(This article contains major spoilers for Hulus “Palm Springs”, including details of the ending. Unless the title is clear.)
“Palm Springs” on Hulu is not an overly serious movie. This thing is not “Dark” or “Primer” or any of the stories that come into the madness of the crazy age. It’s a romantic comedy, ok. It’s that it’s “Groundhog Day” -sque time loop thing, and yes, there are some nods to quantum physics and all that, but it doesn’t go into much detail.
That’s probably a good thing. Getting too attached to the details of quantum theory and multiverses and all this would just be a distraction. We are here to see Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti do some shenanigans and establish a deep emotional connection, not for long scenes with exposure.
So director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara give us enough detail to help know how several people can be caught in the loop at different times. It̵
With that said, “Palm Springs” being so easy on the details means you can be resolved by the very last scene. In the scene, which cancels the early part of the final credits, Roy (JK Simmons) tries to talk to Nyles (Samberg) at the wedding that was at the center of this day that is repeated forever. But Nyles does not recognize him.
The two have a long rivalry within the loop, with Roy doing all sorts of horrible things to Nyles as revenge for Nyles getting him stuck in the time loop. So the two definitely know each other. So it’s a surprise to Roy that Nyles doesn’t know him.
The reason why Nyles does not recognize Roy here is of course that Nyles and Sarah released the loop together. Roy quickly realizes this, because Sarah had called Roy and told him about her plan. So Roy puts two and two together and realizes that Sarah’s plan worked.
So if you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering what kind of mechanics are behind this scene. And to be honest, this is pretty much the only place where the inner logic of “Palm Springs” can fall apart a little.
So what happened here is that with Nyles from the time loop, Roy interacts with “vanilla” Nyles – basically the person was Nyles before he went into the loop. It seems simple.
But if you stumble up here, it’s probably because of something Sarah said when she told Nyles about her plan to come out. She had developed a theory based on quantum mechanics and tested it on a goat that she sent into the time cave with a bunch of explosives attached to it. She said she knew the plan must have worked, because the goat was completely gone.
“I don’t know where she went, but she’s not here anymore,” says Sarah. The implication is, as I see it, that the goat is no longer in their time loop universe, and that it was not restored by the day as everything else did in Palm Springs and beyond. It’s vague enough that it could mean something else, but I’m not sure why she would express it so if they could just visit the goat at the time.
So if the goat is no longer in any sense, it would not follow that Roy could go and talk to this vanilla version of Nyles at the wedding after Sarah and Nyles came out. Nyles should also be deleted from the time loop universe.
Honestly, but this is not that important. “Palm Springs” doesn’t have to be airtight, because the focus is really on the characters and their relationships with each other. And this thing with the goat is smaller in the grand plan of this story – it’s pretty easy to just release it.
The more interesting are the big picture consequences of the final scene with Roy. “Palm Springs” makes a nod to the multiverse earlier, but this scene really drives it home. Does Nyles, Sarah and Roy create new universes every day under the loop? When they come out, what version of the day do they continue from? If Roy leaves later, would Nyles and Sarah still know him or would he get versions of them that just went through that day once?
I have no answers to any of these questions and again I am not very worried about it. There are no answers, and that’s ok because it’s not the kind of movie I look for that kind of answer from anyway. Aside from the goat, “Palm Springs” is pretty close to airtight.
Anyway, the point here is that this scene exists to show Roy that there is a way out of the loop, and Roy can follow Sarah and Nyles out if he decides to do so. It’s a happy ending! Despite everything 2020 has done to pull us down, we have at least “Palm Springs” to briefly exploit things.