Review: The Black Tapes

(Originally posted October 7, 2018)

Genre: Investigative journalism, paranormal, supernatural, docudrama
Possible Triggers: No
Safe For Work: Yes
Content: PG-13

Do you believe?

General: The Black Tapes is hosted by Alex Reagan, a journalist is sets out with the original goal of meeting people with paranormal stories and interviewing them about their experiences. This goal is immediately (within the first episode) derailed when Alex meets Dr. Richard Strand, a stubborn, cynic non-believer and head of The Strand Institute. His disbelief goes so deep, he’s even offered a one million dollar reward to anyone who can prove the existence of the paranormal.

Unsurprisingly, the reward has never been claimed.

And that’s not for a lack of trying. Thousands of people have sent in what they consider proof, only to have it all debunked by The Strand Institute.

Well, almost all of it.

During her meeting with Dr. Strand, Alex almost immediately zeroes in on a collection of tapes, which Dr. Strand reluctantly admits are tapes that they haven’t managed to debunk “yet.”

Alex’s intention is immediately enraptured by the tapes (known as the black tapes), and convinces Strand to let her watch one.

And it’s all down the rabbit hole from there. Alex becomes obsessed with the black tapes, forgetting her original goal, and begins investigating the tapes herself. The investigation sends her down a path of conspiracies, lies, and the possible coming of the apocalypse.

And from here it goes down the predictable path. The neutral journalist (who really isn’t that neutral) and the skeptic set out to investigate the tapes and seeming connections between them, and how they somehow connect to Dr. Strand and the end of the world.

You know, the normal stuff.

The Black Tapes has a truly interesting, if not somewhat convoluted story line. With disappearing people and mysterious music with a note that might signal the end of humanity and how it all connects to Dr. Strand and his past. It’s definitely a podcast you need to give your full attention – multitasking while listening is not recommended.

The voice acting can be a little hokey at times, but overall the characters are very well done. Alex and Dr. Strand develop a sort of love-hate relationship (in that Dr. Strand constantly says he’s done helping Alex yet always ends up coming back to her), and their back and forth with one another is highly entertaining. Whether you ship them romantically or just think they have a fantastic friendship, it’s hard not to love every minute these two are on the proverbial screen together.

We also learn, as the series goes on, that Alex may not be the reliable narrator she first appears to be. The investigation into the black tapes is taking its toll on her mental state, to the point where her producer has to force her to take time off and away from everything. She’s not sleeping, having odd dreams when she does sleep, and is crossing lines of journalistic integrity to get what she wants – all major red flags that she’s not a narrator we can necessarily trust.

She’s the only point of view we have, however, whether we can trust her or not. It’s her journey and her story we’re following as we dive deeper into the unknown.

Dr. Strand’s stubborn insistence that “everything can be explained” can get a little frustrating, especially in the face of all the things he can not, in fact, explain. His stance can become a little infuriating after a while, to the point where you want to reach into the podcast, grab him by the shoulders, and tell him to stop being so damn thick.

On the other hand, his beliefs are what seem to keep Alex grounded – her ideas start getting too fantastical or out of the control, and he’s there to keep her in reality. Conversely, Alex adds a little levity to situations when Dr. Strand starts getting too uptight. He doesn’t necessarily listen to or even believe her, but she has a knack for diffusing situations that are starting to get too tense.

The show has ended, which is both a little disappointing (if you want new episodes) but also good new listeners who want something quick, spooky, and detailed without having to wait for new episodes. It’s easily bingeable, with twelve episodes in seasons one and two and six episodes in season three, and if you enjoy the writing style, never fear – the creators of the show, Pacific Northwest Stories and minnow beats whale – have more paranormal mystery and wonders to offer. When you’re done listening to The Black Tapes, you can check out more of their work at:

Pacific Northwest Stories
minnow beats whale

LGBTQIA Friendly?: N/A

Pay to Listen?: No, but they accept donations.

Length: 10-20 minutes

Overall: Whether you believe or not, The Black Tapes is a fascinating listen. It’s an interesting blend of how the real world meets the supernatural, and how humans react when faced with the possibility that what they view as reality is only the surface. The twists and turns are a little bewildering at times, but it’s worth a listen if you like listening to people debate the paranormal. Dr. Strand and Alex Reagan represents two sides of the paranormal believer spectrum – the staunch non-believer and the open-minded, almost naive neutral party who accidentally falls out of objectivity and deeper into the side of believing, and further from the reality she’s always known.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind seeing an alternate reality of this podcast where Alex sticks to her original goal of setting out to find stories from other people. I’d listen to that in a heartbeat.