Have you ever had one of those days where everything goes wrong and nothing makes sense? Like, when you wake up in an attic with no memory of where or who you are, surrounded by eight captive people, sitting across from a man both strange and familiar in a kiddie pool full of blood with a fist full of animal bones, and hovering over you is a man in a skull mask weilding a knife, so you stab him, set the place on fire, and disappear into the night?
Wren knows this feeling well.
Spines is a fictional 30-episode audio drama that follows a young woman named Wren as she searches for answers about her identity, her night in the attic, and the strange powers she seems to exhibit. Because, oh yeah, this gothic horror is also a superhero story… in a sense.
Instead of using her weird array of odd abilities to fight crime in spandex, Wren’s journey is more of a personal quest to uncover the truth behind what happened in the attic, which is pretty understandable. With nothing else to guide her, she basically has no other direction than to find the eight captives, referred to as her “friends,” in a somewhat desperate search for context. She’s also clued into the identity of her strange companion, who is the subject of the audio drama (the fiction of this being that she is creating the podcast in order to grab his attention and reunite. Whatever works, right?).
In tracking down her “friends”, Wren meets people who split their consciousness between different bodies, who can create and manipulate metal from their skin, and, like, whatever the fuck Lexi’s deal was. I still don’t know. Over its three seasons, Spines delivers some of the most inventive and realistic uses of superpowers I’ve ever seen, and dares to apply practicality to them. What would you actually do if you woke up one day with the power to tell the future, or to manipulate gravity? It might tear your life apart. It might continue rolling as normal.
Or it could make you a target.
As Wren digs deeper into her strange new world, she realizes that what happened in the attic is much bigger than she is, and that the skull-mask man was basically a miniboss. Lucky for her, then, that she’s basically the biggest badass on two legs. Almost all of the series rests on Wren’s capable shoulders, with only four or five episodes being narrated by other characters. I will be the first to admit, though, that Wren Jones, the actor who portrays Wren, does not have the most podcast-friendly voice. Listeners might be put off by her vocal stylings at first, but after only a few minutes it becomes absorbing and hypnotic, and you’ll dread the minute that it will end.
Without giving too much away, one of my favorite things about the intrepid Wren is her resolve. It’s basically my fantasy to be able to say “I will do this” and then to just like… do it. She does it! Twenty-four seven! Wren’s resolute nature makes her the perfect narrator for this mystery-horror-superhero hybrid because it makes her reliable. While unreliable narrators absolutely do have their place in these kind of stories, in podcasts, which do not have access to visual cues to enhance the “truth” that the narrator might miss, Wren’s honesty and drive is vital.
What’s even better about her, and what makes her one of my favorite podcast characters full-stop, is how she manages to be both good and kind, when she can afford it. Goodness and kindness are two different things, although they often overlap: Goodness is doing what’s right, and kindness is doing what’s nice. Anti-heroes, for example, often fight on the side of good but fall a little short in the kindness category. A good villain, or even a mediocre side character, may be nice but still carry anything from neutral to evil intentions.
As a superpowered amnesiac on the run from [Redacted Because Spoilers, Duh], Wren is afforded very few luxuries and very few opportunities to be nice. One might think that even the dark genre would squash her humor and turn her into some hardened, Tom Cruise-esque action hero, and she certainly has the capacity to be. But Wren is funny, she’s kind to those who need her help, and she’s a fighter on behalf of all of us little guys. Of course, this is not always the case, and there are plenty of times that Wren slips up and makes some… questionable decisions. However, this only serves to make her a more realistic and well-rounded character, and it never seems out of place. Wren is the heroine we don’t deserve, but absolutely the one we need.
TL;DR Spines is spooky, it’s clever, it’s exciting, and it’s even hopeful at times. The ending is unexpected, but ultimately exactly what we need to hear. And yes, of course it’s queer. Would I ever recommend to you a podcast that isn’t? Could I even recommend you a podcast that isn’t, like, logistically? Unlikely. Spines high-key makes me believe in true love again, or something cheesy like that. Whatever.
Final verdict: 8/10 Symbolic BirdsListen to Spines on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or Spotify. Visit their website at spinespodcast.com