Podcasts are a great modern media for storytelling. I’m actually looking to get into the business myself. But until that day comes, let’s pause and have a moment to enjoy a nice science fiction series about the good folks crewing a space station in Wolf 359.
The story takes place on the space station Hephaestus, set in orbit around a red dwarf star designated Wolf 359. Doug Eiffel, our narrator and protagonist, is the lowly Communications Officer assigned to the station against his will. He attempts to pass his shifts with tons of pop culture references and a constant sweep of the outlying star systems for radio chatter (and possible signs of extraterrestrials). Meanwhile, Eiffel contends with the tough Commander Renee Minkowski and the elusive Dr. Alexander Hilbert, whose lives he sometimes complicates with his lack of professional standards. Eiffel finds solace in his chats with the station’s artificial intelligence, Hera, and occasionally he proves useful whenever a crisis hits the station. Which is often.
It’s easy to see the reusable dynamic between our main cast members. Doug Eiffel plays the snarky, down-on-his-luck protagonist, sometimes by his own schemes and sometimes not. Commander Minkowski is the straight man to Doug’s antics, no-nonsense about each job, but also carrying a heart of gold for everyone on board. Dr. Hilbert varies between eccentric in his mad scientist stereotype (complete with wacky Russian accent!) and downright threatening when the plot kicks in. And Hera, the station’s AI, is ever cheerful and happy to serve… except when she’s not and something is going horribly wrong. Which, again, is often.
I realize that some listeners got tired very quick of this gimmick, and I can see why. I mean, it is a gimmick. In my opinion, it still works for the show. These common roles are good at both comedic and dramatic moments, whether to set up a running gag or to play out the tension of the latest crisis. Much like Welcome to Night Vale, Wolf 359 has several small narrative arcs that serve to deepen the ongoing danger of the environment, without losing too much of the original humor and charm that attracts its audience.
Sure, sometimes the conflicts feel as though they’re setting up for a very obvious resolution. And sometimes they’re not, with plenty of curious twists and upsets. I do think, though, that some of the show’s deeper moments aren’t so much about Doug or Minkowski or Hilbert (the human characters) as they are about Hera (the AI). Her shifts in tone and her evolving personality quirks have yielded some of the most nerve-wracking tension in the entire series, and remember, this is a podcast that features a space station that’s frequently lost orbit and almost fallen into a red dwarf star. Hera’s storylines owe a lot to the writers’ talent and to Michaela Swee’s acting.
I know that Wolf 359 doesn’t have quite the small town horror that a popular podcast like The Black Tapes or Kings Fall AM has, but it does have a charm unto itself. It’s equal parts comedic and tragic, and it never fails to leave me smiling.
Bibliography: Wolf 359 (podcast). Created by Gabriel Urbina. Written by Gabriel Urbina and Sarah Shachat. Produced by Gabriel Urbina and Zach Valenti. Perf. Zach Valenti, Emma Sherr-Ziarko, Michaela Swee, Cecilia Lynn-Jacobs, Zach Libresco, Noah Masur, Michelle Agresti, Scotty Shoemaker, and Ariela Rotenberg. Music by Alan Rodi. Kinda Evil Genius Productions. Broadcast: