This week, Wolf 359 returned with a bang. Not only did the team release a two-hour long prequel special available on Spoke, but their final season premiered with “Episode 47: Into the Depths.”
Wolf 359 is a serialized fiction podcast, and its third season closed with major twists and important plot moments. Please understand that this review will, obviously, contain spoilers.
Episode 47 begins with narration from everyone’s favorite sassy AI, Hera, who gives the listener a thought experiment: if someone dies in a swamp, but lightning hits that swamp and immediately makes a living duplicate, memories and all, are they the same person? The obvious tie here is with Lovelace who, in episode 46, the audience saw die only to be reborn. The parallel with Hera, who has to rebuild herself frequently, is also clear. Given that this monologue is the first moment of the final season, though, it seems to raise more questions than just the obvious. After so much change, are Minkowski and Eiffel even the same people–and what does that mean for them?
The episode then jumps directly back into the plot. Hilbert and Maxwell have been killed, and Lovelace–or, Creature Resembling Lovelace–has begin to reform her memories–or, Pieces of Data Resembling Memories. There are, uncomfortably, a few funny moments in this scene. Lovelace calls Eiffel “the funny one” but amends to “the one that thinks he’s funny,” and compares him to both Conan the Destroyer and Conan O’Brien. The jokes land, but feel dissonant and jarring. While the audience has had months to sit with the emotional turmoil of Season 3’s end, the characters haven’t. Using this scene to bring the listener back to the plot feels like a forced reminder that the writers know how to do comedy, or maybe a forced apology for how devastating the end of Season 3 was. While Season 3 did end with some reconciliation and grieving, it didn’t feel like there was enough of that in this episode so quickly after everything happened.
Putting such a lighthearted scene so early in the show sets the strange pacing and tone for the rest of the episode, which consistently shifts back and forth between characters and plotlines. This technique is necessary, and it isn’t new to Wolf 359, but in this episode, it plays out like they had never used the mechanic before. Each segment is either a little too quick or too long, breaking off just before some revelatory moment is hit. The gaps of silence between each scene also feel much longer than they used to be, adding to the feeling being jerked back and forth from scene to scene. While quick scene changes usually add to momentum, in this episode, they slow it.
Jacobi feels especially watered down, even though he is given a long scene about the lack of remorse he feels for, essentially, his only friend. Had this been the only moment we’d had with Jacobi since Maxwell was killed, this would make sense. Instead, though, this follows Jacobi being genuinely heartbroken and distraught. Hearing him so calm and relieved feels disingenuous, a complete backpedal from the development he’d gotten at the end of Season 3.
In the episode’s climax, the Contact Event occurs with the aliens channeling themselves through Lovelace’s probably-alien definitely-not-human body. Because the aliens have learned English through the signals from Eiffel, they continue speaking in what is basically code:
ALIEN(S): We have been waiting.
EIFFEL: Um, s-s-sorry? W-waiting for–?
ALIEN(S): You. For you to communicate. For you to get together and feel alright.
EIFFEL: Sure, uh, but any chance we could clarify what that might–
ALIEN(S): You have started. You are ongoing. You cannot squelch off now. [. . .] Get your act together. Finish the process. Quickly. [. . .] Work it out, brainiac, and soon. The door won’t stay open forever. We are waiting.
The jokes here land, but they also show a great care for continuity and suspense. The first contact with the aliens, speaking as Doug, seemed like a one-off joke. Now, we know that not only has this microdialect of English remained with them, but will also cause more conflict in the plot. The aliens here are obviously saying something important (maybe something about a way back to Earth?) but now, the team’s going to have to figure out what it means–all because of Doug.
In the episode’s closing, the audience hears from Mr. Cutter who, upon hearing that the Contact Event has occurred from another station that witnesses the solar flare, begins to plan travel up to the Hephaestus with Pryce. This is something that has seemed to loom over the plot since Cutter was introduced, but especially after Pryce was revealed as Hera’s creator and the one who essentially fast-tracked a life of abuse onto her. The combination of the aliens’ message and this imminent threat give exciting expectations for where Season 4 is going to go, but it comes at the cost of continuing to deal with what the crew has gone through.
While this episode felt rushed and a bit tone-deaf, it would have been a fine episode on its own. It just wasn’t a very strong episode to start the final season, and especially not after such a long break. Still, it should be noted that this was a mediocre episode for Wolf 359, meaning it is still one of the best pieces of audio I’ve heard in months. The production work, as always, is immaculate. The voice work is diverse, expressive, and deeply funny when it needs to be. There is an overwhelming feeling that every single hand that touches each episode wholly understands what the show is and needs to be. Even if this episode left me underwhelmed, I am extremely grateful that something will fill this level of quality now that The Bright Sessions is off-season. Even at its most lackluster, this show remains one of the pinnacles of quality in the industry right now.