A few weeks ago, the final episode of Rabbits dropped, leaving satisfied and frustrated listeners in its wake. The third podcast from the creator behind Tanis and The Black Tapes, Rabbits traced the story of Carly Parker, a journalist and classic video game enthusiast, as she searched for her missing best friend.
Like other Pacific Northwest Stories podcasts, Rabbits threaded ambiguous plot events through a mystery with science fiction dimensions.
In short: Carly’s friend, Yumiko Takata, vanishes while reporting on–and possibly playing–an obscure live action multiplayer game that draws players into its web through complicated coded messages and mesmerizing videos.
In longer terms: Through the course of her investigation, Carly’s path veers through off-beat video game parlors and into the offices of powerful men, to libraries and into her own deeply suppressed memories. Early on, she is approached by a man calling himself Jones, who seems to hold some uncanny keys to her own family’s past–and perhaps even to alternate dimensions.
Rabbits scratches the same itch as Fringe, The X Files movies, and Gattaca. Though its imperfections are clear in hindsight, the story’s momentum pulls listeners through scenes that are often striking in their visual descriptions. From coded messages hidden in bathroom stalls, Easter eggs in vintage arcade games, hotel rooms, ferries, and lighthouses, Carly’s journey takes her on a satisfying tour through an imagined underside of Seattle.
The kaleidoscopic structure of each episode also kept me hooked in. A few exposition-heavy middle episodes aside, each episode unfurls new details in the same structure Tanis makes good use of: Clues are teased and briefly abandoned in favor of seemingly more urgent information, allowing the mystery to run on a few different tracks simultaneously. Although Rabbits’ small cast doesn’t quite allow this structural trick to simulate the real lags reporters experience (the way it does in The Black Tapes), it’s still an effective storytelling device.
As much as I enjoyed Rabbits, I was left was three nagging thoughts. The first is somewhat superficial, but an issue I’ve come across in other PNS podcasts: Carly is not a particularly intrepid journalist. She goes into interviews unfocused and unprepared, and she’s prone to emotional outbursts that torpedo her chances of obtaining any useful information.
Like Tanis’ Nic, she leans heavily on a source who approaches her and quickly becomes her guide; which isn’t a bad reporting strategy in and of itself, as long as it’s paired with critical thought and healthy skepticism. Although The Black Tapes’ Alex is no Maggie Haberman, her story develops into a surprising and unsettling spin on a classic unreliable narrator. At the least, Rabbits would have benefited from updates on Carly’s private thoughts or reflections on the events and characters that surrounded her.
At times, Rabbits also struggles to deliver believable dialogue. Inexplicably, one of the most awkward and wooden exchanges is included in the opening sequence of every episode. “Are we still going to have sex?” a would-be john asks. With all the emotion of someone ordering takeout, Carly replies, “I’m afraid not.”
I’m not sure what the solution to awkward dialogue is, and as someone who writes nonfiction exclusively, I certainly couldn’t do any better. But for me, authentic dialogue in audio fiction often lies outside the lines of a script, in the breaths and pregnant pauses and messy crosstalk that define real conversation. A podcast full of the misunderstandings and inattention and filler words that fill my recorded interviews wouldn’t be much fun to listen to, but a light sprinkling of these kinds of imperfections could have leant much- needed authenticity to Rabbits’ dialogue.
The last issue I took with Rabbits is more of a compliment, and a lament that also applies to watching television shows as episodes are gradually released. Rabbits dropped on a biweekly schedule, leaving long lapses between episodes, and with time I found it difficult to track the intricacies of the plot. I caught onto The Black Tapes and Tanis well into their respective runs, allowing me to binge the early seasons on road trips and weekends.
Rabbits attempted to solve this by releasing mini episodes with bonus content, but I felt too silly listening to Q&As for a fictional podcast, so I skipped most of them. In an age of binge watching (Netflix) and listening (S-Town), this could be a personal failing that reveals more about my own patience and memory. But I’d be curious to know whether PNS has considered dropping an entire show at once, or whether the show is tweaked in response to listener feedback each week.
I won’t review the ending, which inspired robust debate, in full, but suffice to say that loose ends are tied up neatly and the smallest window was left open to the possibility of a second season, which would likely serve only to undermine the show’s current symmetry. Instead, I’ll ask a more immediate question: Did Rabbits entertain me?
The answer is a definite yes.