The mess that is The Message

<em>T</em><em>he Messag</em>e is a podcast detailing the decryption of a 70-year-old extra-terrestrial message by a team of professional cryptologists. The host, Nicky Tomlin, is allowed to document this highly classified case for physical evidence. As the series unfolds, the team must react to the consequences of listening to &ldquo;the message.&rdquo;</p>

The Message is a radio-style podcast and therefore fictional. My understanding, when going into this series, was that it was a nonfiction documentary about science-y stuff. I first heard about The Message via a quick advertisement on the official Cracked podcast. The advertisement was about 30 seconds and it only stated that the host was documenting the decryption of a 70-year-old message. I can’t remember if the advertisement stated that the message in The Message was from alien life, but I’m pretty confident it suggested the signal was from outside our solar system. Either way, I wasn’t under the impression the series was fictional, so when I finally started to listen to the podcast I felt duped: I greatly dislike radio shows. 

Poor first impression aside, the series is complete with eight episodes, all averaging about 15 minutes. One reason I don’t like this podcast is because it’s too short. I don’t know what average run-times are for radio shows, but The Message must be on the small end. The only reason I can fathom to the brief episodes is the story.

I won’t spoil anything in case anyone wants to listen, but the podcast sort of runs in “real-time.” I can’t imagine what it would have been like waiting for episodes because this series is best binged. Clearly, there are some parts that assumes time has passed in between episodes, but listening back-to-back helps keep a coherent story and tension high — not that I got very into the tension. 

The story, for what it’s worth, is good. The characters, meanwhile, are garbage. I don’t like the host, Tomlin. The way the plot works, Tomlin is the outsider to the team of cryptologists, and therefore is trying really hard to get them to like her, which I find annoying. She also has to ask all the questions for the listeners, which makes all the other characters unlikeable because most of them answer condescendingly. 

Since it is a radio show and there are no visuals, the acting is somewhat exaggerated. All facial expressions have to be vocalized: when the host is nervous she trips on her words; words are greatly strained in the absence of hand gestures to convey importance; and shortness of breath (a plot element) is loud as fuck. Yes, you can use your imagination to visualize the action, but there are only so many times I can assume no noise means an awkward silence between characters. I’m probably being overly critical, but that’s mostly because Tomlin, our protagonist, is so frustrating. 

Tomlin does very little in the story besides document (so just hold a recorder whilst people work around her). She starts as a fangirl of the two head cryptologists and as the episodes continue she slowly becomes irrelevant. My biggest gripe is that SHE DELIBERATLY ENDANGERS LIVES because fuck you the podcast is popular. The plot does eventually give explanation to these actions, but it’s still a dick move. 

I’m probably being overly critical; I felt like I was duped going in, so I’m biased. Tomlin was okay for the first three episodes; four through seven she was just bearable; and episode eight was a slap in the face. 

Final Recommendation: Fuck this shit and fuck radio shows in general.


The author of this article is a member of Imprint’s Board of Directors.


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