he loves more than anything but is never seen. His humdrum life of working at a fun center builds to a boil when, during a children’s birthday party, he suddenly screams “I’m dying! Help me!”

Owen retreats to the bathroom, where he reaches inside his chest only to find TV static, seemingly proving Maddy correct. In the last moments of the movie, we see him emerge from the bathroom, apologizing to everyone he sees for the sudden outburst. The end.

I Saw the TV Glow ending explained

“There is still time” is the single phrase that turns the ending from cautionary tale to hopeful promise.


So what does it all mean? At first glance, it looks like Owen is denying the truth that Maddy was correct, but just the very act of looking within himself in the movie’s final moments is an achievement.

There’s a reason why I Saw the TV Glow’s top Letterboxd review is a coming-out post from a trans woman. Owen’s entire inner conflict is an allegory of the trans experience. Just as he’s denying his existence as a fictional character in another reality, he’s also denying his existence as a woman.

There are some obvious clues to support this, like the shots of Owen wearing a dress, but the movie’s message is also more abstract. In one of the few clips of The Pink Opaque, we see Tara discuss a type of monster called Drain Lords by saying, “They can’t hurt you if you don’t think about them.” Later, when Maddy confronts Owen with her discovery, she realizes that accepting the truth is difficult. “I know it’s scary. That’s part of it,” she says. “It’s like the Drain Lords,” Owen responds. “Just like the Drain Lords. It’s not real if I don’t think about it.” That’s exactly what Owen’s been doing up until the outburst: denying what’s real by not thinking about it.

The ending of I Saw the TV Glow is the brutal reality of what happens if you choose not to believe something because it means facing a harsh truth. It’s a cautionary tale, but it’s also one full of hope. After Maddy leaves for the last time, we see a message written in chalk on the street: “There is still time.”

No matter how old you are, no matter how much time you feel like you’ve wasted, there is always time to become your true self, however you define that. I Saw the TV Glow isn’t a movie about a man who threw his life away because he wasn’t willing to go on an adventure, it’s a movie about someone who took their time before realizing the adventure was what was keeping them from happiness.

It’s a movie entirely focused on the “refusal of the call” part of the Hero’s Journey, but one that doesn’t need to show the adventure at all because just accepting the call is daunting enough. There is still time, there will always be time, but first, you have to accept the truth.

I Saw the TV Glow is now available to rent and buy on VOD.

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