I feel like I spent the entirety of this summer with headphones in, alternating between music and fiction podcasts. One favorite in the latter category was Wolf 359, which I can only describe as part workplace comedy, part high stakes action-adventure, and part philosophical Star Trek episode. Mid-way through August I ended up binging a large chunk of the show on a pair of seven-hour drives between Denver and Santa Fe. I spent most of the trip zoned out, eating gummy bears and staring out onto the hybrid prairie-desert-mountain landscape, with my mind orbiting a distant star.
Wolf 359 uses music as a major plot element, but for most of the series it is purely instrumental. The only exception is Paradise Valley. It’s featured in a flashback episode, during a rare quiet scene for the badass, action first character. She is on a solitary spacewalk, floating in a sea of stars. The song is beautiful on its own, it struck me instantly as something I needed to hear again. But it takes on an exceptionally emotional dimension in the narrative of this little space drama. The naturalistic, folksy vibe sharply contrasts the stark, man-made space station. The imagery of a force of nature feigning control but ultimately constrained is a perfect fit for the character it is presenting. The shift of a soft, rising tension in the drums and background vocals indicates the horrible, existential dangers that underlie the entire episode. It never shifts tone entirely, especially when the singer, Jess Best, maintains a fittingly honey-sweet tone throughout. But through the lyrics and the subtle increasing intensity it becomes clear that the peace only exists because things have already gone very wrong. The final, understated plea, “Could you just let me out?” drives home the desperation beneath the surface.
In that moment I felt just as captive, desperately homesick for Earth and aching for its natural glory. This was a pretty strange sentiment considering I was staring directly at it, weaving between pine-covered mesas near the Colorado border. That’s the magic of great storytelling. Whether in music, film, literature, or podcasts, we exchange experiences and emotions so powerful that they defy our own realities. In the quiet moment in that car ride after the episode ended, I made myself promise to keep trying to capture that magic.
(Song recommendation by Brianna Suazo)