Night Vale Nightmares #5: [Best of?]Books/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,News Christopher La Vigna
“The Sun is actually cold! It’s cold and empty, and all is lost! Greetings from Night Vale,” chimes a voice that is instantly recognizable as James Urbaniak, the VENTURE BROS. alum playing the part of senior Night Vale radio personality Leonard Burton as he dives us right into a clip show consisting entirely of clips we’ve never heard before. And as a result, we get a fascinating glimpse of Night Vale’s ancient and mysterious history. I do remember writing in the last review that I expected another interesting format tweak, and “[Best of?]” definitely lives up to those expectations.
Of course, we still get to hear the voice of our beloved Cecil even as he’s off in the dog park, but it’s a younger, greener Cecil, even if he’s just a lowly intern. And in all of his jubilation to be behind the mic, we learn so many off-putting things about the mysterious desert town of Night Vale, and that’s really saying something.
According to some of the earlier clips featured, Night Vale was first established some time in the 1930’s. While there’s nothing amazing about that, what is daunting is that Cecil was apparently there to report it. Also, Lee Marvin was one of the settlers, and he has a third eye and a soft meat crown on his head. Wrap your mind around that image for a while. Cecil Baldwin’s voice acting is impressive here(as per usual), and he truly manages to sound significantly younger beyond his years; the slightly increased nasality of his voice making a character defined by his charm and peppiness seem even more charming, peppy, and youthful. It’s almost as though Cecil hasn’t changed at all…
Mr. Burton certainly would want things to remain unchanged. “The Sun has moved in the sky and I distrust it completely,” Burton plainly states early on, apropos of nothing. Urbaniak’s clipped, dry delivery gives his character an air of old-school authority, like a revived relic of broadcasting titans from yesteryear, a concept that is bore out by the episode’s haunting final news clip from Cecil. His resolute fear provides “[Best of?]” with a strong thematic core: Change is terrifying, but no change at all is a unique kind of horror all its own.
Consider the fact that Christianity’s depiction of Hell is an everlasting lake of fire. Should you sin your way into that infamous sulfur pit, the most frightening aspect of it as that you will remain there for all time, never being able to move, never progressing, never getting used to the sting of the fire or the grotesque faces of the unholy beasts surrounding you. It will be nothing more than eternal pain.
This too is the nature of Night Vale. One can never be fully accustomed to a town where feral dogs can randomly appear, wheat byproducts can maliciously kill you, and librarians are mutated, harpy-like creatures that will gut you as soon as they’d show you where the nonfiction section is. Those unlucky enough to find themselves in that desert community can only submit to its unrelenting evil.
“I truly wish for stasis,” mumbles the ghost of a man whose yearnings for the “sparklingly clean 30’s” is completely mismatched with the realities of what 1930’s America was actually like. You could simply acknowledge Leonard and Cecil’s mentions of “champagne filled swimming pools” and “hundred dollar bills stuffed with shredded twenty dollar bills” smoked like cigars as hallmarks of an alternate history (and in a podcast that makes regular use of interdimensional hijinks, this is completely understandable interpretation), but it’s equally likely that they stand as hints of wildly unchecked nostalgia, another enemy of progress. Praise of the “good old days” often does little than obscure the shortcomings of an era, shortchanging one’s sense of history and dooming them to repeat it.
Though Cecil has clearly been trapped in Night Vale’s loop for some time, recent developments in the series have given listeners hope that his love for Carlos as well as the growing autonomy and agency that it has given him will help him prevail. Leonard, however, has nowhere to go, and therefore is free to fear change and embrace immobility because he’s been dead the whole time! So Cranor and Fink can indulge in their patented brand of supernatural nihilism as they force a character to quietly accept his own death. To hear Cecil undergo such a thing would mean total heartbreak and demoralization for the fans, but for it to happen to Leonard though? Eh, that’s what happens when you live in Night Vale.
Hope your vacation’s going well Cecil. But you’ll need to get back soon. The spirits seem to be getting… especially restless these days…