Welcome to Night Vale Recap: Episode 19B “The Sandstorm”
Welcome to … Desert Bluffs?
There’s a new voice on the radio. It’s a happy and optimistic one that belongs to someone who seems to live in a wonderful place. Obviously something is deeply wrong.
Previously on Welcome to Night Vale we heard about a sandstorm that duplicated people and a strange man who emerged from a vortex into the Night Vale radio station. Now, for once, we get to immediately clear up at least one mystery on this show and learn a bit more about Kevin and his much-hated town. Part B of “The Sandstorm” is all about him and the storm from Desert Bluffs’ perspective.
Kevin begins the episode by welcoming us to another beautiful day in “the Bluffs” which is a little strange, as he then warns us about the impending storm. Apparently pre-sandstorm weather can still look pretty beautiful? Maybe that’s just Kevin’s natural optimism showing through. He’s clearly a cheerful sort of guy. He even suggests that when the storm clears it will be like having a second morning that day, an idea that clearly fills him with glee.
Interestingly, Kevin soon reveals that he has no idea what causes sandstorms, and believes that no one knows. He chalks it up to simply being an act of god. It sounds a little odd, but it’s not like Cecil is especially knowledgeable about natural phenomena either. It just shows that, while Desert Bluffs sounds like a nicer place to live, it still has its weird elements. Kevin also seems very concerned that people won’t be able to do all their work this week because of the weather and urges us to find time to make up for lost hours.
This business mentality also carries over to the upcoming baseball season, where the Desert Bluffs Sunbeams are more concerned with making spreadsheets while on the bench than playing the game. This may be because of the team’s new owner, a company called StrexCorp Synernists Incorporated. StrexCorp has an interesting slogan.
“Look around you: Strex.
Look inside you: Strex.
Go to sleep: Strex.
Believe in a Smiling God: StrexCorp.
It is EVERYTHING.”
Hmm. Well, that’s certainly not terrifying.
The next story is a traffic report. At this point, if you’re paying attention, you can tell that this episode from Desert Bluffs is covering all the same stories as were in the Night Vale episode, just from a different perspective. Once again, we hear about the sandstorm hitting and the traffic jam and fistfights breaking out on the highway. There’s even a call from Lawrence Levine, out in the edge of town development. He reports that the sandstorm duplicated him and he and his double have been busy making sand-angels. Intern Vanessa also points out a pretty picture on Grandma Josephine’s Facebook page, but Kevin is more interested in a video on the page of a cat jumping in and out of boxes.
In other words, it seems clear that the people of Desert Bluffs are all somehow counterparts to the people of Night Vale. Lawrence Levine is Larry Leroy. Grandma Josephine is Old Woman Josie. Intern Vanessa is Intern Dana. And thus, of course, Kevin must be Cecil. But what does that all mean then? Good question.
In financial news we hear about a boy again, but where the previous one went from weariness to triumph, this one begins with a sense of magic as he jumps in the air, only to lose hope as he futilely jumps for the rest of his life. Is this a metaphor for the nature of Desert Bluffs? Maybe not, but eventually it may seem like a message many citizens of the Bluffs could secretly identify with.
Next we hear from Desert Bluffs’ mayor, Pablo Mitchell, who has announced that everyone is getting the day off because of the sandstorm, but that we can make up for those lost hours of work by teaming up with our doubles. In fact, everyone in Desert Bluffs seems very happy to have a double around to work with. Intern Vanessa is even working with hers to build a shelving unit. It’s a pleasant change from the way the Danas were trying to kill each other. Kevin decides to help the Vanessas and takes us to a commercial.
This ad is actually for the same company that bought the baseball team, StrexCorp. It’s a minute of typical Welcome to Night Vale strangeness, but it’s worth noting that the ad has the same pacing as the one Cecil played in his episode, except instead of pausing regularly to say “Incomplete?” this one says “Unfulfilled?” It suggests that there is actually something darkly similar between the two towns.
When the commercial ends Kevin says that unfortunately one of the Vanessas got hurt putting together the shelving unit. It’s alright though, as the other Vanessa is there to help her. Then Kevin receives the same e-mail Cecil did from Steve Carlsberg. I’m not sure if there was some accident that caused the e-mail to go to both stations or if Steve was just trying to get his message to as many people as possible. In any case, Kevin is surprised to get a message from someone in Night Vale and begins to read it aloud. Interestingly, Kevin stops sooner than Cecil did, cutting Steve off before getting to the part about how the people are being suppressed with pharmaceuticals.
Kevin “agrees” with Steve that the government is covering up their involvement in creating the sandstorm, or rather their lack of involvement. Obviously the government couldn’t handle a storm like this. It could only be the work of a well-organized company like, say, StrexCorp. (Which is also a company that sounds like it would be good at making drugs to suppress a population or, perhaps, make an excessively cheerful radio host.) Kevin seems to have a lot of good things to say about StrexCorp, including that they regulate behaviors, create pandemics, and provide black helicopters.
Soon Kevin is ready to move on to the weather, but something stops him. A vortex has appeared in his studio and he feels a powerful need to go through it. He promises to return soon and his voice fades away.
There is silence. Then there is a new voice, a very familiar voice.
As you probably expected from the previous episode, Cecil has arrived in Desert Bluffs. However his reaction to his surroundings is very different from what you’d expect from Kevin’s cheerful voice. Cecil has in fact found himself in a den of horrors. The walls are streaked with blood. The control panel seems to be made of gore. There is so much blood on the floor that it is seeping into his shoes, suggesting not just murder but frequent murder to keep things wet. When Kevin went to Night Vale he wondered if he had gone back in time. Maybe there was a point where Desert Bluffs had a normal radio station. Right now Cecil just wonders if he’s in hell. Even the “accident” with the Vanessas seems to be more violent than we thought. In the booth Cecil can see someone’s detached scalp hanging from a sharp piece of glass.
Cecil also sees a picture on the desk. Apparently Kevin is also enough of a dork to keep a picture of himself displayed at work. Once again, the description we get is vague, but unlike Kevin Cecil sees little resemblance between himself and this other man. Instead Cecil only sees wickedness in Kevin’s face.
It’s always telling when Cecil becomes genuinely scared. Right now he seems on the point of tears, he is so desperate to go home. However he is also such a dedicated radio professional that, before he leaves, he still plays the weather for us.
This episode’s weather is “Eliezer’s Waltz” again, this time played by Disparition.
Soon Kevin is back, sounding as cheerful as ever. While in the vortex, he says he met his double. But where Cecil described trying to kill Kevin, Kevin describes the encounter in friendly terms. He calls the attempted strangling a hug. He also says this:
“I am not sure to where that spiral of space and time took me, nor through where I traveled, but I am certain that there must be more to us than just us, and that there is another place, another time, where things could have been different. Better. Worse. But let’s not think on woulds, coulds, and shoulds.”
He then echoes Cecil’s speech about being grateful he and his listeners are alive and able to work another day. It’s disturbing how at peace Kevin seems to be with the horrifying world we now know surrounds him.
This two-parter is one of the most intense episodes of Welcome to Night Vale and leaves us with a lot to think about. The most obvious theme is one of duplication and mirror images. Several episodes back it was mentioned that everyone in Night Vale got to see themselves die when a mirror universe of theirs was created then destroyed. Since then I’ve maintained that Night Vale is prone to duplication because I knew this episode was coming.
Here we have an interesting double duplication, as Desert Bluffs seems to be a mirror version of Night Vale and both towns also have their population doubled for a day. I think we might be dealing with a bit of a multiverse in this episode. My theory is we aren’t just seeing copies of characters, we’re seeing alternate versions of everyone. When the sandstorm touches someone, it takes the person who has turned right and creates the one who would have turned left. That’s why all the doubles and originals immediately begin to fight. Both are fully sentient and have nearly identical memories. They both have every reason to believe they are the original.
The best evidence we have for this theory is with Intern Dana. (Slight spoiler alert.) From this point on Dana will show up a bit more often. She and Cecil will regularly point out that neither of them actually knows if she is actually the original. No one treats her differently, but it’s a constant question hanging in the background.
Similarly, we have strong hints that Desert Bluffs is some sort of duplicate of Night Vale…or perhaps the other way around. Night Vale is a place of countless horrors with a menacing, but also somewhat bumbling, government. Desert Bluffs is town full of carnage no one can see because of the drugs and the totalitarian company that control it. Was there a time when one town turned left and the other turned right? Was there perhaps only one town at some point? Kevin at least hints that he sees a glimpse of hope in Night Vale, a sign that life could have been better for him.
Finally, I’d like to touch on the opening of Part A again. “Blinking red light in the night sky. The future is changing, but it’s hard to tell.” That light is an ominous sign for many things to come. If the future is now changing I wonder if it’s because something very powerful, maybe something from another universe, is looking to change fate itself. Not necessarily in a good way.
And now for a few changes to the Conspiracy Tracker.
1. Angels are living with Old Woman Josie and the City Council wants to capture them.
2. There’s a house that doesn’t exist.
3. The Apache Tracker has changed into a real Native American and only speaks Russian
4. Time is weird in Night Vale and Carlos wants to figure it out.
5. Cecil wants to be swallowed by a giant snake.
6. There’s a city underneath the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex.
7. Literal five-headed dragon Hiram McDaniels wants to be the next mayor.
8. Pets become perfect when you accept them…
9. What the heck is the dog park?
11. Cecil hates Steve Carlsberg for unknown reasons.
12. Night Vale has a surprising fixation on actor Lee Marvin.
13. Two boy scouts are close to becoming Eternal Scouts.
14. The Apache Tracker and angels are watching the Desert Flower.
15. Night Vale is prone to duplication and Desert Bluffs is one of the duplicates.
16. A dark planet is calling to people.
17. People are shipping crates with tiny houses inside.
18. There’s a man with a tan jacket who’s affiliated with the underground city.
19. There’s an old oak door on John Peters’ farm.
20. Desert Bluffs is controlled by the evil company StrexCorp.
21. A blinking red light is coming from somewhere unknown.
Alex Townsend is freelance writer, a cool person, and really into gender studies and superheroes. It’s a magical day when all these things come together. You can follow her on her tumblr and see her comments on silver age comics. Happy reading!
—Please make note of The Mary Sue’s general comment policy.—