Over its three seasons, the Netflix hit “Outer Banks” has covered a lot of ground for its central story. Every time a mystery is near its end, a bigger and more sensational one presents itself. It’s a heck of a ride, but to some viewers, all these mysteries in quick succession leave them feeling confused. The convoluted plotline is also a point of contention for some critics, but “Outer Banks” is so much fun that we don’t really mind.
If you’re among audience members feeling a little lost, never fear because we’re here with this handy guide to walk you through all of the show's mysteries from seasons 1 through 3!
**Warning: S1-S3 spoilers ahead!**
The Royal Merchant
The Pogues — the show’s lovable gang of teenage misfits — find a sunken boat containing the compass of main character John B’s (Chase Stokes) missing father. They see the word “Redfield” etched into the compass, convincing them the clue leads to a historical shipwreck from a local legend, The Royal Merchant, that’s said to hold treasure.
Following the compass’s clue to the Redfield lighthouse, they find a man who helps them locate The Royal Merchant wreck. Stealing a camera drone from the salvage yard, The Pogues head out to the site of The Royal Merchant to investigate. However, it soon becomes clear that the ship has no treasure.
John B winds up at local princess Sarah’s (Madelyn Cline) house, a historical manor called Tannyhill. Following clues about the manor’s founder Denmark Tanny who sailed on The Royal Merchant, they deduce the gold might be buried in a former farming plot that had long since been sold and developed. They head to the site — the property of a widowed shut-in. They find the gold buried there, along with the bones of the widow’s husband. They’re able to escape her shotgun with a few bars of gold.
Big John’s Murder
John B’s father, Big John (Charles Halford), was researching The Royal Merchant before disappearing at sea without a trace. Soon before his disappearance, he told his son about a breakthrough on The Royal Merchant’s location. Lost at sea for months, authorities presumed him dead, but John B never gave up hope. Due to his father's disappearance, John B gets in trouble with Child Protective Services for living alone.
John B befriends Sarah and begins spending time at Tannyhill, which leads Sarah’s father, Ward Cameron (Charles Esten), to offer guardianship of John B. As guardian and pseudo-son get closer, John B learns that his father was working with Ward on The Royal Merchant treasure hunt. While alone on a boat together, John B confronts the older man and learns that Ward murdered his father during a heated dispute about splitting the treasure. Ward tries to kill John B for discovering his crimes, but he escapes.
Denmark Tanny’s Key
In Season 2, Carla Limbrey (Elizabeth Mitchell) and the story of Denmark Tanny become a key plotline. Tanny was enslaved but sailed on The Royal Merchant as a cook and became the shipwreck’s only survivor. Claiming the ship’s gold for himself, Tanny returned to North Carolina. He built Tannyhill and founded a church for formerly enslaved people with his fortune there. He tried to buy freedom for his wife and daughter, but the Limbrey family refused. Tanny planned an escape for her, but she got shot during the attempt, and Denmark hung for trying to free her. Their daughter survived.
Carla Limbrey is hunting for a key that reportedly opens a compartment on the Cross of Santo Domingo, a legendary gold cross that was transported on The Royal Merchant. Inside the compartment is a shroud that she believes to have healing powers. She thinks Pope’s (J.D.) family possesses the key. After speaking with his father and grandmother, Pope learns that there was such a key in his great-grandmother’s possession because she’s a direct descendent of Tanny’s surviving daughter. He searches her old apartment and finds the key hidden behind the ceiling tiles. Carla Limbrey comes for it, but The Pogues trick her by switching it for a fake.
The Cross of Santo Domingo
After locating Tanny's key, a teacher provides Pope with another clue: a copy of Denmark Tanny’s diary. The diary proves that the Cross of Santo Domingo was on The Royal Merchant and recovered with the treasure. It tells them the treasure is buried “at the foot of the angel.” Carla Limbrey and her henchman show up at Tannyhill asking to see The Island Room.
When Sarah and The Pogues visit Tannyhill, they find the house ransacked and the Cameron family missing. Wallpaper has been torn from one room to reveal a mural that serves as the map of the island. They match the clue from the diary to Angel Oak, a tree in the mural. They’re beaten there by Limbrey, who has already dug up a coffin from the foot of the tree, later revealed to be the bones of Cecilia Tanny.
Pope discovers a spyglass in a knot of the tree with a clue linking the cross to the “freedman’s altar.” The Pogues head to the church built by Denmark Tanny and discover the cross hidden in a hollow beam of the church’s roofing. In the church, a nest of wasps attacks Pope, and the group must leave the cross to save him. While they’re gone, Sarah’s brother, Rafe (Drew Starkey), takes the cross from the church.
After John B discovers his father alive in Barbados, they head to an antique shop to pick up an important artifact: a broken stone pillar with a clue to the location of El Dorado. They barely make it out after Carlos Singh’s (Andy McQueen) men arrive in pursuit of the same artifact. They head back to the Outer Banks to seek out a former colleague of Big John’s, a scholar who studies the language of the pillar’s markings. They find her dead, along with all but two of the other scholars who worked at a dig near El Dorado.
John B and his father locate Denmark Tanny’s diary, which leads them to believe the other half of the pillar is in Charleston. They head there and find the other half in the Charleston Museum’s storage facility. The pillar is the Gnomon of Solana, a stone idol that uses the direction of the full moon to point to El Dorado. They then must race to translate the markings on the gnomon before Singh. Pope finds a letter from Denmark Tanny with a translation for the markings among his family's archives.
After uniting both halves of the gnomon and discovering the deaths of the archeologists, John B and his father are on the run from Singh’s men. They capture Big John and ferry him to Venezuela while threatening him to translate the idol. The Pogues find their way to Venezuela and locate Big John at Singh’s safe house. They create a diversion and break him out. Then the group, plus Ward, who loaned his plane for the effort, head upriver in search of the archeological dig site near El Dorado. Ward stays at the foot of the mountain while the rest head to the site. Finally, connecting all the clues, they place the gnomon on its stone plinth, and Pope provides the translation that points them to El Dorado.
With Singh hot on their trail, they strike out into the jungle following the gnomon’s directions. It leads them to a cave with an underwater passage. Sarah and John B make their way through to the abandoned gold mine of El Dorado while an injured Big John stays behind. After Sarah and John B return with a backpack of gold, they find Big John in a shootout with Singh after Ward betrayed them, leading Singh there. They collapse the cave with dynamite and kill Singh, escaping with the gold. On the way out of the jungle, Ward and Big John lose their lives in an altercation with Singh’s remaining men.