One of 2017’s standout new audio dramas, The Big Loop is a sometimes sci-fi, sometimes magical realism anthology series told in monologues. After a between-seasons hiatus starting in early 2018, The Big Loop returns tomorrow (August 14th, 2018) with “Surfacing.” In true The Big Loop fashion, “Surfacing” is a gorgeous, moving piece of audio worth savoring several times over. A teaser of the episode can be listened to on the podcast’s website or on their feed in a podcatcher.
“Surfacing” is the story of an Ama diver, a Japanese woman who would dive for pearls and shellfish. The story isn’t told directly by the woman, but instead by her daughter, who translates from her mother’s Japanese sign language to English. The story is performed by Mayumi Yoshida, best known for her performance in The Man in the High Castle, and is delivered with a beautiful intimate tenderness. There are moments in the episode during which the narrator does break her narration, taking a moment to speak to her mother in Japanese, none of which is translated. In a story largely about being othered from the hearing world and largely about imperialization, it’s a welcome and elegant choice.
In the episode, the narrator translates her mother’s experience as an Ama diver–specifically, her experience becoming closer to one of the other Ama divers who taught her best practices and tactics. As the two get closer, they also find themselves disagreeing, until the narrator’s mother makes a choice that changes their relationship forever.
Ama divers are often called “mermaids of Japan,” and the imagery is prevalent throughout the writing; however, this episode takes its time getting to its supernatural elements. One of The Big Loop‘s biggest assets is its pacing, its ability to give a story the space it needs to steep with the listener before pulling on too many emotions or allowing itself to dip into the facets of its genres. The Big Loop is patient, and it trusts its listeners to be patient, too, resulting in a story that isn’t just substance or supernatural. It’s both, weaving the two together to create something that tells a lush, intriguing story but leaves the listener with questions not just about the text, but about their own philosophies.
In “Surfacing,” the mother of the narrator accounts her experience as an Ama diver, but she also accounts the my losses in her life. “Surfacing” is about othering and imperialization, but it’s also largely about ephemerality. This plays on the traditional myths of mermaids, the type you’d see from the corner of your eye, spot for just a moment before they disappear. The narrative is laced with loss and resignation, a perhaps forced but quiet contentedness with the knowledge that nothing gold can stay. As the narrator explains, “All we have is what we feel today.”
With “Surfacing,” The Big Loop reminds the listener of everything that makes it special. It’s a tender story that allows itself silence and time, but it also plays with genre in ways that aren’t used to just to make the plot more interesting but to deepen the message being told, the questions being asked.