If there’s one thing that Welcome to Night Vale (WtNV) does well—and it does a lot of things well, like, a lot a lot—it’s situating itself within the tropes and patterns of the genres in which it participates: scifi, fantasy, and horror.
Sometimes, WtNV subverts those tropes, and sometimes, it changes the focus of those tropes so that they can inhabit a space that is empowering rather than defeating.
Enter: the Interns.
The Night Vale Community Radio Station Interns are, essentially, the reddest Red Shirts to ever Red Shirt.
Seriously, there have been 38 episodes of WtNV, currently (the 39th airs January 1, 2014), and in that time, there have been 20-ish interns (including dopplegangers) who have been lost—either through out-and-out gruesome deaths, never being heard from again, or who are technically alive but are lost to Night Vale for whatever reason, like, having been absorbed into the Whispering Forest or disappearing into the Dog Park.
Yes, these are things that can happen in Night Vale.
Yes, we swear the podcast makes sense. Sorta.
Actually, depending on how we interpret the events of “Cassette,” Cecil himself may have been a victim of the exceedingly high intern mortality rate at Night Vale Community Radio because we don’t know what actually happened with the feasting hungrily—*om nom nom*—noises that we hear on Cecil’s tape, if it was the flickering that Cecil had been seeing manifesting itself into some Lovecraftian Terror from the Deep that consumed Cecil and then took over his life as if nothing had ever happened.
Except for the not remembering pretty much most of his childhood.
(Which could explain why mirrors are always covered for Cecil—why his mother covered the mirrors for Cecil—why Cecil doesn’t recognize Kevin as his doppelganger, assuming Kevin is his double.)
With the trope-exploding and subverting tendencies of WtNV, the Red-Shirt Interns—those ubiquitous individuals in all of the Star Trek franchise shows and films that started the trope and all of the various and sundry, largely unnamed characters that appear in TV shows in horror genre shows like Supernatural, Haven, and Vampire Diaries; scifi shows like Battlestar Galactica, the Stargate franchise, and Doctor Who; and pretty much every crime procedural ever—in WtNV are almost always named (excluding the mass intern death in “Yellow Helicopters” but that seems to have more to do with the sudden overtaking of Night Vale by StrexCorp than anything else).
They are acknowledged for their service to the creation of community radio, for giving their lives for this purpose.
The Interns are remembered and mourned—in that uniquely Night Vale way that involves bloodstone circles and who knows what else.
Yet, there’s Intern Dana (voiced by Jasika Nicole; Fringe, The Return of Jezebel James, and Take the Lead) who survived many a misadventure including encountering her double and killing her (or being killed by her double, Cecil was never clear and neither are we) during “Sandstorm (Part A)” and ended up in the Dog Park (DO NOT APPROACH THE DOG PARK.) for several months before finally finding a way out via the House That Doesn’t Exist but apparently no longer is in phase with the reality of Night Vale.
During this time, Intern Dana kept in contact (as much as she could) with Cecil via her cellphone—that mysteriously never lost its charge—and asked for someone to throw a sandwich over the wall because she was hungry.
So, instead of a short write off of a Red Shirt, we see the protracted disappearance of a Red Shirt Who Was Never Really a Red Shirt because the Interns have never really been Red Shirts because the Death of an Intern has meaning, has purpose, has an acknowledgement from the narrator (Cecil) so that their deaths have an impact on us, become important for us.
And, Intern Dana becomes the praxis by which the trope of the Red Shirt in resolutely undermined and dissolved because Dana not only lives, she escapes.
Dana escapes the Dog Park and escapes the horrors of Night Vale.
Which begs the question, since death is a meritocracy in Night Vale, does any intern really die?
Image courtesy Fink and Cranor