In The Passenger Seat

By Melina Walling.

Cars on the highway. A deep breath. The beep of the GPS.

The crunch of the police officer’s boots on gravel, the jangle of his keys. The sharp intonation of his voice as he asks for the vehicle registration.

As you listen to the fiction podcast Carrier, you are transported into the soundscape of Raylene Watts, a truck driver on a dark and lonely highway. When she picks up a load she’s not allowed to inspect, she begins a journey she never could have expected, and you, the listener, are in the passenger seat. 

If Raylene hears the tinny crackle of laughter over the ham radio, you hear it too. When the lukewarm shower at the truck stop shuts off too soon in a whoosh of steam, you feel her frustration. When she encounters danger—whether as a Black woman traveling alone, or as the carrier of a mysterious and threatening cargo—the danger is real.

What I love about Carrier is that the stellar audio production operates in service of the narrative. Using directional sound to “show” rather than “tell,” Dan Blank and the other creators of Carrier can bypass a lot of the narration or dialogue that’s normally necessary in a fiction piece for the ear. Even though we can’t see what’s going on, the 360 audio allows us to experience it firsthand, without anyone describing it to us. As a result, the suspense and the action can stretch over seven episodes, uninterrupted by clunky exposition and unimpeded by many of the limitations of ordinary radio dramas.

This story isn’t just an ordinary thriller; it touches on salient and pressing themes through the lens of fiction. The series opens with Raylene’s harrowing encounter with a police officer that nearly turns violent. In later episodes, we learn more about Raylene’s family life and what she has sacrificed to make ends meet. And as Raylene wonders what’s in her trailer (supposedly agricultural produce), we are drawn into a tale about the hidden world that operates behind every plate of food we eat. 

At its core, Carrier is a story about environmental justice and the future of our food systems. But it’s also a story about one woman, brilliantly brought to life by Cynthia Erivo. I got invested very quickly in what would happen to Raylene, and the power of her character carries the story toward much bigger ideas that affect all of us. 

The specificity of this narrative, in all its genre-defying and thrilling twists and turns, surprised me with its creativity, ambition, and execution.  I think you’ll want to go along for the ride too.

Podcast: Carrier

Created by: Dan Blank

Produced by: Cynthia Erivo, QCODE Media