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