This article contains Spiderhead spoilers.
It looks almost blissful. That serene sunset Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) imagines he’s flying toward might as well be heaven for the good doctor. After all, he’s unlikely to see the real thing once his plane smashes headlong into a mountain.
So ends Abnesti Pharmaceuticals’ experiments on the remote island and institute of “Spiderhead,” and so too ends Steve Abnesti. It’s a surprisingly cheeky conclusion to Joseph Kosinski’s new science fiction thriller out now on Netflix. Up to this point, audiences have been asked to consider how dark things can get as the backstories of each inmate become clear, and the prospect of escape from their guilt over past mistakes seems even less likely than it does from this gilded hellhole. And yet, both Jeff (Miles Teller) and Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett) live to console each other another day and figure out whether this will be a turning point in their lives, or just another traumatic experience.
How it came to this, however, might’ve left some folks a little surprised, so we’ve broken down the ins-and-outs of the Last Day at Spiderhead below…
What is B-6?
Despite all the teasing glimpses we get of the various experimental drugs Abnesti has in his repertoire, the one of greatest importance is B-6, the drug for which all the others are just laboratory fodder.
Apparently a miracle drug Steve’s been dreaming of for most of his life (or since his father abandoned him), the “medicine” is designed to make people docile and compliant, so that they always obey authority—or at least whomever is administering the drug. Jeff first mentions B-6 out loud when he asks what the red vial attached to his bloodstream is for. After all, he has Darkenfloxx attached to his body via the MobiPak (the device on his lower back), even though Steve keeps swearing they’ll never use the bad dreams drug again. Jeff also appears to have the “love drug,” N-40, ready to be pumped into his veins at any time. But what is this red one that’s always in rotation in everyone’s MobiPak?
Mark (Mark Paguio) unconvincingly suggests it is just a placebo, but Jeff and the audience knows that is not true. In fact, it’s the only drug Steve cares about. Once perfected, Steve intended to sell it to businesses (and governments?) under the name O-B-D-X (Obediex). What sort of authority wouldn’t want something that “could get you to follow an order antithetical to your deepest values and emotions?” So Steve would try to pump Jeff up with “love” for Heather (Tess Haubrich) via N-40, but the experiment wasn’t to prove that it would make folks become infatuated with one another—even to the point of ripping their clothes off right in front of voyeurs! A few tests proved that drug’s efficacy pretty conclusively, right? But what Steve wanted was to make Jeff so invested in Heather as a person that when he obeyed the order to administer her Darkenfluxx, it meant B-6 overcame Jeff’s sense of devotion to a woman he’d just made love to.
As Lizzy noted, why do they always so willingly agree to “acknowledge” whatever Steve asks of them, no matter how heinous? Yes, the implicit threat is that if they don’t consent to these tests, Steve’s company will send them back to maximum security prisons. No more copper pots in the kitchen or tropical island excursions. However, Jeff still was consenting to things he might not have otherwise—like eventually giving Heather the Darkenfluxx. Was he broken down by Steve’s pressure? Possibly. But he also was under the clear influence of B-6 which he unwittingly consented to when he first “acknowledged” his participation in these tests upon arriving at Spiderhead.
It is Jeff’s self-loathing guilt, his new pampered lifestyle, and the B-6 that all influence his decisions. But Steve wanted to get B-6 to the point where anyone would obey anything, even putting Darkenfluxx into a woman he truly loves. Remember Jeff’s greatest regret is that he got the last woman he loved in a drunk driving crash earlier in life.
Thus the final test where Steve pumps Jeff with more B-6 and tries to cajole, threaten, and harass the prisoner into sending a drug that is essentially torture into Lizzy’s brain. Luckily for Lizzy, she wasn’t the only one in peril that day…
How Did Jeff Turn the Tables on Steve?
The short and obvious answer is that Jeff appealed to Mark’s sympathies. The assistant technician might snicker when patients are given N-40, but he is almost as horrified as Jeff about giving anyone Darkenfluxx. And after Steve makes Mark complicit in what would qualify as at least second degree manslaughter—where their Darkenfluxx test caused Heather to take her own life—Mark was ready to see Jeff and the other prisoners as victims instead of guinea pigs. I suspect spotting the Etch a Sketch of Lizzy in Jeff’s bedroom was the particular final push Mark needed.
So, off-screen, Mark took all of the drug vials out of Jeff’s MobiPak while loading Steve’s up with B-6 and Darkenflux (presumably Steve must’ve just thought it was the laughing drug). Mark must have also showed Jeff how to use the smartphone app that controls drug intake levels, so that when Steve asks Jeff to douce Lizzy with Darkenfluxx, Jeff instead has the ability to turn the tables on the mad scientist.
So Why Didn’t Steve Fully Obey?
At the end of the movie, Jeff commands Steve to open the doors to Spiderhead and help him destroy the scientist’s life’s work. While Steve obeyed up to this point, admitting his grand plan and motivations, and opening the doors, he stops short when asked to let Jeff go free—he also refuses to give Jeff the knife, choosing instead violence as he tries to kill the kid he once called his friend.
This is a bit of a contrived plot point since by now Steve’s blood cells are swimming in B-6. However, as we saw time and again, when it came to doing the one thing that was antithetical to Jeff’s core—when it came time to administer Darkenfluxx to Lizzy—he couldn’t say “acknowledge.”
As Steve says, “[It doesn’t work] on someone who’s been told to kill the only thing he’s ever loved.” The only thing Steve Abnesti loves is this island, this experimental world he’s built where he’s God and the patients are his pawns to torture and play with as he sees fit. So being asked to let Jeff go free and destroy his life’s work is a bridge too far, and one that gives Steve the free will to fight back.
Of course that can backfire too, such as when his MobiPak is damaged and he has all the drugs in his blood at once, giving him a high so grand that he can’t see the mountain when it’s five feet in front of him.