The notion of radical hospitality is built upon going above and beyond in making others feel welcome, in a way that both pushes the welcomers out of their comfort zones and fundamentally alters foundations of hospitality and community. This practice can be seen in many a first-contact science fiction story, from Contact to Arrival, as humans try to meet extraterrestrials where they’re coming from and ponder if Earth could handle another race of inhabitants.
In Gideon Media’s latest sci-fi audio drama Give Me Away, writer Mac Rogers pushes this ethos to its limit, from the nobly hypothetical to the extremely flesh-and-blood—not just asking if we would share our planet with an alien race, but our very bodies and minds.
This is a spoiler-free review of Give Me Away Part 1.
Much like Steal the Stars, Gideon Media’s sci-fi noir heist love story created in collaboration with Tor Labs, Give Me Away begins with an alien spaceship crashing in the desert. But whereas that ship is an airtight government secret, “The Ghosthouse”, as this horrific artifact is dubbed, takes over the public consciousness with its casual display of extraterrestrial cruelty: The Ghosthouse’s digital database is filled with the minds of alien political prisoners locked away forever… and their screams can be heard by everyone within earshot.
As the government descends upon this mobile prison mainframe (because of course they do), a team of scientists discover a way to free the inmates—by transferring them into human bodies from volunteers willing to host an alien “Second” alongside their own consciousness. A few early experiments prove that the process is possible, but finding willing civilians is another story—until Graham Shapiro (Sean Williams), aimless middle-aged divorcé, steps forward.
Rogers has a knack for writing across generations, but particularly so when tackling the thorniness of aging in an unsympathetic society through a speculative lens. “The Unremarkables,” his 2018 episode of The Truth podcast, plays upon the strange invisibility conveyed upon a middle-aged couple and how it enables them to start a new late-in-life career. Similarly, what makes Graham seemingly pathetic to his family and friends sets him up as the perfect candidate for the Ghosthouse. His marriage has run its course, ironically because of his inability to be emotionally intimate with ex-wife Morgan (Hanna Cheek), and he’s fifty-fifty for good relationships with his adult children: close with well-adjusted Talia (Dani Martineck), who is nonbinary, and alienated from similarly purposeless Jamie (Diana Oh).
Graham is clearly seeking a second act in life, and the Ghosthouse both petrifies and lures him with its awful eternal fate and the single act of unimaginable generosity that could end one more soul’s suffering. But just because Graham has been ejected from his marriage doesn’t mean that he’s entirely alone; his actions still affect the people whose lives he helped build. And while Graham isn’t dying—despite Morgan’s suspicions about the process—he won’t be the same person on the other side, either.
Give Me Away’s extremely talented ensemble cast features frequent Gideon Media collaborators in Cheek (Rogers’ The Honeycomb Trilogy), Martineck (Williams’ Biblical satire Almelem) and Nat Cassidy as Graham and Morgan’s college buddy Travis. In the vaguely cult-like atmosphere of Red Camp, which vets would-be hosts for the Ghosthouse, Lori Elizabeth Parquet embodies the platonic ideal of human/Second harmony as the project’s chief scientist and first volunteer Brooke-and-Deirdre, while Rebecca Comtois (who was devastating as Patty in Steal the Stars) demonstrates the ethical conundrums regarding human/Second romance as Liz-and-Robin. Ato Essandoh (Away, Altered Carbon) is charmingly sinister as Lieutenant Riley, representing the government’s interests in this growing refugee program but clearly biased toward protecting human citizens over aliens who might be granted mental Green Cards.
Give Me Away doesn’t have the same propulsive start as Steal the Stars. Without that miniseries’ noir tropes nor regimented government setting in which rules are established and then swiftly broken, Give Me Away is a story that takes a little longer to ease into but that unfailingly builds upon its emotional underpinnings. In fact, it’s most reminiscent of Rogers’ phenomenal Honeycomb Trilogy, three full-length sci-fi plays that span decades of an alien bug invasion of Earth through the form of a traditional living-room play. In addition to the family drama aspect in Give Me Away, Rogers and longtime collaborator, director Jordana Williams, revisit the compelling themes of whether to welcome extraterrestrial refugees (in Advance Man) and even the ethics of sharing—or entirely offering up—a human body with a hivemind alien consciousness (in Sovereign).
Being untethered from a rigid structure also allows for frequent time jumps within the first four episodes, which are achieved by seamless score transitions that allow listeners to follow along over the course of about two years. Considering that this is Rogers’ first multi-season audio drama, it smartly establishes which moments in the Ghosthouse’s short history are most important to linger on. (Though it’s too bad that Graham’s first tour of the Ghosthouse, which has the surreality of a haunted house visit, is limited to few quick scenes rather than its own episode.)
The potential consequences of Graham’s incredible sacrifice loom over Part 1, but the increasingly tense atmosphere also provokes an examination of how many of his human relationships unwittingly mirror the Ghosthouse dilemma. Who’s to say that Graham should be taking on an alien Second when Jamie still needs her father’s help in deciding what she wants to be when she grows up; or when Travis, despite being a grown-ass man, seems to be the one most set adrift by Graham and Morgan’s divorce? But at the same time, at what point do other fully-realized humans cease to be a father or friend’s responsibility, when he is faced with the opportunity to give shelter to a more helpless soul?
Yet even what boils down to Graham’s decision is dependent on others’ consent. As Travis jokes in a poignant last-night-on-Earth-esque scene, it’s like he’s giving Graham away at the altar—for him to pass on to another stage of life, someone must relinquish him from the stage before.
Give Me Away is a slow burn, but it rewards listeners with a final turn that intriguingly sets up even more challenging ethical and sociological dilemmas in Part 2. After all, what are good intentions but paving stones on the road to hell—and the Ghosthouse seems to be the closest thing to hell on Earth.
Gideon Media’s Give Me Away Part 1 will be released weekly from July 16–August 6. Part 2 will be released weekly from September 17–October 15. Episodes are free on-demand to listeners across all podcast platforms, with distribution from public media organization PRX. Between Parts 1 and 2, Gideon Media will also premiere apocalyptic dark comedy The Earth Moves (August 13–20) and dark fairy tale God of Obsidian (August 27–September 10).