Night Vale Nightmares #4: “worms…”Books/Art/Culture,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.
By normal, boring human standards, life in Night Vale never contains a dull moment. There is always an ancient spirit lurking just outside of your view or some kind of mysterious infestation rising up to ruin your day and/or claim your life. Monsters that we know to be mere myths in our world are fellow citizens in Night Vale. And while it’s frightening every now and again, it is, on the whole, typical. And no episode of the show has quite captured that attitude of “meh” in the mouth of madness better than episode 66, titled “worms…”
The title of the episode alone speaks volume of about its tone; the first letter isn’t even capitalized, and its followed by an ellipsis, as though the plague of vicious worms springing up through the ground and attacking people are meant to be met with an indifferent shrug as opposed to cries of panic. If “Voicemail” drew attention to the exciting sense of danger drawn from Cecil’s truancy, “worms…” shows how ho-hum the paranormal can feel when Cecil is back behind the mike, reporting business as usual.
Cecil certainly can’t be bothered to care about the worms, nor any of the other bizarre community events he reports on (such as the start of the Night Vale’s very own militant book club or the announcement of baseball tryouts at the “haunted diamond”). His main concern is getting into the dog park so he can break on into the desert otherworld and finally see Carlos. No matter what his broadcasting duties dictate he talk about, his one-track mind always loops it back to the dog park.
Even when The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home pops into the studio unexpectedly (not that her visits are ever anticipated to begin with), Cecil seems to either not remember the malevolent bent of her message in “Voicemail,” or is simply indifferent, as he immediately probes her for ways to enter the park. Mayor Carlyle, the mystery of Lot 37, Hiram McDaniels & The Faceless Old Woman’s plotting, it’s all second-tier concerns for him, and for the listener as well.
To an an extent, this damages the episode’s pacing; we’re bored to hear about anything else but the latest developments of Cecil’s plans, but that seems deliberate here. We’re supposed to be feeling the same ennui that our favorite community DJ is toward Night Vale. The confusion and destruction is taken for granted. We all know things are going to plenty weird when Cecil gets back, so what’s the problem? Let the poor guy get his vacation time, station management!
One highlight of the episode was the weather, “Little Black Star” by Hooray for the Riff Raff, a country-drenched folk ditty that matched Cecil’s hope and wistfulness, and its end transitioned seamlessly with Cecil’s stunned, then elated exclamation of finding out that he got approved for his vacation time. When Cecil bids his listeners goodnight, his jubilant voice fades as he walks out the door and slams it behind him, and we too feel a sense of relief.
Cecil needs a vacation from Night Vale, and perhaps we need another break from its demented doldrums as well. Sure, the show has experimented with its format in the past (“Voicemails”, “The September Monologues”, “Sandstorm 19A/B”, etc.) but it’s clear we need another reckoning to bring that good old fashioned fear of the unknown back into the mix. It often takes a bit of separation from the things we love to remind us why we love them. Enjoy the vacation Cecil, you’ve earned it. Meanwhile, let’s see what kind of horrors hit the airwaves in his absence…