[The following contains spoilers.]
Sometimes a mess can be so entertaining and such an oddity that you suspect that it might lose its edge from being tidied up. Parcast’s audiodrama Mind’s Eye is half – or at the very least a good third – recommendable on these grounds. But only if you have no other podcast on the go, of course.
Parcast is kind of like a television network but for podcasts. It is based in Los Angeles and it specialises mostly in “true crime” documentaries. It claims to have exceeded a hundred million downloads last year. Responsibility for Mind’s Eye lies with a team of different writers and creators, including Maggie Admire and Ron Cutler, the father of the network’s founder Max. The cast are in no haste to be identified anywhere on social media, or on Parcast’s website, which is always a bad sign. Yet I have found them listed on a bizarre website that, for whatever reason, publishes speech-to-text transcripts of podcasts:
it stars in alphabetical order 00:35:41might Capozzi amber Connor Kimberly Holland make Lambeth Harris marks and Nicholas Maszewo Sammy nine Steve Pinto Vanessa Richardson and corduroy.
How thoughtful that they’ve credited the corduroy. Kate McClay is a homicide detective whose father was murdered by a serial killer called the Blind Butcher. Kate’s husband, Miles, is a journalist for Public Radio Colorado, though he is depressed since his last story landed as a “dead-on-arrival flop.” When Kate begins to be plagued by vicious nightmares, Miles hatches a plan to make a new documentary about this and how it relates to her police work. He is simultaneously supportive and exploitative in that harmonic key that only a modern human-interest journalist can achieve.
Mind’s Eye is not Miles’ radio programme in the raw but it instead takes the form of a subsequent podcast that appears to be curated by Kate. This goes behind the scenes at the earlier programme, which had recognisably aped the classic template of the blockbusting documentary podcast Serial. This would convey just how unoriginal Miles’ journalism is, except that Mind’s Eye itself pastiches Serial just as unoriginally as any number of prior audiodramas have done. That frisky background music and fair-minded narration sound almost anthemic by now.
Nonetheless, an increasingly likeable feature of Mind’s Eye is that everything seems to grow gently faulty. Although she is a police officer, Kate is not allowed anywhere near the Blind Butcher casefile because of her personal connection to it. For Miles, interviewing Kate is thus like having access to Neil Armstrong but being unable to bring up the topic of the moon. Kate is duly assigned the status of an amateur, even though she is still on the police force, and she ends up being stranded helplessly somewhere between the roles of the liberated independent detective and the empowered official crime-fighter.
The cliché of the serial killer equally malfunctions. Conventionally in a crime story of this type, the Blind Butcher would be sending gloating messages and setting challenges for those hunting her. In Mind’s Eye, however, she is always strangely remote and we will never in fact hear her side of the story.
The Blind Butcher appears to be misnamed since she blinds her victims rather than being sightless herself. She is or masquerades as a sex worker; she kills men during sex, gouges out their eyeballs, and carves a smiley emoji on the abdomens of the corpses in which the “vile jelly” thrives again as new eyes. Needless to say, this is far off the map of all existing psychopathology. Only 17% of the USA’s (known) serial killers have been women and they have tended to duck bloodshed by using poison. With the Blind Butcher, the extremes of male behaviour have been inexplicably planted in a coolly methodical woman, reinventing the female serial killer out of all recognition.
That such a wildly unusual criminal is kept always out of view might provoke our suspicion. Is the Blind Butcher too silly or embarrassing to be shown up close in such an ostensibly edgy thriller? Mind’s Eye next settles on the creepiness of twins as its big idea, with a rather admirable disregard for political correctness. But here too there is never enough realism behind the quirky storyline to give it force and its impact is peculiarly whimsical. When Kate uses the metaphor of police walkie-talkies to account for the psychic signals that she is receiving, we are as near to tomfoolery as a thriller can probably get.
It is still, like any tomfoolery, enjoyable. Moments of adept suspense, such as when Miles is captured by the killer in the final episode, keep the show clattering along. The characterisation is also very vivid, especially with the crisp awkwardness of Marty, a scene-stealing psychotherapist. Yet the buoyancy of these details never quite salvages the whole.
In the end, the storytelling in Mind’s Eye blurs into that of its own failed reporter Miles. Both become overwhelmed by their subjects. Miles is tortured and humiliated by one of his interviewees, whilst another eventually takes over his story and barges him out. Miles is realistically wimpy and bratty – a character who could have been produced only in and by the twenty-first century. Mind’s Eye is equally defeated when trying to tell its own story. What is it like to have a duplicate of yourself who commits unimaginable acts of evil? Naturally, most of us will not know the answer to this question, because we are genetically unique, but the podcast never knuckles down to convincingly answering it either.
Since Mind’s Eye is similarly unable to conjure up a creation as weird and wonderful as the Blind Butcher, we have to make do with a copycat. The apprehended evildoer is a crude spin-off of the real psychopath, just as the horror of the original murders is refracted from afar into Kate’s nightmares, and the killer’s smiley faces mimic and derive from those of her slaughtered victims.
At the heart of this story, denying the very gore of its own materials, floats a face that is innocent and smiling. This smiley face is more characteristic of Mind’s Eye than the blood. The glibness and dubious playfulness of this podcast is maybe attributable to the mood at Parcast’s offices. If you spend all of your time reading about violent crime, and listening to jaunty podcasts about it, then you will become at some point detached from the squalor that human destruction genuinely entails. This is no doubt the context in which the plastic serial killer and her silly smileys were dreamt up.