Hugo Nominee Suggestion Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) 2018 – Badwater (Alice Isn’t Dead)

I haven’t read enough new books or short works to tell anyone what to nominate, 1 and I’m behind on movies, but I have been a voracious consumer of TV.  The Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) category is generally dominated by tv episodes, so of course, what I would like to do is instead suggest you nominate a podcast episode.

Alice Isn’t Dead comes from the people who brought us Nightvale, and has a related sensibility; a kind of anti-Lovecraftian take on the world where in the face of incomprehensible and unknowable horror, the correct response is to embrace love, family, and community.  Anchored by the vocal performance of Jacinta Nicole as Keisha, 2 a character who combines dogged perseverance with a curiosity that never even comes close to seeming naive, Alice Isn’t Dead is the story of a woman who takes up a trucking job to search the weird byways of America in search of her missing wife.

Badwater (season 2, part 6), represents a departure from the normal format: instead of a narration of past events by Keisha, we get a two hander between Jacinta Nicole and Roberta Colindrez, an unnamed antagonist of the second season.  While the protagonists never actually talk to each other, the episode functions as a dialogue between hunter and prey.  Over the course of twenty minutes they experience the same events and interpret them differently as they hurtle towards confrontation.   From a formal standpoint the episode is carefully constructed, with the actors synchronising and diverging repeatedly, with segments varying from being almost in conversation to ironic observation of one by the other. 

What makes this episode stand out however, is that everything is animated by their opposing philosophies.  Keisha is always finding the wonder in things, from the mundane to the extraordinary, and is as happy watching a light in the sky as speculating on the economics of cafes in the desert.  In contrast, the wonder in her antagonist is entirely replaced with hunger, reducing the world to a transactional state of toys, tools and irrelevancies. 

Aside from the narration, there is a very light scoring over the top that just accentuates the mood of the piece, without ever coming into the foreground.

It’s hard to stand against the golden age of TV, 3 but Badwater is a great episode of a very good series.4  Alice Isn’t Dead isn’t very long, so I would recommend binging it, but if you don’t want to, then this episode can stand alone.

  1. Though I may nominate a couple of novels.
  2. Best known in these circles as the supporting agent in fringe.
  3. And it is a very good year, as I might struggle to cull my nominee list.
  4. Though not my favourite, that would be The Factory by the Sea (S1E4).

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