We talk a lot about peak TV. There’s simply too much good TV and not enough time. What we don’t talk about is peak podcast. And we are most certainly experiencing peak podcast. With so many utterly incredible and must-listen shows, you’re bound to miss most of them. In many ways, it’s far more so than with television. By the nature of their format, podcasts require more than idyll attention. But when the circumstances align, there’s nothing better than a good podcast binge.
And Tanis has been one of the best binge sessions ever.
I got into The Black Tapes podcast a bit later than others, and man I wish I’d started earlier. I absolutely and completely adore The Black Tapes and am hugely invested in the characters and plot. It’s like a darkly wonderful TV show. Tanis, also part of the Pacific Northwest Stories world executive produced by Terry Miles and Paul Bae, is a bit different.
If Black Tapes is my favorite TV show, Tanis is the best novel I’ve ever read.
The two podcasts have the same level of intensity, of deep and richly crafted world surrounding mystery and conspiracy. Tanis, like the Black Tapes, is ostensibly a Serial-type show from Pacific Northwest Stories, a Seattle-based digital radio producer. Hosted by Nic Silver, the producer from Black Tapes (voiced by Miles, who also created and produces, though the creators have not confirmed this in an effort to keep the illusion of reality), Tanis is an investigation of a mythical and ancient…thing. “It’s hard to explain” and “it’s complicated” are two very frequently used lines and for good reason. Tanis is, depending on who you ask, a cabin, a region in the woods of Washington state, possibly God, maybe a cat, we don’t really know. What starts as an investigation into a Lovecraftian short story turns into a worldwide conspiracy with ties to cults, massive corporations and the government. It’s endlessly fascinating, super spooky and utterly compelling, though for me, what makes Tanis so special is the literary component. The writing of this show and the writings within the story are spectacular, beautiful and haunting.
Here is a passage that has most stayed with me (no spoilers, but it is hugely important to the podcast):
She’s taken our names. We’re not allowed to use them here. Apparently, she believes they have some kind of strange, arcane power or something. She told us that names begin to lose their meaning where we’re going. If we focus on something else, an occupation or label, we’ll have a better chance of remembering, of maintaining our connection to each other and ourselves. An occupation can be remembered, she told us, a name will be lost. The same way you lose the meaning of a word sometimes. You stare and stare, but you find you’ve lost the meaning. It’s like you’ve never seen those letters together in that order before, that’s how you’ll begin to feel about the names. And eventually, the others in your group. You’ll begin to mistrust them, and it is in this way that things will begin to fall apart. So, there will be no names. You are the novelist, you are the zealot, you are the witness. And I am the runner. That is all. I lead, you follow. Nobody steps ahead of me, for any reason, ever. You do what I do. You go where I go. The way is complicated, there are no straight lines. There will be waiting. There will be entire days where we might only walk a half-mile or less. You’re going to have to trust me. We’ll sleep here tonight. Tomorrow things are going to change. Good night.
If you like mystery, conspiracy, acerbic hackers, creepy cults, cryptic businessmen and the general sense that the woods is a goddamn nightmare and we should not be messing around in there, then give yourself over to the first two seasons of Tanis. You will not regret it.