Let’s Listen to Limetown: “The Central Question” & “Episode 5: Scarecrow”

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 Central Question”

“Episode 5: Scarecrow”


So, what happens in these episodes?

“The Central Question”

The episode begins with a call on APR’s Limetown tip line. A woman angrily tells Lia to stop producing the podcast, saying her brother, Kenneth, was missing male #135. The caller is furious, telling Lia she has no right to endanger others–and when Lia picks up the narration, she doesn’t necessarily disagree. It’s clear that the deaths of Warren Chambers and Max Finlayson have eaten away at her, but then she gets a call that changes her mind–a call from Deirdre Wells, Max Finlayson’s ex-wife.

“Episode 5: Scarecrow”

Lia opens the episode by discussing the warnings APR has given her about continuing the podcast. The Vice President of APR, Gina Purri, calls her in frustration, telling her she can no longer travel or conduct in-person interviews–both for Lia’s safety and the safety of everyone involved. “Please don’t put this in your show,” Gina says, in the show. “We’re all on the same team here.

Unsurprisingly, when Lia gets the call from Deirdre Wells, she ignores this advisement. She pays for a flight in cash and travels to a different country to speak with her. Initially, over the phone, Deirdre says she wants to talk to Lia because whatever Max said about Limetown, it wasn’t true. Max, she says, did a lot of terrible things, and that shouldn’t be forgotten. When Lia tells her that Max said, “Goodbye, Dorothy,” during their call, though, Deirdre’s tone softens.

Lia jumps back into narration to explain why she is still trying to tell the true story of Limetown. It’s clear the her remorse and maybe even regret are real, but this story is no longer about her curiosity. Now, it’s about vindicating the innocent people involved, telling the story of those who aren’t able, and showing the public what happened to those who were there. Lia now seems to fully understand why this story is important besides just having the facts: it’s important not only because it could change the world, but because it did change every single person there. She says, “If I don’t tell this story, it will never be told. Someone must be held accountable for what happened. It is bigger than me; it is bigger than APR. This is why I will continue, and that is the last I will say on the matter.”

Lia meets Deirdre in a park, and her level of paranoia is immediately evident. Lia is on edge, suspicious of everyone in the park; Deirdre, meanwhile, is shockingly calm and relaxed. Deirdre says she has two reasons for talking to Lia:

  1. Max deserved better, and
  2. She caused The Panic, and she needs people to know what happened.

Deirdre wants to give some context to her relationship with Max to help explain what happened, so Lia asks, “When did you and Max meet?” Again, Deirdre’s tone softens, and her voice changes to dreamlike nostalgia. She says they met a Johns-Hopkins while she was getting her undergraduate degree in international communications and Max was getting his PhD in molecular psychology. They saw each other in the library but didn’t speak until they both saw each other at a party. The two later went on a date, and Max was so exhausted from working on his dissertation that he fell asleep in the guacamole. Lia asks what Deirdre did, and Deirdre said she left him there; he obviously needed his sleep. She says she was endeared to it: “There’s something very attractive about someone with a lot on their mind, isn’t there?”

Lia gets nervous about someone watching them in the park. They move to a different spot.

Lia asks who Dorthy was, and Deirdre explains that it’s a nickname Max gave her when they were both in college. Deirdre threw a going away party before leaving to Caracas on a research grant, and Max was being unusually standoffish. When she confronted him, he asked if she was even going to miss him, and she said, “You’re my Scarecrow. I’ll miss you most of all.” Deirdre starts calling Max her Scarecrow, and Max starts calling Deirdre his Dorothy.

Lia, worried again, asks if they can move once more.

Deirdre and Max move in together, and Max proposes on daylight savings because he “wanted an extra hour of the best day of his life.” Max gets a job at Stanford, and Deirdre gets her PhD in international policy. Eventually, Oskar Totem starts attending Max’s lectures, sitting at the back. Max assumes this is some sort of vetting process so he works even harder, and one day, Oskar puts a small pin on Max’s desk and leaves. The pin is a round button that reads:

I HAVE HEARD THE FUTURE

Max gets a call about Limetown the next day.

Deirdre is not happy about this. She tells Lia that she still had work to do on her PhD, and she wasn’t going to be getting an exciting job within Limetown–though Lia doesn’t ask what the job was. Max and Deirdre fight over this endlessly. Deirdre insists she’s not going, but Max insists that she must come with him. They fight for so long that eventually, they are lying on the floor, and Max tells her, “I’m going to change the world, and I can’t do that without you. We’re going to Oz, and I need my Dorothy.” Deirdre says yes–but she says that what hurts her the most is knowing he knew how dangerous it would be, but he wanted to bring her anyway.

Lia asks what Limetown was like, and Deirdre’s answer is essentially, “It was weird.” She says that the first night they got there, they went to a party with a distinctly vintage aesthetic, drawing on imagery from the 1939 World’s Fair–but the schism between the vintage aesthetic and talks of the future were strange. Oskar gives a speech wearing the same pin he gave to Max, and “The Tennessee Waltz” plays in the background.

Deirdre knew that some people in Limetown were being tested on, but others weren’t. What she didn’t realize–what none of them realized–was that Limetown wasn’t build for running experiments within; Limetown was the experiment. You either had the tech or you were in the control group. When she finds out Max is going to get the implant, she’s worried and furious, but Max confusingly says, “Colonel Sanders ate his own fried chicken every day of his life, and that’s why everybody remembers him!” Deirdre confirms that this is not true.

Lia asks how Deirdre is so normal, and she says she’s not. She says her life will never be the same, that her mother died last year and she couldn’t even attend the funeral. Lia seems jittery, and Deirdre tells Lia it’s okay not to be okay. They move to Lia’s car.

After Max got the implant, so did more people–but not Deirdre. Deirdre says these people were seemingly chosen at random, and it becomes a piece of gossip; Limetown is, after all, a small town. Initially, those without the tech feel special, less disposable, and they start jokingly calling themselves the Old School. As more and more people get the tech, though, they realize they are the outsiders, not the other way around. Memos have to be sent out telling people to communicate verbally. A waiter fails to properly serve Max and Deirdre because he assumes they both have the tech.

The Old School becomes more of a clique, and Deirdre takes time to reach out to them and makes sure they’re feeling heard. She feels like she has to help undo some of the grief that Max has put them through. One member of the Old School, Spence Harrison, was already an activitst outside of Limetown, so he starts treating the Old School like a union. His frustration with the tech, Deirdre says, stems from a breakup in which a woman named Alex left Spence for someone else with the tech, but this spirals for Spence. He petitions Oskar Totem to allow people to choose whether or not they receive the tech, even though logically he knows experiments need a control group.

Deirdre starts feeling the distance the tech is causing between her and Max. She says it’s akin to “phubbing” (phone snubbing, a term that Deirdre calls “very stupid”) but “magnified a hundred times over.” Eventually, she’s sick of how little she recognizes him, how she doesn’t feel close with him, and she asks for the tech. Max says no. She keeps asking, and Max keeps saying no, but one night Max comes home frantically and tells her that she’s getting it. Lia comments that she did notice the scar behind Deirdre’s left ear. Deirdre says they went to the lab in the middle of the night in disguises, and that while the operation usually required five people, it was done by just Max and Oskar. Deirdre wanted to stay close with the Old School, and Max agreed that it was wise to do it in secret.

Lia asks what made Max change his mind. Deirdre says, “For us, I thought,” but she won’t answer Lia about what she thinks now.

Deirdre starts explaining about the flaws in the tech. She says that it can send thoughts and emotions, but it can’t explain why you’re feeling that way to someone. The tech that Deirdre thought would bring them closer winds up pulling them further apart, and the two essentially give up on their relationship while keeping up appearances to everyone else.

One day, though, Deirdre is at a cafe called Daddiowith the Old School when Max unexpectedly walks in. The two meet eyes, and for a moment he’s the Max she knew, and she’s the Deirdre he knew. Via the tech, Max sends her, “Hello, Dorothy,” and Deirdre tells him, “I was right, Scarecrow. I missed you more than anything.” They smile and start to cry, but unfortunately, Spence sees exactly what is going on. He pulls Deirdre by the hair to reveal her scar.

Furious, Spence calls an emergency meeting in the town square. He says the Old School will strike if they aren’t given the tech, even those with the tech tell him it’s not exactly a pleasant experience. The meeting becomes violent–people throw chairs, and the Old School destroy the stockpiles of the supplement. Because it was given out daily, those with the tech don’t have any on reserve, and start not only going through withdrawals but also being incapable of filtering out individual voices. It’s the “word soup” Max commented on plus the symptoms of abruptly leaving an intense medication. Soon, though, those with a tech get a message from The Man They Were All There For (TMTWATF) telling them to remain calm, and Deirdre says it made her feel truly safe.

It doesn’t last long, though. People are coming down from the supplements, making them incapable of defending themselves against others–including Max, who gets assaulted within their home. Those with the tech are brought back to the town square, and Oskar Totem is tied to a stake. At this point, even Spence is being pinned down and attacked by others; the riots he started were so far beyond him at this point. A woman named Helen Muller has a megaphone and tells everyone that Oskar must die so that they all feel death. They light the pyre, and Deirdre looks away, and then blacks out. She comes to on the ground, where she’s picked up and scanned by an armored man in all black. She sees these armored people coming out of every building within Limetown. The scanner beeps twice, and the man tells someone to keep her. TMTWATF comes back into their minds and tells them to be calm, but this time, he isn’t convincing. She blacks out again.

Lia asks who TMTWATF is. Deirdre says,

“You said earlier that I seemed okay, and there are days when that is true: the days when I don’t think I see Max in a crowd and can go an hour without looking behind my shoulder, days when I read in the park, try not to smoke. I make dinner and worry about things that don’t matter: bills, the news, my weight. maybe I’ll be made happy by some small something: the smell of new laundry or a hand on my back, one of those little reminders that life can be kind, joy isn’t a memory. Some nights I can even fall asleep without Ambien. But those are the days I don’t think about what happened. I need to remember Limetown and still be able to fall asleep. That’s when I’ll be okay.

He was your uncle.”

Lia is confused, but Deirdre says she’s always been a part of this. She tells Lia not to let it break her, that they would have killed her already if they wanted her dead. Deirdre leaves.

Lia takes back over with narration. She tries to forget the details of The Panic and instead focus on what she remembers about her uncle, Emile Haddock. She does to her house and looks through the things she had in high school but left behind when she went to college. There, she finds her scarf. On it, there’s a pin that says, “I HAVE HEARD THE FUTURE.”

There is a pause, and the episode end with a recording of “The Tennessee Waltz.”


Key facts and characters

  • Deirdre Wells: Deirdre Wells is the ex-wife of Max Finlayson. A brilliant mind on her own merit, Deirdre was dragged to Limetown because of Max’s importance there. Initially, she didn’t have the tech, and instead became a facet of the Old School, helping them deal with their loneliness. When Deirdre gets the tech, she accidentally becomes the tipping point for the Old School that sets off the events leading to The Panic. Deirdre Wells is played by Keilly McQuail.
  • Dorothy: Deirdre Wells’s nickname from Max, a reference to The Wizard of Oz.
  • Kenneth: One of the missing people from Limetown, #135. His sister calls APR threatening to sue if they continue the Limetown story.
  • Gina Purri: Gina Purri is the Vice President of APR. She tells Lia not to do any more in-person interviews, and Lia does not listen. Gina Purri is played by Ann Gulian.
  • Spence Harris: Spence Harris is a member of the Old School. An activisit for any cause even outside of Limetown, his frustration with who is chosen to receive the text boils over when he finds out Deirdre has the implant. Spence Harris causes the moments that lead to The Panic, but when The Panic happens, even he is being attacked.
  • Alex: A woman in Limetown who broke up with Spence Harris because she had the tech and he didn’t.
  • Helen Muller: A woman in Limetown who drummed up some of the turmoil during The Panic. Over a megaphone, she tells the citizens that Oskar must die so they feel death over and over.
  • I HAVE HEARD THE FUTURE: The slogan on the pin Oskar gives the residents in Limetown a reference to the 1939 World’s Fair exhibit from General Motors: “I Have Seen the Future.”
  • The Man They Were All There For: Emile Haddock, Lia’s missing uncle.

How does it hold up?

In plot and delivery, “Episode 5: Scarecrow” feels like one of the simpler episodes, but its nuance comes through layers of allusion in writing and the phenomenal performance by Keilly McQuail as Deirdre Wells.

When I’ve spoken with others about Limetown, the image everyone seems to remember the most vividly isn’t the murder of Napoleon or Max Finlayson’s massive house, but instead the image of Max and Deirdre, so exhausted from fighting that they are lying on the floor. Everything about this episode feels so authentic and true to the characters, so relatable regardless of their specific situation. The intensity of a love felt between two passionate people who are terribly busy is, yes, just as tragically romantic as the episode makes the listener feel.

The layers of subtlety and feeling McQuail puts into her performance here is incredible. Even the breath she takes, the small, “Oh,” she gives after Lia asks how Deirdre and Max met, is so tangibly tender. Deirdre easily could have been a typical woman scorned, or a typical woman who was just too naive, but McQuail plays her as neither. Deirdre isn’t a type of character–Deirdre is a person, and each one of her responses is nuanced.

The allusions in this episode were sometimes a little much; the discussion of Planet of the Apes, while interesting and true (check down below for more on that) didn’t feel terribly relevant to what Deirdre was trying to say. While they may not fit seamlessly into the narrative at times, their payoff is usually worth the inclusion. While the references to The Wizard of Oz are the most iconic of this episode, using “The Tennessee Waltz” has always been massively underrated in my eyes.


Mapping out Limetown

 

 

  • Yes, the “I Have Seen the Future” pins did exist at the 1939 World’s Fair. The design to the left is likely the more accurate of the two, but Limetown‘s pins are based on the second design. For a short time, Limetown mailed out free “I HAVE HEARD THE FUTURE” pins to people who pre-ordered the novel, and I was very happy to get one.
    • This isn’t related to Limetown, but in case you saw “GENERAL MOTORS Futurama” there and got curious: yes, that is where Futurama got its name.
  • In Signals, the TV movie discussed in “Episode 4: DDoS,” Deirdre Wells is named “Deidre Finlayson,” getting both her first and last names wrong.
  • “The Tennessee Waltz” is a song about someone’s sweetheart being stolen away by their friend over the course of one dance. Not only does the song hearken the imagery and aesthetic of the World’s Fair (while also being vaguely terrifying upon a first listen, then devastating quickly after), but it mirrors the sentiment in both Signals and Max and Deirdre’s relationship. In both, Deirdre finds the person who loved so wholly consumed by his work. Just like in the song, Deirdre Wells lost her love the night they were playing the Tennessee Waltz.
  • There are plenty of references to The Wizard of Oz throughout, including their nicknames–which are made even more tragic when you remember that in that scene, Dorothy is leaving Oz, the Scarecrow, and the others behind, even though she loved them so much.
  • Deirdre’s discussion of how the actors in The Planet of the Apes would sit with actors who played primates of the same species is accurate.
  • Max’s discussion of Colonel Sanders was not accurate, but in researching just to make sure, I found that Colonel Sanders did have an absolutely bizarre life.
  • The next recap will include the mini-episode “Answers” along with “Episode 6: Cost-Benefit Analysis”

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