Two-and-a-bit years ago there came a podcast into the world that was unlike anything before it. Set out as a community radio broadcast in a small desert town full of oddities and surveillance, this show brought a surreal humour and eeriness together in a satisfying and vaguely horrifying way.
Welcome… to Night Vale.
The voice of Night Vale is Cecil Palmer (played by Cecil Baldwin). He is, by any stretch of the imagination, a fascinating character. His strongest trait is how deeply and intensely he cares for his bizarre little town and, quite honestly, how he will protect the things he finds important to almost ridiculous lengths. Just as Telly the barber.
Welcome to Night Vale starts with the arrival of an Outsider. Carlos the scientist captures Cecil’s heart immediately but seems totally oblivious to it. What unfolds is the reason I fell completely and irreparably in love with the show rather than being slightly enamoured of it. What unfolds, dear readers, is a romance of the kind you don’t see reflected in the mainstream media.
It’s not a main plot point except for a few brief episodes. Cecil and Carlos come together slowly and awkwardly. Neither of them are perfect (though Carlos’s hair is, of course) but their relationship is a firm grounding for Cecil’s understanding and therefore reporting of the town’s business. It is mundane and exciting all at once, just like real life relationships. Moreover the writers somehow manage to get across all of this in just a few lines or a brief conversation.
The best part of their relationship? It’s a sub-plot at best. The characters are queer but not once is that an issue. Their sexualities have not become plot points; it is one facet of a complex bunch of characters.
You just don’t see that in the mainstream all that much. If a character is gay it becomes A Thing. A plot point. Just like the many throwaway women characters in movies, there is no substance beyond the stereotype or if there is, it’s overshadowed by the big blinking lights pointing out that the plot is so progressive for having a gay dude in it or something. Welcome to Night Vale isn’t like that. Carlos and Cecil casually go about their business, whether that’s planning dinner for the night or saving the town from eldritch horrors. Add in the fact one of them (Carlos) is a person of colour and you’ve got something radical, though that ironically comes primarily in its ordinary portrayal.
So how did this come about? Take a look at this quote from a writer of the podcast, Jeffrey Cranor.
We didn’t think of it as romantic right away. And as we went on with it the more and more we started describing Carlos and thinking about what his personality was, Joseph and I just sort of got to liking the character and enjoying the character and we couldn’t see why the character of Cecil wouldn’t love him as well for the same reasons that we did.
And so we started moving it that way and seeing if it worked out, not unlike an actual real life relationship where you start hanging out with somebody more and then over time you realize “Yeah, I could really be with this person for a while.” That’s kind of how we felt about Cecil and Carlos as we wrote more and more interactions between them.
No wonder their relationship has such an ordinary, organic feel about it when it came about so naturally. But there’s nothing ordinary about a popular podcast portraying queer characters without fear or neon signs of progressiveness and inclusivity.
Welcome to Night Vale makes me happy for more reasons than the above. It makes me cry, it makes me laugh. It makes me look like even more of a crazy person than I already am when I’m out on dog walks as I sniffle and giggle in turns, often in the same episode. But it’s the relationship between Carlos and Cecil and its casual nature that has pushed this into perfect for me.