As script books have only been released for the first two seasons of Welcome to Night Vale, all further reviews of the podcast itself will be based solely on the content of the podcast and the plots therein. In season three of Welcome to Night Vale, Cecil deals with the stress put on his relationship with Carlos by Carlos being trapped in a desert otherworld and the fear and anger that comes from being used against his will to repeatedly save Mayor Dana Cardinal. Who bought Lot 37 and is controlling Cecil? Who keeps attacking the mayor? When will Carlos come home?
So, for me, season three is one of those seasons that starts off slow, but once it gains momentum, it travels like an unstoppable freight train. The first half of the season, or so, consist mainly of stand-alone episodes. There’s a reference or two to the ongoing plotline (and as I’ve picked up on in this re-listen, quite a few hints for things that will happen in the Welcome to Night Vale novel; The Man in the Tan Jacket makes appearances throughout the season where he’s trying to show people where he’s from and tries to give Cecil a piece of paper with something written on it) scattered throughout those first several episodes, but for the most part they’re pretty stand-alone.
That’s not to say they’re bad episodes, though! On the contrary, one of my favorite episodes of the entire podcast happens early on in the season. The September Monologues is this experimental episode that consists of three monologues from different characters, and I adore it. I wish it was longer than the 20-some minutes it is. I just found that expanded look at the universe of Night Vale to be so interesting and exciting. Season 4 later does something similar with The April Monologues, and I hope that Fink and Cranor continue doing these episodes from time to time. It’s a nice way to learn more about other citizens in Night Vale, and it also kinda breaks up the monotony of the format of the show. It’s a good format, but you gotta change it up a bit here and there so the audience appreciates just how good the regular format is.
As for this season’s overall arc, it’s interesting. Probably the most introspective of all the Night Vale arcs thus far. I particularly like how Cecil struggles with his love for his town and his love for Carlos and all the things that he’s dealing with throughout the season. For the first two seasons, Cecil’s pretty much been the strong constant throughout everything, so seeing him vulnerable like this and questioning things he believes in makes for interesting drama. I appreciated the mostly positive depiction of long distance relationships that they do with Cecil and Carlos in this episode. Sure, most people in long distance relationships aren’t living in two different realities, but still. That’s what Night Vale does best; it takes a relatable concept and tangles it up in fantastical elements. So, yeah, Carlos is trapped in a desert otherworld, but the audience can empathize with the very realistic struggles he and Cecil have to go through in order to make their relationship work with these new constraints.
The finale itself is really strong. In particular, the bit where Carlos explains to Cecil that “Night Vale” is just a name for the place where all of Cecil’s loved ones are. So wherever those loved ones are is where Cecil’s home is. Yeah, it’s basically a take on the “home is where the heart is” cliche, but it’s true. Very rarely is home a set of walls; it’s a place where you feel safe and supported and loved. And that’s the point of this season. Cecil and Carlos both have to learn where their home is, and by the end of the season, they’ve learned it.
As for the whole business with Lot 37 and Hiram McDaniels and the Faceless Old Woman’s campaign to kill Dana, that’s almost a subplot to the Cecil/Carlos storyline. Much of what happens in the Lot 37 storyline impacts the Cecil/Carlos one, but the more interesting and impactful story is the Cecil/Carlos one. That being said, I did love the twist that Hiram’s Violet head is actually the owner of Lot 37 (which is Cecil himself) and Violet was using Cecil to thwart the plans of his other four heads. That was a fun twist I didn’t see coming on my first listen, but when I listened to it again, I was able to pick up on the clues that were left throughout the season. It’s always fun when you have the answer to a whodunnit to be able to go back and spot the clues that would’ve led you to that answer had you noticed them in the first place.
One thing I’ve never really mentioned thus far in these Night Vale reviews has been the sound design of the podcast. Podcasts, like the radio dramas of old, live and die on sound design. Since there’s no visual elements, the entire story has to be told in an auditory way. And that’s where sound design comes in. Joseph Fink routinely says that he’s still an amateur when it comes to Audacity (the open sourced audio editing program that he uses to edit the show), and while maybe he is still an amateur with the program itself, he definitely knows what he’s doing when it comes to constructing the show. He’s great at using good music at just the right moments, and using creative and interesting sound effects when needed. What he adds to the podcast with the sound design really elevates the words that he and Cranor have written and the performance that Cecil and the other actors have given.
All in all, season three of Welcome to Night Vale continues to show why Night Vale is one of the best serialized fictional podcast available right now. It’s creepy, relatable, moving, funny, and interesting all at the same time. I seriously can’t recommend it enough.
I give this season of Welcome to Night Vale 5 out of 5 wands.
Welcome to Night Vale can be found on iTunes, YouTube, Soundcloud, etc. Their website has more information and can be found here.