I’ve already spoken about this on Twitter, but it’ll still be the subject of my first post on account of the fact that I’m under a bit of a time crunch and that this episode really irked me enough to write about it twice.
I’ll include my previously-shared thoughts below, but essentially The Black Tapes has gone from one of my favorite podcasts of all time to just another jargon-filled, amateur sci-fi show.
For the uninitiated, The Black Tapes is a Serial-style, fictional mystery podcast about a journalist investigating paranormal happenings in the Pacific Northwest. Its first two seasons were well-produced and (mostly) well-written, but the season three premiere threw all of that out of the window.
I’d be really curious to talk to the show’s creators to find out what happened, but I have my suspicions.
There was a year-long wait between seasons two and three, compared to just three months between season one and two. I’ve seen enough video games be delayed and then released at mediocre levels of quality to know that sometimes such a big creative endeavor can get away from you when you’re lost in the weeds.
As soon as it was suddenly announced this May that season three would be the last season, that it would only have six episodes and that it still wouldn’t be coming out for another three months, I worried that it would be one of these situations. And sure enough, it was, at least for season three’s first episode.
There’s a chance that the rest of the season will be better – that the premiere’s poor quality was just shoddy because the creators were a little rusty, but that remains to be seen.
For more details on my thoughts, read/listen to the stuff below.
Here’s what I said in the tweets:
“The Black Tapes asks us in its logo ‘Do you believe?’ The show’s season three premiere has made me a non-believer, at least for now.
The Black Tapes was once a compelling mystery that kept listeners hooked with every cliffhanger and revelation, but with this new episode, it has fallen into the same pitfalls that made me stop listening to its sister show, Tanis: it’s become muddied in its mess of capital-‘n’ Nouns to the point of engendering disinterest. And it feels like the main characters are just as disinterested as I was, or at least as uninformed.
Alex’s narration is stilted and unnatural. It’s just so obvious that she’s reading. When you listen to real-life journalists like Brian Reed or Sarah Koenig, their narration comes off as if they’re just telling you about something they’re very knowledgeable about. Alex’s narration lacks much of the genuine fascination and ‘eagerness to share’ that these journalists display, and feels more like she’s reading a book out loud to a group of elementary schoolers. And this issue permeates the show’s dialogue, as well.
When you listen to Alex and Nic discuss the show’s events with one another, it’s as if nothing surprises them. There’s no like’s, no um’s, no hesitation. It sounds like someone talking to themself. It’s just so obviously a fake conversation. Seriously, go back and listen to their conversation from 26:10 to 28:08:
Nic: ‘Anything new with Strand?’
Alex: ‘Nothing really. Just one inexplicable oddity after another.’
N: ‘Including the man himself.’
A: ‘He’s definitely an inexplicable oddity.’
N: ‘I think he’s warming up a little, isn’t he?’
A: ‘There were dozens of them [black tapes] in that back room, just waiting.’
N: ‘That many?’
A: ‘Well, it’s gonna take forever if we’re gonna be thorough about this.’
N: ‘Anything that relates to [PROPER NOUNS]?’
A: ‘Or [PROPER NOUNS] or [PROPER NOUNS], or any of the dozens of unrelated mysteries we’re trying to connect.’
N: ‘You think they’re unrelated?’
A: ‘I don’t know what to think.’
N: ‘Are you not sleeping?’
A: ‘I just… I need a dog. That’s what I need.’
That’s not a conversation. People don’t talk like that. Even journalists who are following the same story don’t talk like that. If someone answered ‘Are you not sleeping?’ with ‘I need a dog,’ you might catch their meaning, but you wouldn’t just say ‘Yeah.’ You’d be like, ‘Haha what? A dog? Do you mean ‘cuz that would help with your stress?’ SERIOUSLY. Just listen! Their line delivery is so damn immediate and flat. You hear this crap and you can just picture them sitting next to each other in front of a mic, looking down at a piece of paper with a script written on it.
The show has also fallen into Tanis’ tendency to punctuate every bit of dialogue with a dramatic sound effect or musical cue, which only serves to emphasize the characters’ lack of enthusiasm for what they’re saying.
I’m going to keep listening to The Black Tapes to see what happens, and I think the story has potential to pick up as the season comes to a close. But, for me, The Black Tapes no longer demands I stop typing emails or texts to give it my undivided attention. GOD, I’M LISTENING TO THE END OF THE EPISODE AGAIN, AND THE WAY ALEX REACTS TO SIMON’S CREEPY, CRYPTIC NONSENSE IS JUST SO BAD. SHE’S SO MONOTONED [sic] AND REHEARSED AND UGH.”
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back next week with a more fleshed-out take on a different pod. Talk to you then!