Welcome to Night Vale Recap: Episode 7, “History Week”

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Will poking around in the past give us answers or just more questions? It’s Night Vale! What do you think?

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While last episode might not have done much to further our understanding of Night Vale, this one will definitely give us more mysteries to ponder. Cecil begins by telling us that it’s History Week and so the show will be devoted to telling us all about this terrifying town’s past. The City Council even seems on board with people learning for once, although they warn us that poking around in the past could have dangerous consequences.

Our first history lesson goes back to the time when the first humans lived in what would eventually become Night Vale, around 4000 B.C. All that’s known about those people is based on cave paintings that have been discovered. Cecil says these people were chased by distant dark figures (hooded figures?) whose presence would constantly haunt them. Cecil then specifies that his information is just based on extrapolation from the cave paintings. Interestingly, those paintings barely even exist anymore as the person who originally discovered them immediately power-washed them from the wall. (He objected to the art on religious grounds. He doesn’t believe in the past.)

Cecil’s opinions on those cave paintings bring up some interesting questions then and play into a common fan theory. Is Cecil psychic? While it still hasn’t been explicitly stated, it seems likely. Cecil is regularly able to report on events around Night Vale that he has no way of knowing about in such detail or so quickly. Here we have the suggestion that Cecil can see visions of the past as well.

Next are some news stories. The first is about the Night Vale Tourism Board, which is having trouble with someone psychically assaulting tour groups. It’s hard enough to get people to visit Night Vale in the first place. People suddenly screaming at mental projections of horrible nightmares are pretty unlikely to leave good Yelp reviews. If anyone has any tips on who is behind the attacks, they’ll be rewarded with a puppy. In fact, anyone can get a puppy right now. The tourism board is overrun with them.

We also get an update on the Apache Tracker (the white guy in the cartoonishly offensive Native American costume). He hasn’t been seen since he went to investigate the mysterious blood and screaming coming from the post office. Now he’s even more missing as his house has disappeared and been replaced with a meadow that everyone instinctively knows not to enter. Cecil, of course, isn’t curious at all. He’s just glad the racist jerk is gone.

Getting back to History Week, we skip to the year 1745. This is when, as Cecil says, the first white men arrived in Night Vale. I think this line is a good touch. It nicely acknowledges that white people aren’t really the true discoverers of anyplace historically and that our history books place undue weight on what white men have done. At the same time, we get no glimpse of what people did in the Night Vale area in the intervening 5300 years. I would have liked to see more about the local Native Americans, particularly since the show makes such a point of condemning the racism of the Apache Tracker. In any case it seems that 1745 wasn’t an especially significant year for Night Vale at all. Instead it was the year that a series of exploring groups passed through Night Vale on their way to new homes that weren’t in the desert. Night Vale was finally formed by the group that was too lazy to keep going.

Next is a break for a traffic report where we learn that all highway lane markers and metal border guards are going to be replaced with art depicting the struggles of South American immigrants and American slaves. Certain exits will also be closed in honor of a biennial Lee Marvin film retrospective.

Back to our history lesson, we move on to the year 1824. This is when the Town Elder Council had its first meeting and when Night Vale’s modern weirdness really began. Cecil tells us about the meeting with surprising detail, including how all the council members wore ceremonial meat crowns (last seen on the pterodactyls of “PTA Meeting”). He talks about the policies and bits of town culture that were established at that meeting, as well as the fact that the membership of the Town Elder Council (now the City Council) has never changed. Bizarrely, Cecil also points out that all records of that meeting were destroyed and he has just been told he’ll need to report to city hall for “reeducation”. This lends even more weight to the theory that Cecil is psychic. How else could he know things the City Council doesn’t want him to?

The idea that Cecil’s psychic also brings up some interesting questions. Is Cecil aware of being psychic? In a city as strange as Night Vale, maybe he’s just assumed that it’s normal to see into the past and know what’s going on around him at all times. Are there secrets that Cecil knows but chooses not to tell listeners, both for his safety and theirs? Or perhaps, given how ignorant he seems to be about many topics, Cecil is constantly actively repressing the knowledge he has in order to maintain his own peace of mind. It might explain his surprising lack of curiosity about everything around him. Keep in mind that we regularly see other Night Vale citizens exploring and questioning things. We see this curiosity and determination with Carlos, the Apache Tracker, Steve Carlsberg, and later others like Dana, Tamika Flynn, and even “you”. Questions and explanations are not rare in Night Vale. It’s only Cecil, acting as a mouthpiece for public policy, who makes it seem like caution is the only way to survive. Is this just because of his job though? Or is it because he knows better than most just what sort of horrors are out there?

We then go to some more conventional stories. Apparently the Night Vale Public Library has been found widely unsatisfactory. Its selection is poor, the computers are slow, and the fatality rate is much higher than in most public libraries. Interestingly, Cecil makes no mention of the terrifying librarians that will later become a regular part of any library-related stories. Instead, we only hear about a mysterious faceless specter that hunts library patrons. Is this a predecessor to the Faceless Old Woman? It’s possible. The WtNV writers often seem happy to reuse ideas. In-universe, maybe the specter is the Faceless Old Woman or even just a relative. One of the great things about WtNV is that it’s really easy to come up with explanations for plot holes.

There’s also a story about everyone’s favorite unlucky quarterback, Michael Sandero. He helped win a grudge match against Desert Bluffs, crediting the victory to help from angels. Unfortunately for Michael (and despite what the City Council says) angels are a very tangible reality in Night Vale. The angels denied having anything to do with the game, but now officials are investigating if there was actually any angelic interference. Poor Michael Sandero. Nothing goes well for him for long.

We get back to the history after a brief story about gun safety in schools. (Should schools be able to take away children’s guns? Of course not!) Now we’re up to 1943. According to Cecil, Night Vale credits itself for the victory of the allies during World War Two. This was mainly due to the constant chanting Night Vale citizens did around their bloodstone circles. Bloodstone circles have been mentioned before and seem to be stone formations of religious and magical significance. Interestingly, Cecil makes no mention of anyone in Night Vale enlisting in the army during the war. This is probably because Night Vale is a very hard place to get into and out of, as is suggested by everyone’s surprise at an outsider like Carlos showing up.

The next chunk of history shows off more of Cecil’s psychic skills as he tells us about the year 2052. Mostly, it’s ominous prophesies about plagues and sieges. We’re told the City Council will reveal its true form and eat half the population. For me the most interesting part is the joke at the end though:
“Approval ratings for the mayor will hover in the low 40s…which will be surprising, as there will have been no mayor for over thirty years.”

Welcome to Night Vale probably won’t last until 2052, so this prophesy stuff isn’t really writing the show into a corner. However, it could last until 2022. Take note, Night Vale writers! You’d better get rid of the mayor in seven years or you’re messing with continuity!

We go to the weather next. This episode, it’s “Despite What You’ve Been Told” by Two Gallants.

When we get back we get an update on the Night Vale Waterfront Recreation Area. The Night Vale Business Association wants us to know that this area was never actually real and most certainly was not an enormous waste of money spent trying to make a waterfront area in the middle of a desert. The fact that you might even still see these buildings exactly where you thought they were just means that you need to sort out these bizarre hallucinations you’re still having.

For the final part of History Week, Cecil looks at the recent past of yesterday. He mentions events both bland and mysterious, but for Cecil the most important thing of all is that everyone listening made it through that day. He congratulates us and wishes us good night.

This episode is a great one for analyzing the evolution of Night Vale as a community. It offers us good insights into the city’s mysterious past, but also a surprising amount of insight into Cecil as a character. What do you think, readers? Is Cecil psychic? Is Night Vale only barely connected to our world? Why do they care so much about Lee Marvin? Talk about it in the comments!

And here’s your Conspiracy Tracker!

  1. Angels are living with Old Woman Josie and the city council doesn’t like them.
  2. There’s a house that doesn’t exist.
  3. The Apache Tracker and his home have disappeared.
  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 and fugitive Hiram McDaniels is on the loose.
  8. Pets become perfect when you accept them…
  9. What the heck is the dog park?
  10. Russian=Weirdness
  11. Cecil hates Steve Carlsberg for unknown reasons.
  12. Night Vale has a surprising fixation on actor Lee Marvin.

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!

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