Outer Banks Ending Explained

The ending of Netflix's pulpy teen drama, Outer Banks, sets up a second season that could take the show far beyond its OBX world.

Outer Banks Ending Explained
Photo: Netflix

This article contains spoilers for the first season of Outer Banks.

The freshman season of Outer Banks ends in a satisfying wrap up of the show’s two central mysteries, what happened to Big John and where is the long sought after treasure?

After stumbling onto some wreckage, John B. and his friends JJ, Pope, and Kiera —the Pogues— are launched into a dangerous and exciting hunt for a long lost treasure, and the whereabouts of John B.’s father, Big John, who disappeared at sea nine months prior. Their search for answers puts them in the cross hairs of unscrupulous treasure hunters, drug dealers, local law enforcement, and their Outer Banks rivals, the rich and devious Kooks.

John B. unexpectedly falls for Kook princess Sarah Cameron, after a search for his father, and the treasure, takes them on a fact-finding mission together. To thank John B. for protecting his daughter from an obsessed ex-boyfriend, Sarah’s dad Ward offers to be his legal guardian, to keep him out of foster care (or Juvie). But Ward’s motives are far from altruistic. He knows about the treasure and takes John B. on a “fatherly fishing tri” where he tells John B. he can help recover the gold. When John B. declines, Ward attacks him. John B. defends himself and escapes, then discovers the deal Big John made with Ward, and the outcome of that deal— Big John thrown overboard, abandoned, and left to die alone.

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Big John discovered the location of the gold, which was not at sea, as expected, but brought on land by a former slave who used the wealth to become an entrepreneur and buy freedom for other enslaved people (a story that deserves its own series). Big John was working with Ward, but Ward thought he deserved a larger cut for providing the resources to retrieve the treasure. The two men clashed, and Ward left Big John for dead out at sea, but John made it to land and survived long enough to carve a message into his compass for his son, should his body be found— which it was, unbeknownst to John B.

The explicit confirmation of Big John’s death is a devastating blow to John B., who had been holding onto the belief that his father was alive, and was waiting to be found, possibly with treasure in hand. Finding that compass is what propelled John B. to embark on this adventure in the first place, so the story comes full circle, and John B. wants justice for his father as much, or moreso, than he wants the treasure. 

The villain of the season was, unsurprisingly, a rich, “self-made,” white man who clearly has never been satisfied with a single thing in his life and is only concerned with getting more. Instead of using his considerable wealth and influence to distract or bargain with a bunch of (mostly) broke-ass kids, he goes toe-to-toe with a teenager like a Scooby-Doo villain.

Ward steals the gold right out from under the Pogues, and loads it onto a private plane headed for the Bahamas. John B. pulls his best Dominic Toretto and blocks the runway with a van, so the plane can’t take off. When Sheriff Peterkin pulls up to arrest Ward (not John B., as one might expect), she’s shot by Rafe —Ward’s son and Sarah’s brother— who’s drug-addled brain told him it was the best thing to do in the circumstance. It was not. Ward sends the plane along, then calls in the shooting, which he blames John B. for.

The season culminates in a manhunt for John B. Who is framed for the Sheriff’s murder. Sarah, who witnessed everything, tries to clear John B. but her father plays every misogynistic “hysterics” card he can to discredit her. The Pogues gather supplies, and JJ steals a boat from his abusive father, to aid John B. in escaping the OBX after evading law enforcement and angry Kooks all day. Sarah finds him on his way out, and joins him in his daring runaway.

John B. channels Brian O’Conner, and speedboats away from the pursuing feds, while Ward pleads with him over the radio to bring Sarah back. John B. exposes everything Ward did, and warns him, “I’m coming for you,” in earshot of the feds and the sheriff, who look at him with suspicion. John would “rather die than go to jail,” and Sarah would “rather die than be without [him]”. So, like the tragic star crossed lovers they aspire to, they drink the proverbial poison and drive south, directly into the heart of a tropical storm. Their little boat that could capsizes, and on the OBX they’re presumed dead.

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John B. and Sarah awake in the middle of the sea, and are miraculously found by a ship heading to where else but Nassau… in the Bahamas, of all places. What does this mean for the show going forward? If I had to guess, John B. and his ride-or-die girlfriend Sarah (and somehow, his Pogue friends from home) will try to reclaim what they found fair and square. The Pogues versus Kooks class warfare turned literal battle for loot will wage on, outside of the bubble that is the Outer Banks.