Let’s Listen to Limetown is a relisten and recap series for season one of Limetown released every Tuesday and Thursday starting October 9th, 2018, in preparation for its second season release on October 31st, 2018. You can see the full series here.
“Episode 1: What We Know”
So, what happens in this episode?
In its first episode, Limetown gives the listener exactly what the title suggests: what we–the listener, who is positioned as existing in the fictional world Limetown is set in, and Lia Haddock, the narrator and protagonist of the story–know about Limetown, ten years after everyone disappeared.
The episode starts with a quick montage of police calls and news reports from the last known day of life in Limetown, intercut with a reporter the audience will come to know as Lia Haddock, reporting for a company called American Public Radio (APR). The story behind Limetown is described with as much detail and research as her team can manage. Limetown, named for the limestone caves over which it was built, was a city in Tennessee created by investor R. B. Villard, owner of a company called Realore, that was to be the home of about a thousand great scientific minds (including Lia’s uncle, Dr. Emile Haddock) and their families. The city would be entirely insular and off the grid, with researchers and their families occupying roles like janitors, barbers, cooks, waiters, and more to keep the town functional. It was unclear what the residents of Limetown were there to do, but there were rumors that the project was meant to fully understand the human mind–whatever that means. In total, 327 people lived in Limetown.
Not long after its founding, though, something strange happened in Limetown. Local police departments were getting calls about some calamity going on, which we’ll call The Panic. The calls are confusing, mentioning violence and a an unending noise. Authorities were not allowed inside when they arrived, and the next day, everyone was gone. The only human remain–only as in there weren’t even samples of saliva on toothbrushes–was a tooth fragment of the head researcher, Oskar Totem, at a burned stake in the middle of town.
Oskar Totem is explained to be a genius who was extremely passionate, extremely humanistic, but also extremely difficult. Limetown’s vintage aesthetic and eye for human comforts, like including a movie theater, was the work of Oskar Totem–but so too was whatever researcher project the citizens were conducting. Oskar is presumed to be dead, burned at the stake in the middle of town during The Panic.
Lia Haddock explains her familiarity with the case, and her lifelong obsession. She was seventeen when the mysterious conclusion befell Limetown; now, ten years later, she’s still trying to find out what happened via this investigative journalism case. Very few people will talk to her about the subject. R. B. Villard is in hiding, and a contractor who helped build Limetown said in an interview he was held at Guantanamo Bay for 18 months. After the interview, the contractor disappeared.
After a montage with the Limetown residents’ surviving families–all of whom insist their relatives are still alive, just missing–Lia goes to the ruins of Limetown with Terry Hilkens, a local reporter in Tennessee who’s been covering the story since it broke ten years ago. Terry shows Lia around, and Lia comments on its state of disrepair and the awful stench of the place. Terry says that while the place was built well and with a massive budget, there was somehow no accounting for the damage the rain would cause, and the buildings are now falling apart from dry rot. Terry explains that the costs of Limetown were public information and cost between $1.7-2 billion. He also explain’s Limetown’s name to her.
The episode ends with Lia receiving a call from Terry, who then puts Lia through to what he says is the only survivor of Limetown.
Key facts and characters
- Lia Haddock: Lia Haddock is the protagonist of Limetown, an investigative journalist with APR looking into the story of Limetown. She has specific attachment to the story, as her estranged uncle was one of the researchers there who disappeared. Lia is played by Annie Sage Whitehurst.
- Limetown: Named for the limestone caves on which it was built, Limetown was a town of great scientific minds and their families. The scientists were there to work on a massive research project regarding the human mind. Ten years ago, after a sudden and mysterious panic, all 327 citizens went missing. Currently, the ruins of Limetown are falling apart due to dry rot.
- Dr. Emile Haddock: Dr. Emile Haddock is Lia’s uncle, who Lia only met as a child due to family disputes. He was a researcher in Limetown.
- Terry Hilkens: Terry Hilkens is a local reporter in Tennessee who has been covering the Limetown story for a decade. He shows Lia the ruins of Limetown and connects her in a phone call with the survivor.
- R. B. Villard: R. B. Villard is the investor who owns Realore, the company that owned Limetown and employed all of its citizens. He has gone into hiding. R. B. Villard is played by Leer Leary.
- Oskar Totem: Oskar Totem is the head researcher in Limetown who not only conducted the main research project, but also created the feeling of Limetown itself. Oskar Totem is played by Brian Linden.
- The Panic: The Panic was a mysterious incident in Limetown during which something happened inside the town that caused residents to call local authorities. This is presumably when Oskar Totem was burned at the stake. 17 minutes after The Panic, local authorities arrived to Limetown, but they weren’t allowed inside. The next day, everyone was already gone.
How does it hold up?
To this day, I’ve heard few pilot episodes of an audio fiction that hold up better than Limetown‘s.
My appreciation here is, admittedly, painted by some nostalgia: as I heard Lia Haddock’s voice, heard the music and the texture of this episode, I couldn’t help feeling transported back to that moment when I felt something change in how I listened to podcasts. Limetown was so new when it came out, so exciting–and that feeling still remains. While some of my love comes from that past excitement, I was also captivated by how great this episode still is.
While the acting, writing, and production are all impressive in this episode, what stands out most so many years later is the pacing. The episode shifts rapidly between a police montage, archival interviews, Lia’s introduction, summaries of the events and the key players, and a genuinely heartwrenching montage of interviews with the families of those who went missing. The pacing could have been a disaster here, driving the plot to trip over itself and the emotional performances to fall flat on their faces. Instead, the quick pace plays out like an elegant gallop.
The episode does stumble a bit at the cliffhanger phone call, which doesn’t align quite perfectly with the next episode. There are some moments I had to suspend my disbelief–why would Lia not know how much Limetown cost or why it was given its name if it were public record and this were her obsession?–but that was an easy task with how gorgeous and immersive the episode still is.
Mapping out Limetown
- Accompanying the news broadcasts in the very beginning of the episode is a shrill, almost inaudibly high tone.
- There’s plenty I’m not catching in those news reports given they’re in different languages. Can anyone translate?
- The discussion of the movie theater always makes me suspicious.
- “We have checked the caves, okay? Enough with the caves!”
- At one point, Lia mentions to Terry that the marketing of Limetown as a “home” made it sound like Disneyland–likely, a reference to either the initial concept for Epcot or Celebration, Florida, two communities conceptualized by Disney and just as upsetting as Limetown itself
- The discussion of the rapid flow of the news cycle burying the Limetown story somehow feels even more real and accurate today than when it came out.