The Black Tapes Podcast: Episode 112 - Shadow Dancing
October 14, 2015 5:51 AM - Subscribe

In the season one finale, Alex connects the dots from Europe to New Mexico and begins to suspect she might be in over her head with Dr. Strand and his Black Tapes.

We meet a Navajo Boy Scout in New Mexico and discover more cave paintings. Strand gets a warning from a monk about how he's been watched his whole life. Reagan calls Strand on his BS and diversionary tactics, and then immediately gets distracted by seeing Sexy James Bond on a television that appears from... somewhere. "Lisa Graves" picks up her mail for the first time in years (probably a ton of Bed Bath & Beyond flyers in there).

Literally nothing is resolved in this so-called finale. Reagan teases another release the next day; unless it's a part two, I personally will be highly annoyed.
posted by Etrigan (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Very annoyed by the lack of resolution and the half dozen advertisements.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 6:07 AM on October 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seriously. I was worried they were gonna go full Marble Hornets and wrap up nothing, but it seemed like they at least had an idea of what they were working towards. Nope! There was literally nothing separating this from any other episode.

And the ads really are out of hand. I get that Alex Reegan has to eat, but I can't think of a single other popular podcast that goes quite this overboard. Combined with the fact that they also just had a wildly successful Kickstarter, and the whole thing just feels very tacky.

Oh, well, it's not like I'm not gonna listen to season 2 or anything.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:23 AM on October 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

The "next day" release is up and it is NOT a part two for the finale. It's a new project. Ugh.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 9:42 AM on October 14, 2015

Yeah, part 2 appears to be a new project along the same lines.

The "season" really ended with a whimper.
posted by Drastic at 12:25 PM on October 14, 2015

I was actually holding out hope for the extra episode they talked about to be a super secret surprise part two that would make up for nothing happening in the finale. Wrong. But I listened to it anyway and my reaction was basically:

first five minutes: booooo why isn't this more black tapes boooo
next five minutes: oh nooo it's in-universe, that's going to ruin the fun of the black tapes by using the same voice actors and just by being dumb!
next five minutes: oh, wait. i'm interested in x-filesy creepy conspiracy stuff with hackers. is this good?
after that: this is really, really good.
now: am i scientologist now?

So I encourage you to give Tanis a listen if you're skeptical and want a good Black Tapes sub, I goddamn loved it.

In case you missed it, there's even a second episode up if you subscribe.
posted by moons in june at 4:29 PM on October 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

"It's a bit of a hike, but I see you're wearing good shoes"
"Haha yeah also let me tell you about these socks..."
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 6:27 PM on October 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Black Tapes is just one story line of The Pacific Northwest Stories.

Yeah, but the season finale -- billed as such in the text -- didn't finalize anything. Literally nothing was resolved. And it set up like one new thing: "Dr. Strand is being watched by some entity." But around that, we get more of the same thing we've been getting. Oh, look, another cave painting. Oh, look, another sighting of Sexy James Bond. Oh, look, another appearance of "Lisa Graves". Oh, look, Alex asks Richard again whether the tapes are connected and he doesn't tell her again.

They set this "story line" up as having 12 chapters. It's not unreasonable for us to want them to resolve that in any way whatsoever before we move on to the next story line.

Keeping the listenership on a stringer, never waiting for the next fix, simply providing a new fix from time to time. It'll be years before you notice how you never stopped listening.

Eh, maybe. People said the same thing about Lost, and the ratings dropped by a third between the first season and the last, and by nearly half from the peak because people got sick of it.

Meanwhile, you're kind of missing how these podcasts are reshaping episodic narrative by subverting expected formatting.

"Subverting" is not the same as "flat-out lying to the audience", and I feel like TBT is a lot closer to the latter. Limetown, on the other hand, is subverting expected formatting as part of its mission statement, which is much more palatable, to me at least.
posted by Etrigan at 6:52 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, but the season finale -- billed as such in the text -- didn't finalize anything.

Why does it have to?

Because of the word "finale".

And if they are stopping or holding that story line for a time, using that language communicates to the audience not to keep looking for new episodes.

So would "Hey, we're taking a break from regular updates. We'll let you know when a new episode is ready." Which they did after 106.

They established that several things which you've perhaps forgotten about are still in the mix, not loose threads, and that this is still a much larger story.

Which they did in every episode after about the sixth, over and over again.

Those are elements they could have dropped. They're telling you the things that the next batch of episodes will focus on.

Which is the exact same thing that the first batch of episodes focused on. Pardon me for not being particularly compelled by "Coming up: More of the same over and over again!"

And they're giving new listeners cues as to what they should pay attention to.

After explicitly saying at the top of the episode that new listeners shouldn't be jumping in here.

SUBTEXTUALLY, they established that The Black Tapes are all connected through Strand.

This I'll grant you. They did set that up in this episode. So we got one new plot thread without having resolved any of the previous plot threads. The parallels to Lost are growing and growing.

Eh, maybe. People said the same thing about Lost

Lost followed a standard season structure and didn't play into anything else. So not the same as this. So you basically just kind of stopped seeing my point in order to refute it.

That was in response to your point about how "It'll be years before you notice how you never stopped listening." Hence my quoting that part.

"Subverting" is not the same as "flat-out lying to the audience"

You feel lied to? You feel as though you are owed truth from fiction? You feel manipulated? But fiction is a manipulation of the senses. The whole series rides the line on much of that. I'm sorry I can't bring myself to your point of view. I can't imagine feeling that a piece of fiction, or non-fiction, for that matter is indebted to me some how just for my having paid attention to it.

Again, you've mixed up my responses with the parts they're responding to. You were talking about how they're "subverting expected formatting." (emphasis added) They formatted it in a particular way -- This is the season finale -- and then decided they weren't going to fulfill the promise of finalizing anything. Literally nothing. Not one plot thread in any way whatsoever was snipped off.

You choose to see it as genius. I choose to see it as lazy storytelling of the sort that has turned many, many previous such long-form stories into stringalongs that test audiences' patience.

You want to know what the thing is. The advocate. The thing with the upside-down face. So do they. And, such is life, convenient answers are not in abundance. That's part of PNWS whole narrative deal.

Ugh. I hate this, and I hated it when people used it to excuse Serial's petering off into nothingness. "So... that's a bunch of stuff that happened... I guess..." doesn't come off as lifelike, it comes off as lazy.
posted by Etrigan at 7:49 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

What do you want out of a narrative?

A resolution. Of virtually any form other than "So, that's some stuff that happened."

That's not to say that every narrative has to have it, but in the case of TBT, it certainly seems like there's supposed to be a resolution coming. If they'd stuck to the Monster of the Week formula of the first half of this first "season", sure, that could have worked: "Here's some really creepy stuff that happened. We still can't explain it. Beware the darkness..."

But then there was this shift to Story Arc, and now we're looking at more of a Big Bad situation. And when you have an arc, you need an ending. If there's something unifying all of these black tapes, then they need to show us what it is. And I bet they'll eventually get there, but if you're going to call a sequence of episodes a "season", then you're setting up an expectation with the audience that there is something at the end of it. Not necessarily the final resolution, but something. We got nothing except a hint that there probably will be a Big Bad.

What has succeeded in the ways that this is seemingly failing.

Look at how Buffy the Vampire Slayer worked: each season had a Big Bad. We didn't know what it was at the beginning of some of the seasons (hell, legend has it they didn't necessarily know a couple of times), and there was often a Little Bad that the writers used to fake us out before revealing the true enemy, but things slowly came together. Sure, plot threads were dropped every now and then (whatever happened to the invisible girl?), but at the end of each season, we got a resolution to the story the writers had been laying out for us.
posted by Etrigan at 8:50 AM on October 15, 2015

I'm also annoyed at the fact that nothing especially got resolved in what was billed as the "season finale." I wouldn't have cared at all if it wasn't called a season finale, because I have no expectations about podcasts having seasons at all. Welcome to Night Vale, for example, tends to have a big plot event around the time of its anniversary, and they take a break sometime after that. If you're going to arbitrarily split WtNV into seasons, that would be when you'd do it.

But there's no real reason to split a podcast into "seasons." Why split your podcast into seasons if you're not going to either a) mimic a TV season and its attendant form and structure, or b) you have some sort of anthology thing going and you need to delineate different stories/plotlines? Since TBT is following Serial's lead, I actually assumed that, like Serial, it was split into seasons because the next season would be a different investigation.

Like, I get that ~real life~ doesn't guarantee resolution. But again, splitting any given work up into seasons and explicitly touting a season finale are decisions that set up certain expectations regarding the arc of the narrative. If your seasons are basically a result of a production schedule, then there's no reason to go on about a "season finale" (see any given late night show or talk show, and probably a bunch of cartoons that aren't serialized). If your "finale" is just the last show before a break in production, then there's no reason to call it a finale, because it's not finalizing anything. You can just say "this concludes the first part of our investigation, you'll hear more from us in 3 months" or whatever instead of going on about your upcoming finale for weeks.

It's ultimately nitpicky I guess, and doesn't matter overmuch, especially given that podcasting is a fairly new medium and there are no standards for its structure. But I think it's fair to feel miffed about a finale that doesn't wrap much of anything at all when it's billed as a finale. It's one thing for Serial to end on a whimper: they were working with real life constraints and real life doesn't guarantee wrapping things up neatly with a bow. TBT has no such constraints, so why make a decision that just makes your "season" seem poorly paced and structured? You can consider that subversion, I suppose, but you have to do something genuinely interesting and challenging to be really subversive. As it is, this feels like the failure mode of an attempt at subversion.
posted by yasaman at 5:43 PM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh hey, I meant to ask: does anyone else think that it wasn't Richard Alex was talking to after she called him back in the beginning? Because after the signal seemed to cut out, and she called him back, my immediate thought the moment Richard spoke was, "That's not Richard. That's something pretending to be Richard." I otherwise thought the rest of the episode was probably all actual Richard Strand, so no idea what might be going on there.

Anyway, Dr. Strand doth protest too much. I don't know if he's in denial, or if he's being deliberately obfuscatory, but weird connected shit is definitely going down.
posted by yasaman at 12:18 PM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't really get all the "finale" hate (I mean, I get what you're objecting to; I just don't feel that way). I was a bit let down by the "Navajo Sacred Place" trope, which has already been done to death (although I did like "That was Poltergeist").

Overall, I have enjoyed Season 1, although I wish they had gone less with "demons" and more something weirder, but that's just my taste.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:46 PM on October 16, 2015

Maybe they're some sort of interdimensional real estate speculators?

With upside down faces!

Actually, I kind of like the way Strand debunked the British cave drawings -- "you are basing this all on a couple of dots?" "Well... put it that way...."
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:44 PM on October 16, 2015

Overall, I have enjoyed Season 1, although I wish they had gone less with "demons" and more something weirder, but that's just my taste.

Have you checked out Tanis, the new podcast from the TBT folks, yet? It's been sooooort of implied that the two are connected, and if they are, then whatever's going on here might actually be way weirder than plain old demons.
posted by Itaxpica at 11:15 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really liked the season, and I assumed the finale was going to be a cliffhanger. Seemed to fit the narrative style.
posted by heathrowga at 4:46 PM on October 21, 2015

Finally got around to listening and ...

I don't mind open-ended stories, necessarily. But Strand, at this point in the story in his relationship to Alex, is getting into these kinds of tropes where he's not telling her things because ... because why, now? He knows she's not going to give up looking, so why not just say "yeah, obviously the tapes are connected and here's what I know so far but I believe the explanation is probably x,y,z..." It could have ended with him saying "Yes, they're connected," and it would have moved things forward but we're in the same place we started. Even the Lisa Graves line doesn't get resolution, just another tease.

This frustrates me because characters keeping secrets when they have no reason to keep a secret besides "we need something to drive tension between these two characters" drives me up a wall and down again. It's basically the sci-fi/fantasy version of "will they-won't they."

Altogether I'm fine if a story doesn't provide closure or satisfaction (even in doses) so long as the story is compelling - but I don't have much confidence that S2 is going to cover any ground they haven't already gone over.
posted by Tevin at 8:32 AM on October 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I also absolutely hate pointless or drawn out secret keeping as a narrative device, to the point of immediately dropping shows that rely on it (I'm looking at you, first season of The Flash). But the more I think about it, the more I suspect that Richard isn't really being deliberately obfuscatory about anything other than the details of Cora Lee's disappearance. I think he's in denial and clinging to his rational explanations, and if he does know more about the supernatural end of things, it's not much more and he's only withholding that knowledge because he's scared of where it will lead.

I think we, like Alex, tend to assume Richard has all the answers and it's just that he's not sharing them. But I think it's more likely and more interesting that he doesn't have the answers, that he's groping around in the dark as much as Alex is, only he knows just enough to be genuinely frightened, but he doesn't want to face that and so clings to the rational explanations. The holding pattern he and Alex are locked in is pretty frustrating though, so one way or another, I hope it gets resolved soon in the second season.
posted by yasaman at 10:44 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

That's a good point (and the flash is what I was thinking about!) but I still think that having Strand come out at this point and say "iIdon't know how this connects but I think it does" would be totally earned and move things forward. Right?
posted by Tevin at 10:48 AM on October 23, 2015

If anyone's interested, myself and a cohort created transcripts for TBTP. You can find them here.
posted by moons in june at 2:19 PM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Don't promise me that you're working towards some kind of conclusion and then walk away. Dammit Black Tapes I wanted to like you. I didn't want you to be another Lost or True Detective, where you pretend for a season that there is an actual coherent story when there really isn't one at all.

I thought the show was too smart to pull a "some mysteries we'll never know / you'll just have to decide for yourself" ending - though part of me was worried that they would tie things up like this.

I wasn't expecting at all that they'd simply end the series on an episode that was like any other episode, and not even try to make the landing.
posted by kanewai at 11:26 AM on November 6, 2015

Season Two is up and running.
posted by Etrigan at 9:43 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Finally getting around listening this. The first few episodes really creeped me out, now it's more just wanting to find out what happens.

I absolutely do not get the anger toward this so-called finale. If they had wrapped everything up could it possibly have been satisfying? I think the protests would be even louder about how superficial it was. Fan entitlement is a helluva drug.
posted by treepour at 3:24 PM on October 22, 2016

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