For the Record is a relisten and recap series of 36 Questions. You can see the full series here. 36 Questions was created by Ellen Winter and Chris Littler.
An embed to RadioPublic’s direct link for the episode, which you can also find here.
So, what happens in this episode?
The hour-long finale of 36 Questions begins with the piano and cello that front the other episodes, followed by a message beep. Judith jumps directly into narration: she’s walking along the road, trying to hitchhike–but initially to no avail. It’s been a few hours since her last recording, and she says that she realized something, but she’s cut off by someone offering her a ride, who she turns down. Instead, she walks back to the house, intent on finishing the questions whether or not Jace wants to.
Judith makes it to the house, and Jace asks if she walked all the way there, the entire 10 miles, but Judith ignore him; instead, she starts asking him the questions and expecting him to answer. Jace is baffled and furious, saying he won’t comply, but also that his moms are flying in because he told them everything. Judith replies that she’ll explain everything to his moms, but Jace walks inside, leaving Judith on the porch–where she starts yelling her answers at him from the porch anyway.
Judith: “Okay, if you aren’t gonna answer, then I’m perfectly happy continuing them by myself, on your porch, until you can act like a sane adult!”
Jace: “Okay, great, just talk to yourself on my porch! That sounds really sane!”
As Judith gives her answers, Jace leaves for the airport with Henry, saying she’s making him feel like a crazy person. Judith insinuates that he’s only leaving to flee his problems, putting on his “earmuffs of indignation,” but Jace says it’s over. Judith wonders if she’s supposed to chase him, and yells that she’s not giving up after Jace’s truck. She continues answering the questions to herself. At question 31, she thinks she hears someone in the woods and thinks it might be Jace. When she admits she thinks it might be him, she almost stops answering the questions, but she pushes through.
After question 36, which Judith answers, “How do I let you go?”, the episode’s first song begins:
A reprisal of “Hear Me Out,” Judith reflects on her feeling of lightness after having accepted that it’s over. Initially, the song is simple piano chords, whole note and half note sustains for each measure, letting the vocals carry the rhythm and pace. The piano becomes more rhythmic as Judith narrates herself walking away, and then is joined by a solid 4/4 drum beat as Judith says she’s feeling better. The drums are forward in the mix, carrying a forward momentum that helps solidify that Judith really is moving on–or, at least, trying to. When she sings, “It’s gonna hurt, but it’s what I have to do,” she’s joined by her own harmony, a reflection of the duality present between the Judith and Natalie personas in several of the songs before. Now, both parts of her–every part of her–knows that what she’s doing is what has to be done.
I’m leaving now
I’m putting one foot in front of the other now
I deserve to let you go
And built a better version on my own
Judith says she’s going to leave her phone in Jace’s mailbox because he might need it. She says she loves him, that she always will, and her recording ends.
After a pause, a new recording starts. Jace, with two women (presumably his moms in another room) in the background, says he knows what she’s doing by leaving it there. He says he’s going to throw it away. A new recording: he says he’s not going to throw it away; he’s going to mail it to her. A new recording: he stops himself from recording more than, “Hi!” A new recording: he just wants to talk to Judith, but can’t.
The next recording starts with a jazz drum beat that feels mocking and sardonic; it’s such a standard jazz beat, and it comes in before Jace starts talking. It feels like an eye-rolling depiction of dramatic irony rendered as cymbal. Jace says that the date is June 16th, 2010, almost a year after Judith showed up again. He’s joined by a pizzicato upright bass. Jace says he was thinking about Judith–joined by an awkward, ambling piano–to say that he watched a documentary about animals that fall in love outside their species. It was too sad for him to finish, but this is his transition to tell the record that he connected with someone he and Judith used to know, Lisa Coleman. He’s joined by a synth and starts the next song in the episode:
I had a little listen back
My first and last listen back
And I heard you cry
And I heard 3 minutes of unfiltered honesty
I realized I still love you
The next time Jace starts a recording, it’s 2015–four years later. He says that last week, Lisa brought up the 36 questions after reading about them. He says she knows about Judith, but not everything, so he tells her. He says they have a son now, Cooper. When Lisa asks if he wished he hadn’t left, he tells her no, but then he did another listen back. He says that he’d been a coward by running away.
His next recording is in 2017. It’s been eight years, and he’s surprised the iPhone even works. He says that he and Lisa broke up; they were too similar. Cooper is five and handling the split as best he can. Having a kid, Jace realizes how often he lies now to “make things move.” Sometimes you just can’t tell a kid the whole truth.
But then he says he listened to the recordings, but only half. He says she was right to leave the phone with him; now, it’s his time to answer the rest of the questions. Jace answers the rest of the questions and emails them to Judith as an attached pdf.
Like “Answer 36,” the song is largely sustained piano chords and a driving drum beat initially, but it’s quickly joined by a synth, a bass, ad even a voicemail-esque voice saying, “I’m not asking for forgiveness.” Groff’s voice goes between silky vibrato, choppy sing-talking, and a few half-shouted moments, maybe being his most vocally diverse performance in the podcast overall. Jace sings:
But I can finally move on now
No more living in the past
No more hoarding all my answers
Each and every single one of them
I left attached
Here’s to never looking back
All my answers are attached
Jace hypes himself up, saying it’s really over, and that he isn’t going to listen back again.
Of course, it’s Judith and Jace we’re talking about here. Jace isn’t going to have the last word. Another recording starts up, and Jace says he got a reply from Judith. She says that a new addition was put on to the 36 questions: staring into each others’ eyes for four minutes. She says she’s going to be in town on business that week and can give him maybe an hour of her time. She signs her email “Natalie,” though.
Jace goes to the cafe with Cooper, who repeats Jace and then asks what an echo is. Jace explains, and then says that all sounds echo except a duck’s quack, but he doesn’t know why–but then also says that the factoid isn’t true. Cooper asks for orange juice, and Jace says they’ll ask about it.
Judith introduces herself as Natalie to Cooper, and Cooper gives her the phone. Jace asks what Judith is up to, and she makes a joke that Jace initially believes. When he asks more questions, she says that this isn’t about her; it’s his turn to answer the questions. At question 27, when Jace says that sometimes he wants to make a point more than he wants to listen, Cooper asks again for a drink, which Jace has been ignoring to focus on Judith, and Judith gives him her coconut water.
When Jace answers his final question, “How do I let you go?”, Judith answers, “I think you just live.” She says he just has to move on, like she did. Living in a hypothetical past isn’t real. “You don’t know what you don’t know, so stop fretting about it.”
The two start “the staring part,” Judith getting back to her joking tendencies, but the staring is broken up by Cooper asking about what they’re doing. Jace says that when you look into someone’s eyes, you can see if they’re telling the truth (“You wish,” retorts Judith; “Sometimes,” Jace amends), but Cooper says Jace always tells the truth. Then, Cooper asks why someone might not tell the truth, which leads into the final song and conclusion of 36 Questions:
- Natalie Cook: Natalie Cook is a fake identity for Judith Ford, thought up on the spot when Judith met Jase in a park. Natalie’s parents died in a car crash.
- Judith Ford: The real, but still mysterious, identity of the woman married to Jase. Judith is from Arizona and is not totally straight and can play guitar. She wears a retainer, maybe just to sleep. She has won Wheel of Fortune twice. Judith Ford is played by Jessie Shelton.
- Jase Connolly: Jase Connolly is an elementary school music teacher married to Natalie Cook, the fake identity of Judith Ford. Jase has two mothers, an older brother, a brother-in-law, and a niece. Jase Connolly is played by Jonathan Groff.
- Henry: Henry is Jase’s very good pet duck. Henry loves Cheerios.
- Lisa Coleman: Jase’s partner for several years, and the mother of Cooper.
- Cooper: Jase’s son with Lisa Coleman.
Does it hold up?
On this listen, all of the songs in the conclusion were so much better and more memorable than they’d registered to me when I first heard the podcast. “Listen Back” is maybe one of the best songs overall, lyrically dense and expertly produced. The first song as a reprisal with references to the other songs felt more natural and less shoehorned, and “The Truth”‘s bittersweet chord structure and trade-off between which character sings which line is perfect.
Similarly, leaving off on a song that’s pointedly and explicitly ambiguous and ambivalent while leaving the two leads in a state of resolution–even if potentially disappointing for the characters and some of the audience–is the perfect note to end on. After everything leading up until now, it’s strange to remember the conversation regarding the ending: so many people were disappointed that Judith and Jace didn’t somehow get their fairytale ending. It’s almost alarming to hear that this is what people expected, let alone that it’s something they wanted. It’s undeniable that Judith and Jace have chemistry; it’s undeniable that they are a destructive couple.
Unfortunately, something about this final episode still feels off. At just about an hour long, the pacing does sometimes slow to accommodate getting in every single answer to every single question, and to ask those questions both times. There’s perhaps too much space held to make each answer as emotionally riveting as possible, which sometimes translates into skimming the line between riveting and melodrama.
There’s also the issue of Jace’s apologies. This third act seemingly wants to convey two criticism of Jace to the audience: first, that Jace’s fatal flaw is being weak when it comes to his resolve, especially with Judith; and second, that he was a coward, and that it wasn’t fair for him to leave. The first criticism is clearly accurate, as heard in “Listen Back” (as well as, you know, the entire podcast). Hearing Jace give his apologies about fleeing with nothing to show that the thesis of the podcast doesn’t support him here is uncomfortable. After three episodes of Judith manipulating, guilting, and borderline gaslighting Jace, it’s disquieting to hear his apologies go unchallenged. Jace isn’t without flaw, but leaving Judith the ways that he did isn’t one of them.
The 36 Questions
You can find the full list of the 36 Questions here.
- “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”
- Jase: “
Michelle Obama. I would have dinner with Juuuuuuuuudith”Judith: “It’s you.”
- Jase: “
- ” Would you like to be famous? In what way?”
- Judith: “No. No, I would not like to be famous.”
- Jase: “I’d like to be famous for reforming American education. And also for winning The Bachelorette.”
- “Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? If so, why?”
- Jase: “I only rehearse phone calls if I know I’m going to have to speak Spanish.”
- Judith: “I do not rehearse phone calls [. . .] I rarely think about what I say until I’ve already said it.”
- “What would constitute a perfect day for you?”
- Judith: “Tomorrow could be the perfect day if we just let it be.”
- Jase: “A picnic with [his] whole family, a mini muffin basket for lunch, everyone getting together under a big blanket and watching the entire third season of The Office.”
- “When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?”
- Jase: “This afternoon, to Henry [. . .] He only stayed for half.”
- Judith: “Oh I’m gonna die out here.” Her singing it to him “counts” as the second half of the question.
- “If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?”
- Judith: “Body.”
- Jase: “Mind.”
- “Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?”
- Jase: “In [my] car, but [I’m not] sure how.”
- Judith: “[I’m not] afraid of death.”
- “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.”
- Judith: “Easy. We both are super good at Settlers of Catan. We both become monsters when we lose. We both think we have the best worst name for a band. We both check Twitter for our news. There’s four.”
- Jase: “We both say the other is better at cooking. We both hate that kitchen island we built. We both need a glass of water on the bedside table. We both recycle purely out of guilt.”
- Both: “We both have dreams much bigger than ourselves. We’ve both think that’s how to live. We both put up a fight for all the right reasons. We both eventually give.”
- “For what in your life are you most grateful? “
- Jase: “I have wonderful parents. I have a job that I love. I have a duck in my back seat eating cheerios out of my estranged wife’s hands.”
- Judith: “I, for one, am grateful for second chances.”
- “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”
- Judith: “Can I just say my answer is literally everything?” See: “Our Word”
- Jase: “I guess at this point I would ask my parents to raise me to be less trusting.”
- “Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.”
- Jase: “Two moms, grew up around here-ish, one older brother who’s married and living in Palm Springs with his husband and my niece, I always wanted to be a teacher and then I became one, lost my virginity at 21–thank you Lisa Coleman–dated this girl for a few years in college who grew up to be a famous journalist. [. . .] then my moms moved to Austin and I moved to Austin and then I met you, and we got married really fast, though everyone said it was a bad idea, and then we had our life together. For a couple years. Which was nice. And then, yeah, I dunno, we’re here on the beach under your blazer.”
- Judith: “I was born in Phoenix. My parents were–are–what I think are what is colloquially referred to as ‘monster people.’ I lived in New York for a bit, I got laid for the first time when I was 15–yeah, Kevin McKinney, couldn’t make him up–did make up where it happened, though, because it was actually on my parents’ yacht. [. . . ] I did the 20s thing, was a writer for a while, then a nanny, then I died, then I moved to Denver, then I moved to Seattle, then I moved to Austin.”
- “If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?”
- Jase: “I said flight, baby. I wanna fly like a baby bird, like a duck. I miss Henry.” Well, duh, Jase.
- Judith: “I would like to be able to shapeshift, a la Mystique.” Well, duh, Judith.
- “If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?”
- Jase: “Will my capacity to forgive be my downfall?”
- Judith: “If I’m actually good in bed.”
- “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it? “
- Jase: “Sexy cosplay: weird Dr. Who bedroom stuff. [. . .] I felt like I couldn’t do the role justice. Lots of scarf stuff.”
- Judith: “I changed my answer to his because that sounded fun.”
- “What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?”
- Jase: “STUDENT LOOOAAAAAN! High five.“
- Judith: “Winning two episodes of Wheel of Fortune, which Jase was there for.”
- “What do you value most in a friendship?”
- Judith: “Dependability.”
- Jase: “Honesty.”
- “What is your most treasured memory?”
- Jase: “My mom teaching me ‘Edelweiss’ on the piano.”
- Judith: “For me it was our wedding, hands down, best night of my life.”
- “What is your most terrible memory? “
- Judith: “Dying! That was pretty bad. The day you found out I had a fake name sucked, finding out you skipped town without telling me where you were going super sucked. [. . .] You leaving, then.”
- Jase: “My most terrible memory would be finding out you were lying to me. And then having to tell my moms they were right.”
- “If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?”
- Jase: “Yes. I would do myself a huge favor and stop caring what people think of me and live my life the way I wanna live it! And there would be no repercussions because I’d be dying, so who cares, right? Seems easier.”
- Judith: No explicit answer given in the audio, but an implied answer of, “All of it, because obviously.”
- “What does friendship mean to you?”
- Judith: “Dependability–callback to question 16, also about friendship.”
- Jase: “Friendship means someone understands that you are a flawed person, and they love you anyway.”
- “What role do love and affection play in your life?”
- Jase: “They’re everything to me, sometimes to a fault.”
- Judith: “Love and affection used to be quite prominent in my life. Guess that’s over.”
- “Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.”
- Judith: “I think you are very attracive. I think you are very kind–usually. I think you will make a very good parent someday. A very, very good parent. I think you have strong convictions.”
- Jace: “You’re here. You look great. You’re forgiving, even when you shouldn’t be. You’re interesting. You’re complicated.”
- “How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other peoples’?”
- Jace: “My family is everything. I think I can safely say my childhood was happier than most people I know, and I’m very grateful for that.”
- Judith: “Wow.”
- “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?”
- Judith: “My relationship with my mother is nonexistent.”
- Jace: “My relationship is good. Complicated. I feel like I understand them more now that I’m a parent, and less.”
- “Make three true ‘we’ statements each; for instance, ‘We are both in this room feeling . . .'”
- Jace: “We are both in this room feeling . . . I’m guessing we’re both feeling a little anxious, and maybe a little sad, but maybe a little glad.”
- Judith: “I am on this porch feeling exhausted. I am on this porch secretly thinking that Jace is gonna pick me up and say, ‘Screw my moms! Drive off with me somewhere.’ I am on this porch trying to think of what’s next.”
- “Complete this sentence: I wish I had someone with whom I could share . . .”
- Judith: “My actual feelings. My actual deep, dark, self-hating feelings. The stuff that Natalie doesn’t have, but Judith definitely does.”
- Jace: “A plate of eggs, I dunno.”
- “If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, share what would be important for them to know.”
- Jace: “Sometimes I get so hellbent on making my point heard that I don’t listen to what people have to say, and I need to be called out on that. Should be called out on that.”
- Judith: “Sometimes I make a joke because the truth is literally too scary to think about.”
- “Tell your partner what you like about them. Be very honest this time, saying things you might not usually say to someone you just met.”
- Judith: “I like that you care. I really like that. I know you said you wish you didn’t, but I think that’s your real superpower.”
- Jace: “I like that you don’t take the world so seriously, that it doesn’t weigh on you the way it weighs on me. At least, that’s how it used to be.”
- “Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.”
- Jace: “The time I tripped on a line drawn on the soccer field when I was eight.”
- Judith: “Well, gosh, let’s think . . . there was this one time I drove out to my ex-husband’s house with an experiment and thought it would magically solve our problems.”
- “When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?”
- Judith: “I cried in front of you when we watched The Iron Giant on my birthday. By myself, right now.”
- Jace: “I cried when Coop and I watched The Sound of Music [. . .] By myself, I cried–okay, I cried this morning into a bowl of Cheerios.”
- “Tell your partner something that you like about them already.”
- Jace: “I’ve always loved your laugh [. . .] Sometimes I hear you laugh in my laugh. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but . . .”
- Judith: “Your smile. Off the bat, I was hooked. Superficial, but . . .”
- “What, if anything, is too serious to be joked aout?”
- Judith: “Nothing. Everything is a joke.”
- Jace: “People D-Y-I-N-G.”
- “If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to contact with anyone, want would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?”
- Jace: “I would want to tell you I was sorry. I’m sorry for not doing this when I should have. I sometimes think about what would have happened if I hadn’t shut it down. Where we’d be instead of here. Do you ever think about that?”
- Judith: “For the record . . . I’d want to tell you that the way I love you, it breaks me. And you might think that I’ve done is something so terribly wrong, or that I am wrong, but I don’t get how I could be that wrong if what I did let me have you.”
- “Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you make a mad dash to save any one item. What do you save?”
- Judith: “I would save the journal I have hidden in the garage. I’ve had it since I was 12.”
- Jace: “I would save the parody I wrote about my family when I was 12.”
- “Of all the people in your family, whose death would be the most disturbing? Why?”
- Jace: “Present company, for obvious reasons.”
- Judith: “I don’t know. My dad.”
- “Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how they would solve it. Also ask your partner to reflect on how you might be feeling about the problem you have chosen.”
- Judith: “How do I let you go?”
- Jace: “How do I let you go?”
Hear me out
- Jace mentions a documentary about animals falling in love outside of their species. Is this a thing? I couldn’t find much on this other than friendships between animals.
- When Lisa brings up the 36 questions to Jace, she’s reading the New York Times article that popularized the questions, published in 2015.
- Jace tells Cooper that duck quacks don’t echo, but then corrects himself. Duck quacks do, in fact, echo–just quietly.