Blind Start: Season Premiere or Finale
Once again back in the old west with the blind sheriff, played by John Wesley Shipp and created by David Gregory—this unexpected second season picks up a few weeks or months after the finale of season one. “Unexpected” meaning, in the intervening months, it’s hard to tell if they were on hiatus or if the first season was completed. Based on the opening of this episode, it sounds like the latter.
Performances, Politics and American History
Shipp returns with his well enunciated southern drawl and A+ acting to the role of Sheriff Emmett Burns. The blindness angle has lost some of its appeal and novelty even with how they make his disability into a strength. It comes across as more confusing than being a “wow” factor for the episode.
The story of this episode is straight forward, with a theme and viewpoint that’s portrayed as one-sided on one hand and falling back on the “straw man” trope on the other. The issue is slavery. Considering the setting of the post-Civil War era becoming more of a plot point than simply backstory for the characters, it makes sense to have an entire episode dedicated to the subject.
Moving away from the political aspect of the episode, the focus of the narrative is split in two. The second half deals more closely on the issue of slavery in a post-13th amendment society with a trial as the main way of portraying both views. Again, a bit one-sided and definitely preachy in some parts, but the writer’s philosophy was not lost. He’s correct in his view that slavery’s evil, but a better job could’ve been done regarding the other side.
The first half is the set up for the main event and starts off strong with well acted and believable-enough dialogue, but as soon as the slaver enters the picture it becomes a a picture perfect example of straw man logic and confirmation bias.
Aside from the political philosophy lecture, the only other problem was how they got to the aforementioned trial scene in the first place. Upon first listen, it was about as confusing as a fight hidden in a cartoon smoke cloud as to what happened. The main character is blind, but that doesn’t mean the listener needs to be confused as to what’s happening in the scene.
Deck the Halls (with Matrimony!)
This episode starts off what with can only be called a flashback. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but the scene feels out of place when compared to the rest of the episode’s story–which is in present day. By the end, you still aren’t sure why it was included.
Moving on to the meat and potatoes of the story, episode four could basically be called 3.5 as it has very little to do with the previous plotline of Emmett trying to capture Monte Hogue. We’re introducted to another character, a man from the US Army. Seeing as this is a western, you know he’s going to be trouble. You arent’t sure in what capicity, but the moment he’s on screen you know he’s plotting something.
Once again, John Wesley Ship and the rest of the cast bring their A-game and the appearance of Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo from the original The Man from U.N.C.L.E series) makes the episode stand out a bit more than usual. This is the weakest of the episodes in terms of the overall story arc, but still a good episode taken on its own.
Episode three of this audio drama western takes us once again deeper into the backstory of the characters. This episode is very much a set-up for episode four. Or at the very least a moment of rest which ends on a cliffhangar.
This episode is under twenty minutes, but it feels more like ten. The pacing is fast and the tension ratchets up with every spoken word. Without this increase, this episode would feel like a sequel, rather than a scene. If memory serves correctly, this episode was just one long scene, but it’s not something you’re thinking about when listening. In fact I just thought of it as I was writing this review. So points for that. Hopefully my memory is still functioning properly.
As for the plot of this episode, there really is none aside from what was set up in episode two. Emmett is once again on the lookout for outlaw Monty Hogue. The real conflict comes from the clash of personalities of the Emmett and his deputy. The ramp up in tension in that one scene is exhilarating.
The episode’s conclusion is a cliffhangar. A confusing one at that. For the first time, we get a glimpse of what it’s like to view the world when blind. It may be the logline for the show, but the execution feels like a badly shot action sequence. The one’s with all close up shots and shaky camera work. Episode four was also released last month and will be reviewed next week. Until then I give you with a rating.
At first listen, this might feel like a filler episode, but in truth it blends a “reaction” scene with some great character development. Getting to know a character through any sort of plot is a higher form of storytelling and something that can easily turn into something which feels obvious. The dreaded “author’s hand” writing motif.
Powder Burns episode two manages to slip in bits of dialogue about the protagonist’s history that it feels natural. Much like episode one where there was a sense of depth in each line of dialogue–whether it was about the setting, character, or plot–episode two has fewer of those moments, but their quality exceeds that of the pilot.
The plot for this episode revolves around a mentally challenged boy who shot a bank teller, and now Emmett Burns has to decide what to do when the town wants the boy’s life for his crime. That’s the setup. Right from the start, the tension keeps ramping up until you get to the climax where it all comes together in a nice neat bow.
Most of this episode is self-contained, save for the last minute or so before the credits where it gives a glimpse of what episode 3 might be about. We’re Alive redefined the zombie story for me and Powder Burns is doing the same thing with the western genre. Hats off to them.
An interesting premise, executed with the care and complexity of Pendant Audio’s Phantom Canyon. There are a lot of similarities between the two. They are both westerns for one, but seeing as how this is only the pilot episode, the amount of depth received was mind boggling. It’s not every day where in a single episode you get the backdrop and complexity of an entire series. Based on this episode alone, there was a sense that I knew these characters. In a less than twenty minute production that’s truly a remarkable feet.
The story itself is fairly mundane and simple. The twist near the end could be seen coming from a fair distance away. Normally this would make the story less enjoyable for most people. Your mileage may vary, but the true nature of this story is the gimmick of a blind protagonist in the medium for the blind.
Some people may see gimmicks as bad. On their own, yes they are, but adding little variations to a story can turn a cool idea into a story. It’s all about asking the right questions.
This is where the sad trombone music comes in. As of this review, the Kickstarter campaign the creator is using to help fund this endeavor is coming to a close. IF this gets funded, we’ll hear more episodes and that’s something I’d enjoy. I was not paid in any way to bring this message. The story just captured my attention and imagination enough to where I want to see this be successful, because it has so much potential.
John Wesley Shipp who stars as Barry Allen’s father on CW’s “The Flash” does a phenomenal job. The biggest worry for me was the potential for the dialogue to be too descriptive. Needless to say that didn’t happen and I enjoyed this all the way through to the end.
Phantom Canyon succeeds in being horror. A horror-western is a bit of a stretch. Yes, the story is set in the old west, but I felt this was a much better horror piece than it was a western. That’s all good, because those two genres almost never work well together. I’d pin this audio drama at 75% horror, 25% western.
How good of a horror is this? I slept with the lights on for a few hours after listening to it. Horror films don’t scare me. It’s only after they’re done that my mind begins to play tricks on me. Phantom Canyon had that same effect.
The actors and actresses did a great job of bringing life to their characters. That, combined with the fantastic production value, made for a truly immersive story. Without any spoilers, the final scene succeeds in achieving the want for a sequel without promising there will be one. Such a balance is hard to get right.
Aside from the tiny genre complaint, there’s not really much to criticize this for. As Pendant’s first “Prestige” show they did a bang-up job and was worth the small amount of money that was shelled out to get it.
Rating: 5/5 stars.