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Podcast / Shipworm

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'Shipworm' (2021) is a Science Fiction/thriller podcast/Radio Drama from Two-Up Productions, and written and directed by Zack Acker with Skip Bronkie, the creators of Limetown. Advertised as "the first feature-length audio movie", the film is somewhat unique among podcasts in not being a serial narrative, instead telling it's entire story over the course of two hours.

The story begins with Dr. Wallace Conway, an ex-army doctor, being told by his wife that she wants a divorce. After a night of black-out drinking, Conway wakes up hearing the voice of a woman only identifying herself as "the Conductor", a voice only Conway can hear, who forces Conway via threats on his wife and son to commit a series of escalatingly bizarre and disturbing tasks, with the only explanation given to Conway that he is "the most important person in the world".

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It can be found here.

Tropes

  • The Alcoholic: Conway starts the story after a night of black-out drinking and sleeping in his office. It's implied this isn't the first time.
  • Beneath the Mask: the reason for Conway's distance from his wife and son; he feels like his entire persona is an inauthentic mask he must present to the world to obfuscate the person he really is. He is aware his family will never be satisfied only knowing the mask, but he is incapable of being authentic with them.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: A possible explanation for who the Conductor works for.
  • Forced into Evil: Conway is forced to lie, steal, put others in danger, and even leave a man to die by the Conductor. This is also his perspective of his actions while he was in the military. In the end, he decides to take responsibility for all his actions and live with them, rather than putting the responsibility on others.
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  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the end, it's left ambiguous whether the Conductor is a real person, or merely a representation of an aspect of Conway's personality repressed by his guilt over his actions in the military.
  • Mission Control: The Conductor is a very dark example. She has a mission for Conway, and has no issue threatening his family to make him cooperate.
  • Phlebotinum Pills: It's implied the research being done on the biochemistry of the titular "shipworms" could cure a huge number of diseases.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Conway's inability to talk to his wife about his experiences in the military are the primary reason she gives for wanting a divorce. Slightly subverted by the fact that Conway never saw combat. He worked at a camp which interrogated prisoners of war, keeping them alive after being tortured for information, the guilt from which drives a wedge between him and everyone he knows.
  • The Unfettered: The Conductor. She is willing to do or say anything in order for the mission to be completed.
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    • Conway as well, by the end of the story, once he's accepted that he alone is responsible for his actions. It is left ambiguous whether this is a result of The Conductor's influence, or if the Conductor was just a representation of this repressed aspect of Conway's nature he always possessed.
  • Karaoke Bonding Scene: Conway and the Conductor have one when she makes him go to a bar and sing "Night Swimming" by REM.
  • Unobtanium: The titular shipworms live deep underwater, and have only recently, and temporarily become accessible due to a recent hurricane. This time pressure is why the Conductor has suddenly contacted Conway.
  • The Voice: The Conductor is a surprising example; despite the whole story being told only through audio, effectively making every character this, within the narrative, the Conductor only appears as a voice in Conway's head, not physically appearing to the other characters. A character who shares the Conductor's voice appears near the end who the Conductor identifies as being herself, but the character never shows any awareness of Conway's relationship with the Conductor, and it is left ambiguous by the end whether this character is the Conductor, or if the Conductor even exists at all.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: At various points, the Conductor gives Conway the information he needs to complete his mission. It is ambiguous whether this is because she was able to obtain this information using the resources of the shadowy organization she works for, or if she's just regurgitating information Conway received subconsciously, such as his colleague's child's birthday.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Conway starts the story after a night of black out drinking. Depending on how you interpret the ending, this has less to do with the alcohol Conway drank, and more to do with him having a psychotic break, resulting in a repressed aspect of his personality taking over and planning an elaborate heist to free himself from the life he's trapping himself in.
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