Released in June of this year, Within the Wires stands as the third podcast released in the Welcome to Night Vale lineup. Welcome to Night Vale is a cult hit podcast known primarily for its surrealist take on everyday events, and its sister podcasts have a similar take on fictional story-based broadcasting. Within the Wires is the brainchild of writer Jeffrey Cranor, featuring narration from Janina Matthewson and original music by Mary Epworth. Despite having just finished its first season, the podcast has already been renewed for a second; currently, Cranor is running a fundraising campaign to cover the production costs of ten additional episodes.
Within the Wires is structured as a series of guided meditations from an alternate universe. In the world that Cranor has created, the ominous Institute serves as an authoritarian entity that surveys the populous for anyone that might be “irregular.” Particularly, the Institute looks for people with violent tendencies—however, the exact meaning of this is intentionally ambiguous, and the listener is led to believe that the Institute may be corrupt. If the Institute declares someone to be outwardly violent or abnormal, the individual is swept away and held indefinitely in a campus vaguely akin to a psychiatric ward. The meditations, or “relaxation cassettes” as they are called in the broadcast, make it clear that anyone that is being held by the institute is not a prisoner—they are allowed to leave, but must pass an extensive set of examinations to prove that they are not a danger to society.
Throughout the relaxation cassettes, the narration begins to create a more concrete backstory for the listener. In the scheme of the conspiracy surrounding the Institute, the person creating the tapes, who later identifies herself as a woman named Hester, has known one of the people being held in the ward since they were both children. Hester makes it her mission to help her childhood friend escape from the confines of the Institute, and gives precise instructions to leave through the narration on her cassettes.
The entire broadcast is intriguing because it is conducted through second-person narration, which inevitably forces the listener into the deeper involvement in the events of the story. Immediately, Within the Wires commands that the audience be invested and aware of everything that is going on in the story, and the narration gives the sense that the entire broadcast was created solely for the listener. Despite the calm composure of someone doing guided meditations, Matthewson’s narration demands a tangible sense of urgency when giving the listener routes of escape. There is something incredibly effective in instructing a listener to relax just before giving them precise directions for how to escape a security-laden psychiatric ward.
Within the Wires is as much easy listening as it is an exciting and dramatic story, and the evolution of the podcast throughout the first season was borderline artful. Ultimately, the construction of the broadcast serves to be something completely novel and entirely engaging; Cranor has reimagined the genre of guided meditations into a compelling narrative with a fully-formed backstory.