A Complete and Comprehensive Telling of the Saw Canon
This week marks an exciting time for film fans, the release of the long-awaited Spiral. Spiral: From the Book of Saw promises to take us back to the land of Jigsaw, but there is no word on where it lands in Saw canon. Of course, this is an exciting prospect since the canon of the franchise is, well…. convoluted. In film chronology, it all started with Adam and Gordon chained up in a filthy bathroom by John Kramer. In canon, John Kramer was already working with a team of disciples before Adam was ever shackled to a pipe.
So, to get a handle on the “who?”, “what?”, “where?”, “when?”, (but certainly not the “why?”) here is a final and comprehensive telling of the story of Saw. For the sake of this not being longer than The Lord of the Rings, we’ve left out details about characters and victims that do not tie into the main story of Jigsaw and his disciples. As a result, this will contain a non-exhaustive list of traps. (Special shout out to the Saw Fandom Wiki which helped keep track of the traps, and this spot from Digital Spy to double check the work).
The story starts with John Kramer (Tobin Bell). Kramer fancies himself a good guy. He is an engineer who creates low-income housing as a part of the Urban Renewal Group alongside his lawyer, Art Blank (Justin Louis). Kramer’s first project, the Gideon Meatpacking Plant is his pride, and he parlays it into his expanded career. His wife, Dr. Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), is working on Homeward Bound, a clinic for recovering addicts. To raise money for her clinic, the pair hosts an event sponsored by Umbrella Health Insurance. Umbrella’s manager, William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), attends the event and spars with Kramer about his predatory corporate practices.
Elsewhere, Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), and Officer Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent) are policing the city. Not all these cops are clean, however. The filthy Matthews has been planting evidence, evidence that led to the arrest of a woman named Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith). Hoffman and Rigg investigate and arrest an abusive teacher, a teacher who never sees jail because of the wiles of his lawyer, the aforementioned Art Blank.
Hoffman has already been disenfranchised by the justice system. Hoffman’s sister was murdered by her boyfriend, Seth Baxter (Joris Jarsky) who eludes extended jailtime on a technicality. Later a young officer named Gibson (Chad Donella) is attacked by a violent offender. Hoffman arrives to save him and shoots the offender in the back, even after he’s dropped his weapon. Gibson, whom Hoffman views as an ingrate, reports him for the shooting. Despite this, Hoffman continues to rise in the ranks, filing Gibson as another score to settle.
Back to Kramer and Tuck, the two are growing not only their philanthropic empires, but also their family. Kramer, a meticulous planner, plots to have their child, to be named Gideon, during the Chinese Zodiac’s year of the pig. The pair have everything ahead of them until an ill-fated night where Tuck suffers a miscarriage. At her clinic, a patient named Cecil (Billy Otis) and his pal, Amanda Young, decide to rob the place. During the encounter, Cecil throws open a door which hits Tuck, causing her to lose the pregnancy.
This sets Kramer into a downward spiral (none intended) causing him to withdraw both from his projects and his relationship. Starting to feel ill, he visits Doctor Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) who diagnoses him with an inoperable and fatal brain tumour. He learns that due to an error by an ME named Logan Nelson (Michael Passmore), he has lost important time that could have saved his life. Desperate, Kramer visits Easton at Umbrella Insurance to persuade him to fund an experimental therapy, but he’s denied. Feeling like he has no more options, he attempts to take his own life. After failing to do so, Kramer discovers his desire to be alive, and pivots to dedicating what’s left of his life to forcing others to learn to appreciate their own. His first mark: Cecil.
TRAP: The Knife Chair. Kramer straps Cecil to a chair where his face is held back by knifes on springs. To get out? Cecil must push his face through the knives. The trap collapses and Cecil escapes and attacks John, who pushes him into a trap made of razor wire that kills him. Kramer removes a puzzle piece from Cecil’s skin and is therefore given the name The Jigsaw Killer.
Jigsaw moves on to setting up his first big game, at the barn.
TRAP: The Barn Massacre. Kramer puts his first group of victims, which includes Nelson, through the barn. They take on the Bucket Room, Chain Hangers, Leg Wires, Grain Silo, Cycle Trap and Shotgun Keys. Only Nelson survives.
APPRENTICE: Nelson, having survived the barn, joins Jigsaw.
Hoffman, still bent on revenge from the loss of his sister, uses the notoriety of Jigsaw to stage a copycat killing. He builds his own trap to kill Seth. Not pleased with Hoffman’s un-winnable attempt at a Jigsaw game, he seeks him out.
APPRENTICE: Hoffman. Kramer confronts Hoffman and both admires his work and threatens to expose him. The cost to keeping his secret? Hoffman must join Kramer and assist in the plotting of future games.
Kramer continues to plot alongside Hoffman and Nelson. Their next mark, Amanda Young.
TRAP: The Reverse Beartrap. Dental plan, Amanda needs braces. The cult of Jigsaw places Amanda in one of the earlier and most notorious traps. She survives and learns to appreciate her own life and quits drugs.
APPRENTICE: Amanda Young. Amanda, feeling like she owes her life to John Kramer, joins him hoping to save others the way she was saved.
The police slowly start to close in on Jigsaw and his disciples. Detectives Tapp (Donald Glover) and Sing (Ken Leung) discover his hideout.
TRAP: Drill Chair. As insurance, Kramer has strapped a man to a chair that has moving drills set to slowly approach his neck. When he’s discovered by Tapp and Sing, Kramer triggers the device in order to stall the officers while he makes his escape. He slices Tapp’s neck, leaving him scarred, and walks Sing into another TRAP where he’s killed by a shotgun. As a result, Tapp breaks down and becomes obsessed with stalking and capturing Jigsaw. But Tapp thinks Jigsaw is Dr. Gordon as a result of Hoffman placing Gordon’s pen at a Jigsaw scene to incriminate him.
To capture Gordon, Tapp hires Adam (Leigh Whannell) to stalk and photograph him. But all Adam comes up with is evidence of Gordon’s affair. Believing both Adam and Gordon are unworthy of life, Kramer sets up his next big game; he has Amanda capture Adam and Hoffman capture Gordon to stage the bathroom.
TRAP: The Bathroom. Adam and Gordon are set up in an elaborate game that plays out like an escape room.
As part of the game, Kramer enlists Zep (Michael Emerso, an orderly from Gordon’s hospital) to capture Gordon’s wife and daughter. Tapp follows the scent to the bathroom and while attempting to free the men, he’s shot and killed. Believing Zep to be Jigsaw, Adam kills him. Desperate, Gordon saws off his foot and escapes, and Kramer (who is revealed to be sitting in the room the entire time) leaves Adam in the bathroom to die. Feeling compassion, Amanda returns to the bathroom and kills Adam to spare him the torture of dying slowly.
APPRENTICE: Dr. Lawrence Gordon. Having sawn off his foot and escaped, Gordon becomes another graduate of the school of Jigsaw. He is convinced by Kramer to join him in his crusade.
Having taken on multiple apprentices, Kramer gets paranoid about the legacy of Jigsaw. He gives a black box to the executor of his estate with instructions to give it to Tuck upon his death.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?: Inside are the plans Easton’s test, the outline for his plan to kill Hoffman (along with the Reverse Beartrap 2.0), a tape for Dr. Gordon asking him to watch over Tuck, and evidence against Gordon.
Inspired by Amanda Young and those who gain fame from surviving Jigsaw, huckster Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) writes a novel claiming to have survived Jigsaw’s games. Slowly, he rises to fame, speaking at events and on television.
Kramer next sets his sights on Detective Matthews, the man who put Amanda behind bars with falsified evidence. He stages a massive trap with Matthews at the center. Hoffman and Kramer kidnap criminals convicted by Matthews and maroon them to the house.
TRAP: The Nerve Gas House. The group must find a way to escape the house before they are killed by slow-acting nerve gas. Within the house, they will face The Antidote Safe Room, The Magnum Eyehole, The Furnace, The Needle Pit, and The Razor Box. The only survivors of the house are Amanda Young and Daniel, Detective Matthews’ son, who is rescued by Amanda and trapped in a safe. Matthews, Rigg, and Detective Kerry (Dina Meyer) discover Kramer’s lair and he sucks them into a trap of believing they are watching live footage of the house. It’s a trick, and Daniel is safely in the same room they all are, but Matthews chases what he thinks is a lead and arrives at the house (the house that sits atop the famous bathroom where Adam and Gordon were trapped), breaking Jigsaw’s rules. As a result, Amanda punishes him by trapping him in the bathroom with Adam’s corpse.
Matthews escapes the bathroom and has a showdown with Amanda who leaves him to die. But Hoffman, undermining her, discovers Matthews and helps him get healthy. He changes the house to set it up for further traps.
Elsewhere, the walls are caving in on Kramer and Tuck. Police are aware that Kramer is the jigsaw killer, so Hoffman, hiding his intentions, interrogates her on his whereabouts. Tuck hires Blank to represent her, who is soon kidnapped by Jigsaw. Desperate, Jill begs Kramer to stop his work. He refuses and gives her the keys to the black box.
So sets off a melee as Jigsaw and his team set up an elaborate set of traps for multiple marks. In the mess, Kerry is killed and Rigg is set up for her murder. Hoffman drags squeaky clean Detectives Perez (Athena Karkanis) and Strahm (Scott Patterson) into the games by convincing them that other officers are in danger. Hoffman and Amanda kidnap marks and set up the games at the Gideon Meatpacking Plant which include Blank (who is being forced to participate as a test of his own) and Matthews.
One of those trapped in the Plant is a doctor named Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) who is forced to care for Kramer and keep him alive a long as possible. At the same time, her husband, Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) is being forced through deadly games.
TRAP: The Shotgun Collar. Lynn is strapped into a collar connected to John’s heartbeat. If he dies, her collar will shoot shotgun rounds into her face.
TRAP: Jeff’s Trial. To learn to forgive, Jeff is tested by The Freezer Room, The Pig Vat, and The Rack.
Rigg, Jeff, Lynn, Blank, and Amanda are all being tested at the same time. Amanda must learn to not spite Lynn, Jeff must learn to forgive (not just those responsible for his child’s death, but also Kramer), Rigg must learn he can’s save everyone.
TRAP: Rigg’s Test. As part of his test, Blank kidnaps Rigg to put him through tests of his own. Rigg encounters The Scalping Seat, The Bedroom Trap, The Spike Trap, and The Ice Block Trap (which involves Matthews standing on the block).
All goes south, and Amanda shoots Lynn. Blaming Kramer for Lynn’s wound, Jeff shoots Amanda and slashes Kramer which sets off Lynn’s collar and kills her. Strahm arrives and shoots Jeff.
Rigg, still making his way through his trial, discovers and shoots Blank. But he’s chosen the wrong target and Hoffman, who has been posing as a victim, reveals himself to Rigg before locking him in a deadly trap. Hoffman (who is incognito) and Strahm face off and Strahm is locked in a trap and left for dead.
TRAP: The Glass Case of Emotion. Strahm’s head is placed in a clear box that is rapidly filling with water. Believing he has left Strahm for dead, Hoffman pretends to rescue Jeff and Lynn’s daughter, turning himself into the hero who captured Jigsaw. But Strahm doesn’t go down that easily and he intubates himself with a pen and survives.
Thinking that he is free to take on the Jigsaw moniker, Hoffman continues to set up his deadly games, despite a warning in the form of a tape left for him by Jigsaw. He is unaware that as a result of Kramer’s death, Tuck has been given the black box which contains the plans for her to kill him. Unphased, Hoffman sets up the game involving those involved with an act of arson.
TRAP: The Arson House. A group named The Fatal Five are put through a game set up by Hoffman with instructions from Kramer. They are responsible for arson at a building that resulted in deaths. They encounter The Neck Tie, The Ceiling Jars, The Electric Bathtub, and the 10 Pints of Sacrifice.
As a part of throwing the police off his scent, Hoffman begins to stage evidence to incriminate Strahm. Meanwhile, an injured Strahm is closing in on Hoffman. Discovering the truth, Hoffman and Strahm face off in the house.
TRAP: The Glass Case of Emotion 2. Hoffman has staged a complex trap that places Strahm in a glass box. Believing he’s escaped, Strahm traps Hoffman in the box. Little does he know that the box is the path to safety. Hoffman smugly ducks away while Strahm is crushed like he’s in a Death Star trash compactor. Detective Erickson (Mark Rolston) discovers and buys into Hoffman’s staged evidence and believes the now deceased Strahm to be the Jigsaw killer.
Hoffman continues his work and learns of the black box. Now, metaphorical walls begin to cave in on Hoffman when he learns that the police know that someone other than Kramer killed Seth and the latest Jigsaw victim (that someone being Hoffman). In a panic, Hoffman visits Tuck and demands the evidence along with the plans for Easton’s (of Umbrella Insurance) test.
TRAP: The House of Easton. In this house, Easton is tested with The Oxygen Crusher, The Gallows, The Steam Maze, The Shotgun Carousel, and The Acid Room.
TRAP: The Reverse Beartrap 2.0. Tuck, still devoted to her late husband, carries out his work as dictated in the black box. She kidnaps Hoffman and places him in the trap. As Easton dies in his final test, Hoffman’s trap is activated. Tuck leaves him to die but Hoffman is able to escape by jamming the trap ripping open his cheek.
Tuck meets with officer Gibson, the same officer who had turned in Hoffman for the shooting, and tells him Hoffman is carrying out Jigsaw’s work. She trades evidence for immunity.
Trying to stay on target, Hoffman continues building traps. He sets up the test for Bobby Degan, the man who pretended to survive a Jigsaw encounter. Elsewhere, Degan speaks at a Jigsaw survivor’s group where he is met by Gordon. Shortly after, Degan is kidnapped by Hoffman and sent through the ringer.
TRAP: Bobby’s Trial. In his test, Bobby must take on The Suspended Cage, The Silence Circle, the Impalement Wheel, The Hangman’s Noose, The Wisdom Teeth Combination, and The Brazen Bull.
TRAP: The Sentry Gun. Gibson is hot on Hoffman’s trail. Before he can capture him, Gibson and his team are killed by a trap set by Hoffman, a machine gun attached to a tripod.
Hoffman, having been discovered by Perez and the coroner, panics and kills multiple officers at the station and sets the place ablaze. Tuck arrives to stab him, but he best her and traps her where she left him. Tuck is killed by Hoffman who puts her in The Reverse Bear Trap 2.0.
But Hoffman is hardly in the clear; Gordon, who received the posthumous tape from Kramer instructing him to do so, has been watching over Tuck. Doing his duty, he traps Hoffman in the now notorious bathroom and leaves him to die.
The only known surviving disciples of Jigsaw are Doctor Lawrence Gordon and Logan Nelson.
Ten years after the death of John Kramer, Nelson, Jigsaw’s first disciple, sets up replicas of Jigsaw’s original game from which he survived. The killings are investigated by Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Hunt (Clé Bennett) along with a lab assistant, Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson). Bonneville is a Jigsaw fangirl (who isn’t, ammiright?) who has replicas of many of Jigsaw’s original traps.
Halloran pursues Nelson to the barn where the original killings took place. Nelson drugs Halloran, at the scene of the barn, the scene of Jigsaw’s very first game, and forces him to admit that his sloppy police work allowed murderers to go free. Nelson’s wife’s killer was one of those who walked. After getting his confession, Nelson stages the scene to make Halloran look like the new Jigsaw, and leaves him behind.
In the end, police believe Jigsaw died with Kramer and Halloran, while two of Jigsaw’s disciples remain alive. The apprentices have accomplished what they set out to do and have no known remaining games, traps, vendettas, or projects.
Though we can’t be certain where Spiral will land in Saw canon, we can certainly expect twists and turns. Will the new Jigsaw be a former or new disciple of John Kramer? Will it be a copycat? Will it be a combination of the two like Hoffman? With survivors and disciples alive, and with in- world fans like Bonneville and real-life fans like Chris Rock, the Cult of Jigsaw lives on.