This blog (and the series it belongs to) is about my ongoing relisten to The Magnus Archives, and what I missed or didn’t pick up on the first listen around. It’s going to be brimming with spoilers, so make sure you’re caught up with at least episode 67 before reading!
What is it with me and horror podcasts featuring angler fish?
The first time I listened to “Angler Fish”, the very first episode of The Magnus Archives, I really liked it. After listening it to it again almost 70 episodes later, and I like it even more. And the main reason is the introduction.
During my first listen which is probably close to a year ago now, I thought that the introduction sketched a a fun premise for a horror anthology show. There were a few details, such as Jonathan sharing his less-than-positive opinions on Martin and Gertrude, which were a wonderful way to cement the narrator as a skeptical curmudgeon.
Looking back, it was also a great way to set up for Jonathan and Martin’s evolving friendship, provide a context for Jonathan’s other colleagues, but above all introduce my favourite mystery in the podcast’s overarching narrative:
Jonathan explains what a mess Gertrude has left the place in. The state of the archive combined with how the Institute treats the more hands-on branch of operations and the previous archivist’s decidedly granny-ish name makes it all to easy for the listener to imagine Gertrude as doddering old woman who was left to do whatever she wanted.
If I remember correctly, the continuing struggle to organise the messy archives is something of a running joke throughout the early episodes, cementing Gertrude’s early role as comic relief. That makes the later reveals all the more interesting. As I listened to Jonathan’s complaints about the state of the archive, I immediately started wondering what it was Gertrude was trying to achieve. Hopefully all will be revealed soon.
It’s not just the frame story that reveals more this time around, though. The statement in episode 1 isn’t that long, but it’s still gloriously odd. The concept of a horror anthology series isn’t groundbreaking, and to be honest, on my first listen I was fully expecting a somewhat cliched villain.
Instead we get a supernatural angler fish monster hunting drunk students in Edinburgh.
What I particularly enjoyed about the story was the strong sense of place (something that I feel The Magnus Archives does consistently well) and the fact that it doesn’t hinge on a plot twist. I mean, the title basically explains what the monster does, so the ending isn’t so much a reveal as an affirmation.
I’m not a huge fan of plot twists. They can be amazing, but they’re very easy to get wrong. I’m always happy when I encounter a story that focuses on a concept that’s unsettling enough without relying on a sting in the tail.
But something about the statement I’d forgotten since first listening to it, is Jonathan’s report on the follow-up. They manage to find a photo taken by another possible victim. There doesn’t seem to be anything there, but digital analysis reveals what appears to be a beckoning hand…
It’s not exactly creepy, as it doesn’t add anything to the concept of a monster using angler fish tactics on people (as I already mentioned, this is a pretty potent image). But it does introduce themes and ideas that run throughout the series: the unseen forces that seem to underlie almost everything Jonathan and his colleagues encounter, and the idea of seeing things that others can’t.
Seeing the unseeable and the effect it has on the seer is a huge theme in the vampire stories, which I’ll link to as I get to them. But there’s also the possibly friendly agent from the end of season 1 and beginning of season 2, the odd house with the disappearing and reappearing doors, and probably plenty of other topics that I can’t remember right now.
But then again, that’s the idea behind the whole concept of the Magnus Institute: taking a closer look at things that, with a bit of luck, the average person will never have to see. So it’s more than fitting that the first episode ends with the reveal of a mysterious hand, beckoning the listener to dive deeper into whatever it is Jonathan and his colleagues will unearth in the archives.
Next up, it’s the first episode fully dedicated to a statement: Do Not Open.