On Finales: The Magnus Archives 160: “The Eye Opens”

Now this… this is how you build up to a finale. The episodes leading up to “The Eye Opens” is its own separate story, yet is connected enough to feel like this was all one big finale. However, there’s enough distinction between each episode that I stayed on the edge of my seat the entire time and felt like yeah, those did need to be their own separate episodes.

I’ve seen a few complaints from fans that “The Eye Opens” felt too abrupt and there was not enough time for the characters to process the events of the last few episodes. But I think that’s the point. So much of The Magnus Archivesis about the characters not being allowed the time to process the trauma they have endured before new trauma is foisted onto them. As fun as it is to talk about how we just want Jon and Martin to look at some good cows and process the entities that are slowly killing them, that’s not the reality of their situation – or many people’s.

Despite that, The Magnus Archives kept some optimism in their finale. I find “The Last” to be a good example of this. “The Last” says that there is never no hope. That you are never truly lost. That those you love are never truly lost. That there is a way to win. That someone will always come and find you. It is remarkably hopeful for a show that features someone stapling meat to their walls. And that is why I think that The Magnus Archives will someday have a good ending. Maybe not a happy ending. I think that “happy” is too simplistic a term for a story that has always included loss and fear. But I think a good ending is entirely possible. And can we really ask for more?

On Finales: TAZ: Amnesty

So the The Adventure Zone: Amnesty finale came out last week. And it was, well, bad.

Episode 36 was a two and a half hour final episode and Amnesty’s official “finale.” But the McElroys have been referring to the episodes as part of the finale since about episode 30. Episodes 30-35 ranged in length from just over an hour to a full two hours. Which adds up to over seven hours of “finale” material before the actual finale. For comparison, the TAZ: Balance finale wasn’t even six and a half hours.

To be clear, I am not of the opinion that Amnesty was never going to be good because it’s not Balance. I have always maintained that Amnesty had great potential and that, until recently, it was living up to that potential. So what happened?

Well, I think a big part of it was an emotional disconnect. Amnesty ran for about a year and a half, only half the time that Balance had. Obviously not as much time to get as attached to the characters. But I don’t think it was the audience’s disconnect that ruined the finale. I think the McElroys didn’t feel as connected to their PCs this time around.

Now, obviously, I can’t say what these four men I have never met feel. Maybe they did feel a strong connection to their characters. But that ~10 hours of finale content? It’s a heck of a lot of goofs for a story about stopping the end of the world. Especially considering that these goofs came from characters who should be mourning their friend. 

If you read The Podcast Dragon regularly, you’ll know that I completely missed that Ned died until the beginning of the finale when Clint began playing Thatcher. And while part of that is on me, I think that the McElroys really fell short in how they dealt with Ned’s death. We get nothing from the rest of the Pine Guard about how they feel after their friend died. Even Aubrey, whose last interaction with Ned was tense and should have been the catalyst for plenty of emotional turmoil, feels absolutely nothing.

And I’m sorry, but how am I supposed to believe that the world is in danger when a scene is interrupted for a dick joke?

A lot of the finale also felt very unplanned. Nothing shows this more than Griffin’s reaction to Duck calling Minerva honey. That was clearly not discussed beforehand, and feels very tacked on. Which is what much of the finale felt like. Seeing what the characters I loved went on to do felt like… nothing. I just did not care because the finale made me feel so disconnected from the characters.

Finales are difficult. Obviously. You have to wrap up an ENTIRE SHOW in just one or two episodes. But with ten hours at their disposal, the McElroys could have delivered something absolutely incredible. Instead, they absolutely destroyed their second arc.

What does “underrated” mean?

One word I see thrown around a lot (and I admit I’m quite guilty of this myself) is “underrated.” It’s typically used to describe a show that the speaker feels is underappreciated, and deserves more recognition, however it can also be used to describe an actor, writer, composer, and editor.

But in a community like ours, what truly counts as “underrated”? After all, no one has Netflix level production teams or Hollywood fame levels. So, wouldn’t you be able to call any show or creator underrated?

Well… yeah. And I think that’s okay.

From my perspective, when someone says their favourite show is underrated, they mean that they wish it were getting more attention. So I don’t think anyone can be wrong about whether or not something is underrated. It’s all a matter of perspective.

In my opinion, Caravan is massively underrated. But I also don’t think I’ve seen an Audio Drama Sunday since it came out where it wasn’t recommended. And on the flip side, I rarely see Queer Dungeoneers recommended on Audio Drama Sunday, but I think it’s just as underrated. And both can be true. There can be more than one underrated show.

And this same principle applies to thinking that shows are “overrated.” Maybe you think that Caravan’s not as good as everyone says. Maybe you’re really not that into Westerns and you wish everyone would stop talking about the gay cowboys. And that’s fine. I don’t agree with you, but you’re allowed to feel that way because underrated/overrated all comes down to feelings and opinions.

But I also think recognizing value is important when we’re talking about things being “overrated.” Caravan is a show created by a nonbinary and queer person of colour. Its lead is a fat bisexual Indian man who is allowed to openly express attraction and is described by (I’m fairly certain) every character as gorgeous. There is unmistakably value in Caravan not only existing, but being embraced by the audio drama community.

So go ahead. Talk about how your favourite show is underrated. Because you know what? It probably is.

What does representation mean to me?

It’s Pride month! Over on Twitter I’m marking the occasion with #PodcastPride, a daily celebration of queer characters and creators in podcasting. And I love these characters. I really, really do. But sometimes I’m acutely aware of what’s missing from those celebrations. People of colour. Disabled people. Trans and nonbinary people. Not to mention people to experience intersections of the three. Sometimes it feels like those gaps can never be filled, because our voices get drowned out.

But there are people speaking up. There are people doing the work to make sure that marginalized folk within the queer community are given the space that we need. And there are obviously much larger concerns than just representation (I would love to not be scared of assault, personally). But representation of marginalized groups in media can affect the real world.

I still cry when I find out that characters are trans. I get choked up when there’s a queer man in media, especially stuff that’s more mainstream. It normalizes my life. It tells me that my experience is real. That I exist. That I’m not broken or wrong.

You may think that podcasts, especially fictional podcasts, are such a small part of media, that the representation contained within them doesn’t matter. But it does. I had a panic attack when a show people promised me was good had people misgendering the trans characters and saying that they weren’t really the genders that they said they were. When I found out that a character that I had related to strongly and saw myself in was also a queer man, I burst into tears.

Representation will have an effect on people whether you think it will or not. It’s your chance whether you want it to be a good effect or not. And I for one sincerely hope you make it a good effect.

My Representation Wishes

So, I wanted to do this before I started posting the interviews I’m doing. I’m interviewing marginalized creators about their shows, and one of my end of interview questions is “What would you like to see more of when it comes to representation in audio fiction?” I figured it was only fair that I answer this myself.

I want more trans men voiced by trans men.

I want more trans men written by trans men.

I want more trans men at various points in their transition.

I want more fat characters.

I want more mentally ill characters with mental illnesses other than anxiety and depression.

I want more queer men who are domestic.

I want more queer men who fight capitalism.

I want more marginalized characters who are allowed to express anger over their oppression.

I want more trans characters who are love interests. Who are seen as desirable.

I want more characters who use multiple sets of pronouns.

I want more characters who realize they’re queer/trans over the course of the show.

I want more aro/arospec characters.

I want more adoptive families.

I want more characters who are allowed more than one identity.

I want to see myself.

I want marginalized characters to be written with kindness and compassion. But most of all, I want the real life marginalized people in our community to be treated with kindness and compassion.

Why I’m Proud to be a “Hobbyist”

There’s been a growing divide in the podcast community between those who are “professionals” and those who are “hobbyists.” Every time a new article comes out that disregards fictional podcasting, someone makes a comment about how we’re not “hobbyists,” scoffing at the idea that someone could just be a podcaster as a hobby. Like those people are somehow less deserving of respect. Which like… it’s fine if you’re not. But some people just do this for fun.

It’s been almost a year since I started The Podcast Dragon. I started it on a whim because I wanted to write down my thoughts on my favourite shows. I wanted a way to tell my friends about new shows because some of them had talked about how hard it was to find new stuff they liked as their favourite shows were ending. I wasn’t thinking about subscriber numbers, or how to make money, or who might contact me for reviews. That stuff all came later. And I love a lot of it! I like getting cash from ko-fi donations (tuition is expensive) and I love connecting with the community and finding out about amazing new shows.

But here’s the thing. I’m a university student. I run The Podcast Dragon in my spare time because I love podcasts more than anything. I write fictional podcast scripts at night because I have stories I want to tell and this is a way to improve my craft. I got into podcasts because they were something free that I could listen to on my commute to school. I found passion for them along the way, just like I found subscribers and review requests along the way.

No matter how passionate I am about podcasts, this is not my future career. I don’t really want to do reviews full time. I don’t really want to write full time. I think some of the fun would be taken out of it for me. My future career is probably going to be teaching. It’s something that makes me happy when I think about it, and I can pursue writing and sound design in my spare time. I can listen to podcasts on my commute. I can sing along to musicals in the shower. That is what I want to do with my life. Just because I love something doesn’t mean I have to make it my profession.

I totally get the impulse to call yourself a professional podcaster, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with making money from your show. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting podcasting to be your full time job. I think that all those things are awesome.

But is my work as a reviewer somehow less valuable because it’s my hobby? Should my threads on trans rep in the community be disregarded because I don’t make $100 a month on Patreon? Do I not get to have an opinion on shows just because I don’t know all the fancy sound words? Do I not have a space in the community just because I prioritize school and mental health over The Podcast Dragon or my scripts? Are people allowed to be jerks to me when they ask for a review request just because I don’t pay for a domain name?

If you think that the answers to those questions are yes, I urge you to reconsider. And I urge you to reconsider how you talk about those of us in the community who are just doing this for fun. It’s okay to have fun.

Does it need to be a podcast though?

I love podcasts. I love them so much. But some stuff… It just doesn’t have to be a podcast.

It’s okay. You don’t have to record you and your friends playing DND. Actual plays are great, but not every RPG campaign needs to be a podcast. Heck, most shouldn’t be. If you’re new to role playing, it’s okay to step back from it (especially if half your episode will be people asking about the same rule clarifications over and over again in the middle of an important scene). If you’re not really sure what the plot will be (or it’s a weak plot), you can just play with your friends and see what happens.

If you already have a website or Youtube channel of the exact same thing? It’s okay. You can leave it like that. In fact, many of your subscribers will probably be happy about it. And you’ll have to do transcriptions, so you might as well stick to what you know and keep uploading your articles. It’s probably going to take you more time to make a podcast of it. And we can tell when you’re just hopping in because podcasts are the latest trend but you don’t really care about them. Just… stick to what you know. It’s okay.

You and your friends can just talk about movies together. You don’t need to record your conversations and upload them (especially if you don’t edit it).

I get the urge to monetize everything you do. I totally, completely do (heck, this newsletter was originally just “for fun” and now I make money off it sometimes). But you don’t have to do it. Especially if you don’t actually care about the medium and are just jumping on the bandwagon (We can always tell). Heck, even if you do love podcasts. Some ideas are bad. Some stuff isn’t really what you should be working on. It’s great to experiment and see what you like. But not everything you experiment with needs to be published.

Not Everyone Can Give Money

If you’ve managed to avoid Twitter the last couple of weeks, you’ve lucked out and have avoided a lot of bad takes about supporting podcast creators with cash. A few things happened in quick succession:

First Luminary announced that they were now A Thing. They’re a new podcast hosting site, promising ad-free exclusive content (for a fee, of course. I could not find out what that fee would be). There will be a free version with ads, but the exclusive content will not be available. One of their exclusive shows is the next instalment of The Bright Sessions, The AM Archives.

Next, Critical Roll launched their Kickstarter to fund money for an animated short. It extended their stretch goal of $3M in less than 24 hours.

Then, Luminary tweeted that podcasts don’t need ads (despite… offering a free version of their site with ads…). They have since apologized for the tweet after creators and fans replied saying that yeah… they kind of do if they want to make money.

That’s the overall sequence of events. This all happened over just a few days and I was very torn over which I wanted to talk about because honestly… There is so much here that needs to be examined. But then I began seeing a lot of Bad Takes from folks in the industry that showed a lot of disdain for those in the community who y’know… maybe don’t have that much money to spend on podcasts? We’re going to look at Luminary/The Bright Sessions first, and then Critical Role.

Disclaimer: I am not saying that creators shouldn’t be paid for their work or get to decide where their work goes.

So a lot of folk, particularly young queer folk, voiced their disappointment that the spinoff for The Bright Sessionswould be paywalled. I have my own reasons for being disappointed in this, ones that I will not go into here because this is controversial enough already. A lot of these young queer folk voicing disappointment mentioned that The Bright Sessions was one of the few places they could consume queer content due to it being free and not obviously queer. Now that it was going to be behind a paywall, they would no longer have access to it. Some young folk have decided to pool their money for a single account so that it would actually be feasible for them. All who voiced their disappointment also voiced that they were very happy that the team behind The Bright Sessions was getting this opportunity.

Despite this, I saw a lot of people who were prominent in the audio fiction community saying that voicing disappointment at not being able to access their favourite show anymore wasn’t okay because creators deserve to get paid and we might make them feel guilty. Which like… If you’re an almost thirty year old who gets hurt because a fourteen year old is sad that they can’t hear the continuation of their favourite show? Maybe get off the internet?

I think maybe… a day later? The Critical Role Kickstarter drama happened. And many actual play creators voiced their annoyance that people rallied around a large show even after it reached its stretch goal, but were unwilling to support smaller actual plays made by marginalized folk. Which was a 100% valid and amazing critique, voiced with a lot of nuance that took into account the fact that many of the folks consuming actual plays made by marginalized creators are often from marginalized groups themselves and typically don’t have the funds to support them. Some of these tweets were my favourites of the week.

And then non-marginalized folks jumped in with bad takes. One that I saw told folks that they had to donate $1 to every show they listen to because “$1 is nothing to you but everything to the creator” which like…. Here’s the thing. If $1 can be everything to the creator, it can also be everything to the donator. And even if it’s not, you’re advocating for $1 per podcast. If you listen to 5-10 podcasts, that $1 very quickly Becomes Something. And if you’re me? You’re looking at a large sum of money going to podcasts each month. Money that very few people could spare, but definitely not a university student.

So here’s the thing: It’s good to say creators deserve to get paid for their work. It’s good to say that they can put their work up wherever. But you need to understand that a lot of people are attracted to podcasts because many of them are free. And many of the people in that group are young folk from marginalized groups who have next to no money to spare. And having their favourite creator tell them off for not being thrilled that they can no longer access their favourite show, or for saying that they can’t afford even small donations? That’s going to affect them.

Besides: these are the people who already support you. These are the people who write fanfiction, draw fanart, talk about your show on social media, make Discords for it. These are the people that got you those audience numbers in the first place. Monetary support is important. But don’t throw out those who can’t afford it.

“Can I be a critic?”

Yes.

That’s the short answer: anyone who wants to be can be a podcast critic. We aren’t gatekeeping in this community, y’all. The long answer is: Yes, of course you can.

Worried because you feel like you don’t listen to enough shows? I think I listened to mayyybe twenty shows when I started The Podcast Dragon. But I wanted somewhere to talk about those twenty shows. And as I continued reviewing shows, I listened to more shows.

Worried because there’s already some hecking amazing critics in our community? They aren’t you! They don’t have the perspective you do! You are your own fantastic unique person! We want to hear from you too!

Worried that you’ll just be saying the same thing as the rest of us? Bro, me too! Imposter syndrome is a hell of a thing. Kick it in the nuts and talk podcasting with me!

Worried you’ll upset someone because you said something negative about their show? Were you nice about it? Then who cares! If they can’t handle reading critics’ thoughts on their show, they shouldn’t read critics’ thoughts on their show. You’re not doing anything wrong!

Worried you don’t listen to the “right” shows? There’s no such thing! Do you like the show? Then listen to it! I have never listened to an episode of Serial. I didn’t understand ars paradoxica. I am terrified of Critical Role and haven’t gotten through even an hour of it. Listen to what you love. It’ll make you happier in the long run.

Note: There is a reviewer/critic in each linked word up there! Of course I don’t follow all reviewers in the community, our community is wide and wonderful! While we’re talking critics: I want to follow more of you/more closely follow the ones I am! If you’re a critic and I didn’t mention you above, let me know! I want to follow you! If I did mention you and you think I missed something cool you’ve done recently: let me know! I want to celebrate your hard work!

What does your podcast *actually* need?

There’s a lot of discussion about what your show needs before launching and how/why some creators are unable to provide certain items. I want to weigh in on this, but I also want to be really clear: I am one person, with one opinion. I do not know everything. I am in no way trying to police you or tell you that your show isn’t a “real” podcast if you don’t have something on this list. I’m also not trying to pick a fight with anyone who has different thoughts than me. You are entitled to your own opinion, just the same as me.

“Do I need a website?”

Sort of?

The main reason folks give for being unable to make a website is money. Having a domain name and a professional looking website costs money, something that a lot of folks in this industry are lacking in, particularly marginalized creators. My suggestion to get around this is to have a tumblr account with a page of cast & crew names. Or a Google Doc with said info that you link to on Twitter. Having a place where people can find who plays who or who did what (and the spelling of their names!) means that it’s easier for press to write pieces on you (which we want to do!).

If you can have a nice fancy website with a domain name? Good for you! If you can’t? That’s fine! Just have somewhere I can find your cast & crew! (Let me love and appreciate them! They’re doing a great job.)

“Do I need social media?”

Nope! It makes interacting with your fans and the community easier, and you can use it to remind people of new shows, but if it would be too much stress for you, you absolutely do not need it!

“Do I need a press kit?”

No!

I like press kits as much as any reviewer, but I also recognize that they take a lot of time and energy to pull together, and not everyone has those. They’re great to have, particularly if you want reviewers to talk about your show, but you don’t need one. I know, that’s a scandalous thing for a reviewer to say.

“Do I need to pay my actors?”

Sort of?

I’m going to say something super controversial here, but: you don’t need to be able to pay your actors before launch. That’s not possible for everyone, and the suggestions that come from the larger community (Patreon! Indiegogo campaign!) don’t always reap the needed results, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s as simple as you’re a new creator and don’t have the platform to get fully funded. And sometimes you’re a marginalized creator and people are less likely to give you money (this goes doubly if you’re a person of colour with another marginalization). Running indigogo campaigns also isn’t possible for everyone because it takes a lot of time and energy, and often you need to spend more money on some higher tier rewards. Same deal with Patreon: you need rewards for those who support you, and not everyone has the ability to keep up with that.

I will say though that while paying your actors immediately (or ever) may not be possible, you should at least have a plan to try to. Are you going to run an indiegogo campaign and hope for the best? Open a Patreon? Have a kofi where people can donate? I recommend the latter for folks who don’t have the time/energy for a long campaign or regular Patreon perks.

“Do I need transcripts?”

No.

This is a hard one for me, because I feel very strongly that if one has the ability to provide transcripts, they should. They help with accessibility for D/deaf and hard of hearing folk, folk with audio processing disorders, and are generally very useful to refer back to. But they also take a lot of time/energy if your show isn’t scripted. You can hire someone to transcribe for you, but that costs money that not everyone has.

HOWEVER. I want to be really clear here. Not everyone can provide transcripts, but if you can, you should. I’m tired of scripted podcasts making thousands of dollars on Patreon claiming they can’t afford to get transcripts made and keeping their scripts behind paywalls while shows making $13 are getting transcripts made. If you can afford a transcript? Get it. If you can’t and your show’s scripted? Putting your scripts up is something. Unscripted and can’t afford transcripts? Have a plan to get transcripts made once you can afford them.

I think it’s really important for those of us with privilege in the podcasting community acknowledge the various forms that it comes in. Whether that’s disposable income, platform, energy, or folks being more likely to give you money because of your race, it’s crucial that we begin acknowledging that not everyone has the same tools.

While I can’t do much to help as I currently am unable to help fund shows, I do have a platform that I can use to promote kickstarters. So: if you are a marginalized podcast creator (POC, queer, trans, disabled, etc.), send me a link to your crowdfunding campaign or Patreon and I will promote it in The Podcast Dragon. If you send me a Patreon link, I will rotate through whichever ones I have. If you send me a crowdfunding campaign, I will promote it for the entirety of its campaign. As per usual, I have the right to decline if I feel your show does harm.