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Podcast / Malevolent

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"However, time is not the factor that distinguishes this world." "What does?" "Choices."
Malevolent is a horror podcast produced, written, edited, performed and created by Harlan Guthrie. It began in July 2020 and is currently releasing new episodes. The series was acquired in 2022 by the podcast network Rusty Quill.

Arkham Private Investigator Arthur Lester wakes up with no memory of who he is or what has happened, only a nameless, eerie voice guiding him through the darkness. Blind, terrified, and confused, his journey will lead him towards a series of mysteries in the hopes of understanding the truth of what has transpired. Each episode consists of Arthur and his otherworldly companion (initially referred to in transcripts as The Entity) exploring various locales, both mundane and eldritch, in search of answers.

Malevolent is a choice-based story that gives the show's Patreon supporters a measure of control over the narrative. Each publicly-available episode is comprised of five smaller chapters, each culminating in a choice that the patrons have voted on to determine what happens next: explore the basement or attic first, fight to kill or run and hide, and so on. Some chapters have more open-ended problems for the patrons to solve, such as writing in the solution to a puzzle.

In November 2023, Harlan partnered with Ain't Slayed Nobody to write and Keep "The Waking Children", a Call of Cthulhu roleplay miniseries set in the same universe as Malevolent.

Note: Due to the nature of the story, a wide variety of information could be considered spoilers; major plot points and revelations will be tagged, but basic facts such as main characters' names may not be. Proceed at your own risk.

This podcast contains examples of:

  • Alliance with an Abomination: Arthur and John initially only work together out of necessity, but as time goes on they form a fairly sturdy alliance—though that doesn't stop them from arguing constantly.
  • Amnesiac God: John, who is a severed piece of a god of madness called the King in Yellow, spends the first season unaware of who he is.
  • Amnesia Episode: As a result of Arthur's deal with Kayne, John spends the first three episodes of Season 3 missing all of his memories since the beginning of the series.
  • And I Must Scream: Kayne claims that the King In Yellow intends to keep John imprisoned in the Dreamlands until he's willing to rejoin the King's consciousness, even if it takes several thousand years to break him.
  • Another Man's Terror: Whenever Arthur touches a corpse, John sees visions of how it died.
  • Apocalypse Cult: At least two: the group that sought to summon Shub-niggurath and the group seeking to summon the King In Yellow. One is much more active—and thus much more of a present threat—than the other.
  • At Least I Admit It: During a fight with Arthur, John says:
    ”If anyone should know what a monster looks like, it’s you. At least I’m honest about the blood on my hands.”
  • Awful Truth: Dozens of examples, but the most impactful tend to relate to John and Arthur.
    • One of the first things Arthur discovers is that when he read John's book, he killed his partner Peter. Except Arthur didn't actually kill him. John did.
    • Arthur and John make their way to Harper's Hill in pursuit of answers, braving mortal peril to get there, only to learn that the person they came to speak with was killed just days prior. Even worse, it's partially Arthur's fault.
    • After a decent amount of needling from John, Arthur eventually reveals that he had a daughter named Faroe who died some time ago. That's bad enough, but it takes Arthur even longer before he's willing to admit that she died as a result of his own negligence.
    • In Season 3, Arthur eventually admits to Yellow that he murdered a man in the prison pits to survive, and he enjoyed it. This seems to be part of why Yellow turns on him, even though they'd been getting along better.
  • Be All My Sins Remembered: A fairly consistent theme, a large part of Arthur's character is his regret over his daughter's death, and the fact that he refuses to forget or forgive himself for said misdeed saves him from from the King in Yellow on at least two occassions.
  • Beneath the Earth: A large percentage of the locales Arthur and John frequent are located underground: caves, mines, underground bases designed to house mad cults...
  • Black Speech: John's voice becomes distorted as he reads a passage on the Black Goat from Armitage's book. Neither he nor Arthur can understand the text, but just hearing it is enough to cause them both some psychological damage.
  • Break Them by Talking: The King in Yellow tries to convince Arthur to betray John by bringing up how he had killed Parker and betrayed Arthur’s trust.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Arthur slits his own throat to stop the King In Yellow from reclaiming John. It doesn't work.
  • Came Back Wrong: After The King In Yellow reclaims John as part of himself, Kayne offers to bring him back... at the small cost of all the progress John has made toward cultivating his own humanity.
  • Chromosome Casting: Justified. Almost every character with speaking lines is male, on account of every character with speaking lines being voiced by creator Harlan Guthrie. The one exception to this is Marie, who is still voiced by Harlan Guthrie.
  • Closed Circle: The prison pits. Most of John and Arthur's time there happens off-camera, but if they've been keeping an accurate count, it takes them 85 days to escape.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Unsurprisingly given the situations they frequently find themselves in, John and Arthur swear a lot.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: When his threats don’t work, the King in Yellow resorts to breaking Arthur’s leg.
  • Cosmic Horror: Cults worshipping strange outer gods? Check. Creatures that defy explanation and logic? Check. Powerful beings beyond our comprehension who are indifferent to our existence, viewing us the same way a human may view an ant? Check.
  • Darkness Equals Death: Arthur and John discuss mankind's fear of darkness, ultimately deciding that the darkness itself isn't to be feared... but what the darkness hides very much is.
  • Did Not Die That Way: John initially claims that Arthur was the one who shot Parker Yang, when it was actually John himself who killed him.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: John and Arthur’s encounter with Kayne is remarkably pleasant considering that he is a self-described Malevolent entity who just finished massacring a city out of boredom.
  • Disability Immunity: Arthur's blindness allows him to confront the incomprehensible eldritch horrors he encounters on a daily basis without going mad.
  • Dramatic Dislocation: Arthur’s shoulder is dislocated by falling rocks in the caves in the Dreamlands.
  • Driven to Suicide: Discussed, invoked, and ultimately defied.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: Several.
    • The complex beneath The Island.
    • The underground city underneath The Hotel.
    • The abandoned temple of the King in Yellow in the Dreamlands.
    • The cult compound under the Larson estate, leading into the mines.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Almost too many to count, as can be expected for the genre, though the Hound is notable in that its form is so horrific and inexplicable that John struggles to describe it.
    John: I’m not even sure how to… it looks like foulness. It moves like an animal, like a dog, but it’s large. Its… its skin doesn’t look organic, but rather… I can’t, Arthur.
  • Eldritch Location: And how. The investigation eventually leads Arthur and John to the Dreamlands, a dimension beyond time and reason that houses all manner of unthinkable horrors.
  • Emergent Human: Discussed. Being trapped in Arthur's comatose body for a month prompts some introspection and self-discovery for John. He chooses a name for himself and develops the first hints of more "human" personality traits, including a remedial sense of sympathy for others. The change prompts Arthur to muse that perhaps the experience injected some humanity into him; John suggests that perhaps whatever humanity he previously possessed has started to return. Seeing as John is actually a fragment of an elder god, Arthur is correct.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: To the extent that the King In Yellow can't become whole because John's burgeoning sense of humanity is wholly incompatible with the King's own consciousness.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The Dark World, according to John.
    Arthur: Perhaps I’ll simply stop existing.
    John: Yes.
    Arthur: Well, if that is the worst case scenario, then I suppose it’s no different than dying.
    John: That is not the worst-case scenario.
  • For the Evulz:
    • In her letter, Amanda states that the King in Yellow's goal is simply to drive the world mad.
    • The reason John gives for killing Emily.
      ”Why? Because I wanted to.”
  • Genius Loci: The moving forest in the Dreamlands. You can't leave until it decides to let you leave. However, the intelligence here has no way of communicating; figuring out what it wants in exchange for passage isn't a straightforward process.
  • Human Resources: While in the prison pits in the Dreamlands Arthur is driven to kill and eat another prisoner, he then saves and sharpens his femur and uses that to escape.
  • Identity Amnesia: Both John and Arthur start the series with no memories. Arthur regains his fairly quickly, but John’s memories don’t return until he and Arthur are sent to the Dreamlands at the end of the first season.
  • I Never Told You My Name: During his coma, Arthur realizes that the King in Yellow is trying to gather information from him when he refers to him by name.
    Arthur: Wait, did I… did I tell you my name?
    • Invoked again in episode 23, and was likely part of the reason Arthur was able to realize that Larson was lying to him.
    Arthur: How did you know my name? I never gave you it, nor anyone in town.
  • Idiot Ball: Arthur has a bad habit of dragging himself and John into all manner of dangerous situations, often for no greater purpose than to assuage his own curiosity. An interesting example in that most of Arthur's more significant actions are decided by the patrons; in a sense, they are the true holders of the Ball and simply toss it in his direction.
    John: You continually put yourself in a compromising position based on poor decisions. It’s not even a judgement, Arthur, it’s just a fact.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: While in the prison pits in the Dreamlands another prisoner named Faust is, at one point, tossed into the same pit as Arthur. Then, they stop feeding them, and Arthur realizes that they are trying to starve them to force one to eat the other. At first, Arthur fights his hunger and refuses until he learns that Faust ate another person already and concludes that killing him would be an act of self defense. Arthur then eats the body, forcing John to relive the murder over and over again.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Arthur is stabbed through by the creature in the mine at the end of “The Roots”.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Discussed. At one point, John describes how compared to the infinite power of the gods, individual mortal lives—even a whole planet's worth of them—are practically worthless.
  • Interactive Fiction: The podcast equivalent. Episodes consist of five chapters, at the end of which Patreon supporters can vote on Arthur’s next move.
  • It Amused Me: Kayne cites no reason for interfering with the protagonists other than that he wants to see what happens next.
    Kayne: I don’t want to help you cause… I just don’t, to be honest. But I think I wanna put a wager on you.
  • Leitmotif: Several music tracks are used throughout the podcast, but two feature especially prominently: a set of frenetic strings for tense scenes, and a mournful piano piece for more emotional or somber scenes. The latter also exists in-universe as the story's main theme and Faroe's Song, pieces composed (and repeatedly performed) by Arthur himself.
  • Lovecraft Country: The story begins in Arkham, Massachusetts, a staple of the genre; the first dozen episodes take place in various locales scattered around the state. Things get weird after that.
  • Lovecraft Lite: While the series is ongoing so it stands to be seen what will happen to our heroes, the series does maintain an air of hope. Arthur, despite being a mere human, is still able to hold his own against the various horrors he comes across, and even able to resist the King in Yellow's attempts to steal his body.
  • Luring in Prey: In Episode 15, while in the Dreamlands, Arthur and The Entity/John find a map and decide to walk in the direction of a mysterious looking flower bulb. Once they get there, they find themselves standing in a pool of mysterious moss and Arthur hears a soothing voice and finds himself unable to move. As he stands there, John tries to snap him out of it, and the moss starts chewing on his pant legs. In the next episode, Arthur is able to snap out of it and they discover human remains stripped of flesh beneath the moss, implying that not only does the moss seem to use its influence to lure and trap its prey, but that Arthur is not the first human to find themselves trapped here.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Members of The Cult of the King in Yellow all wear featureless, pallid masks.
  • Meaningful Rename: While Arthur was in a coma, the hospital caring for him only knew him as John Doe. One of the nurses would greet him as John while checking on him every morning, and the entity trapped in Arthur's body took enough of a liking to the name that he decided to adopt it as his own. While the transcripts initially refer to him as The Entity, he's known as John from this point forward. Inverted when Kayne brings John back sans his newfound humanity; this new version is referred to exclusively as Yellow, and Arthur responds angrily when Yellow offers to be called John.
  • Memory-Restoring Melody: In the first episode, Arthur's memories start coming back after playing a song on the piano in his office. This song becomes a recurring element in the series and is later revealed to be the song Arthur composed for his now-dead daughter Faroe. In season 3, Arthur makes a deal with Kayne to bring John back but without his memories. He appears to come back with his memories up until being separated from Arthur as the result of Arthur playing Faroe's song again.
  • Mercy Kill: John cuts Lily’s throat after finding her fatally wounded by the King in Yellow.
  • Mirror Character: Larson, to Arthur. Both hail from a privileged upbringing but lost close family members at a young age, both enjoy quoting poetry, both are responsible for the death of their child, and as of Episode 28, both have a fragment of the King in Yellow inhabiting their mind.
  • The Multiverse: The Entity explains the concept to Arthur partway through the first episode, how the universe they presently inhabit is one of countless others—some of which diverge from his own based on choices made, some of which are home to creatures of myth and legend, and some which take place decades in the future.
  • My Greatest Failure: Arthur considers Faroe’s drowning to be his.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: While in the prison pits in the Dreamlands Arthur is starved and forced to kill and eat another prisoner.
  • Nostalgic Music Box: The music box that Arthur gave to Faroe.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: A rare self-directed example when John tells Arthur that he and Yellow are the same, and the only difference is that John has learned from his time with Arthur.
    John: How? What is fundamentally different about me?
    Arthur: I... I don’t know.
    John: You don’t know because there is nothing fundamentally different. I was just made aware.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Arthur does this to John in episode 28; John has once again rescued Arthur from certain death, and Arthur, amazed, insists repeatedly on giving John a title, eventually settling on "John the undefeated". Unbeknownst to him, this is the exact phrase Kayne uses to mock John earlier in the episode when taunting him about a deal they made, one where John has to trick Arthur into going to New York for a then-unknown (but most likely ominous) reason in exchange for Kayne's help. John is noticeably uncomfortable and quickly changes the subject.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: While Arthur's British accent is generally quite good, the actor's Canadian accent shows through on words like "sorry", "bury", and "out".
  • Outside-Context Problem: Kayne seems determined to make himself one. In an unusual variant of the trope, it's unclear whether he's more interested in being a problem for the King In Yellow or for Arthur.
  • Past Experience Nightmare: Arthur has a few regarding Faroe and her death. John questioning him about them afterward is a frequent source of friction.
  • Plot-Triggering Book: The series starts with Arthur losing his eyesight and becoming host to John as the result of reading from a mysterious tome.
  • Pre-Sacrifice Final Goodbye: Right before Arthur stabs himself to prevent the King from reclaiming John.
  • Psychic Link: In addition to John sharing Arthur's senses, bits of semantic knowledge from Arthur's mind often "bleed over" into John's, although how exactly this works is unclear.
  • Regained Memories Sequence: Hearing Arthur play the story's main theme brings back John's memories, during which time we hear a montage of significant lines from previous episodes.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: John's imprisonment within the book definitely qualifies, even if he's a relatively genial example. The trope becomes especially relevant once it's revealed that he's actually a fragment of The King In Yellow.
  • Sealed Evil in Another World:
    • The Entity/John is sealed away in a mysterious tome. However the first episode establishes that while in said tome, he was technically residing in The Dark World, a sort of dumping ground for everything that dies in every world and universe, some sort of ultimate end for everything. While he was technically in the tome for only 10 years, due to the nature of The Dark World and how time works differently in different planes of existence, he lived, in his own words, "lifetimes upon lifetimes over there.", having forgotten who or what he once was during that time.
    • The King in Yellow is currently trapped in the Dreamlands, his own domain, as a result of an imperfect ritual causing him to loose a piece of himself, and thus not being at his full power. In his current state, he can only reach out to people who are dreaming or already mentally unstable, instead of coming over into the world himself.
  • Seeing Through Another's Eyes: From the very start, John serves as Arthur's eyes, seeing for him. This becomes a big part of his character arc, as after seeing the world as Arthur sees it he starts to see the beauty and value of humanity.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": Several of these are heard when the King in Yellow breaks Arthur’s leg.
  • Shoot the Dog: Invoked in-universe. One of the King In Yellow's efforts to demoralize Arthur and John involves fatally wounding an animal they'd only just befriended not ten minutes ago, forcing them to choose between leaving it to die slowly or putting it out of its misery themselves.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Arthur delivers one after the King in Yellow's attempts to reason with him fail.
    The King in Yellow: You are choosing to let a monster live!
    Arthur: I’m choosing to believe that we can change.
  • Spoiler Cover: Less of an outright spoiler and more of a stealthy reference, but the V in the Malevolent logo bears a striking resemblance to the Yellow Sign.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Just as Kayne predicted, the King In Yellow succeeds in becoming whole again. It doesn't stick.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: In episode 31, Arthur dreams about many of his past mistakes and regrets, showing that he sympathized with Kellin and felt guilty that he had to kill him. He similarly felt guilty about killing The Widow, though she gets far less time dedicated to her.
  • The Determinator: Arthur declares himself one.
    Arthur: ”You want me to… to give up. You want me to throw in the towel and call it quits so you can fight over the scraps of me like fucking dogs. Well I have news for you, for both of you – I don’t give up.
    I didn’t fucking give up when the woman I loved died, and I didn’t punch my ticket when I held my… when I held my only daughter’s lifeless body in my arms. And I am sure as shit strong enough to push through everything you throw at me. So bring it on, you spineless fucks. I am going to go down swinging, every fucking time.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Arthur recounts the 'scorpion and frog' variant at one point. John argues that it's a flawed fable because if the scorpion knew what waited for him after death, he would never sting the frog, regardless of his nature.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The King in Yellow delivers one to Arthur.
    The King in Yellow: Death surrounds you, Arthur. It stalks you like a black shadow that takes everything you touch away. You’re cursed. You’re damaged. A boy playing with matches that kills everyone sleeping in the house, while you escape unscathed.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: A recurring theme.
    • Armitage warns Arthur that the knowledge he seeks on Shub-Niggurath can't possibly be worth the cost to his own psyche.
    • John almost cites the trope verbatim while trying to convince Arthur that they shouldn't exploit his newfound ability to witness peoples' deaths by touching their remains.
  • To the Pain: The King in Yellow threatens Arthur with various tortures to get him to give John up.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: John is revealed to be a fragment of the King In Yellow's consciousness, splintered off and imprisoned when the King first tried to cross over into this world.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: Several. Amanda Cummings' copy of The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann is just about the only book in the entire story that isn't an eldritch tome of some sort.
  • Too Injured to Save: Lily’s wound is severe enough that John and Arthur are forced to either Mercy Kill her or let her slowly bleed out.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The quiet town of Leerie conceals a cult devoted to The King In Yellow, operating out of a vast underground city hidden beneath an abandoned hotel.
    • Season 3 gives us the (former) mining town of Addison, which is the home of an invisible Eldritch Abomination who controls the townsfolk, as well as some sort of cult compound underneath the Larson estate.
  • Trapped in the Host: The very basis of the podcast is about Arthur being host to John, who himself is trapped in Arthur's body. In the first episode, John states that Arthur cursed himself "And in a manner of speaking, me as well. We’re bound.". One of the main overarching goals of the series is for John to separate from Arthur and find himself a new body.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Arthur’s parents committed suicide when he was a kid, his wife died in childbirth, and his daughter drowned, all before the show even began. Then he loses his vision, partner, and memories and is partially possessed by an eldritch being, all in the same incident. Then he is near-fatally stabbed by a madman in a gas mask, spends a month in a coma, nearly dies of multiple gunshot wounds, and is sent to a strange, chaotic dimension called the Dreamlands. While there, he and John are nearly eaten by a cave monster, spend three months in the prison pits, are separated, and then the King in Yellow breaks Arthur’s leg and leaves him stranded in a snowstorm. And that’s just the first two seasons.
  • Twisting the Prophecy: In episode 20 it's suggested much of Arthur and The Entity/John's journey is predestined, or at the very least the end result of his encounter with The King in Yellow is already set in stone. However, Arthur asks for something to "change the pattern" and is given a knife by an enigmatic entity he knows as Kayne, who tells him to "use it when the time is right. Daniel told you.", before disappearing. As Arthur is brought before the King and it seems John will sacrifice himself to save Arthur, Arthur remembers what Daniel said to him. That he doesn't have to let them win. So he takes the knife and stabs himself in the throat, in an attempt to keep The King from getting John. He ultimately misses his jugular and John and Arthur say their goodbyes. Then in Coda, after dragging his broken bleeding body through a blizzard and to a remote cabin, Kayne appears before Arthur again and makes him a deal to bring John back to him, without his memories. Ultimately defying the 'predestined' end.
  • Underground City: The King in Yellow's cult operates out of one.
  • Unwanted Revival: Of a sort. Yellow is not at all pleased about being severed from the King to hang out in Arthur's psyche.
  • Wham Episode: Each season finale thus far.
    • Episode 12, "The End". John gets his memories back and learns that he is a fragment of the King in Yellow.
    • Episode 20, "The King", and its companion mini-episode "Coda". John sacrifices himself to the King in Yellow in exchange for Arthur's safety... only for Arthur to first kill himself so that the King can't reclaim John. This fails, and the King sends Arthur back to Earth, where Arthur makes a deal with Kayne: John is freed from the King and returned to Arthur, but with all of his memories since the beginning of Season 1 gone.
    • Episode 28, "The Undefeated". As Arthur and John save the cultists in the mine and leave Addison for good, we learn that John also made a deal with Kayne, who is forcing him to manipulate Arthur into going to New York – and that Larson is now possessed by Yellow.
  • Wham Line:
    • Episode 2, "The Missing Girl":
      The Entity: Wait. We didn't leave the radio on.
    • Episode 4, "The Voices":
      Kellin: Arthur, tell that voice in your head that my mother was not a whore.
    • Episode 12, "The End":
      Cultist: More than safe. You will be whole again.
    • Episode 18, "The Madness":
      John: I killed Emily. (...) Why? Because I wanted to.
    • Episode 28, "The Undefeated":
      John: How am I supposed to get him to New York, let alone where you want him?
    • Also from the end of Episode 28:
      Yellow: What was that?
  • Webcomic Time: The first three seasons (released over the course of two and a half years) cover four months of in-universe time – all but a week of which passes during two timeskips.note  Season 3, the first season without a timeskip, takes place over about three days.
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": When Arthur and John befriend a buopoth in the Dreamlands, John names it Lilly after the nurse who inspired his first steps into developing his own sense of humanity.
  • Weirdness Magnet: From the start of the series onwards, strange creatures and events seem to start to gravitate towards Arthur. In the earlier episodes, the weirdness follows a Monster of the Week format, but later on there's more overarching plots and antagonists.
  • World of Chaos: The Dark World and the Dreamlands both qualify, though John considers the former to be far worse than the latter.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The King In Yellow makes this argument, but Arthur isn't having it.