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.
“The 911 Call”
“Episode 4: DDoS”
So, what happens in these episodes?
“The 911 Call”
In this mini episode, a news station reports on a leaked 911 call Lia made to local authorities. In the call, Lia reports a shooting. She sounds skittish and confused, but also removed from the situation: when the dispatcher says they’ll send someone, Lia says, “Whatever you’re sending, send more,” and when the dispatcher asks if there are multiple shooters, Lia says she doesn’t know. Lia says she’s an hour away, but she heard the attack–and that she’s heading back. When the dispatcher tells her not to, Lia ends the call.
Lia picks the episode back up with her explanation. She put this call on the feed because it’s already public, even though APR told her not to. She apologizes to the loved ones of the recently deceased Max Finlayson, if they are listening.
“Episode 4: DDoS”
Lia starts off “Episode 4: DDoS” with a warning–not just about the death of Max Finlayson, but also about Max’s general . . . eccentricities. We hear Max’s voice over a phone call to Lia, talking about how ice cream is the greatest and singular accomplishment of humankind, seemingly in the middle of discussing important interview details with Lia. It’s immediately clear that Max is values levity and agency, and that he is–ostensibly–the least clearly traumatized person Lia has spoken with.
The two meet on a beach Max loves, a beach his family used to take him to when he was younger. He comments on how the waterfall looks like it’s “pissing onto the sand,” then offers Lia coffee or a granola bar. Lia refuses, and Max starts explaining things, using a stick to draw into the sand–but Lia’s narration cuts him off. Before diving in, she wants to give context to the–in Limetown‘s fictional world–small minority of people who don’t know who Max Finlayson is.
First, Lia confirms that her parents are alive and safe. Next, she confirms that Max Finlayson is either missing or dead. In this segment, Lia explains that she’s still playing the audio, because it’s what Max would have wanted. What’s less important than her words here is her tone. For the first time, the listener hears a truly remorseful, sympathetic Lia. Between the death of both The Reverend Warren Chambers and, allegedly, Max Finlayson, the gravity of the situation is finally sinking in for her.
Lia brings in her producer, Mark Green, to explain Max Finlayson through his favorite terribly TV movie, Signals. Mark explains that Signals is based on a novel of the same title, and was adapted for the SyFy channel in 2007. Lia sasses Mark about his taste, but Mark defends his love for Signals and explains its plot: it’s the fictionalized version of what “really” happened in Limetown, following the story of Oskar Totem trying to contact an alien life form–and Max Finlayson falling in love with it. The story becomes a love triangle between Max, his wife Deidre Finlayson, and the alien. Eventually, this love leads to the summoning of Lovecraftian horrors that kill Oskar and wreak havoc, but Mark says he’s inspired by Max, this deeply curious man who risks everything for “a love that couldn’t be named.”
The episode cuts back to Max, the factual person in the fiction versus the fictional character within the fiction. Max explains that the purpose of Limetown was to find a way to convey information with as little lost in translation as possible. He shows Lia his scar–a small line going up from his left ear–and says that the solution is the implant and the supplement. Lia suggests that this is reading minds, but Max pushes back on this–he says that “Reading requires work. This is a link.” He tells her to consider a world in which every baby born is immediately given the implant to hear each other.
Max: You can only hear it if you have it.
Lia: That’s . . .
Max: Impressive is the word you’re searching for.
Lia: I was going to say “monstrous.”
Max: Ah, well, I had a 50/50 chance.
Max talks about the “second self,” how your conscious brain is the last in the chain of command to think something like, “That is a beer.” Way before that happens, your subconscious mind has already processed thoughts like “beer.” This is what Max calls the second self, and it is what the implant and supplement transmit and receive. Max also explains what he calls “word soup,” the mishmash of everyone’s thoughts in your brain when you don’t have the supplement to help you focus in on just one person and weed out the other noise. He says that the supplement has to be taken daily, and that it contains some LSD.
Lia: You’re saying everyone in Limetown was taking psychotropic drugs?
Max: No, Lia. Not everyone. It was an experiment. You have a control group.
Max says he was not in the control group, but was a test subject, which surprises Lia–and Max is surprised by her surprise. We get another wrong question in the form of who was in the control group, to which Max responds, “I’m telling you about flying to the moon and you’re asking what the astronauts were wearing?”
Lia asks if the implant can be removed, and Max says yes, but there’s a chance he’ll end up like Winona. This does explain some of Winona’s behavior in the second episode, but I’m still not entirely bought in–but we’ll discuss that in a later section.
They go to Max’s house and share an exchange that is perhaps not plot relevant, but is one of the most important moments of characterization for Max:
Lia: What are you thinking?
Max: Trying my best not to.
Max’s house is massive, lovely, and sardonically named “Test Site.” His house is surrounded by a pyramid of poles, each one lined with megaphones pointing in all directions. He offers Lia a seltzer, and she accepts.
She sees that he has a gun and ammo, but finds herself more afraid for him than of him. Concerned, she does something she hasn’t done with any other interview subjects. She asks what she can and cannot ask. She says she’s worried for him. Max, however, understands his fate. He’s not quite resigned, but he is being realistic, even, at times, optimistic. He stresses that he’s been waiting for them to come for him for the last ten years, and he’s tired of being silent. He hates that his beautiful, monumental tech exists and works but isn’t being used.
Lia asks her questions:
Who was The Man They Were All There For (TMTWATF)?
Max dodges this question, saying the less known, the better. “He was the secret sauce, but I made the hamburgers. Next question.”
Who has the first human subject?
Frank Banner, a well-mannered, relaxed friend of Max’s who was chosen almost arbitrarily.
What was The Panic?
Instead of answering this question directly, Max talks about Oskar Totem. He says that when they worked together, he once bumped into Oskar, and Oskar shouted at him–something very unlike the hippie-ish man’s typical personality. Max watches Oskar go to his office, where he sees him pull out an accordion folder with a hummingbird on it. Max has no idea what this is other than a “super-duper double secret project if we’re being technical,” but he assumes some organization was trying to get him to sell out the information about Limetown. Max thinks Oskar did it, and that they killed Oskar anyway.
Max goes to his piano and starts playing idly, talking about how Oskar was an unethical, awful person. Lia asks who, specifically, killed Oskar, and Max says he doesn’t know. Lia presses Max, and he snaps at her, breaking his pointedly casual demeanor. He says, “You weren’t there. People were wearing masks. Structures were on fire. I was being held at gunpoint.”
Lia points out that with the implant, Max would have been able to hear Oskar’s thoughts, and Max admits that Lia is right. He discusses Oskar’s final thoughts, saying that he tried to apologize for everything, tried to desperately find any way to escape, and then–even though he was a devout atheist–tried repenting with every god he could think of. Max says it doesn’t matter who did it in the end. He says he remembers the tone for each feeling, and he plays them on his piano. He says he remembers the sound of brain death, and loudly closest the piano.
They head back to Lia’s car, and she feels overwhelmed with gratitude–but she asks him one last question. She asks him about the megaphones on his house. He tells her that there is “a darkness coming,” getting worse since he first contacted her. He’s figured out that certain frequencies can interfere with the implant, and he hopes that when they come for him, the megaphones will buy him the time he needs to slip away.
On her drive back home, Max calls Lia, and the noise in the call is cacophonous. He says, “Goodbye, Dorothy.” She asks if someone is there with him, and he says yes, and that they want her to now something.
“I was wrong. Don’t try to run.”
Key facts and characters
- Max Finlayson: Max Finlayson is one of the head researchers in Limetown. Charismatic and eccentric, Max explains the innerworkings of Limetown to Lia. He developed the tech that would become the implant. Max Finlayson is either dead or missing. Max Finlayson is played by Daniel Damiano, and his fictionalized TV person was played by John Milosich.
- Mark Green: Lia’s producer at APR who’s obsessed with Signals. Mark Green is played by Nathaniel Kent.
- Signals: Based on the (fictional) novel by the same name, Signals was a TV movie that tried to tell the story of Limetown. In Signals, Max Finlayson falls in love with an alien of pure energy, forming a love triangle between Max, the alien, and Max’s wife, Deidre Finlayson. The movie ends with Lovecraftian horrors killing Oskar Totem.
- “Deidre Finlayson”: In Signals, Deidre Finlayson is Max Finlayson’s wife. Deidre Finlayson was played by Kate Greer.
- The scar: The implant leaves a visible scar behind the left ear of those who have it.
- Frank Banner: Frank Banner was the first human test subject for the implant, chosen for his kindness, calmness, and belief in the cause.
- The folder: Max Finlayson sees Oskar Totem getting an accordion folder with a hummingbird on it out of his desk. Max believes this was a secret project, an agency trying to get Oskar to sell out.
- Dorothy: In his call to Lia, Max says, “Goodbye, Dorothy,” but doesn’t explain what he means.
How does it hold up?
“Episode 4: DDoS” is, to date, one of the best pieces of audio I’ve ever heard.
So much of what Limetown is culminates in this episode. First, we have the rich world building that helps everything feel immersive. World building isn’t something most realistic science fiction stories set in a modern time period need to worry about, other than regarding their science fiction elements. Here, though, the detail given to the pop culture of the world Limetown takes place in is so believable. The audience didn’t need Signals to appreciate or understand Max–and they certainly didn’t need a clip “from the movie,” complete with a second Max actor. It was a step they didn’t need to take, but they fact that they did made the episode so much more real.
Limetown is focused on its plot, which is brought together here even more concretely than in “3: Napoleon,” but it’s even more focused on its characters. Max Finlayson is one of the most interesting, complex characters I’ve experienced in any kind of media, all behind the facade of being straightforward. Max puts up an appearance that he is nonchalant, two steps ahead of everyone, unabashed, and unafraid, but at his core, so much of that is untrue. He’s been scarred by what happened in Limetown just as much as anyone else, even if he doesn’t show it or hides behind his quirks and humor. He’s someone who believes so much in what he was doing in Limetown so much, he risked it all–a “love that couldn’t be named.” And even with all of that, he’s still genuinely funny, genuinely charismatic.
Lia’s characterization in “Episode 4: DDoS” also flourishes. It’s clear that the death of The Reverend hit Lia hard, and she now has to remember that she’s dealing with real people. Her fear isn’t just that she’ll get found, that her family will get found, or that she won’t get answers. She’s genuinely worried about Max. When she apologizes to his loved ones, her remorse is visceral, yet understated in the way we would expect from Lia at this point.
And, yes, let’s discuss that revelation about Winona, that she behaves the way she did because she had the implant removed. This explains her behavior–like I said in a previous recap, Max lampshades it here–but it leads to further questions about the timing of Winona’s story, why she wasn’t able to hear more, etc. It feels almost like this line was thrown in to explain Winona’s writing, though I don’t think this is the case. Regardless, it does not make “2: Winona” feel like it’s at the level of the other episodes for me.
Mapping out Limetown
- For those who are relistening instead of listening for the first time, yes, there is a character in Signals named “Deidre Finlayson.”
- There is, in fact, a real scientist named Max Finlayson. He’s an ecologist.
- In the fiction, Signals came out on the SyFy in 2007, the year that gave us such titles as Ice Spiders, Blood Monkey, and Kaw.
- Max tells Lia that once you have the implant, you can control very little of what “second brain” thoughts and feelings you put out–so why could TMTWATF speak clear sentences to Winona?
- Lia confirms with Max that he can’t “read her mind,” and he says no . . . but we already know Max does not call using the implant “reading minds.”
- The traces of LSD in the supplement shouldn’t be as surprising as they are to Lia; testing with psychotropic drugs wan’t uncommon in the 1960s, and it’s been seeing some resurgence lately. Radiolab had an episode that discussed testing with psilocybin (a.k.a. magic mushrooms), and LSD experiments even helped inspire Stranger Things.
- Speaking of Radiolab, I was convinced Robert Krulwich played Max Finlayson for at least a six months.
- Here are the tones for each feeling that Max played on his piano:
- Happy: Bb
- Sad: F
- Anxious: C
- Angry: G
- Jealous: D
- The next recap will include the mini-episode “The Central Question” along with “Episode 5: Scarecrow”