Night Vale Nightmares #3: “Voicemail”Books/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,News Christopher La Vigna
Welcome to NIGHT VALE Nightmares, a regular column where we take a look at the latest entries in the ever-popular supernatural podcast, WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE.
Cecil, Cecil, Cecil, where are you? What could you possibly be up to? The weird and wild world of Night Vale feels treacherous enough when filtered through your radio show. Without it, it’s a freight train speeding off the tracks; a ship idling about in stormy waters. Not since the second half of the “SANDSTORM” arc has your voice been missed so acutely.
“VOICEMAIL” shakes up NIGHT VALE’s format again by framing the entire episode through a series of voice messages left on Cecil’s phone. It functions as a reminder of how expansive the podcast’s universe has become, and how many distinct characters listeners have come to know and love and/or loathe within it: Carlos, Steve Carlsberg, Earl Harlan, The Faceless Old Woman, “Frank Chin” (who definitely does NOT have five heads and is certainly not a dragon, how dare you insinuate otherwise), Mayor Carlyle, and more. Each of them has something to tell Cecil, and it tells us what he means to each of them.
Carlos gets the lion’s share of the episode’s run time, his messages brimming with scientific curiosity and excitement as he informs his boyfriend about the newest developments in his travels with a masked army roaming the desert from another world. Every actor’s voice work is on point in this episode, but Dylan Marron really shines. His joyful tone, his giggling asides (such as his reminder to Cecil of how he loves “scientifically accurate jokes”) come off genuine and earnest, giving us a true sense of intimacy (and thus, as the third party listening in, an unsettling undercurrent of voyeurism) as we learn that in spite of his endless fascination with his strange surroundings, Carlos has not lost an ounce of his dedication to to their relationship. Cecil is his rock.
More ominous is the message left by the Faceless Old Woman, who leaves hers as she takes stock of the moth-ridden clothing in Cecil’s closet. Voiced by Mara Wilson, the Faceless Old Woman has become one of the show’s most popular and infamous characters; this is due to Wilson’s ability to make the character truly sound like she’s whispering right into your ear, the cadence of her voice always seeming to straddle the line between a lonesome spirit who keeps a watchful eye on you for no apparent reason (see: her worrisome soliloquy about Chad’s changes in “The September Monologues”) and a sinister entity with a velvet whisper that lulls you into a false sense of security right before it strikes and draws blood, like a switchblade concealed in a swathe of silk. (See: pretty much every appearance she’s made on the series since her announced bid for mayor). She knows that Cecil holds the hearts and minds of his listeners, and she wants in on the action. Cecil is her gateway to influence.
The same can be same of Hiram McDaniels, who makes an attempt to gain information out of Cecil (the fact that one of the heads sounds remarkably like the Monarch from THE VENTURE BROS should be your clue that Jackson Publick’s voicework is at hand here) but can’t seem to keep his multiple heads from ruining the paper-thin ruse. Some other interesting moments come from some of the podcast’s minor characters: Earl Harlan calls Cecil to inform him that’s he’d be glad to come to the studio for some more Cooking With Harlan segments, and the semi-sentient number spouting robot from “Numbers” (which is hands-down this writer’s favorite episode of the show to date) calls, her self-awareness and determination peaking out through the monotone numerical drone to give us a few lines of Katy Perry. Tamika Flynn offers some updates on her radical book-loving group’s latest activities, and we’re privy to an ad copy pitch from Deb the patch of sentient haze. These persons’ (and I use the term “person” loosely here) narratives have become intertwined with Cecil’s, reminding us again that his role surpassed that of a mere commentator long ago. Whatever new cataclysm Night Vale is careening towards, Cecil is right in the thick of it.
Intern Dana/Mayor Carlyle’s message drives this home the furthest, with her musings about how their relationship has (and hasn’t) changed, and her insistence that she is not the one controlling Lot 37. She doesn’t just say this to exonerate herself, she tells her old boss this in order to maintain a relationship that, though strained, still means the world to her. And who could blame her? In a town where ghosts, dragons, and pretty much anything else within its borders are actively trying to end your existence, it’s hard to overstate the value of a true friend.
After a clever wedging in of the Weather (a solid, mid-tempo warbling personal declaration of a rock tune, “Tag!” by The Scarves) We’re treated to a major reveal (BE WARNED, SPOILERS AHEAD): Carlos has been in the Dog Park all this time! Cecil the “Honey-Voiced Honey” can visit now! But of course, this being Night Vale, such good news must also be followed by the re-emergence of Kevin, the dreaded spokesman for Desert Bluffs and their wretched Smiling God. He seems very excited to show Cecil something, and there’s no way that can allude to anything good. For him, Cecil is a foil that must be handled with extreme prejudice.
And so, until the next entry, we are left knowing what Cecil represents to his fellow Night Vale denizens, but also left questioning which of them he will be forced to satisfy the agenda of first. Let’s hope the next dip of this rollercoaster proves to be as exhilarating as the cart’s steady creak uphill promises it will be.