Hello, Den of Geek readers. We would like to play a little game.
When James Wan and Leigh Whannell unleashed the first Saw in 2004, you might’ve thought the franchise was all about grisly murders and psychological nonsense. But if you still hold true to that opinion, then you have not been paying attention to the backstory and police procedural that accompanied the carnage. With each entry, the Saw franchise embraced flashbacks, flash-forwards, and flash-sideways, becoming more convoluted than that other 2000s phenomenon, Lost.
And now that Saw X is in theaters, you realize that you don’t understand the story at all. How can there be a 10th movie when John Kramer died in Saw III? Didn’t Jigsaw reboot the series in 2017? Did anyone actually see Spiral: From the Book of Saw?
Den of Geek readers, your attention to the bloody fun parts of Saw has left you unprepared. This game will test your will… your will to understand the soapy, silly, refreshingly ACAB-centric plot of the Saw franchise. If you can read this very long timeline breakdown (which, believe it or not, only focuses on the storyline of Kramer and his accomplices, largely ignoring the victims’ backstories) then you will better appreciate Saw X. But if you fail, the movie’s subplots will be as painful as a drill boring into your forehead.
Make your choice.
John Kramer Before Jigsaw (Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, Jigsaw)
The secret weapon of the Saw franchise has always been John Kramer, played with quiet menace by Tobin Bell. Even when spouting self-help nonsense and hypocritical pronouncements against murder, Bell’s growl and hangdog expression lend the character real pathos and, sometimes, righteous fury.
Flashbacks in Saws IV and V reveal that, before creating murder traps, Kramer was a wildly successful and respected mechanical engineer. He lived a happy life with his wife Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), a doctor who operated a free drug treatment center Homeward Bound, which has the motto “Cherish Your Life.” Although Kramer supported Jill’s mission, he expressed skepticism about her methods. He believed that methadone simply covered the source of the disease without making the addict activate their will to live. Kramer begins more openly sharing this theory with anyone who will listen, including Umbrella Health Insurance executive William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), as seen in Saw VI.
Kramer’s obsession fades briefly after learning about Jill’s pregnancy, most of which is portrayed in Saw IV. The happy couple plans to name their son Gideon, after a building he designed, which became a meat packing plant. While Kramers waits for Jill in the Homeward Bound parking, an addict named Cecil Adams (Billy Otis)—and, we learn in Saw VI, fellow patient Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith)—arrive to rob the clinic. While making his escape, Cecil slams a door against Jill’s stomach, forcing her to miscarry.
Making matters worse, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride fame) tells Kramer that he has an inoperable brain tumor, as seen in Saw. Jigsaw explains that distracted resident Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) accidentally switched Kramer’s X-rays with those of an uninfected patient, which meant that the cancer went undiagnosed for too long. A distraught Kramer crashes his car in a suicide attempt. But as seen in Saw II, the attempt fails and Kramer crawls from the wreckage with a new will to live.
The Birth of Jigsaw (Saw, Saw IV, Jigsaw)
After experiencing firsthand the will to live, Kramer decides to put his theories into action. The flashback in Saw IV finds Kramer trailing Cecil during a Year of the Pig celebration, grabbing a pig mask to disguise himself (thus inspiring the Pig Head costumes that he and his apprentices will later don). He drugs Cecil and drags him to his workshop to strap him into a first trap. The experiment seems to fail, with Cecil breaking the trap before dying after jumping into razor wire, but Kramer considers it a win.
Newly reinvigorated, Kramer decides to take his approach to several people at once. As seen in Jigsaw, Kramer captures several people, including Logan Nelson, and traps them in a barn once owned by Jill’s parents, in order to teach them to confess their crimes. Still early in his career, Kramer realizes that he miscalculated the drug he gave to Logan and the resident would not wake up in time to properly participate in the game.
Instead, Kramer recruits Logan to be his apprentice, which will be a running theme throughout the series. Together, Kramer and Logan create Jigsaw’s most famous trap from Saw, the reverse bear trap and place it on the head of Amanda Young, Cecil’s sidekick from the attack on Jill Tuck’s clinic. Amanda survives by killing the other competitor, another patient from Jill’s clinic, and removing the trap before it snaps.
The Hunt For Jigsaw (Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw V, Saw 3D, Jigsaw)
We know that Kramer (and presumably Logan, but he only appears in Jigsaw) trap enough people to gain a reputation. This draws the attention of Saw heroes Detectives Tapp and Sing (Danny Glover and Ken Leung). Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) also notices Jigsaw and follows the killer’s lead by creating the trap shown at the start of Saw V. Hoffman uses the trap to kill Seth Baxter (Joris Jarsky) for murdering his sister.
As Tapp and Sing search for Jigsaw throughout Saw, Kramer finds and recruits Hoffman as a new apprentice, something not revealed until Saw IV. Hoffman gives Kramer inside information about Tapp’s investigation, which allows him to stay ahead of the police. Through Hoffman, Kramer learns that Tapp has interrogated Amanda, putting her in a more vulnerable position. He goes to Amanda’s apartment and gains her as an apprentice, something viewers don’t learn until the end of Saw II.
In the main story of Saw, Tapp ramps up his investigation after Sing dies while trying to apprehend Jigsaw. Tapp fingers Gordon as a prime suspect, and hires photographer Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) to tail the doctor. With the help of Amanda and Hoffman, Kramer puts Gordon and Adam into the bathroom trap. Kramer also poisons hospital orderly Zepp Hindle (Michael Emerson) and forces him to help by holding Gordon’s wife and daughter hostage. He eventually kills Tapp.
Saw ends with Adam alive, but still chained in the bathroom. Saw III reveals that Kramer intended for Adam to have access to a key that would undo his fetters, but that Amanda carelessly left it on his chest. When Adam bolted awake in a bathtub, he accidentally pulled out the tub’s stopper and knocked the key off his chest, sending it spiraling down the drain. Riddled with guilt for her error, Amanda returned to the bathroom and put Adam out of his misery by suffocating him.
Gordon does get out of the bathroom trap by sawing off his own foot at the end of Saw, and seemingly disappears from the franchise. However, a flashback in Saw 3D shows that Kramer met Gordon in the passageway outside the bathroom. Kramer nursed Gordon’s wounds and created an artificial foot. During the healing process, Gordon became an apprentice for Kramer and helped him perform the medical parts of the games, such as placing keys and other objects inside of victims.
Jigsaw’s Reign of Terror (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw X)
Set between Saw and Saw II, Saw X tells a (relatively) self-contained story involving Kramer’s vendetta against those who took advantage of his desperation to con him. Fellow terminal cancer patient Henry Kessler (Michael Beach) tells Kramer about Dr. Pederson in Norway, who has a radical treatment. Kramer takes the idea to his insurer William Easton, but as we know from Saw VI, he gets rejected.
A woman claiming to be Pederson’s daughter, Cecilia (Synnøve Macody Lund), contacts Kramer and invites him to her clinic in Mexico City. Cecilia treats Kramer at her clinic and claims that he is cancer-free. However, Kramer learns that the procedure is a scam and that the cancer remains. With the help of Amanda and Hoffman, Kramer captures the scammers, including Kessler, and places them into traps. The post-credit scene of Saw X shows Kramer happy with Hoffman. But we know from later entries that he begins to doubt both of his apprentices. At some as-of-yet unrevealed point, Kramer gathers items such as a reverse bear trap and a videotape, and places them in a black box. He gives that box to his executor in Saw III, with instructions to send it to Jill after his death, but we don’t see her open it until Saw 3D (the seventh one).
Through Hoffman, Kramer learns about the main characters of Saw II and Saw IV: Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), Detective Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer from Starship Troopers), and Officer Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent). They capture Matthews’ son Daniel (Erik Knudsen) and place him in the house trap depicted in Saw II, but Amanda also pretends to be a victim in order to look out for him. After completing the house trap, Amanda drugs Daniel and takes him to a safe house, so that Kramer can test Matthews.
Despite Kramer’s warnings, Matthews refuses to calm down or listen and ends up walking right into the bathroom trap from Saw. Amanda subdues Matthews and locks him in shackles at the end of Saw II. But in Saw III, he immediately smashes his foot to slip the binding and escape. Once again, Amanda finds him, and the two fight, but she leaves him unconscious in the hallways outside the bathroom trap. After Amanda leaves, Hoffman locates Matthews and takes him to another location, as seen in Saw IV.
As Amanda continues to work for Kramer, she changes her process and makes the traps unescapable. This includes the trap she uses on Detective Kerry, who has her sides ripped open, despite retrieving a key from a vat of acid in Saw III.
The Death of John Kramer (Saw III, Saw IV)
On Gordon’s recommendation, Kramer and his accomplices capture surgeon Lynn Denton (Bahar Soomekh), as well as her husband Jeff (Angus MacFayden), the main characters of Saw III. They place the Dentons in separate traps inside the Gideon Meatpacking Building.
While Jeff goes through a game intended to teach him to forgive the driver who accidentally killed his son, Kramer forces Dr. Denton to perform surgery on him. At the same time, Kramer puts Amanda through a series of games as punishment for the inescapable traps while Hoffman makes his move against her. Using knowledge that he gained from police reports, Hoffman threatens to expose Amanda’s role in Cecil’s robbery of Homeward Bound and the death of Kramer’s son Gideon. He tells her to shoot Dr. Denton, all part of his plan to kill anyone who knows about his involvement with Jigsaw.
The main games of Saw III and Saw IV happen concurrently, as Jeff and Officer Rigg go through their games simultaneously. At the same time, FBI agents Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis) get involved, but they direct most of their attention toward Jill Tuck, especially after she receives a key from Kramer after one last attempt at making him stop. After Perez gets shot by an exploding Billy puppet, Strahm investigates further, eventually going to the Gideon building where the games are taking place.
Rigg’s game eventually leads him to the same place where he finds the captured Matthews and Hoffman, the latter pretending to be another victim of Jigsaw. Rigg and Matthews die in the confusion, and Hoffman leaves to observe the completion of the other games. In another room, Denton successfully operates on Kramer, but Amanda succumbs to her jealousy and Hoffman’s prodding. She shoots Denton just as Jeff comes through the door, which pushes him over the edge. Jeff grabs a bone saw and slits Kramer’s throat, finally killing off Kramer, and inadvertently killing Lynn, who wore a death collar set to go off when Kramer’s heart stops.
Before he dies, Kramer tells Jeff that he has failed to save his daughter Corbette (Niamh Wilson), hidden away with limited oxygen. Strahm enters the room shortly afterward, but Jeff mistakes him for someone working with Jigsaw. Demanding to know where his daughter is, Jeff pulls a gun on Strahm, who fires first and kills him. While Strahm looks at the bodies of Jeff, Kramer, Lynn, and Amanda, Hoffman sneaks up behind him and locks the room, trapping him.
Jigsaw Reborn (Saw IV, Saw V, Saw 3D)
In Saw V through Saw 3D (aka Saw: The Final Chapter), Hoffman plays the “new” Jigsaw, a real downgrade for the series as Costos Mandylor severely lacks the charisma and presence that made us love Kramer despite his self-important mumbo-jumbo.
After a cold open, Saw V begins with the trapped Strahm finding a secret door containing a cassette tape warning him not to continue his quest. Ignoring the tape, Strahm goes through the door only to be knocked out by Hoffman. He awakens to find his head trapped in a glass box quickly filling with water, but he uses a pen to perform a tracheotomy and stays alive long enough for the police to reach him. While paramedics tend to him outside of the building, Strahm sees Hoffman rescuing Corbette Denton, which raises his suspicions.
While Strahm recuperates in the hospital, doctors perform the autopsy on Kramer that opens Saw IV. They find a cassette tape inside of his stomach and call Hoffman to investigate. Hoffman plays the tape, in which Jigsaw warns that Kramer’s death does not mean the end of the games.
At the same time, internal affairs officer Dan Erickson (Mark Rolston) gets involved and begins looking at Hoffman. However, Hoffman directs Erickson’s attention to Strahm, hoping to pin his killings on his pursuer. As he guides Strahm through a game, Hoffman underscores more circumstantial evidence to make the FBI agent appear to be the Jigsaw killer. He finally lures both Strahm and Erickson to the place where the main game in Saw V takes place.
After Kramer’s funeral, the executor receives the box John put together and gives it to Jill, which we don’t see until the end of Saw 3D. Using the key John gave her, she opens it to find instructions for her and Gordon. Unsurprisingly, Kramer knew not to trust Hoffman, so he enlists Jill and Gordon to help him stop Hoffman. Hoping that doing so will finally put an end to Jigsaw, Jill agrees.
Hoffman Unleashed (Saw V, Saw VI, Saw 3D)
At the Saw V trap location, Strahm finds Hoffman and thinks that he’s caught him. But Hoffman escapes via a glass case built by Kramer and leaves Strahm in a room with the walls closing in. After Strahm gets crushed to death, Hoffman returns to remove a hand from the corpse.
While capturing the victims and preparing the games shown in Saw VI, Hoffman uses Strahm’s hand to leave fingerprints at the crime scene. For Erickson, the prints only further confirm that Strahm was Jigsaw, but agent Perez, who has come back to active duty after surviving her gunshot wounds, disagrees. The two find more evidence that points to a different killer, one who had something to do with the death of Seth Baxter, the man who killed Hoffman’s sister.
But before they can act, Hoffman kills Erickson, Perez, and other officers closing in on him. He returns to his surveillance room to watch the end of William Easton’s game (the main trap for Saw VI), secretly followed by Jill. She sneaks behind Hoffman and electrocutes him, placing him in a reverse bear trap. Jill leaves Hoffman to die, but he manages to remove the trap before it goes off, sustaining only a nasty gash on his cheek.
Like Kramer before him, this brush with death only emboldens Hoffman and he continues setting up traps, as depicted in Saw 3D. After realizing that Hoffman survived, Jill Tuck fears for her life and enlists the help of internal affairs officer Matt Gibson (Chad Donella), who received help from Hoffman years ago.
Hoffman attempts to use public games as leverage. That’s most clear in Saw 3D, in which he tortures bestselling author Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) for falsely claiming to be a Jigsaw survivor. With Gibson on his trail, Hoffman offers to end Bobby’s game in exchange for Jill but is refused. So Hoffman leads Gibson to an abandoned garage, where he kills Gibson and makes his way to Jill. Hoffman puts the reverse bear trap on Jill and kills her. But as soon as he leaves, Gordon and two unnamed accomplices capture Hoffman and put him in the bathroom trap from the original saw. There, Gordon takes away the saw Hoffman could use to remove his foot, trapping the false Jigsaw forever.
Addendums to the Book of Saw (Jigsaw, Spiral)
Although Jigsaw provided more background information to Kramer’s early days, it also took place in 2017, several years after Saw 3D. In the film’s present, Dr. Logan Nelson takes on the Jigsaw mantle to punish wrongdoers, including crooked cop Brad Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie), who allowed the man who killed his wife to go free. At the end of Jigsaw, Logan seems ready to continue Jigsaw’s legacy, but no examples appear on screen.
2021’s Spiral: From the Book of Saw takes place in the same city, but many years later, and has only tangential connections to the original franchise. As he investigates a new Jigsaw copycat, one with a different voice pattern and a new puppet to replace Billy, detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) only mentions in passing that John Kramer was the original Jigsaw. Then again, Banks also says that Kramer never targeted cops, so maybe he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
The son of a popular police chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), Banks became persona-non-grata within his department when he turned in his partner Peter Dunleavy (Patrick McManus) after he shot an innocent man. Years later, that man’s son took on the name William Schenk (Max Minghella) and became a detective who partnered with Banks. Secretly, Schenk also became the next Jigsaw copycat, designing traps for those involved in his father’s murder, including Marcus Banks. Even after revealing himself to Banks, Schenk escapes, but we do not know if he continued as Jigsaw.