GONE Episode 1: Awakening

Okay. Um. God, you know what, I don’t even fucking know where to start. Okay, I guess the beginning then. I woke up and everyone’s gone. Like, everyone. I mean, I guess I-I haven’t been everywhere in the world. I’ve been a few blocks around the house, but, um. I mean, there’s nobody here.
I don’t even fucking know why I’m doing this.

Awakening is the first proper episode of GONE, and I believe chronologically the first part of the narrative, as the teaser seems to be being relayed from some point after this.

My posts on this blog are going to be spoilery (obviously) so I’m going to put the meat of them under a Read More cut. Once you’ve listened to the episode (if that’s your thing), then… proceed past the jump.

So, the episode opens with a smattering of clattering sounds and the quote at the top of this post.

The initial narration is almost apologetic in its attempts to explain itself. This is one of the real touchstones of reality in GONE: the Narrator second-guesses herself in a way that makes it clear she’s used to doing that, and to justifying herself, apologizing for herself. Perhaps a lot of the audience can relate to this.

The conceit of the series is that we’re listening to recordings made by a woman who has no reason to expect anyone will listen to them. She knows this, and she feels compelled to explain (to no one) why she’s doing what she’s doing. She compares it to the cliche of found-footage horror movies, for which she admits a fondness.

Perhaps it’s necessary to hang a lampshade on the trope, but the device works. We the audience can understand both her need to have ~*somebody*~ to talk to, something to act as a sounding board for her thoughts… and her need to talk through her embarrassment over it.

I guess if this is a narrative I should tell it like a narrative.

In short order, the Narrator relays the situation as she understands it: she woke up alone in an empty house, which was not weird at all, but then realized her wife had not taken the car to work. There’s a good use of the sort of widening scope of the horror as she notices one wrong thing, and then another. She can’t get a hold of her wife. She can’t get a hold of anyone.

Nobody’s on Gchat. Nobody’s on Gchat. That never happens. That never fucking happens.

The early indications of wrongness are mundane and explicable, if odd. One person not responding to a message can be handwaved away. So can another. In fact, there’s no solid upper bound on the number of people who can be out of contact with you before you conclude that the world is broken.

And that’s one of the central conflicts that drives this first episode: any of the things the narrator encounters, alone, could be explained away. Each one piled on top of the other makes the whole less likely. At what point does the improbable become the impossible?

Her wife is gone. The car’s still there. No one’s contacted her. No one is reachable. She goes outside; the world is quiet. Everyone’s gone.

One of the things that Sunny Moraine is really good at, as a storyteller, is telling you what things are like. What experiences are like. I once described their work to them as “experiential monologues”; they break down subjective experiences, qualia, and feed them to the audience.

There’s a sci-fi trope of virtual reality movies called “feelies” or “sensies” that let you experience what the viewpoint character experiences, whether it’s sex or death or fear or pain or just a good meal.

Moraine’s writing is like the analog version of that, focused on emotions and states of being. A good example of this is when the Narrator is telling us about the experience of the empty world; she compares it to being in a house that’s too quiet because the power has gone out. There’s no fridge humming, no TV, no computer, no fans, etc., and in the vacuum left behind by all the expected sounds it’s just too quiet, unsettlingly so.

It’s so quiet you can hear your blood in your ears.

The Narrator quickly tells us that the world outside her empty house isn’t actually that quiet. There’s wind and birds and such. But it’s like that. There are expected sounds and they’re not found. Error 404 — background noise not found.

You hear traffic noise all the time, even if you don’t know you’re hearing it, and there was nothing.

She acknowledges that she didn’t investigate farther at this point, listing off all the things she could have done, like walking to a store, knocking on doors, etc. And she berates herself for not having done so, for having retreated back to the house when she could be wrong, when she’s probably wrong.

I think this is more than just the apologetic tendency I referenced above. It’s one of the things that rings very true about the character of the Narrator to me.

There was a short horror film that went around the internets a while back called Lights Out. It was eventually adapted into (in my opinion) an inferior feature length movie, inferior because it diluted what made the original so scary.

Anyway, the short film opened with the protagonist getting ready to go to bed. She was turning off the lights in her apartment, and when she turned off the hall light… there was a shadow there, like a person standing in the darkness. Motionless. Waiting. She turned it on, and it was gone. She turned it off, and it was there. She turned it on, and it was gone.

Then she turned it off, and it was gone, and that was the jump scare. She yelped.

When it happened, there was a lot of the predictable chatter about “Why did she sit there playing with the light switch? Why didn’t she leave the first time she saw something clearly supernatural?”

But how often do we really think about the dynamics of light and shadow in our space? How sure would you be, could you be, in the moment, that what you were seeing was impossible and inexplicable? That’s why it was scary when the figure didn’t appear — it proved that it wasn’t just part of the darkscape of the hallway she’d never noticed before.

If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we all see and hear impossible things on a regular basis. Not all the time, but often enough for it to be a thing. We do this because human perception is fallible, because our field of perception is being constructed on our fly through extrapolating multiple sources of information and drawing inferences, some of which are faulty. We see and hear things that are impossible and we mostly shrug them off because they’re impossible.

If I had been in Lights Out, I think I would have behaved much like the protagonist did… first probing the unusual phenomenon, then trying to ignore or avoid it. Because I would probably be wrong. But I would also be terrified. Because I would have seen what I’d seen, perceived what I’d perceived.

Like, there was a five, six year span of my life where seeing demons standing at the foot of my bed or hearing them prowling around just outside the door was normal. It’s called sleep paralysis. When the parts of your brain that register fear and *presence* are activated, your brain fills in the gaps and gives you a presence to fear. If I had run screaming out of every house where I saw something impossible and clearly evil, I probably would have been institutionalized.

But I digress.

And the worst part of being scared like this is you don’t even know why. You just know that something’s really, really wrong.

So this is where we find the Narrator at the opening of Episode 1. She has found out her wife is missing, maybe everyone is missing, no one’s answering her anywhere, and she’s been outside, and ran back inside in fear of the silence and started recording, for lack of having anyone to talk to.

Having talked out her thoughts and experiences, she resolves to test the situation further by exhausting her contact list and then maybe going outside, suggesting optimistically that she’ll hopefully not be back (because if she finds someone, anyone, then she can delete this recording and forget she ever made it), but she ends the segment with “BRB”.

…I’m not going to list everything, but I fucking called everybody, and there’s nobody there.

The Narrator returns after having walked around some more, checked the nearby convenience store and post office, and tried to get in touch with more people.

This segment of the episode is part of why I find the Narrator so scarily relatable, as she in a moment of slightly defensive vulnerability relates the reason she’s been limiting her excursions into the empty world to foot travels: she can’t drive, she’s never learned, and she doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but it is what it is.

This is the point where I imagine a certain class of listener would feel a jarring disconnect at what he (he’s probably a he) would call a “contrived coincidence”. As someone who doesn’t drive… I don’t. I don’t find it jarring when the viewpoint character of a work of fiction can drive even though I can’t, either. But I certainly don’t find it weird when someone else can’t drive.

Adult people in the U.S. who don’t know how to drive might be the exception, but we’re not abnormal. We’re not rare. We’re not a weird anomaly that requires explanation.

 

I feel like such shit about the stuff that I could be doing that I’m probably not doing, but I’m doing what I feel like I can do, and I did everything that I feel like I could have done, and there’s nobody there… there’s nobody there.

Even after this, though, the Narrator is still telling herself that she’s probably wrong, everything’s probably okay, or at least not as bad as it seems. She soothes herself by reminding herself that she has Xanax, though she’s not taking it yet. She decides to get her thoughts in order by relating them again, a little more orderly, to the microphone.

All the stores are closed, the school is closed. The radio is picking up nothing. The TV is showing some programming, but there’s no news. The internet is there, but there’s nothing on social media past a certain point.

That point is 12:01 am — one minute past midnight. (Now my blog title makes sense!)

That’s my timestamp. Whatever happened, happened then. That’s really hard to say, because I’m saying “whatever happened”, because something clearly happened.

This is the point where the Narrator is accepting that something did happen. She’s learned nothing new since the last time she said she’s probably wrong, but saying it like this is acknowledging that something happened, a definite event at a particular time.

But knowing that something happened doesn’t tell her what it was, and it doesn’t tell her what to do next.

I don’t know what I do now. Like, I have no plan for this. You know, you can, you can sort of make a plan for something like an earthquake. Yeah, you can sort of be like, okay, what would I do if there was a tornado? If there was a flood, what would I do?

You can think of any kind of natural disaster, and think about… fuck, if there was like an alien invasion, you can sort of… like a zombie apocalypse, you can kind of imagine what you would do, like there’s a plan. Like, you know, you’d find the most defensible part of the house, you’d get weapons, if you need weapons. A flood, get to higher ground. An earthquake, stand in the doorway, or whatever shit you do.

There’s a plan. You can imagine a situation and you can put yourself in that situation and you at least have some kind of, even if it ends up being a terrible idea, you have some kind of idea of what it is that you do next. And something happened last night, and I don’t know what it was. But something happened and I have to figure out what to do next, and I have never put myself in this situation so I have no idea what the move is.

She rejects the idea that there’s anything special about her to be the only one left, asking why would she be the only one here when nothing else has changed. Which again I think cuts to the central question of GONE: who left whom? Or in the phrasing here, whatever happened… did it happen to her, or to everybody else?

And the logic of the situation is that it’s more likely to have happened to her. Random or deliberately, one person getting hit by a falling rock makes more sense than everybody in the world getting hit by a rock except for one. No matter who that person is. It’s easier to achieve it by design, and more likely to occur by random chance.

That’s my take on it. The Narrator leaves us briefly at about the halfway mark of the episode, to “sit in a dark room and figure it out, if there’s anything to be figured out.”

Maybe if I wait, everything will go back to normal.

That relatable content.

When the Narrator returns, she admits she had a thought that she thought was too stupid to share, but muses that maybe she’s in a “post-stupid” world. She throws out the notion of the Rapture; “it’s a thing, I guess.”

She acknowledges that it’s an explanation, but doesn’t think it can be the explanation. Her experience doesn’t match her understanding of the Rapture via Left Behind series, but also, it doesn’t seem like anything happened suddenly. Nobody left in the middle of something; no car crashes, no fires, nothing out of place. The world didn’t stop at 12:01. It’s more like nothing had started.

It looks like a reset, some kind of a reset happened. Nothing was moving when it happened, everything just kind of went back to a point.

And then she comes to the point where the Rapture theory falls apart, which is the same basic conundrum: why her? Why only her?

I’m pretty sure there are some heathens in this neighborhood, and I’ll tell you right now, my wife’s one of them.

At this point in the series, it’s more weird than scary for the audience. We’re learning things. The Narrator is trying to figure out what happened but has not been living in the “post-stupid world” long enough for it to seem foolish to hope that this all might be explained away, or temporary.

Admitting that the Rapture is her only cultural touchstone for her situation but then admitting that it does not work marks a sort of transition from “I don’t know what’s going on” to “I have no way of knowing what’s going on.” It’s the recognition of an “outside-context problem“.

“That’s all I’ve got,” she says, and then kind of trails off.

When the recording picks up again, the insects singing in the background let us know that night has fallen, or is falling.

It’s… God, I’m looking at the screen and it’s like I can’t even process the numbers. It’s a little after eight. The sun’s going down. It’s summer, so, you know, I’ve got these nice long days.

She then asks the listener if we know what’s weird, and then answers. It’s not everything. The thing that’s weird to her is that she’s explaining things to the recording, as if there is someone listening and as if this person needs things spelled out.

As rhetorical devices go, this and the speech about found footage at the beginning aren’t quite hanging a lampshade on the trope. It’s more like just dealing with it and moving on. And I think it works because it’s believable. The Narrator is a believable rambler, which makes her relatable.

She is explaining, and then explaining that she’s explaining, because she feels self-conscious talking to a recording device at the apparent end of the world, or the end of her world.

But even while she’s acknowledging the ludicrous situation, she still personifies her audience as “whoever is listening to this”, even though there is no one listening.

So, the sun is going down and the streetlights are coming on, which gets her thinking about infrastructure and disasters. The power going out, she points out, is “how you know things are fucked up” in a disaster.

And maybe for a few moments, this was enough to convince her that the world was right. She doesn’t come out and say that, but she does admit after the fact that she got excited when she saw lights on in other houses, though she quickly clarifies that it only seemed to be automatic lights.

If not for the fact that everybody is gone I could be sitting her on any normal day and… I would have everything I normally have. Like, nothing is weird except that one thing.

That one thing being everybody in the entire world being gone. Which is one thing, but it’s a big thing, and it’s apparently everywhere.

The power is not out. She does not have enough information about electrical or civic engineering to know if it should be or not, or how long she can expect this to persist… what maintenance is needed, what happens if it doesn’t get it.

She doesn’t know.

It just doesn’t map to her expectations.

I’m all by myself. And… I don’t do well by myself, most of the time.

This is where Moraine comes into their biggest strength, as a storyteller in both the senses of writer and orator, and that is writing the ineffable qualitative experience in a way that’s… effable.

“I feel like I can’t see,” the Narrator says, after having told us that the lights are on. It’s not that she can’t see, but it’s like that.

And, it’s like… I feel like I’m… I feel like I can’t see. You know? I think it’s… you don’t really realize until you don’t have it, I guess maybe even for a few hours, maybe it’s just that I didn’t mean to do this and maybe it’s just that I’m not used to it, but, you depend so much on other people to understand what it is that you’re seeing.

I didn’t really realize that until now, but I… I… I gauge the reality of so much of what I’m around all the time because of the feedback that I’m getting from other people who are in it with me, and I don’t have that feedback anymore, so… all I’ve got is me.

And I don’t know, I guess I don’t really trust me.

I guess I don’t trust anything right now.

Do you know how fucking terrifying that is?

And this is the part where GONE really starts to grapple with the big, scary questions. The existential equivalent of “Is everybody seeing the same color when they look at something that’s red?”

Everything the Narrator is saying makes sense to her, in the context of a world that makes no sense, but she doesn’t have anyone to nod along and say it back to her, or ask clarifying questions, or contribute another perspective. No one can tell her if what she thinks she’s seeing (or not seeing) is plainly apparent to anyone else.

She’s alone in the world, and doesn’t have anyone around to even confirm that basic fact as true.

I have no idea how I’m going to sleep tonight. I have no idea if I should sleep. Because…

This is the thing that has been overwhelming her this whole time, even as she tries to think her way around the parameters of the situation and try to find the shape of it, she’s been avoiding looking this one fact square in the eye.

Everything happened at 12:01 Eastern Standard Time. There’s going to be another 12:01 Eastern Standard Time.

What happened at 12:01?

What’s going to happen at 12:01?

She muses—if that’s the right word, given a terrified state of mind—that if she goes at 12:01, and she goes where everyone else has gone, that “has a certain appeal”… but the fact that she can’t embrace it wholeheartedly carries the implication that maybe they’re not just somewhere apart from her, but somewhere worse.

She never suggests that everyone else is dead, only gone. Which I suppose leaves open the possibility of the classical fate worse than death. But I think the real scary thing is just that their fate is unknown, and unknowable.

The choice is not even hers to make, but she’s weighing her current situation, weird and unsettling as it is, against something completely unknown.

But, again, it’s not even as though she gets a say in it. She can do nothing except wait and see.

I guess when you don’t have a plan, you just keep going. Whatever ‘keeping going’ means.

She signs off again, or starts to, when a sound intrudes… a dog barking in the distance. There’s a little bit of self-castigation as she seems to realize that she’d been hearing animal sounds (she noted birds, plus the bugs) but never checked for pets, then announces with a sound of newfound purpose in her voice that she’ll be back.

The recording clicks back on with a little canine whimpering and apologetic kissy voice from the narrator, where she explains that one of the things that freaked her out about the Rapture in fiction is that peoples’ pets were just… left behind… in locked houses.

So, she when heard barking she went next door and rescued her absent neighbors’ starving dog, whom she names “Goober”.

I know this is a ridiculous thing to be worrying about right now… it’s something, it’s something to focus on.

Something that isn’t me.

And so the Narrator still doesn’t have a plan to save herself, but she has a plan to save the animals, as many animals as she can. She’s going to go door-to-door in the neighborhood and look after. By her own words, she wasn’t at the point where she was ready to break into houses, at least not for her own curiosity or survival, but she’ll do it to save the cats and dogs.

Again, Moraine has created a protagonist who is not the classic hero but is far more relatable, at least to the demographic groups most likely to be in their audience.

(Or maybe it’s just me.)

I’m gonna rescue the animals… because I can’t rescue me.

And that’s when she realizes it’s less than one minute to midnight. Less than two minutes to the fateful timestamp.

I guess I’ve got sixty seconds until something happens, or doesn’t happen.

Moraine ratchets up the tension in the final seconds of the first day, the Narrator finally speaking aloud the possibility that everybody else is dead, and wondering if there’s a difference between being completely gone and being dead.

The world broke at 12:01 last night. I don’t know why I’m the only one who didn’t break, or I’m the one who did. I don’t understand any of this.

She summons the dog to her side to pet while the last seconds tick away, and then the episode ends in a rising whine from the dog and a rising sound of distortion that fills the speakers.

Well.

At this point, I have listened to the first five episodes as well as all the available interludes, so there’s not going to be any speculation about what happens next. This first full-length post took me quite a long time to write, in part because of external factors and in part because I wasn’t 100% sure of the format – recap first and then analysis, just analysis, just recap?

I don’t know. I expect to refine my technique a bit as I go, but I think I did alright.