Warning: very spoilery, so if you don’t want to know if ghosts exist (they do! Oh sorry) don’t read on… This article has some brief info on the characters, followed by full episode recaps, followed by a “what might happen in Season 2?” section. (my actual review of the series is here.)
Truth Seekers, the new paranormal comedy starring Nick Frost, Samson Kayo, Susan Wokoma and Simon Pegg, is now available to watch on Amazon Prime.
It’s about what makes us human, and it does that with ghosts, nanobots that take over people’s minds, and aliens.
In Truth Seekers, supernatural experiences are suddenly having a moment. In fact top broadband installer Gus (Nick Frost), who has been ghosthunting for years and never found anything, is almost overwhelmed. The ghostly goings-on he and new recruit Elton John (Samson Kayo) witness eventually turn out to be linked: an upcoming solar eclipse; an evil supernatural conspiracy theorist, set on elevating himself to a higher plane; a burnt, walking corpse; an ancient book written in human blood; the number 1597.
The people (living and dead)
A disparate group of – ahem – lost souls comes together in Truth Seekers, and in the best TV traditions finds out as much about themselves as each other, or indeed about ghosts.
Gus is Smyle Broadband’s best installer. He can pretty much pick and choose from the cream of the jobs presented to him by Smyle CEO Dave (Simon Pegg in a gloriously hideous, Ken Barlow wig). Gus’s wife Emily died 10 years ago in an accident, though she’s very much involved in the unfolding story, in memory and flashbacks. He now lives with Richard (Malcolm McDowell), who isn’t quite as doddery as he makes out.
One day Dave gives Gus new installer Elton (Samson Kayo) to train up, and Gus is not best pleased at having his routine – where he can do the work and use the company van for ghost-busting – disrupted. Elton is introverted, with no trail of a past on social media or even online at all, and he’s terrified of the idea of ghosts. Theirs is a sweet friendship though, as the bright but reticent Elton’s past is revealed.
Soon Gus, Elton and Richard are joined by Astrid (Emma D’Arcy), who they first see running across the road in from of HMS Darkside (Gus’s Smyle van).
Elton’s sister Helen (Susan Wokoma) is riven with anxieties, and rarely leaves the house. She is an expert at make-up though, and has a YouTube channel where she teaches her subscribers how to do movie make-up from sci-fi films including Arnie’s Terminator and They Live, a film about aliens living among us.
Each year Helen creates a costume for a local cosplay event, and this year she’s going as a Dalek. When it comes to it though she’s always too scared to attend. Will she finally manage to get through the carpark to the venue?
Each episode starts with a flashback, and the 2020 supernatural (or faked supernatural) events are all linked.
Episode 1, The Haunting of Connelly’s Nook
We meet Astrid at the very start in a flashback, standing in her family’s burning kitchen, her mum on fire and Astrid starring in shock. Her mum dies and afterwards Astrid is taken to hospital where she is haunted by her mother’s own burnt corpse.
At Smyle HQ, its CEO Dave – chatting to Gus just before introducing him to Elton – mentions having given Gus a very rare copy of ghost-hunting newsletter The White Sheet. Gus keeps it on his dining room table: it has an article in it about the “most haunted boy in Britain”.
Gus and Elton have their first spooky experience together when they go to Connelly’s Nook to fix the elderly Miss Connolly’s TV signal. They discover a hidden room behind a secret door (there are lots of secret doors in Truth Seekers) containing the life’s work of her long-dead scientist father. They play his tape recorder, and hear him speaking from 1965 about being close to discovering “the secrets of soul separation and transfer.”
Poor Pepper, Miss Connelly’s dog that disappeared in 1965, is also there – though by now he’s just a head and a skeleton, strapped into a machine. Miss Connelly kisses the dog and unbeknown to Elton and Gus, Pepper’s soul transfers into her. When Gus and Elton have left, she barks and scampers up the stairs.
Gus follows a number station on the radio, which has been broadcasting 11111 for decades. Suddenly the number changes to 1597, a number that remains significant throughout the series.
Astrid runs across the road, trying to escape the hospital; when Gus stops the van she sneaks in the back, and hides there overnight.
We also meet Helen, busy getting her Dalek costume ready for CovCo CosCon (Coventry Collectors and Cosplay Convention) in a week’s time.
Episode 2, The Watcher On The Water
The episode starts with a flashback to WW2, with a youthful Professor Berkeley explaining his machine – an abexitron – to a senior officer in a basement. The abexitron can jam German communications on incoming air raids, and it soon comes into use. In a tower above them, Private Alfie Atkins is on look out. Atkins sees incoming bombers, and calls down giving the code 1597. He’s struck by lightning and his soul transfers down the phone line into the machine, his voice still intoning 1597 over and over.
Gus and Elton are called to “Britain’s most haunted three-star hotel”, The Portland Beacon. They stop off en route at Gus’s home, and Astrid creeps in to the house to hide. In the van, 1597 repeats over the number station, while Gus questions Elton over his absence from the web and social media.
The hotel was a Ministry of Defence research facility during the second world war, and the current owner says it’s never had a wifi signal.
Each room is filled with spooky re-enactments (my favourite was Nightmare on Elm Suite, though there’s also “Room 237 – it’s a twin…” for all you fans of The Shining). Though no one goes in Room 2, which is blocked off. Elton meets the old caretaker, Byron Berkeley (he’s not a ghost! he’s real) who comes in looking for his favourite book. When he pulls it from the shelf it triggers a(nother) secret door to open.
Private Atkins is still downstairs in the machine – not realising the war is over he continues to jam every possible signal, including the wifi. After Gus and Elton convince him that the war is over, he spots a new door, and disappears through it. As he does so, the round screen on the machine develops misty swirls like the ones in the picture behind Dave’s desk in the Smyle office.
Elton asks Bryon for his plunger for Helen’s Dalek outfit. He calls Byron Professor Berkeley, which seems to trigger something in Byron’s memory (he’s had amnesia since WW2).
At Gus’s house, Astrid finds Beyond The Beyond, by conspiracy theorist and expert on interdimensional consciousness Dr Peter Toynbee (Julian Barrett) which theorises that souls can transfer into anything else. She then greets the others outside the house.
Episode 3, The Girl With All The Ghosts
We start with a flashback to the 17th or 16th century (could it have been 1597?…), with an ill-looking man talking to a publisher about his book. Understandably considering it is written in blood on human skin, there is only one copy of his Praecepta Mortuorum. The High Inquisitor arrives, tears out the last page and takes it, then drags off the author to be tortured and killed, murdering the publisher before he leaves. A servant walks in and steals the book.
Gus tries to hypnotise Astrid, using her love of Friends. A strange voice answers, and his homemade ghost-hunting machine explodes.
They go to Gus’s friend Janey Feathers (Morgana Robinson), a psychic who lives in a caravan. She says Elton has a strange aura. She also has the book, having picked it up in a car boot sale, and tells Gus she once lent it to Emily who was writing a paper on it.
The seance she holds for Astrid goes horribly wrong; Janey doesn’t think anyone can help Astrid and ushers them out, though Gus steals the book as they leave. At home, Richard accidentally uploads a video of him with rabbit ears and a tail to Gus’s Youtube channel, causing a surge in subscribers.
Gus checks out the ancient book, Emily’s paper about it, and Toynbee’s tome. Toynbee claims they need to be where a haunting began to be rid of it, so Gus takes Astrid and Elton back to the hospital.
Poor Gus; reading the incantation preparations, he misreads drinking brine as drinking urine. He sees Emily’s ghost and goes after her, and Elton has to complete the incantation himself to save Astrid. She is terrified of the burnt corpse and plague doctor coming towards her. The ghosts vanish, and back at Gus’s house she is declared ghost-free. She says she feels… “alive”.
Episode 4, The incident at CovColCosCon
We see Peter Toynbee as a child, assisting old Dr Connolly in an experiment involving a rat – test subject Number 1597 – and a maze; they have put a “nanobot” into the rat’s eye which overrides its thoughts and controls its movements. They manage to draw the rat’s soul into a radio, where it remains, squeaking.
Gus reads Emily’s paper and sees a margin note that she must contact Toynbee.
Gus, Elton, Richard and Helen go to the cosplay event. Gus has a ticket to Toynbee’s talk at the event, though a mix up means it’s Richard who is ushered in to hear the great man speak. It’s really a cover – Toynbee tells the audience about Eternis, an “Eden”, then reads an incantation from the missing back page of the Praecepta Mortuorum.
It hypnotises the audience, all of whom then have a needle injected in their eye, introducing a nanobot which glows red when activated. The incantation is from Chapter 15, verse 97 (1597), and is, says Toynbee’s assistant Elara (Taj Atwal), their passage to salvation.
Meanwhile Elton and Astrid get mixed up with Elara and her red-cloaked guards, but think they’re all just part of an immersive horror experience. One of the guards is accidentally killed, and Elton and Astrid run off to watch Helen in the cosplay competition. She wins first prize, though it’s actually Gus in the Dalek outfit as she has been too frightened to leave the van.
Episode 5, The Ghost of the Beast of Bodmin
The flashback shows a science facility emptying as an alarm sounds. Toynbee uses the detached eyeball, tongue and hands of a (hopefully) dead scientist to get past security and retrieve the back page of the book.
A subscriber – JoJo74 – contacts Gus and co about a sighting of a beast at Bodmin, though none of the younger ones understand what the beast of Bodmin was.
It turns out to be faked by JoJo74 (Kelly Macdonald). Appearing wrapped in a giant silver overcoat, a blue rose on her desk, she claims to be a fellow truth seeker and she too has noticed an uptick in supernatural activity.
At a derelict power station, Toynbee blows up one of his followers, Terry, by activating the nanobot in Terry’s eye.
Dave is being sent footage and photos of himself from an unknown person, who must be hacking into the Smyle network to film him in his own office, on Smyle cameras.
Episode 6, The Revenge of The Chichester Widow
A flashback to 1868 has serial killer Mary Colford (Kate Nash) being killed in Chichester Institute for the Criminally Insane, overseen by a Mr Kettering. Her basement room’s walls are covered in supernatural symbols, and before she dies – a heretic’s fork is stabbed into her throat – she says an incantation, sending her soul travelling into a rag doll she has made. She mocks Kettering before she is killed, that he sits alone in his carriage with his lithographs, “tossing off to bums and fannies!”
Smyle is having a push in Chichester; Gus selects the institute, now being converted into apartments, for installation assessment and for ghost-busting.
Helen remains at Gus’s house with Richard doing their livestream, and Richard tells her Gus is not his son but his son-in-law; he’s Emily’s father.
Toynbee and Elara are still at the decrepit power station, where the boundaries between dimensions is weakest. Sacred ley lines, and all that. He finds out from the Portland Beacon hotel proprietors that their broadband signal issue was solved by Smyle and immediately starts researching Smyle and Gus’s YouTube Channel (Toynbee needs the signal to be down for him to ascend to Eternis).
In the asylum, Gus finds a section not on any maps, where he is attacked by the haunted doll. Meanwhile in the attics, Astrid finds an old office and the very instrument used to kill Mary, along with a book owned by the original Mr Kettering filled with drawings of witches being stabbed and burnt.
The doll talks about Emily: “they lied!” and tells Gus that Helen is not what she seems, Richard wishes Gus had died not Emily, and Elton is lying to him.
Gus goes to the current Mr Kettering’s car in the carpark, to ask about later building work as their schematic is from the 1960s. He finds Kettering having a wank.
In the basement, Kettering burns the doll and Mary’s soul transfers to him. After Elton, Gus and Astrid have left, Kettering returns and kills himself with the fork.
At home, Gus realises Elton is the boy from the story in The White Sheet newsletter, and is also in a photo of Emily outside Elton’s childhood home.
Episode 7, The Hinckley Boy
We finally see Elton and Helen’s childhood. Elton was indeed the “must haunted boy in England” – going down into the basement to get the laundry for his mother, he encounters something terrifying. (And the number on the washing machine is… 1597.)
Scientists and reporters descend on them, and locals bully him. Poor Helen feels left out. Eventually the family moves to a new home and change their names. No, Elton John isn’t his real name – it’s Lionel. Lionel Ritchie. And Helen’s name is Christina.
In the present day, Helen is talking with Astrid about Princess Mononoke. Astrid claims to have seen it twice over the summer even though it came out in 1997.
Richard is summoned by Toynbee, and his eye glows red. Helen then finds he’s made a junk model of the disused power station where Toynbee is.
Gus drives Elton and Astrid to Elton’s childhood home in Leicestershire. Elton gets really upset but admits to his childhood and his name. “Well it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Lionel Richie!” says Gus. “Hello,” replies Lionel Richie. Gus tells Elton the young man is a gateway between worlds and the ghosts can sense that.
In the basement Astrid’s dead mother appears to Elton and Astrid; it was her ghost that Elton saw back when he was a child. She tells Elton she needed to push Astrid back to the living as it wasn’t her time to die, and only Elton, as a gateway between worlds, could help her.
The eclipse is coming, when the interdimensional transfer to Eternis will take place. Elara still thinks they’re all going together, but Toynbee sends her into the abexitron at the Portland Beacon hotel, from which she can block the Smyle signal.
Outside Lionel’s house, Emily appears to Gus, explaining she had been seeking an eternal future in paradise with him, but Toynbee murdered her and is going to try again with his 200 volunteers.
Astrid’s mum is going now, as her work is done. As she does so, Emily disappears too though Astrid remains.
Episode 8, The Shadow Of The Moon
The final episode starts with a flashback to ten years previously, with Emily talking to Toynbee in the power station about how his plans to ascend to Eternis will work. An eclipse is occurring, though Toynbee’s transfer is planned for the next one, in ten years’ time. As the moon covers the sun, he slits her throat while reciting the incantation. He tells her it’s so he can “measure the power your soul provides”, and so work out how many are needed for his own ascension to Eternis.
Her soul leaves her body and he notes that her soul has the power of seven spirums. “She was a big un!” He notes that he’ll need 200 souls for his ceremony, with 5.5 spirums provided by each soul.
Bjorn and Dave are tracking the pings from their masts to identify the hacker who is sending the footage to Dave. They locate them nearby and Daves goes out to confront them. In an empty field he finds a table and a blue rose and realises he’s been played by JoJo74. Meanwhile, the signal is dropping in the Portland area.
At the power station, the 200 people are approaching. Jojo74 calls Gus and warns him not to go to Portland, not to trust people and that he will be asked to make a choice today. Then Dave calls, admits he knows about Toynbee, and asks Gus to do what he asks to fix the Portland signal. Gus tells JoJo he will help her, but actually helps Dave.
Dave needs Gus to get the Portland signal to full strength before the eclipse so Dave can short out the nanobots and foil Toynbee’s evil plan. “All you need to do is…” he says, before the phone cuts out, then Elara in the number station comes on the van radio: “1597”.
Gus sends Elton to the hotel with Astrid to switch off the number station which is blocking the signal in Portland. He and Helen are going to try to delay Toynbee, using Helen’s red eye drops from her make-up kit to get them past the security guards.
Astrid tells Elton she realised she was dead at the hospital, during the incantation. Helen and Gus get in to the warehouse and Helen finds Richard. She’s meant to get him away from there so his head won’t explode when Toynbee activates the nanobots, but she’s spotted and has her eye needled too.
Back at Smyle HQ, Dave tells his young and sweary assistant Bjorn that they need to roll out 8G (they are currently on 6G) to short out the nanobots.
At the hotel Elton tries to destroy the number machine but it doesn’t work. Astrid tells Elton he’s a conduit and can get her into the machine. She kisses him and disappears, reappearing in the machine and fighting Elara. Astrid explains to Elara that Toynbee is betraying her and she will be stuck in the machine for ever; only Elton can save her.
Toynbee arrives at his event, and says the incantation. Gus, disguised as one of Toynbee’s helpers, attacks Toynbee, saying he’s going to “try and right a terrible wrong”.
Dave explains to Bjorn that as well as providing superfast broadband there’s a theory that the Smyle signal also insulates the planet from “interdimensional exchanges”. If Gus gets the Smyle signal up, it “should carry the 8G pulse through the nanobots forcing them to short out to protect themselves”. (Dave’s words, as he understands it better than me.)
Toynbee shrieks that the eclipse is at totality and slits his own throat, but not before thanking Dr Connelly. He presses a button on his gizmo to activate the nanobots.
At the office, 8G rollout coverage reaches 100%. The number station shuts down. As Toynbee dies, the nanobots deactivate and everyone regains their own minds. Elton tries to get the women out of the machine but they’ve disappeared, its glass dials now swirly with white whisps. Gus tells the dying Toynbee that Emily was his wife.
“Shit,” says Jojo74 looking at her screen, and arranges to send a clean-up team to Portland. Elton collects Gus, Richard and Helen. He tells them Astrid was a ghost and is now wherever Alfie Atkins is.
Helen sees Astrid as the reason for what happened to her family in their childhood, and her own anxiety. Gus says they can find Astrid again, as they are truth seekers.
In the Smyle office, Dave sniffs the blue rose. Jojo visits him: “what on earth have you come as,” she asks. He says as a man, the same as always, and opens out the pioneer plaque drawing of a naked couple that went into space in the early 1970s. (Is the terrible wig explained by the drawing?)
JoJo admits Toynbee was a mistake as he was too hung up on his own immortality. “Never send a human to do a super-being’s job,” laughs Dave, and they go out to eat.
She jokingly commiserates with him that his “precious Astrid” crossed over; “I would not want to be her right now,” he replies. As the episode ends, the picture behind his desk whirls round, and Astrid’s face appears: “Hello?” she says.
I can’t bear the thought of Astrid stuck in wherever for all eternity. There must be a series 2 to free Astrid!
Beyond the beyond, as it were, there are so many questions. What’s next for Gus, his fellow truth seekers and Smyle broadband?
And who are Dave and jojo74? We can guess they are super-beings, aliens presumably from another dimension, a dimension that may even be what we would call the afterlife. How much has Smyle CEO Dave been directing events? In episode 1, we found out it was him who gave Gus the copy of The White Sheet, with Elton’s story in it. He must have known Elton was Lionel, and was putting the two together deliberately. He also offered all those installation jobs, knowing which ones Gus would go for.
The relationship between Dave and JoJo74 needs probing. Their final meeting indicates that they know each other well and may even have been on the same side, but now are diverging in their objectives. They aren’t human, but JoJo74 seems to have been helping Toynbee while Dave rolled out 8G to stop him. Perhaps they’re the equivalent of the devil and god, two sides of the same coin, toying with humanity.
What too, will Elton do now that he knows he’s a link between the dead and the undead? That’s quite the burden, when he’s been running from ghosts his whole life.
Season 1 has really been about – among the ghosts, faked beasts, false identities and talk of souls – what makes you, you.
Helen has to learn how to be herself, after being ignored in the family throughout her childhood and then shutting herself away from life. Both she and Elton have run away for so long, including from their names and identities (do you even exist anymore if you’re not online, Elton?) Poor Astrid discovers she’s been a ghost for 23 years. Gus has to understand that Richard is not a doddery old man and Emily had a secret life she hadn’t told him about. And Gus, after years as a paranormal investigator, now finds it’s all true.