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Podcast / Within the Wires

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Listen. Remember. Comprehend.

Welcome to the relaxation study. This ten-cassette series will guide you towards relaxation, focus, and total body awareness. Listen to these guides with authorized headphones provided to you by the Institute’s security team.

Welcome to TV Tropes. This page will give you an overview of the podcast Within the Wires and link to the various tropes associated with it.

Within the Wires is a serial Science Fiction podcast from Night Vale Presents, written by Welcome to Night Vale co-creator Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson. It takes the form of found audio from a strangely divergent world set after something called 'The Great Reckoning'. Each season is a different type of found audio, generally cassette tapes of various sorts.

Episodes are available on Youtube, iTunes, Libsyn and the Night Vale Presents website. Bonus episodes are available for subscribers to the show's Patreon page.

A book set in the world of The Society, You Feel It Just Below the Ribs, was released in November 2021.

End Side A. [ding] [click]

And now, Side B. [click]

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Within The Wires Main Page, Side B: Tropes Exemplified in the Podcast:

Tropes from multiple seasons

The general setting of the podcast is The Society, an Alternate History that came about after "The Great Reckoning", a version of World War I that caused worldwide devastation.
    Multi-Season Tropes 
  • Alternate History: Small details revealing how the Alternate Universe of Wires became so different from our own are gradually parceled out over the Cassettes.
    • Season 1's "Cassette #3: Insomnia, Feet" provides clues that the story is set in the early Eighties, while "Cassette #5: Focus, Nose" reveals the point of historical divergence, when it was decided that nationalism, tribalism and familial loyalty were the root causes of war and violence, to be eliminated through drastic social engineering, in the aftermath of a catastrophic war in the early half of the twentieth century..
    • Season 2's "Cassette 1: Tate Modern (1971)" terms the Point of Divergence "The Great Reckoning" and implies that, compared to its mundane historical counterpart, it was comparatively brief, but exponentially more devastating on a worldwide level, which facilitated creation of the One World Order called "The Society" within a decade. Season 2, Episode 6 mentions "godlike explosions" that poisoned the air in the 1920s, which may point to nuclear warfare.
    • A Season 2 cassette mentions that George VI was the last king of the United Kingdom. In Real Life, he was crowned in 1936 and reigned until his death in 1952, suggesting that the UK still wasn't a part of The Society at the time.
    • Episode 2 of Season 3, dated August 13, 1953, mentions that the so-called Removal of Nations Act was passed the previous year and forced the British Empire to cede any imperial claims of Ireland (and probably the rest of the Empire as well).
    • In episode 5 of season 3, Michael mentions the then recent discovery of the structure of DNA by a woman at Cambridge the previous year, suggesting that in this timeline, Rosalind Franklin earned recognition for her work in the field while she was still alive.
  • Alternate Techline: In The '80s of Wires, Sony Walkman cassette players exist alongside unobtrusive, standard-issue abdominal "black box" cybernetic implants that monitor and manage vitals and store memories. Should someone need more direct surveillance, however, this implant will be replaced with a boxy proto-Tracking Chip so large and unwieldy it distends the abdomen.
  • Alternate Universe: The world of Wires is a False Utopia that divorces children from the concept of family, separating them from parents, and eliminating/repressing memories of siblings and childhood relationships at the age of ten.
  • Arc Symbol: The image of an insect getting its wings plucked off gets used in every season. The damselfly itself is the cover image of the podcast, seen above.
    • In season 1, it's part of the relaxation cassettes, and also part of the shared history between Hester and Oleta.
    • In season 2, it's in one of Claudia's paintings, "Child and Damselfly".
    • In season 3, it's how Michael describes the way Vishwathi, Karen, and Amy have apparently ruined him.
    • In season 4, it's featured in a sermon from "The Hand".
    • In season 5, it's part of a children's book that was required reading at Indra's childhood center.
    • In season 6, Cliodhna sees some damselflies in the garden, initially thinking that they're faeries. She's surprised as there doesn't seem to be enough water around for that many damselflies.
    • in season 7, Elena sends Anita a necklace with a wooden damselfly pendant that Rose carved.
    • In You Feel It Just Below The Ribs, Dr. Miriam Gregory discusses the damselfly story in the context of a child who has difficulty remaining brainwashed; the child remembers the damselfly story differently, the way his mother told it. "Miriam", notably, is one of the names that Indra suggests as the author of the book she read.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Season 1's Narrator makes a point of explaining the Sinister Surveillance of the Institute's cameras and security nurses, but in Cassettes #3 and #5, also uses the visualization exercises as a pretext to describe times when the patient was tailed and observed by multiple agents in the outside world for unwittingly deviant behavior, precipitating admission to the Institute.
    Narrator: They are watching you...They have sunglasses, and cigarettes. They have books, but they are not reading. They have an unpleasant dog with them...They are neither smiling nor laughing. They look at you. From far away.
    • In Season 2, the men and their unpleasant dog are mentioned often in Claudia's paintings and Roimata's stories, watching Claudia. In Season 3, they begin watching Michael too.
    • In Season 5 Indra is convinced that Nan, an Internal Investigation Division agent, had been spying on her and her theater troupe, and this is the reason they break up. Other lines throughout the season also indicate that they were one of the agents with cigarettes and unpleasant dogs as well.
    • In Black Box, the men and their dogs seem to be pursuing Hester.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: The Society of Wires ensures the nonviolence of its citizens in the aftermath of a devastating war, the Great Reckoning, through pharmacologic and cybernetic repression of memories, and batteries of psychological programming, introduced when a child turns ten.
    • Season 1's patient, after illustrating deviant behavior, is supposedly undergoing a rehabilitative variation of these interventions during their stay at the Institute.
    • Season 2 reveals that people who were older than ten when The Society perfected these measures only underwent a less extensive reeducation program, and this age cohort is granted somewhat wider latitude in behavior and opinions. Claudia Atieno, as an artist born near the end of the Reckoning who lived through The Society's creation, is allowed to make paintings that depict and comment on now-forbidden family life and violent war, some of which are displayed in the "Remembrance Wing" of the Tate Modern.
  • Cast Full of Gay: As is not uncommon in Night Vale Presents productions, most seasons of Within the Wires produced to date have featured LGBT characters in prominent roles:
    • In season 1, the narrator, Hester, seems to have been in love with the main character, a childhood friend named Oleta, and is mentioned in Season 2 to be married to a woman.
    • In season 2, Claudia Atieno is mentioned to have had both male and female lovers, and the narrator, Roimata, is shown to have been very close to her, though whether or not she had romantic feelings for Claudia is left unclear.
    • In season 3, the main character, Michael Witten, is a trans man married to a cisgender woman.
    • In season 5, the main character, Indra, is married to a woman, and was previously in a romantic relationship with the listener, Nan.
    • In Season 6, the main character, Cliodhna, is in a relationship with a woman named Siobhan.
    • In season 7, the narrator talks about just how much she loved her late wife, Rose. Rose is mentioned as being involved with men as well.
    • In the book You Feel It Just Below The Ribs, Miri is married to a woman named Teresa.
  • Continuity Nod: While each season so far has been fairly self-contained with its own central characters, some overlap does occur:
    • In the last tape of Season 2, Hester, the narrator of the Season 1 tapes, introduces the current tape.
    • Throughout season 3, Michael sometimes mention that he and his wife, Vivienne, own a painting by Claudia Atienno, an artist and supporting character from season 2.
    • A raid on a group with weapons mentioned by Michael in Season 3 is revealed in Season 4 to have been against the original Cradle, and was the incident that killed Freya's father
    • Jure in Season 4 works for KR Development Inc. and serves as a contact between it and the Cradle.
    • In Season 5 Indra mentions the Cradle as possibly having had a location in Scandanavia, as well as there being a rumor that possibly wiped out in a government raid, though she is not sure.
    • In Season 7, Elena mentions "what happened to that family compound in Europe", probably another reference to the Cradle.
    • The Pilot in Black Box starts out carrying Hester; we later find out he works for KR Development and ferries Karen Roberts.
  • Dystopia Is Hard:
    • Discussed in Cassette #3: Insomnia, Feet," as the Narrator details the effort Big Brother takes in maintaining select freedoms in a civilization that engages in top-down social engineering.
      Narrator: Imagine the work that goes into making Frisbees and adopting dogs and recording music and allowing public dance spaces. Imagine all of the work people with sunglasses and cigarettes standing in cheering smiling crowds must do so that these crowds can cheer and smile.
    • Season 3, set during the 1950s of the podcast's timeline, takes place during the early days of the Society's foundation and shows the difficulties people working for it, such as the season's protagonist Michael Witten, faced in restructuring the infrastructure and legal systems of the old world.
  • Enigmatic Institute: The Institute is the medical prison that the Patient is kept in. It is described as having stark white halls and sterile lighting. It also fits the somewhat more sinister version of this as they perform psychological experiments on the patients, make it very, very difficult to leave, and even have a place called the Extensive Studies Lab.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The Society might brainwash and forcibly lobotomize people, but it doesn't discriminate on the basis of sexuality, gender, or race. It's not perfect—Michael does describe having some problems with people misgendering him when he was earlier in his transition—but it actually seems to be slightly further along than our world; this is especially prominent in Michael's situation, since he holds an important government function while living as an openly transgender man, something that wouldn't have been possible in the real-life 1950s, when his storyline is set. Miriam mentions in You Feel It Just Below The Ribs that this was a very early change after the Reckoning, possibly (at least partly) because some members of its leadership weren't heterosexual.
    The world ended, and because it did, Nora could get married.
  • Every Episode Ending: After the credits, each episode ends with, "Our time is done. It's you time now," followed by a description of something appropriate for the theme of the season's tapes with three items filled in, Mad Libs-style, by a distorted voice. The three items are frequently bizarre non-sequiturs. In season 7, there are four items.
    Okay. Our time is done. It's you time now. Time to draw a bath, play some music, and light an aromatic candle. Today's scented candle is: WOODCHUCK MAKING PANCAKES. Today's relaxing music is: WHOLE NOTE FOR SOLO BASSOON. Today's bath is filled with: CEREAL MILK.
  • False Utopia: The New Society. An end to wars and conflict, accomplished by creating a global state that tears children from their parents and arrests anyone who challenges them.
  • Genre Roulette: Each season has leaned towards a different genre from the others.
    • Season 1 establishes a lot of the world of Within the Wires, stars someone who is imprisoned within it and is more of a dystopic story.
    • Season 2 is more of a quiet drama focusing on a woman's relationship with a close friend (and possibly more).
    • Season 3 is a political thriller.
    • Season 4 returns to a more straightforward dystopian story as it focuses on a group trying to survive outside of the Society's rules.
    • Season 5 is a romantic drama told in reverse.
    • Season 6 is a ghost story.
    • Season 7 is the history of a marriage told as a scavenger hunt and travelogue.
    • Black Box is a fugitive's flight from authority figures.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: The Men in Black smoke cigarettes, and it's one of the signs of their evil.
  • In Spite of a Nail:
    • In one of the tapes of Season 1, it's mentioned that the main character had a Siouxsie and the Banshees cassette on her when she was admitted to the Institute, meaning the band came to exist despite the Alternate History setting of the podcast.
    • In Season 1, the narrator also mentions A Wizard of Earthsea.
    • In Season 5 Indra mentions having read V for Vendetta after having gotten it off the black market, meaning the graphic novel still exists despite the new world. One has to wonder how it turned out when it was inspired by the Society instead of Thatcher era England.
    • In Season 7, Rose worked for The New Yorker, which would have had to have been founded after the Reckoning.
    • Also in Season 7, James Caan was in a movie in the 1960s that Elena loved.
  • The Men in Black: Men in dark suits, with sunglasses and cigarettes, and their unpleasant dogs. The Institute and its founders, Vishwathi Ramadoss and Karen Roberts use them for their Sinister Surveillance. They work for the Internal Investigation Division.
    • Nan is implied to have been one of these agents in Season 5.
  • Rule of Three: The Every Episode Ending lists three items. Subverted in Season 7 where it lists four, although one is a nickname for one of the others.
  • Secret Police: The Internal Investigation Division, which turns out to be more than just The Men in Black. They're constantly looking out for subversives who are attempting to work against The Society.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: Like the other Night Vale Presents podcasts, this alternate world is considerably more accepting of LGBT people than the real world (see Cast Full of Gay above).
  • Unreliable Narrator: In each season, the narrator and/or their partner are keeping secrets from the intended recipient of the cassettes.
  • World Half Empty: The Great Reckoning was exponentially worse than any war in our timeline—in the "Museum Audio Guide #6: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts", Roimata says that there are only two hundred million people on the entire planet as of the 1970s. For comparison, the population of our world in the '70s is estimated to have been a little over 4 billion. No wonder the Society took hold so easily.

Season 1: Relaxation Tapes

The first season takes the form of instructional cassette tapes distributed to an inpatient of a research hospital called "The Institute". Over the course of these tapes, the Institute is revealed to be less than benign, the world strangely divergent from our own, and the cassettes very different from the Institute's standard-issue curriculum, particularly in the increasingly personalized way their Narrator (voiced by Matthewson) addresses the patient.
    Tropes from Season One 
  • Ambiguous Ending: "Cassette #10: Horopito" will be sent to the cottage where Hester has sent Oleta, but we have no way of knowing if Oleta ever receives it (though between Side A and Side B, we hear sounds of the ocean, suggesting that she does), or if she will wait there for Hester. We are unsure if Hester will be able to successfully wipe the Institute's records, or if they will be able to track down Oleta again.
    • Potentially resolved in Season 2, Cassette #10: Karikari Contemporary Gallery (1986). Hester is the narrator of this tape, and she has returned to the cottage where Oleta was sent. Hester has a wife she lives with, and that they have Horopito #4, the painting she left for Oleta, but it's not stated if this actually is Oleta (as a successful escape would make her a wanted criminal, Hester's not going to leave evidence on a museum guide).
  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: ZigZagged when "Cassette #1: Stress, Shoulders" Side B has its Narrator instructing the patient to imagine themself as a dragonfly handled by a little girl. While the metaphor would initially suggest that the Narrator is the girl grown up, Cassette #2 implies and Cassette #6 confirms that the girl is the patient.
  • Arc Words: Or rather, "Arc Sounds"; throughout tapes of season 1, sounds of the ocean, i.e. wind, waves crashing against a shore, are played in the patient's tapes. In the final episode, the same sounds are heard outside of a tape.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The Narrator of the Relaxation Cassettes refers to the Institute as "white and sterile."
  • Bad Liar: The Narrator is really bad at hiding just how much she knows about the patient listening to the tapes personally, such as locations of scars and her childhood.
  • Beleaguered Childhood Friend: By the time "Cassette #4: Sadness, Lungs" is received, the patient, trapped in the Institute and struggling to find a way out, rediscovers a childhood companion who offers further aid in escaping: the Cassettes' Narrator herself, who reveals that she's offering this aid purely because of remembering their prior relationship.
  • Body Horror:
    • In "Cassette #4: Sadness, Lungs," the Narrator uses an autogenic exercise to reveal and explain hidden, standard-issue Cybernetic implants to the Institute patient. A hollow between the patient's lower left rib and left hip is supposedly occupied by a mechanical creature with "many legs". It collects their memories.
    • In "Cassette #9: Loss, Hands" the Narrator explains replacement devices typically issued to patients of the Extensive Studies Lab, and elaborates on the surgical wounds incurred in gory, explicit detail. The "creature" was a black box that monitored the patient's vitals, now replaced with a transmitter used to track the patient should they try to escape.
  • Climbing the Cliffs of Insanity: Invoked in "Cassette #4: Sadness, Lungs," by the Narrator, who uses a visualization exercise as a pretext to prepare the patient for a difficult phase once they've eventually Escaped from the Lab.
    Narrator: Remember: the cave is high, and it is hidden, and it is difficult to get to. Falling water thunders past you and sprays you as you climb. The slope is slippery and your clothes are wet. It is difficult, but freedom always is.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The Extensive Studies Lab. Before the "Sounds of Carpentry", several tests are administered to patients. While we are spared a clear description of the tests themselves, we are given hints as the tapes prepare the patient for what is to come, and afterwards talk of the recovery that they will be in the midst of. Cassette #7, for example, guides the patient through rolling their head from side to side, saying that the upcoming test will put them through this motion at speeds beyond what their muscles are capable of, and that they WILL be concussed.
  • Crazy-Prepared: At the end of "Cassette #9: Loss, Hands" the Narrator suddenly urges the patient to obey a series of commands which will facilitate escape, incapacitate the security nurse and allow them to meet again but only if she has timed the duration of the cassette perfectly, and if the tape was turned on to play at exactly the right time.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Downplayed, in "Cassette #4: Sadness, Lungs," it's revealed that people are possessed of a standard implant between ribs and hip that removes and stores memories, and is implied to manage instincts that include the impulse to violence. The Narrator attempts to use autogenic exercises to let the patient control their implant enough to restore some memories.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Carpentry" in "Cassette #5: Focus, Nose." After listing the tools used in the Extensive Studies Lab, the Narrator says that the sounds of carpentry do not always mean carpentry is taking place, and refers to these procedures and noises only as carpentry for the duration of her tapes.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The tapes in the first season usually have spa music playing in the background of the spoken instructions, which sometimes get into pretty nightmarish territory when describing the workings of the Institute and other things.
  • Empty Shell: In "Cassette #5: Focus, Nose." the Narrator warns of the fate of an intractably violent patient, eventually sent to the Extensive Studies Lab to undergo "carpentry."
    Narrator: No one smelled sawdust. As I record this cassette I am looking at that patient, right now. Looking. Right. At. It.
  • Enigmatic Institute: The Institute, especially the Extensive Studies Lab. Later seasons mention it as a hypothetical thing but few believe in it.
  • Escaped from the Lab: Invoked by the Narrator of the Relaxation Cassettes, as she gradually drops more explicit hints about the Institute's layout, surroundings, and security flaws to aid the patient.
  • Idiot Ball: The Narrator exploits a trusted position of authority within the Institute to deliver her increasingly-transparent instructions under cover of an existent program, using her status to avoid supervision or review. But it's nothing short of a miracle that she and her off-curriculum tapes evade suspicion or discovery given the patient's mistakes, especially after the patient has a behavioral episode, during a botched escape attempt she directly intervenes in. Staff may have become somewhat suspicious by Cassette #9, when the patient is still allowed to listen to the tapes, but is no longer allowed to use headphones.
  • Lobotomy: In "Cassette #5: Focus, Nose," the Narrator reveals that the rare intractably violent patient will undergo "carpentry" in the Extensive Studies Lab, by way of warning her listener to maintain the appearance of compliance.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Defied by the Institute and The Society of Wires. "Cassette #5: Focus, Nose." reveals that they consider parental and familial affection one of the factors that resulted in a massive, world-destroying war. Because of this, children are separated from their parents and siblings at the age of 10, after which they are raised and educated by caretakers instead.
  • Nameless Narrative: No character featured, not even the patient or the narrator, gets a proper name until Cassette #6, which identifies the patient as Oleta and the narrator as Hester.
  • One World Order: "Cassette #5: Focus, Nose" talks about how, after a massive war, all nationalism, flags, and soldiers were "done away with," and replaced with the Society. Given the later description of what happens in the Extensive Studies Lab, there's the question of how said soldiers were "done away with." It may have gone beyond just disbanding their units...
  • Room 101: The Extensive Studies Lab.
  • Second-Person Narration: Subverted. The Narrator of the Relaxation Cassettes addresses the Institute's patient as "you" and feigns impartiality as a purely instructional, pseudo-omniscient figure in those exercises that mimic a typical guided meditation, but as her instructions deviate to become peculiarly specific, she eventually drops the façade to refer to herself as "I" at the end of the first cassette, and addresses the patient with increasing directness in subsequent installments.
  • Stalker with a Crush: "Cassette #8: Awareness, Eyes" as part of its visualization exercise, has the Narrator explain how the patient attracted the attention of the institute via a jealous romantic admirer reporting deviant behavior. Hester spent months just happening to meet Oleta in the park as she was running, and then at the coffee shop, where she determined that Oleta did not remember her. It is implied that this lack of recognition led Hester to turn Oleta in to the Institute.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Played With in "Cassette #9: Loss, Hands," when the Narrator attempts to account for the presence and potential reactions of a security nurse when the patient can no longer use headphones or listen unsupervised. While Oleta is being treated after time in the Extensive Studies Lab, Hester walks Oleta through the nurse's procedure and, eventually, provides an escape plan accounting for the nurse being distracted by the tape's instructions, giving Oleta a window of opportunity to break free. However, as Hester points out, she can't know if the recording was properly timed for the plan to work.
  • Tested on Humans:
    • Implied when people are sent to the Institute's "Extensive Studies Lab," but the Narrator tells the patient not to think about what's happening there.
    • "Cassette #7: Doubt, Head" goes into greater detail about some of what happens in the Extensive Studies Lab, explaining standard procedures to the patient after recapture following a failed escape attempt, and transfer to the program.
  • Wham Episode: "Cassette #7: Doubt, Head" opens with the words "Welcome to the Extensive Studies Lab Preparation Program", revealing that the patient was recaptured when trying to escape The Institute between this and Cassette #6. It's not about relaxation anymore (not that it ever was). Now it's about survival.
  • Wham Line: All the Cassettes had been about preparing the patient for escape from The Institute. Cassette #6 ends on an announcement of a sudden acceleration in their timetable. "This is taking too long. I didn’t want this to take this long!... 2:05am. I want you to grab whatever you can and run. I want to get you out!"

Season 2: Museum Audio Tours

The second season includes art museum audio guides for an art exhibition during the 1970s in the same universe. These cassette tapes take place over the course of about 15 years, and are principally narrated by artist Roimata Mangakāhia (Rima Te Wiata) as she discusses the works of her peer, painter Claudia Atieno.
     Tropes from Season Two 
  • All Issues Are Political Issues: Zigzagged in "Cassette 1: Tate Modern (1971)" when Mangakāhia dismisses art critic Alphra Bond as hypersensitive, imagining political subversiveness and incitement to war in works she reviewed.
    Mangakāhia: Bond believed all artists benefited from war and strife, as it gave them a more interesting story to tell. ...Of course the abhorrent and simplistic
    • But the painting "The Charcoal Dish," of which Mangakāhia is a fan and Bond the sole detractor, may genuinely be a subversive critique of the sinister One World Order of Wires, depicting innocent people happily served up from a giant dish-shaped building onto a laden picnic blanket, to be eaten by hidden monsters.
  • Allegory: Discussed in-universe. Claudia Atieno's painting "Still Life with Orchid" was meant to communicate the unknowable, cyclical nature of existence through Life/Death Juxtaposition: a living orchid with dead leaves and oranges with subtly rotting undersides. But much to her displeasure, most viewers read it as a fatalistic commentary on death's inevitability.
  • Applicability: Discussed and Zigzagged in-universe, as Mangakāhia ostensibly allows for multiple interpretations of Claudia Atieno's paintings, even while explaining Atieno's intent and blatantly favoring certain readings herself. She frequently asks questions of the listener to underscore this contrast during her analyses:
    Mangakāhia: Do you agree? Have I implied that you should agree? Do you have free will?
    • Tellingly, a painting she gives listeners full leeway to interpret is one she seems mildly embarrassed to talk about: "Woman in Bath (1971)." She is the subject.
    Mangakāhia: Look at the painting, make your own judgments. I cannot say anything else.
  • Ascended Extra: Season 1's Narrator of the Institute's Relaxation Cassettes, in passing asides about her life, talks about a favorite, underappreciated artist whose work she owns. This painter, Roimata Mangakāhia, is the principal narrator of Season 2, where she analyzes the works of her own favorite artist in museum audio guides.
  • Book Ends: If the donor-only Episode #0 is included. Both episode #0 and #10 are audio tours of the Karikari Contemporary Gallery, set 17 years apart.
  • Call-Back: Cassette #10 is narrated by Hester, the narrator of Season 1. She asks if the listener is answering her questions out loud, much like Oleta accidentally said "freedom" out loud in season 1, and says not to.
  • Caustic Critic: Alphra Bond, who is mentioned to have strongly disliked the work of Claudia Atieno.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: Many of Roimata's later audio tours drift off into deeply personal commentary on Claudia. Cassette #10 mentions that many of the cassettes were never used for this reason.
  • Missing Episode: In-universe. In Cassette #10, it is stated that Roimata made 11 audio tours, 9 of which were for museums still in existence. The narrator of Cassette #10 was only able to obtain 5 of the cassettes, which means the podcast listeners have heard cassettes that the narrator has not. In particular, it seems highly unlikely that Hester, the narrator, got a copy of Cassette #9, as it clarifies information about cliff diving that she claims not to know.
    • There is also a missing episode for the podcast listeners, however. Including the donor-only episode #0, only 10 recordings of Roimata's have been released.
  • Parting-Words Regret: In Cassette #9, Roimata discusses her last conversation with Claudia. Claudia was finally willing to go through with the cliff-diving that Roimata has been attempting to convince her to try; Roimata seems to deeply regret failing to warn her friend that the tide was out, and it was not safe to dive at that time. It is evident but unstated that she feels responsible for her friend's death.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: Roimata's tapes eventually start revealing that Claudia had a habit of taking concepts and outlines of paintings or drawings that other artists, Roimata included, had tinkered with in private and stealing the ideas and creating fully fledged artworks based on those ideas and claiming to have come up with them herself. Of particular note is a painting whose composition and imagery Claudia ripped off from a friend she deliberately let take the fall and be accused of plagiarizing her work.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Ambiguously, Claudia Atieno's lover, Pavel. It is mentioned in Cassette #2 that someone anonymous started sending her pieces of dead animals after Claudia had thrown him out for the third and seemingly final time. Claudia supposedly didn't read anything threatening into it, telling Roimata that Pavel often sent her studies he made for sculptures and figured the animal parts were just that.
  • Wham Line: Cassette 9 has an extremely spoiler-y one that only makes sense in context: I didn't tell her it was low tide.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In the Sree Chrita episode, Roimata gives an extended posthumous callout to Claudia via art exhibit. Back in the 60s, Claudia copied the work in progress of a mutual friend, Vanessa Nguyen, then let everybody think Vanessa copied her, which tanked Vanessa's career. Roimata feels bad about keeping quiet for so long, and is in the anger stage of grief over Claudia's death, so she lends Vanessa's painting to the museum and has them hang it right across from Claudia's, then makes sure the audio guide explicitly says Vanessa's was painted first multiple times.

Season 3: Dictation

The third season is a political thriller set in Chicago in the 1950s and is told through the dictations of Michael Witten (Lee LeBreton), a high-ranking Society bureaucrat who becomes the target of a conspiracy by his peers.
     Tropes from Season Three 
  • Affably Evil: Michael Witten: loving spouse, supporter of labor rights and free speech, appreciator of the arts, and an occasionally bad-tempered, cutthroat Society loyalist politician.
    • According to the final reel Amy, the person behind the founding of The Institute.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: In Tape 4, Michael reminisces on when he first met his wife and remarks that a moment that particularly caught his attention was when she didn't react strangely when he identified as a man since many people still addressed him by his pre-transition name at the time.
  • Call-Forward: Cassette #9 implies that Vivienne's child was Nell, Oleta's older sister. Cassette #10 continues on to indicate that Vivienne's second child, presumably Oleta, was a difficult child and Vivienne didn't want to let her go.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Karen Roberts, another Society bureaucrat of similar rank to Michael, is a supposedly former corporate executive who, as far as Michael has been able to find out, still hasn't sold her shares in her old company, KR Development Inc., despite having a government position where she manages trade. Also, there are rumors that militias in the Central or South American region are still being supplied by weapons from her company.
  • Foreshadowing: In an early tape, Michael mentions in passing that Amy had some crafty hobby and thinks it's either pottery or woodworking. Hint: woodworking is a major part of carpentry.
  • For Want of a Nail: Invoked in Cassette #10. Michael wonders if his failure to invite Amy to dinner and get to know her is somehow responsible for her work with Vishwathi Ramadoss and Karen Roberts to found the Institute.
  • Karma Houdini: Vishwathi Ramadoss and Karen Roberts get a slap on the wrist, if that.
  • Tempting Fate: Michael hopes he never meets a child who has to spend time in the Institute. It is strongly implied that Oleta, from Season 1, is Vivienne's daughter.
  • Unfortunate Implications: In-universe. Michael points out that, given Britain has only just given up its control of Ireland, a London office shutting down a Society-critical play in Dublin on flimsy grounds doesn’t exactly look great.
  • Wham Episode: Reel 10: June 21, 1961, which reveals Michael’s secretary Amy Castillo is the founder of the Institute with the backing of Vishwathi Ramadoss and Karen Roberts, thus making them the Greater-Scope Villain of Season 1
  • Wham Line: Episode 10 which features a call forward revealing a surprise connection to Season 1: “a child is not a carpentry project you can keep carving and sanding”

Season 4: The Cradle

The fourth season is a series of tape recordings made over the course of the 1990s sent by a mother (Mona Greene) to her daughter, who is leading a family-oriented commune called "The Cradle", which was previously mentioned in Black Box and Season 3, while she is travelling the world and forging alliances.
     Tropes from Season Four 
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Season 4 ends with Freya warning Sigrid that the Hedmark Cradle is about to be raided by the IID and that they should stand their ground. The first episode of Season 5 states that no Cradle was found near Oslo, where the Hedmark Cradle is, which means Sigrid either disobeyed her mother's request, or the IID killed them and lied about it.
  • Breeding Cult: The need to wrest control of children and family life out of the hands of the Society forms the crux of the Cradle's ideology.
  • Cult of Personality: Freya, who isn't sure if she believes in religion, but is happy to use the language and techniques of faith to make her own teachings and the ideals of her community synonymous.
  • Locked Up and Left Behind: Done by Rosie to David once she realized he was the reason the men in suits kept finding them. She tied him to a tree, loosely enough that he could free himself but tightly enough that it would take some time. She's not sure if he managed to escape, or if a bear or other wild animal caught him first.
  • Starting a New Life: Crossed with Going Native. The members of the Cradle and its similar groups do this when they leave the New Society to go into the wilderness.

Season 5: Voicemail

The fifth season is a story about the romantic relationship between two women, Indra (Amiera Darwish) and Nan, starting from its cordial aftermath in 2008 and going backwards to its distrustful end to its beginnings in 1997. The story is told through answering machine messages.
     Tropes from Season Five 
  • Back to Front: Season 5 is a romance drama told this way, beginning with both parties having moved on, building to their turbulent break up, and ending with their romance's beginnings.
  • Culture Police: Many books are censored by the Society; King Lear has been edited to emphasize the horrors of what parents can turn their children into.
  • Defying the Censors: Indra's group puts on a version of King Lear that includes parts not in the edited version made available by the Society.
  • Futureshadowing:
    • By the reversed temporal order of the episodes, there's a lot of foreshadowing of the final reveal, including Nan working with the unpleasant dogs, Indra jokingly suggesting that Nan's an agent sent to spy on them, and Nan having a watch with the initials G.N. on it.
    • To a lesser degree, in the first episode Indra talks about the awful poetry she read to Nan's answering machine on the day they met. The last episode provides it.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: Invoked Trope in its aversion. Gwen Nettles investigates Gorgeous Watkins and recommends against taking action against them, comparing them to an older group from 1983 whose closure brought them wider fame and caused further uprest.
  • Opposites Attract: Indra and Nan, as Indra is an emotional, artistic rebel while Nan, based on Indra's descriptions, is more level headed and straight-laced. Reflected in their careers as well, as Indra was part of a Society critical theater troupe while Nan was a government employee.
  • Running Gag: All of Nan's male coworkers that Indra meets are named David. In the last episode, we find out that Nancy and David are the standard aliases of undercover IID agents.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: Gwen Nettles, the secondary narrator, is revealed to be the same person as Nan, the listener for the season and Indra's ex-girlfriend, having taken the name as an alias when spying on Indra's theatre troupe
  • Working with the Ex: Indra and Chunhua dated for a while; it's implied that Indra broke up with Chunhua to date Nan. Occasionally issues between them flare up. Chunhua eventually won awards for a poem she wrote about the relationship, "Rainbow Dust".

Season 6: Caregiver

The sixth season tells a ghost story through the treatment journals of an in-home nurse whose patient is an elderly woman living in rural Ireland in the 1970s and who was born before the Society came to be.
     Tropes from Season Six 
  • Alien Geometries: The connections between Grainne's house and the rest of the world take a greater or lesser amount of time to travel, for no readily apparent reason. Driving to town takes twenty minutes; driving back takes hours.
  • All Just a Dream: Cliodhna dreams many things that seem to become real, such as the broken window. In the end, though, many of her dreams were just that - dreams that she'd built up from the pieces of Grainne's past that she'd found.
  • But You Were There, and You, and You: Cliodhna has a dream that Grainne shows up in, and another that Grainne's brother (as a child) shows up in.
  • Call-Back: In episode 5, Cliodhna discusses the idea of meeting up with a relative unaware, and how there may be some unexpected connection. This is pretty much exactly what happened in the backstory of Season 1.
  • Crashing Dreams: Cliodhna is woken out of oversleeping by dream-Grainne asking her, "Are you dead?" which is what the real-life Grainne is shouting up the stairs at her.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Phone lines to Grainne's house are taken down by a storm that, according to the people in town, didn't happen. They're then mysteriously restored in episode 9.
  • The Fair Folk: Many of the things Cliodhna encounters fit the stories of faerie, including roads that take different amounts of time, visions of elegant parties, and paths to faerie mounds. Grainne more or less confirms at the end that that's what's going on.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Subverted. Cliodhna comes to believe from her dreams that Oisin was Grainne's love child, raised as a sibling, who then drowned. He wasn't; he was just a younger sibling who died in the Reckoning. The boy who drowned was Ronan, Grainne's older brother, when Grainne was just a few years old.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Siobhan wouldn't go camping with Cliodhna because she's terrified of snakes. There are no snakes in Ireland. Cliodhna eventually realizes that it was just that Siobhan didn't want to go camping with her.
  • Madness Mantra: Cliodhna, at the end of episode 8, is chanting, "The boy is below" and "He's in the garden."
  • My Car Hates Me: When Cliodhna tries to flee the house in episode 9, her car doesn't start.
  • You Can See That, Right?: Cliodhna keeps asking Grainne about the voices she's hearing, and mostly gets non-committal answers.

Season 7: Scavenger Hunt

The seventh season is a series of cassettes sent to a woman named Anita by Elena Jimenez, the dying wife of Anita's late mother, Rose Torres. Elena is sending Anita on a scavenger hunt to places she and Rose loved to try to connect with the daughter that they never got to know.
     Tropes from Season Seven 
  • Call-Back: Siouxsie and the Banshees is mentioned again, this time as having performed at the White Cat.
  • Gene Hunting: Inverted. Elena is trying to reconnect with the daughter that Rose was forced to give up. Rose forgot her because of the Laser-Guided Amnesia, but Elena didn't, and spent the rest of her life wondering about her.
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople): When it declared independence from the British Empire late in the Great Reckoning, New Zealand retook the Maori name Aoteroa, along with Maori names for the island and cities such as Tāmaki Makaurau (formerly Auckland).
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: After Rose gave birth to Anita, everything involving Anita was wiped from her memory. Elena still remembered, however.
    Rose's memories were removed or hidden, or whatever happens in those sessions. But I didn't go through the sessions. I remembered, and I was always happy to know that her Anita was out there somewhere.
  • Loophole Abuse: Elena knows that it would have been forbidden for Anita and Rose to get to know each other while Rose was alive. However, Rose is dead, Elena is not technically related to Anita, and Elena is about to die. Even so, she understands that what she's doing is skirting the edges of the law and makes sure she tells Anita that she's free to just walk away from all of this if she wants to.
  • Named After Someone Famous: Elena thinks that Kirana's dog was named "Nora" after Nora Bostwick, the society council member who fought for all citizens to get travel credits, in an attempt to help people meet people from elsewhere.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Anita was the result of a one night stand that Rose had during a heat wave in Jakarta.
  • Show Within a Show: Not seen, but Elena spends a chunk of episode 4 discussing a movie she really loved, To Know The Truth starring James Caan and Rebecca Sergent.
  • Stalker Without A Crush: Elena has been observing Anita ever since she recognized her.
  • Suddenly Significant City: The Capital Hub of the Society appears to move every twenty years. Up until 1994 it was Mexico City; Jakarta was under discussion to follow, but it ended up going to Oslo instead. It will apparently move again in 2014.
  • Theseus' Ship Paradox: Discussed in episode 2, when Elena talks about just what it means for a business to be established in 1892 when it has moved twice (from Prague to New York to Miami) and is no longer owned by the original family because there is no longer such a thing as a family.
  • Western Zodiac:
    • Elena discusses the star signs of herself (Gemini with Virgo Rising), Rose (Libra), and Anita (Pisces), and seems to believe in their meanings.
      "Don't date Geminis. That's really all I'm getting at."
    • Later, in the movie described in episode 4, the victims of the serial killer all had the same planetary alignments in their zodiac charts.
  • Wham Line: "She was your mother."

Black Box

Black Box was a special season for Patreon subscribers, including flight-recorder tapes from a cargo pilot (voiced by Cranor) carrying unregistered passengers. Black Box ran for ten episodes, with new episodes coming out on solstices and equinoxes.
     Tropes from Black Box 
  • Ambiguous Ending: The pilot has been reunited with Sam, and he's letting her decide whether they register her with the Society or strike out on their own. Her decision is unstated.
  • Human Mail: How the passenger gets off, and then back on, the plane in Cassette 1: PHL to PWM: by hiding in a box that is delivered to the pilot's friend, and then by hiding in a box that is put on the next plane.
  • I Know You Know I Know: In episode 6, the pilot mentions that his contact told him that the Institute's people are posting "missing person" posters in areas where they don't think their target is, in an attempt to lull them into a false sense of security.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The pilot's efforts to see his wife and child end up causing an IID raid on their commune.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Episode 4 mentions the pilot and his passenger getting into a car chase with the men in suits, who shot at them and (barely) hit the pilot's shoulder. No other information about it is given.
    • Exactly what happened to the commune in Episode 10 is unstated.
  • Open Mouth, Insert Foot: The pilot is extremely prone to this, frequently making awkward comparisons and comments that he then regrets and apologizes for. (For example, comparing his passenger to a sick dog in Episode 5.)
  • Surrogate Soliloquy: Episodes 5 and 6 are the pilot talking into the microphone as if he were talking to Hester, but he lost track of her in Atlanta and has no idea where she is.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: "I'm not nervous, I know I have no reason to be nervous..."
  • Trust Password: The pilot tries to use several on his flyers to find his passenger again, promising a flight to Santiago (where they'd fly to meet up with a ship to Sydney) with offer code "Press the orange button", which his passenger could use to talk back to him.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Episode 4 features a plan for how the passenger is going to get to Sydney, with the pilot arranging to fly to Santiago and take a bus to a ship going to their destination. Episode 5 shows that the plan completely failed.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: Disguised as "missing person" posters; the pilot discusses finding posters claiming that his passenger is missing and has been kidnapped. The pilot tears down the posters whenever he sees them.
  • Wham Line:
    • At the end of Episode 5, the pilot says, "I wish I had found you."
    • Early in Episode 7, when the pilot refers to his passenger as Ms. Roberts.
    • Early in Episode 8, when the pilot refers to "your dog", indicating that his passenger is one of the men in suits.
    • In Episode 10, "It's Sam. It's all my fault.". And, then, "The control tower radioed in to say that there was an urgent message, that my wife had been in an accident."

End Side B. [ding] [click]

And now, our time is done. It's you time now. Time to edit a page about DYSTOPIAN ALTERNATE UNIVERSES, clean up some wicks to NINETEEN-EIGHTIES BOY BANDS, and start a YKKTW about DISTORTED AUTOMATED VOICES.