The Ending of 'The Watcher,' Explained

What exactly did we just watch?

Bobby Cannavale in a still from the watcher on netflix
(Image credit: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix)

Let's address the elephant in the room: Netflix's latest limited series, The Watcher, is a frustrating watch. Created by Ryan Murphy and based on the 2018 New York Magazine article The Haunting of a Dream House, the show fictionalizes the true story of new homeowners who begin receiving creepy letters from an anonymous Watcher. The real-life letters were as creepy as the show's, including details about the family's kids and claims that the house is calling for "young blood."

Several details from the original case were applied to the show, including the growing animosity between the main couple (played by Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale) and the neighbors, the later accusations that the couple may have made the whole thing up, and even the house's actual address. (The real 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey is smaller than its Hollywood counterpart.) However, everything the show's creative team added—making everyone else on screen into suspects and even inserting a completely different true crime tale—leaves viewers with more plot holes than uncovered windows in that grand old house.

Even though the show's only seven episodes, we wouldn't be surprised if some viewers didn't make it to the end of the series. For anyone who wants a rundown (or who wants to have their indignation be fed), read on to learn how the series concludes.

Theodora Birch is the Watcher?

the watcher ending explained netflix

(Image credit: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix)

The finale starts with the Brannocks appearing to have moved on. They're living in their old place in New York, where Nora's (Watts) pottery career is taking off. However, they're struggling to find a buyer for 657, and Dean (Cannavale) just can't forget about the Watcher. He's pissed that someone ran the family out of their home and they never even found out who it was. Which, understandable, but his obsession is putting a strain on the couple's marriage.

Eventually, they get a call from the daughter of Theodora Birch (Noma Dumezweni), the sick private investigator they hired to dig into the case. Her cancer has worsened and she doesn't have long to live. Before she passes, the woman who has become the couple's friend makes a confession to Dean: She was the Watcher. She previously owned 657 Boulevard, but she had to sell it due to financial difficulties from her divorce, as well as treatment costs after she got sick. When her ex died, she discovered he'd squirreled away over a million dollars, and she was desperate to get the house back.

So, with that motive, she came up with the Watcher, and the story of John Graff. All those letters were written by her on an old typewriter, with inspiration taken from the Ode to a House letters. (In case you missed that, one of the later suspects is a high school teacher obsessed with architecture.) She hired an actress to sneak past the cameras and hide in the basement until she could sneak into Dean's bed at night, and she manipulated former owner Andrew Pierce (who is deeply troubled) into believing he'd received Watcher letters before his wife’s suicide.

This admission becomes entirely out of left field, especially because at that point Theodora is the only character who hasn't been considered a subject (and was also my one light in these seven hours of chaos). Surely, you think, Murphy and co. aren't going to make that big a leap to wrap this up. So is Theodora the Watcher...?

No, she isn't.

the watcher ending explained netflix

(Image credit: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix)

Theodora is not the Watcher. She's just a lovely, determined, slightly-problematically-avid true crime fan who wants to calm a distressed man's mind. Her admission is promptly debunked by Mo (Margo Martindale), who confirms with some good 'ole polite racism that a Black woman never owned 657 in the 25 years she lived next door. As for why this confession storyline is even a thing, Theodora's daughter tells the Brannocks that the PI made up the whole testimony in order to grant them (mostly Dean) peace of mind. She knew that they would never find out who the Watcher is, so she decided to take the blame on her literal deathbed, which also allows her to solve One Last Case. *Cue my confused screaming at the television*

Does this sequence make any sense? No. Was there any point to it? No, besides letting Dumezweni have more scenes. Is that enough to not be angry at the show for insulting my intelligence? Of course not. *deep breaths* OK, I've calmed down. Let's move on.

Karen buys the house.

the watcher ending explained netflix

(Image credit: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix)

Besides my being baffled that she wasn't suspect no. 1 from the beginning, realtor Karen (Jennifer Coolidge) was one of my favorite characters to watch from the start. She continues to embrace her full villainy in the finale, after sabotaging the Brannocks' profit-making sale by revealing the Watcher drama to the press. Now she's planting articles that accuse the couple of sending fake Watcher letters to their old neighbors. (Remember, she planted an article that hinted that they made up the Watcher and sent the letters themselves. Dean did send the final letter himself to scare Nora into selling, because he's a dumb dumb.) Now, Dean confesses that he did send paranoia-inducing Watcher letters to the neighbors, because he's a dumb dumb. Nora demands he go apologize, which is how he finds out about Theodora's whole false-deathbed-confession-that-makes-no-sense-anyway thing.

Meanwhile, they finally sold for a loss to an LLC which is owned by...Karen. As the realtor begins her own renovations (the countertops are now pink marble!), Nora sneaks in and confronts her about being behind this all along. Karen denies it, of course, but she also taunts Nora for "[making] the big stink about some dumbass letters that weren’t even scary." 

The realtor's very sure about her security in the house; after sending Nora away she even refuses some welcome pastries from Mo and Pearl (Mia Farrow). Say it with me: NOT VERY NEIGHBOR-LY! So of course, her first night in the house ends up being a horror film, with the bathtub flooding through her floors, the dumbwaiter delivers her a Watcher letter, and her dog dead and alone in the foyer. By the time a hooded figure rises up from beneath the staircase (an honestly ingenious tunnel route), she's sprinting barefoot away from 657, screaming for help.

Everyone's a Watcher.

the watcher ending explained netflix

(Image credit: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix)

So who could've been behind all this? For Karen's night of horror, all fingers point to the newly-expanded preservation society. The original members were Pearl, her brother Jasper (Terry Kinney), and "John Graff," the man who sneaked into the house and pretended to be 657's previous owner who murdered his own family. (Fun fact: that story is based on the real-life John List murders because Murphy & co. hasn't met a true crime story they won't adapt.) By the finale, Mo and the aforementioned English teacher Roger Kaplan (Michael Nouri) have joined. (Mo's husband Mitch (Richard Kind) died of natural causes offscreen cause he probably couldn't make filming.)

The meeting is where we first hear about Karen's pink marble (which to be fair, is A Choice), but Roger also drops a cryptic hint that he recognizes Graff, who introduces himself as library worker William "Bill" Webster. Roger asks, "How’s your family, Bill?" "Bill" doesn't respond.... And that's it. There's no more mention of that mystery any longer, except for a creepy shot of the man in 657 once again. No explanation of why he was sneaking around in the tunnels in Episode 6. No word on whether he really is the man who murdered his whole family. Just consider that one more question left unsolved.

After Karen abandons the house (she didn't last more than 48 hours between moving in and re-listing), we return to Dean during a therapy session, where he says the family is thriving, but he himself can't go more than a couple minutes without mentioning the house. His competent therapist helps him vocalize that he still feels cheated out of the American Dream, which is valid. Now he's another one of those former owners with unfinished business with the house.

In the final scene, we watch as nearly the entire cast watches a new family move into 657 Boulevard. (The wife is Black, so take that Mo.) Mo, Pearl, and Jasper are at their creepy posts. Dakota's (Henry Hunter Hall) leaving his card for security purposes. Andrew Pierce is silently sobbing nearby. And Dean, standing by the driveway, introduces himself to the new owner, Ben, as "John." Dean drives away after watching Ben take a new Watcher letter out the mailbox, and Nora pulls up right behind him, glancing at the house before driving away.

Do we ever find out who the Watcher is?

The experience of watching The Watcher can be described as a thrill ride full of twists, turns, and loops finishing in an uncompleted track. We never learn who the Watcher is, just as the real-life case remains unsolved. Instead we're left with that final scene stamping the point that anyone could be a suspect. Though the show seems to be making a philosophical point in this ending, about our current age of surveillance and conspiracy theories that are treated as historical fact, I feel like it could have made that point without enraging even the most neutral of viewers. (I came for entertaining mess and left typing a barrage of angry texts to my editor.)

Rather than ranting about why I hated the finale or hypothesizing how the show could've been improved (after all, some viewers could've genuinely loved the show and both their and my opinions would all be valid), here's an update on the real-life story's aftermath. The Brannocks' IRL inspiration are the Broadduses, who purchased 657 in 2014 and didn't even move in after receiving the first Watcher letter. They ended up holding on to the property for five years, before finally selling it for a $400,000 loss in 2019. The new owners are a young couple who were aware of the Watcher letters—the Broadduses insisted on full transparency for the sale—and they reportedly haven't received any letters since.

Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.