I just finished reading "A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick and for some reason I am a little confused to the actual ending. Warning Spoilers Below!

It is clear that Bob Arctor is completely fried at the end and the brain damage is very likely irreversible. He is sent to the farm run by New Path that is growing the blue-flowered plants that are used to derive Substance D as a zombie, living in body but dead in spirit. It is also clear that Mike from New Path and Donna, who we find out is a Federal Agent, are working together.

There are two possibilities, as I see it. One is:

Donna and Mike purposely let Arctor fall into ruin so that they could get somebody inside the New Path farm and that hopefully this would help Donna's investigation into finding a major supplier of Substance D. In this scenario they may have been banking on Arctor somehow recovering his mind and giving useful information to Donna or Mike.

The other scenario that might make sense to me is:

The Federal Government is actually supporting the New Path program, and Donna as a Federal Agent is tasked with keeping this secret from other law enforcement agencies. In this scenario she purposely destroyed Arctor because she knew he was a narc and was trying to use her to find out who her supplier was. She clearly felt love for him though, and was torn with guilt over it.

Or perhaps I misunderstood the ending entirely and I have it completely wrong?

  • The movie (which was vetted by PKD's daughter, and sticks pretty closely to the book) makes the ended somewhat clearer than the book.
    – user56
    Dec 2, 2013 at 20:34

3 Answers 3


I think it is clear that your first suggestion is correct.

"Stooping down, Bruce picked one of the stubbled blue plants, then placed it in his right shoe, slipping it down out of sight. A present for my friends, he thought, and looked forward inside his mind, where no one could see, to Thanksgiving."

I think this makes is clear that his "friends" are banking (correctly) on him retaining enough cognitive power to give them the evidence they need.

  • +1, this is how I've always interpreted it (although I'm never really sure most of the time with Dick's work).
    – Ash
    Dec 2, 2013 at 11:51
  • This is the only ending that makes sense imho.
    – Jakob
    Dec 2, 2013 at 12:00
  • 3
    Thanks! I didn't even think anything of him keeping the blue flower but now that you mention it this makes sense. It also makes sense in Donna's personal monologues at the end that there was a sacrifice for the greater good in Arctor and her guilt over doing this to her beloved. Dec 2, 2013 at 13:54
  • Yeah, this is fairly unequivocal in the book as well, from what I remember. He puts the flower in his shoe to bring to them on Thanksgiving. Perhaps, one thing to note here is that he doesn't necessarily understand why the flower is important, it is almost instinctual. And that plays into the idea of how he was used, to achieve this goal at any cost. This was PKD's most personal book, and is about actual events he and his friends went through. So I think he wanted to give it a slightly hopeful ending, but also recognize the people who didn't make it.
    – josh allen
    Dec 16, 2021 at 17:07

I love Louie's response. Pick spring flowers for Donna. Holy crap.

As seems his natural style, PKD writes an ending which really stokes the mind and isn't totally clear what it implies in the overall plight of Donna, Hank (who could be Mike? maybe), Mike (if he's not Hank), Bruce/Bob/Fred, the federal government, and New-Path.

My interpretation- "looks forward in his mind" gives just a bit of hope that there's something still there, keyed in by the rememberings he has in the last few chapters. His friends, while he may be explicitly remembering as his friends from the residences, could very well be Donna (foxy/bright/warm/cold/frustratingly-elusive Donna) and Mike. Giving them the flower would be a major clue in their investigation. Although Donna and Mike seem to already know about mors ontologica? suspense.... haha. Awesome book!

  • 2
    Hi, welcome to SF&F! The comment on the other answer makes this confusing, but ultimately you seem to be agreeing with the accepted answer. You should only post another answer if you have something to add to the existing answer, not just to agree with it. Please read How to Answer.
    – DavidW
    Jun 19, 2019 at 17:57
  • @DavidW: I actually found this answer more helpful than the old one, because Jay listed all the aliases. With the old answer, I was going "Bruce? I though the question was about Bob?"
    – Martha
    Jun 19, 2019 at 18:18
  • @Martha I don't see any reason that couldn't be edited into the accepted answer if that improves it or makes it more clear.
    – DavidW
    Jun 19, 2019 at 18:30

I don't think they really need Bruce to have any real cognitive function to get the evidence they need. If we assume Hank's in on it too, it looks like they've been programming his hindbrain to pick wildflowers for Donna. I freaked out so much when he met the other Donna coz if he brings the flower to her it's all over. Bruce freaked out too but had no conscious idea why.

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