The titular Archive 81 is a collection of audio tapes, hidden deep in a bunker in the woods. Dan is an archivist, and has been employed by a suspicious company to convert all of the tapes, applying meta tags to them and organise them into a better system. At the same time, he has an audio recorder, which he must use to record himself listening to the tapes, and never switch off. I'm sure there's nothing ominous on the tapes, right?
This is the framing story of the tapes, which are the recordings of Melody Pendras, as she makes an architectural study of the Visser building, twenty years in the past. This building, an eight (or more?) story monster, contains twisted geometry, a worryingly intense historical preservation society (not a cult, honest) and Jacob, who seems to have a hold on all of its occupants. Melody finds herself investigating a string of disappearances, particularly of people who are helping her to dig into the building.
Some of the people living there are weirder than others, obsessing over the "shortcuts", which allow people to travel through it without taking the usual routes. There are people who have used fragments of building to turn into wonder drugs, and others who are inspired to create music that ruins people's minds. They're a weird bunch, basically. And they're all controlled by Samuel, a mysterious cult leader, who has some motive of his own.
Dan gets to listen to all of this, in his spooky bunker, with its power failures and unnecessary large supply of canned peachers, which are more or less all he has to eat. And it seems like whatever is in the tapes is making its way out to him.
See, the framing story of Dan listening to the tapes, gets its own framing story, as his friend has created the podcast in order to try and hunt him down after Dan disappeared.
I found this one a bit lacking, to be honest. The second (third?) hand playing of recordings makes them all feel a bit hypothetical, and I didn't really have much interest in what was happening in them. There were a few cool scenes, with interviewees who managed to reach into creepy, but the overall show didn't have much of an effect. Worse than that, I didn't feel like the plot flowed together. Each episode is effectively covering a particular problem in the building, and the idea is that is builds into a long arc pulled together for the climax.
That climax, when we finally get there however felt both confusing and rushed, not sensibly following on from previous events. It seemed as though the series ended the way it did, just because that's the way it was written to happen. It didn't feel like a natural conclusion of the events leading up to it. Maybe it's just not to my taste, but it was sufficiently not to my taste that I won't be going back to the next series.