Review: Darkest Night

(Originally posted October 14, 2018)

Genre: Future science, horror, audio drama
Possible Triggers: Death, gore, torture, cannibalism, child death
Safe For Work: No
Content: R

Warning: It’s not often I specifically put a disclaimer on a show, but for this one, I have to say: it is extremely graphic and at points can feel like it’s going a little too far. Heed the trigger warnings – I list them for a reason. Listener discretion is advised.

General: Welcome to the Roth-Lodbow Center for Advanced Research. You may hate your day job, but just be happy you don’t work here.

Darkest Night follows the story of Katie, a young intern who’s just gotten a new job at the Center and has been assigned to work with Dr. John Kinsler, a long-time scientist at the Center who’s set to retire in just a few weeks (and we all know where that trope leads). John is the lead scientist on Project Cyclops – experiments with a piece of technology which allows them to draw blood from the optic nerve of a dead person’s eyeball, insert it into a little black box, and project the memories of the moments before their death.

And that’s just the beginning of the strangeness.

The first episode focuses on Vivian Lodbow, the adopted daughter of Clinton Lodbow (co-founder of the Center) who inherited his legacy when he died. Clinton, a twisted, ruthless man who believed in facts over emotions, also had two blood children, Oscar and Claire; they tormented Vivian endlessly right up until the day of Clinton’s will reading. Things get a little… messy from there.

One thing to remember – there are no happy endings when you’re watching memories of the dead. All of the deaths are brutal and sometimes stomach-turning. The podcast makes great use of sound effects – almost too good. Sometimes you might wish they’d tone it back a little, especially when people start losing body parts.

The show features a full cast of unique voices, as well as voice-over narration, making it easy to listen to and keep up with while multi-tasking. Season one takes you through a whirlwind of deaths, and we follow Katie’s growing suspicion that something is very wrong at the Roth-Lodbow Center for Advanced Research. Between the fact that Project Cyclops doesn’t quite seem to work right (showing things that happen after the supposed subject has died, not showing things from the point of view of the subject at all, and other random things that are attributed to “glitches”), and that a suspicious number of the deaths seem to be related to the center, it’s very hard not to get on board with Katie’s curiosity and desire to learn more.

It’s easy to get caught up in the story, and even if you know the death is coming, it’s still gut-wrenching when you finally get to that point. Whether you love a character or hate them, seeing the way they die can be horrible. Worse, sometimes the innocent die, and the horrible characters live. The horrible characters always seem to live.

If you’re someone who enjoys a good mystery, there’s no lacking of those in Darkest Night. Everyone has secrets – even our intrepid wanna-be-investigator narrator. It becomes a puzzle of sorts – who to trust, whose secrets are benign, and who you should never turn your back on. Almost no one is completely, one-hundred percent innocent, not even the victims. Sometimes, especially not the victims.

The twists and turns of each episode and the overall seasons may make your head spin, but they’re done in a way that isn’t often achieved in audio dramas – they’re complex while remaining easy to follow, without the show going too far over the edge of reality. The show has found the level of non-reality it wants to live on, and it stays there easily, a feat not always achieved with shows like these. Darkest Night manages to maintain its air of mystery while also telling a story you can keep up with. I credit a lot of that to the voice-over narrator, who can help you re-find your place in a story if you got lost for a minute.

One thing can get a little confusing, and it’s something to be on the look out for as you listen – everyone is connected to someone, somehow. Is that vague and mysterious enough for you? I guess you’ll have to listen to the show to find out what I mean.

The Roth-Lodbow Center for Advanced Research is making amazing technological advances every day. And with each episode you find yourself questioning more and more – where should humanity draw the line?

LGBTQIA Friendly?: It’s a gore-y podcast where everyone dies. Gay or straight, no one is safe.

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

Length: 10-20 minutes

Overall: Darkest Night is a fascinating exploration of how far science can go, and also how far humans are willing to go in order to get what they want. The story is intense, and the aha moments hit you so hard that you’ll have to pause to absorb all the information. The writing is great, the characters are excellent (even if you hate them, you can’t deny they’re brilliance), and the new season looks to be a promising one. If you haven’t listened yet, now is the time to check them out.

Do keep in mind the warning I put at the beginning of the review. Darkest Night is an amazing podcast with incredible story telling, but it is not for the faint of heart, and binge-listening, while achievable, can sometimes leave you with a slightly nauseated feeling. I’m a horror podcast aficionado and listen to them almost like it’s a second job, and even I had to stop and breathe for a few minutes after certain scenes or episodes (I still managed to listen up to the current season and new episode in three days, though). The episodes themselves don’t have trigger warnings on them, because the entire show is explicit content, so keep in mind going in that you’re almost definitely going to hear something that’ll make you feel like you were punched in the gut.

(And if that isn’t good story telling, I don’t know what is.)

Rating: 5/5

Review: We're Alive

(Originally posted September 15, 2018)

Genre: Post-Apocalypse, Zombies, Survival
Possible Triggers: Some Graphic Descriptions, Death
Safe For Work: Wear Headphones
Content: PG-13

General: In a world where zombies are the new, far less attractive vampires, a podcast about the zombie apocalypse is almost a given. We’re Alive features a group of humans, following them from the beginning of the zombie invasion and through their journey to survive.

The story starts with Michael Cross, an Army Reserve Soldier and college student, whose world is shattered when reports start coming in about riots in the streets. Michael is called in for duty, but the base is deserted when he arrives (after witnessing the horrors in the streets). He finds two fellow soldiers, Angel and Saul, and together the three of them get equipment together, borrow a tank, and head out into the streets to find other survivors. They have no idea what’s going on. They don’t know what they’re fighting. But they’re soldiers, and as far as Michael is concerned, their uniforms will give hope to any civilians they find.

After searching the streets and coming across a few more stranded humans, they commandeer an apartment complex, scout it out to make sure it’s safe, and begin fortifying it as their safe base.

And the fight for survival begins.

Overtime, the apartment complex (dubbed The Tower by the survivors) becomes home to an almost unruly cast of characters. A lot of the characters are your typical stereotypes – the old, gruff war veteran, the paranoid guy who thinks everyone is out to get him, the flirty guy, the “do everything by the rules” guy, the rude woman who thinks she knows everything and constantly talks down to everyone, the ditzy woman who can’t quite seem to get things right, the foreign shop owner, and of course, walking stereotype Michael Cross, who thinks he knows everything, takes charge without any input, and begins ordering people around like he somehow knows more about what’s happening than anyone else.

The cast is pretty by the numbers, but the story is what keeps you listening. Everyone always thinks they know what they would do in the event of any world-ending catastrophe – there’s an entire genre dedicated to “preppers” who think the end of the world could come any day now.

You can’t be prepared for every situation, however. And the characters of We’re Alive do their best on the fly. They find the Tower and immediately fortify it, begin organizing supplies they salvage from empty apartments, work out a guard rotation schedule so one person isn’t responsible for watching over everything. Tommy, a teenage resident of the Tower who arrives with his aunt in chapter three, even sets up a security system so they can completely block off the entrance hall and watch it without having to put themselves in danger. The group sets up a generator to keep electricity going in the tower, begin a rooftop garden, organize a “store” of sorts for supplies – honestly, for a group that can’t go five minutes without someone getting into a fight with someone else, they work together pretty well to maintain their base. The need to survive overcomes the need to be stubborn.

By now you’re probably wondering, “Wait, but what created the zombies?” The survivors wonder that as well. It’s a persisting mystery throughout the series, with the survivors trying to figure out ways to fight the zombies, what attracts them, how they find victims, and the best ways to avoid them. Where did they come from? How do you stop them?  You’ll have to listen to find out.

And in the mean time, there’s something much worse than zombies roaming the streets of Los Angeles. What could be worse than zombies, you ask? Other human beings. While the residents of the Tower are stubborn and often clash with one another, they’re all good at heart and watch out for each other the best they can. The same can not be said for other factions of survivors – they have no interest in cooperating with people outside their own little group, and only look out for themselves. In the world of the zombie apocalypse, humanity somehow still remains the most dangerous thing.

We’re Alive is told in an audio drama format, with each character getting their own voice actor and a chance to tell the story from their own point of view as the show grows beyond Michael Cross. You could hear the same scene two-three times from two-three different points of view, and no narrative will be the same. Episodes are in chapters and parts (Chapter One, Part One, Part Two, Part Three; Chapter Two, Part One, etc.), with each chapter being narrated by a different person. You might love some of the characters, you might hate one or two. You might hate or love them all. And while hating them all can sometimes make listening annoying, it also works to make the story more compelling – and no, not just because you’re rooting for someone to die. It’s oddly fascinating to hear how these characters survive, even when you don’t like them. It’s like watching a car crash – you know it’s horrible and yet you can’t look away.

And hey, maybe you’ll get some good tips for when the zombie apocalypse comes.

Beginner Friendly?: Yes, but start at the beginning

LGBTQIA Friendly?: Yes (several characters)

Pay to Listen?: No

Length: 20-30 minutes

Overall: We’re Alive is a fascinating combination of the best and worst in humanity (which, as we’re shown here, aren’t mutually exclusive) and how mankind’s will to survive overcomes almost every other obstacle. You don’t have to like someone to live with them when living with them is your only choice. You discover talents you didn’t know you had until you put them to the test. You discover how far you’re willing to go in order to live.

While the original series has ended, the story is far from over. Check out www.werealive.com for more details on upcoming shows, to find downloads for the original series, and so much more.