I just discovered the deliciously creepy podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale” this month. There are a million reasons for writers to listen to it and learn – texture, conveying meaning in just a few words, patterned story-telling and best of all, the podcast gave me the most thrilling surge of romantic squee that I’ve had all year.
“Welcome to Night Vale” is structured as a community radio show with the most kindly despotic announcer in a world that is just . . . odd. Secret Government kind of odd. Regular features include the news, the community calendar, traffic and the weather – all turned on their heads as tropes. For me, the heart of the series is the romance between announcer Cecil Palmer and Carlos, the Scientist.
According to interviews with writers Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, they didn’t know that a casual reference in the first episode by Cecil about Carlos’ “perfect hair” was going to turn into a thing. And, oh, what a thing. Other plotlines come and go, shape and resolve, arc and then submerge back into the deep darkness of Night Vale, but so far (I’m starting episode 54 as soon as I finish this post), the relationship between these two characters has been the most consistent story.
The romance doesn’t get a tremendous amount of airtime. For much of the first season, we get hints and a lot of unrequited longing. Like so much of Night Vale, hearing about it made me uneasy. I really worried that this romance was doomed, because Cecil seemed sort of unhinged and stalker-y. I was afraid he was going to get his heart broken.
(Oh, that’s another reason to listen to WTNV – how do you make a weirdo lovable? I don’t know, but you can see it in action, here. I think the main key is to give the character human feelings, and empathy for others. Cecil, despite his creepiness and totalitarian viewpoints, cares about other people. Sometimes, anyway (-:.)
Anyway, readers, when episode 25 finally came around, six little words sent me into a spiral of love and fangirl-ery. And here, we enter into mild spoiler territory. If you are sensitive, skip to below the second picture, after the giant radio transmitter apparatus.
Carlos almost dies saving town, and the first thing he does is call the station and ask to meet with Cecil under the mysteriously glowing lights over the Arby’s sign. Why? “I just wanted to see you.” If you have the context, you melt with delight and puddle into a small purple pool behind your steering wheel.
Episode 26 is a breather of normal news from Night Vale (normal for Night Vale, anyway), but in episode 27, we get a scoop-y, gossipy, lovely account of Cecil and Carlos’ first date. The emotions evoked are gorgeous, and sly, and there’s a lot of laughter. WTNV may be dark, but it sparkles, like stars in the void. Episode 27 gives us a glance at the sun.
After Episode 27, the relationship fades into the background, but it’s not lurking behind a curtain – rather, it’s the solid foundation to the rotting mansion that is Night Vale. Events impact the relationship, the relationship impacts the events. We haven’t seen Cecil and Carlos’ happy-ever-after, but we know that they protect their happy-ever-now.
If you haven’t listened to “Welcome to Night Vale,” let me encourage you to start. It’s great story-telling, and also worthwhile to study to see how they pull off the tricks they pull off.
And if you have listened to it, let’s have a cozy little gossip in the comments!