GONE Episode 3: Apprehension

So, I ended the last episode’s post by saying I was going to have more to say about how the last episode ended here. And I’ll get to that, but there’s a little bit to get through first.

I’d like to start by saying that of the five episodes I’ve listened to so far, this one was the hardest to get through. GONE has a lot of the hallmarks of a cozy catastrophe, in that the protagonist is living in her own home with all the comforts of home. The power’s on (even if the lights aren’t always). She has food and water and video games and even most of the internet.

But it’s not cozy. It’s not comfortable. It’s cruel. The first night in, we got a fakeout about Goober being taken away, but then everything was okay. Well, not everything, but that.

The second night, the thing we were teased to fear happens, and worse.

Not cozy. Cruel. Relentless.

As an aside note before we jump in: between the time I started this and when I finished it, the remainder of Season 1 were posted. I have not listened to or read anything past the midseason break, though. I have a feeling that Episode 6 and what follows might affect my impressions of the material so far, and I’d prefer to deal with things as close to sequentially as I can. Once I am caught up to what I’ve listened to before, I will be taking on subsequent installments one at a time, with no peeking ahead as I write my analysis.

Episode 3 opens with crickets and the sound of the flashlight being clicked on and off. Again, props to the sound design, in that both these sounds are recognizable. The Narrator tells us that she’s turned off the lights (because what’s the fucking point), which is a distinct contrast to the previous night where after the darkness-reset-noise she turned every light in the house on in order to avoid being left in the dark.

I had something. I had a series of things. I had a fucking life. I had a wife, I had a job, I had days where I… I had something. And I lost that. And I still don’t fucking know why.

And then I found something else, and it was the closest I had to what I had before, and it’s gone too, now.

The dogs are GONE, all of them. They didn’t disappear when the humans did. They didn’t disappear the first night after she discovered they still existed, though she had a few scary moments when she couldn’t find Goober. But they’re GONE now.

So she’s sitting in the dark, playing with the flashlight. Stimming, really. Click, click. Click, click. The rhythm of it is she’s turning it on and then off, or off and then on, with a pause in between. She’s looking at the shadows on the walls…

And maybe it’s because I made games for a job… you know, whatever a job that was…

Negative self-talk on the actual jobbiness of the job that less than a minute before she was including in the inventory of Things She Had And Which Were Taken From Her. She wonders aloud if working in games meant she never had to grow up, but she voices that her situation is not fucking fair.

And she’s right, it’s not. And it’s not unfair in the casual way that life, which has not been designed, balanced, or playtested to be fair, is unfair.

This all feels like someone did it.

It’s the point I hit on previously. Everything is so selective, everything is so arbitrary, in ways that makes the situation feel both artificial and designed. The GONE-ishing of the good doggos, again, didn’t happen when the humans did, or the first night after. It happened only after it seemed to be established that dogs still existed and wouldn’t be affected by the onset of the darkness-reset-noise any more than they would by any other sudden noise.

The Narrator probably wouldn’t have gone looking for more dogs, or felt any assurance they would stick around, if Goober really had vanished. His continued presence after 12:01 Part II seemed to establish a principle, and that principle was violated.

When the Narrator says it’s unfair, she doesn’t mean that life is not fair, she means that someone is not playing fair with her, specifically, here and now.

Someone took the dogs away.

After seeing how frightened she was when she couldn’t find Goober.

After watching her find a purpose for her life in the void.

Someone took the dogs away.

So she’s more pissed than freaked out, though she doesn’t know who or what she’s pissed at. She doesn’t even know they exist. She’s second-guessing her observation of her situation, wondering if it’s a relic of her experience in game dev, recognizing that she might be succumbing to the conspiracy theory trope of preferring to believe that someone is in control, that there’s a plan…

…like how people believe in a god, even if the god’s fucking terrible.

She accepts her feeling that her situation’s being manipulated, but she’s suspicious of it as an observation, as a conclusion. This is going to be a bit of a theme in this episode, as it is more broadly of the series.

I’m right back where I started anyway. I don’t know what to do now. I’m more alone than I was before.

The Narrator informs us that it’s about 4 in the morning, meaning she sat alone in the dark for hours before turning the recorder back on, but when she checks to confirm the time, she sees that it’s more like 5:30… and still full dark out. No daylight, no morning birds.

She does confirm that it’s still “super foggy”, and briefly wonders if that might be making it seem darker. Her ongoing (this is the second time) willingness to dismiss solar oddities on the basis that it might be the fog is one of the things that is both frustrating and relatable.

On the one hand, it seems so clear that something else is going on with daylight, and that Fog Doesn’t Work That Way… but on the other hand, how much attention do you ever really pay to fog and how it works? How sure would you be, in the moment, that the fog that seems to be swallowing up the sunlight is or isn’t behaving the way fog normally does?

Thus far, the explicitly supernatural elements of the Narrator’s experience seem to be limited to the occurrences of 12:01 and just after. I can understand why she would not be in a hurry to consider that day may have broken, so to speak, as well.

Besides, she’s pretty apathetic about everything right now. Her final thoughts on the fog/sun question are “not that it fucking matters.”

I don’t know what I’m going to today. I mean, I’ve got a day, and then I’ve got 12:01, and fuck knows what that’s gonna end up meaning. I mean, I don’t really have anything left to lose, do I?

There’s me.

I’m having a hard time caring about that right now, too.

She lets out a primal, visceral swear, and then, a little more composed, announces she’s going to turn the recording off, go outside, and stand in the fog until dawn.

And then we’re gonna see.

The recording resumes to bird sounds. The Narrator is in the driveway and saying that something’s not right. She’s now analyzing the tendency I just commented on, the horror movie logic of rationalizing and explaining away that which you know is wrong. Dawn is an hour late. The world is broken, the fog is thicker, and the sun is running slow.

It’s darker than it should be. Night is longer than it should be.

She assigns blame for these anomalies to “whatever happened last night” and posits that whatever is happening, it’s going to keep happening. She first says that she’ll find out tomorrow, then corrects herself: if the world keeps darkening, the sun will set early tonight. “But I can’t do anything about that right now,” she tells herself, which is a neat way of psychologically eliding the fact that she won’t be able to do anything about it when it happens, either.

She then announces her plan for the day: she’s going to go back to all the houses she visited yesterday. She wants to test her belief that the world is in some sense being reset, as that word keeps resonating in her mind without explanation. She sort of skirts around any hope that the dogs and cats will be back where she found them, though she does mention that she’ll see if it’s the case before she signs off.

She comes back in the last house, the one with the child’s room. She says she didn’t want to go into the endeavor with a theory because there’s a danger in being too certain. I think she doesn’t just fear being wrong, she fears having the rug pulled out from under her again. She gave herself a sense of purpose with the dogs and then she didn’t just lose them, they were taken away. So she’s guarded now.

Despite her lack of a theory, she had expectations and they are borne out. Everything she disturbed breaking in has been reset: no broken windows, no dust tracks. The animals are gone, no sign they were there, but their stuff is still there, neatly put away.

The Reset happened. She dwells on this, and the likelihood that it will keep happening, a hypothesis she can’t avoid.

And despite her unwillingness to theorize, she finds that doing so has helped her to feel in control. She did not freak out at the sight of the impossible, the reversal of entropy that unshattered a window, because it was what she had expected to see. She’s figuring things out, and that’s oddly comforting.

For the first time, I’m kind of on top of things. I have that going for me.

Which is nice.

She pivots from that almost optimistic observation into fatalism as she remarks that she didn’t have to look for people because they’re GONE and she only did a cursory check for animals because she was pretty sure they were GONE and then she gets a little choked up describing being in the empty houses (that felt like they had been empty for a long time, a frequent observation) as like being in tombs.

There’s a point the Narrator comes to that reminds me by way of contrast of the much inferior writing of the Left Behind series, a mid-apocalyptic work of Christian evangelical fantasy that starts with the Rapture of a sizable minority of the world’s population.

My familiarity with that series is mostly by way of blogger Fred “slacktivist” Clark, who notes that even though everybody who was left behind are supposed to be unsaved and unlearned heathens, nobody mourns the missing as dead, before or after learning they have been carried off to heaven. Even with the prevailing secular theory being that they were basically disintegrated—and thus killed—nobody grieves, nobody mourns, nobody even really talks about them as if they’re dead.

It’s a failure of imagination and empathy on the part of the authors, who can’t look outside their point of view that the Raptured are not only not dead but are the first human beings to be spared the indignity of death. That lack of empathy can make an entire work ring hollow.

Sunny Moraine’s work, on the other hand, runs on empathy. They write feelings and experiences as much as plots and events. Can you imagine being in an empty house in an empty world, surrounded by stillness and dust and photos and keepsakes of a family you never knew, and not feel like you were trespassing in a tomb?

The description of that feeling brings us there, makes it more real, than trying to describe the specifics of what the narrator is seeing, the layout and composition of family photos, the appearance of the family. You wouldn’t narrate that into a microphone anyway.

They’re GONE. They’re really GONE. I don’t think they’re coming back. Maybe it’s early to conclude that, but. I don’t think they are.

And now the weather: the fog is still there, and it’s thicker than it was, which is thicker than it was before. Noon came and went without much noticeable change in the light levels, but it’s mid-afternoon and not getting any darker yet. The narrator still has access to the internet via her phone (and thus, the cell network is still operating) but there’s no radar on the weather sites. She’s concerned about the rest of the internet disappearing, and also by her lack of knowledge of what that would even mean and how she would check it.

This is one of the things where writing in some kind of weird silent upside-down hill in what feels like a designed scenario gives the writer a bit of a break. I know if I tried to write an empty world scenario in the real world, it would take a ton of research to figure out how the internet would shake out and how fast it would fail and what it would look like when it did, and then it would still be a lot of guesswork. Easiest way to handle it would be to tie it to the failure of the power grid: no power locally means no computers and no way to check what’s online elsewhere once the cell phones run out. Power failures elsewhere would account for patchiness and routing failures as the plot demanded in the opening acts.

The world of GONE doesn’t follow the logic of mundane catastrophe, though. The narrator can get cell service and find whatever information on the interwebs the logic of the story says she should be able to find. Right now that includes the scheduled time of sunrise and sunset, but not the weather.

Critically, the information she does have access to mostly serves to tell her how wrong the world is.

I have a confession to make. I’m a thief. Yeah, took some shit from the house. Well, that makes me sound like a master thief. I took a piece of shit from a house.

She took one of the toy dinosaurs from the child’s room. A velociraptor, her childhood favorite. Apologetic as she is about the theft, and as cheerfully as she addresses it, and notwithstanding that she identifies it as a nostalgic favorite, she had a purpose in taking it: she wants something non-living from the houses so she can see what happens to it when the Reset comes.

The couple of times in this episode where the Narrator manages to sound the brightest, I think are where she’s actually the most ambivalent: when she’s proclaiming she has a handle on things, when she’s talking to the toy dinosaur about how she’s keeping an eye on it “because it seems worth it to do an actual experiment at this point”.

There’s a scene in the movie Girl, Interrupted (a movie that messed me up on a personal level for a bit after I saw it) that’s about the meaning of the word ambivalent. In day-to-day usage, it’s used to mean something between apathetic and wishy-washy, but the actual meaning is to be pulled strongly in two directions.

I think there’s something in the Narrator, maybe just in the present circumstances but possibly beyond that, that has a hard time confronting happiness if it’s not properly counterweighted. She can be happy that she’s got a theory about what’s going on if it’s alloyed by awareness that it might be pointless. This theme might also extend to the way she thinks/thought about her job, writing lore for video games — both a dream job and a source of shame.

So she’s happy about the velociraptor, but only justified the “theft” of it by labeling it necessary for an experiment, and then she goes on to explain that they were her favorite growing up, her secret favorite, something she never told her wife.

Now, this is an admission that makes her re-examine her previous closely-held belief that she had no secrets from her. Maybe I’m reading too much into it (and maybe that’s what I came here to do), but that kind of realization could be what marks a shift in states from the Narrator to the Interlocutor. Maybe the Interlocutor is the Narrator but with all the stories she told herself about her life before GONE.

Anyway. She mentions that she didn’t have a great childhood and that she used to wish she could become a velociraptor (HELLO MALADAPTIVE DAYDREAMING MY OLD FRIEND) to the point of checking her legs every morning for scales… not so she could run off and have magical dinosaur adventures, she confirms, but specifically because she wanted to “fucking kill them all”.

Nine year old kid. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to turn into a dinosaur and I wanted to slaughter everyone in my school. That’s fucked up, isn’t it?

It’s not the kind of power fantasy we’re supposed to admit to, and the Narrator makes it clear that she hasn’t admitted it to anyone, likely hasn’t thought about it any time recently.

I’ve phrased the central question of the series as “Who left whom?” but another way to put it is: was something done to the Narrator or did the Narrator do something?

The Narrator pivots from her dark meditation on the actual origin of her childhood love of velociraptors to “And now I’ve got one to keep me company,” then reveals she does experiments the same way I do: terribly, by introducing multiple variables with each iteration. She’s going to leave the velociraptor in her house to see if and how it’s affected by the 12:01 Reset, while she goes out into the world to see what happens, since her house itself doesn’t Reset.

Confession: I started writing this blog post last October during the midseason break and then circumstances in my life changed and I never finished it, much less kept going and listened to the rest of Season 1. I’ve decided now to revisit it and I find that while I remember some of the things that happen later through Episode 5, I don’t remember the results of these experiments. So I’m a little excited. Again, once I am caught up to Episode 5 I’m going to be giving my more or less live reactions to the remaining episodes.

Anyway, the Narrator is almost cheery while announcing that she’ll be back around midnight; having a plan doesn’t actually make her less scared but makes her feel more like it doesn’t matter.

Instead she comes back closer to 7:30 to announce that it is almost completely dark, an hour before the sun is even supposed to set. This is more or less what she expected, but she sounds grim. I think it’s easier for her to feel buoyed by the world’s strangeness conforming to her expectations when they happen in the daylight.

I was right. *sigh* I was fucking right.

Go me.

The recording clicks off and back on, signaling a time jump. It’s still night, still outside, and in a sad, resigned voice, the Narrator tells us about the first time her wife took her camping, which was the first time she went camping and the first time she saw the stars, really saw them, far from any city lights and through the clear, thin mountain air.

And we stood there, and she said, “Look up,” and I did, and it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. There was just so many, it was so big, I felt like I was just… falling into the sky.

I couldn’t handle it, I had to look down.

I’m not at all convinced that the Narrator is in the driver’s seat but it’s interesting to note that she’s found herself in a world where, outside the confines of her house, she can’t see more than a few feet at a time.

She laughed at me.

I wasn’t mad.

That’s what I told myself, at the time. I wasn’t angry at her for, for doing that. I didn’t feel for about 30 seconds like she’d played some kind of a joke on me, like it was at my expense.

But, I mean, after we left, the truth is I missed seeing that. It was so terrifying, it was terrifying in a way I had never experienced before, but I wanted it again after that.

The interesting thing is that the weary voice of the Narrator in this sequence sounds as much like the voice in the Inderludes. The rawness of it. The willingness to admit to flashes of anger and resentment, almost suspicion, directed at her wife.

And I guess if the thing that typifies the Interlocutor the most is that she is exhausted and at her breaking point, then the more tired and stretched the Narrator feels, the closer the two will become.

There’s no stars now. Fog’s too thick. Or at least that is what I’m telling myself.

By the light of day, however feeble, she can convince herself that there is a sun that is rising and setting, even if she doesn’t see it. By the light of the night, she’s less sure, or rather she is increasingly sure that there is nothing in the sky but black. She can’t see more than a few feet away even with the flashlight, and she thinks even the crickets are getting quieter.

This is more unsettling than I thought it would be.

She considers turning around and going home, but decides she’s going to stick with her plan and follow through.

The remainder of the episode is pretty dense with events, considering there’s just about ten minutes left, and as I listen to it I remember why I fizzled out on this blog. I’m not sure I can keep up the recap/analysis format. There’s just so much happening. At the same time, I didn’t intend for it to be so recappy… it’s just hard to do commentary without mentioning what I’m commenting on. I might try something else for subsequent episodes. I’m just not sure yet what it will be.

Anyway, the Narrator tells us that she’s gone about as far as she intends to, because she’s not sure she’d be able to find her way back. She ruminates for a bit on the etymology of “disoriented”, which she states as “loss of the east”, as in, “loss of the sunrise”. Not knowing which way the sun will rise means you’re lost. She’s lost the sunrise in a more literal sense.

She checks the time and it’s a minute till midnight. She resolves that she’s not going to be scared of it, meaning the Reset, the noise. She’s been through it without being killed or even hurt except when she startled herself.

I still don’t know how to describe what it did to me. It fucked me up, that’s what it did.

I’m not going to count it down. I’m just going to sit it out.

Stand it out.

God, I wish I could see the stars. It would be something.

She talks about the Iridium satellites, a type of communication satellite her wife told her about, tried to explain to her, but which she still doesn’t understand, but she knows how to pick them out of the sky. She wishes she could see them now, and then realizing that the minute is coming up fast, she begins to chant “You’re not scared, you’re not scared. It didn’t kill you, you can take it, you can take it, you can take it…”

She’s still repeating it when the Reset noise happens, carrying her voice away in a series of distorted echoes. Then the noise ends, and the weird atmospheric sound it leaves behind is there. She tries to figure out where it’s coming from, and reports that it’s coming from the middle of her head. We can hear it, or we can hear something, on the recording, so it’s not psychological but auditory.

She also reports that it’s making her dizzy. The sound, or trying too hard to focus on it?

Shining the flashlight around, she tries to describe what she’s seeing but words fail her: corona? Shimmer? She stoops to inspect a pebble and reports that it’s vibrating, humming. The sound is in it, in everything. This suggests that she’s vibrating, too.

As she focuses on the sound, she starts to drawl a little and sound a bit trance-like, saying that it’s “moving everything… back”. It’s like when she had the word Reset clanging in her head, this knowledge doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. It’s just something she knows as she says it, without understanding what she knows or how she knows it.

Her reverie with the pebble is interrupted when she sees something surprising or alarming, exclaiming “What the fuck?” a few times and then calling insistently after someone for them to stop and not walk away. Her voice becomes desperate, pleading, and then the atmosphere shifts from the distortion echoes to the more mundane night sounds. She lets out one final “Please!” but we can tell from her voice that it’s already too late.

There was someone, in the fog. Just for a few seconds, I swear to God there was someone.

They didn’t stop.

It’s like they didn’t hear me.

Why didn’t they hear me?

Unless they did.

She insists a few times that she knows she saw that, then says “I thought I was alone here. I thought everyone was GONE. I guess I was wrong,” then cuts off the recording.

What follows is… well, when it starts, the Narrator is apparently speaking with a fairly flat affect, but within her usual range of expression. If not for the background noise, it might be normal, whatever that means.

I was wrong. I was wrong about a lot of things. I was right about the dark. I was right about my little dinosaur friend. He’s gone. Everyone’s gone.

It’s during those last two words that her voice starts to string out a little, the way it does when she’s contemplating certain aspects of the world mid-Reset. Like she’s in a bit of a fugue.

Everything’s… always… gone. Except me. I don’t get to be gone. I was sleeping. I might still be. I’m not sure. I got up. I walked around. All the shadows are moving. Turned the lights on. Turned them off.  I’m not alone here. I’m really sure of that.

She goes from what sounds like drifting back into the poetic to describing very matter-of-factly investigating her surroundings, albeit with wrinkles we haven’t heard of before. It could be a fairly normal scene but the atmospheric noise is not the inside of the house, not the normal night noises, not even the distortion of just after midnight, but a tinkly, distant, electronic tone.

I think… there might be a lot of people here. I think I might be walking through them. Like there’s a crowd I can’t see. All those shadows. Always moving. All of us, always moving.

Again, shifting between things she could be observing and things that seem almost gnostic, knowledge that just comes to her, feelings, things intuited.

We never meet, we just pass in the night. I can’t see their faces. They won’t look at me.

Lines like this… is this still the Narrator speaking? Did she want people to look at her? Is that consistent with what we know about her, or at least, the stories she’s told us?

God, why won’t you look at me?

That feels a bit more like her.

You can get a frog boiling before he knows he’s boiling. You can stand on a beach and wait for the tide to come in, and not notice until you’re drowning. Maybe this was coming for a long time, and I just never noticed until it was here. Maybe I did this. Maybe this is all me.

And now we’re sort of increasingly drifting into creepy child territory, acted with devastating effectiveness by Sunny Moraine, with the last line sung as sing-song.

I think I don’t like this dream. I think I’m going back to bed now. I think, maybe if I’m lucky, there will just be the dark.

Goodnight, sweetheart.

Good… night.

Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight.

It’s a little surprising that this isn’t the end of the episode, but it’s not surprising at all that the Narrator tells us (at eight in the morning, in pitch blackness) that she has no memory of recording the immediately preceding segment, or saying any of the things in it.

She’s not sure if it’s the drugs, or just the drugs, or what, but she’s understandably freaked, especially since she can’t refute the central premise of the recording: she is not alone.

Not only does she remember the figure in the fog, but when she woke up in the morning, she was sure something was in the room, watching her.

Something is here.

(Oh, my sleep paralysis feels.)