The final episode of Marvel’s Squirrel Girl: The Unbeatable Radio Show, written by Ryan North, was widely released last Monday, May 23, 2022. Good news: the conclusion of Doreen Green’s foray into the wild world of radio did not disappoint!
With a clever conclusion building on the foundation laid in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comics while taking advantage of the audio format and further exploring its core themes, this podcast exceeds expectations.
“Fine Art” revealed
The central narrative thrust of the six-episode podcast series comes from a mystery: who is “Fine Art”? Each week, the enigmatic criminal appears with their own theme music to threaten Squirrel Girl (Milana Vayntrub) and her friends with a new crime. In the final episode, we learn the answer is Rachel Oskar (Tina Benko).
Rachel is also known as Ratatoskir, the shape-shifting Asgardian God of Gossip. She first encountered Doreen and her friends in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015a) #6 by North, Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi and Clayton Cowles. There, she was disguised as “Girl Squirrel,” using her powers of suggestion to cause problems. At the end of this arc, in issue (2015a) #8, Rachel was sent back to Asgard by Loki and imprisoned.
Rachel returned to face Squirrel Girl again in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, issues (2015b) #43 – 46 by North, Derek Charm, Renzi, Travis Lanham and with covers by Henderson. This penultimate arc of the Marvel Comics series, which tied into the War of the Realms crossover event, saw Rachel returning to Earth and encountering Doreen in Canada.
As a Chaos God, Rachel has big Q energy. She doesn’t fully get the customs or morals of mortals, even when she’s trying. In the aforementioned penultimate arc, she ultimately became an ally to Squirrel Girl. However, that happened after they went their separate ways and worked to find common ground.
While Rachel disguised herself as Fine Art (easily distorting her voice and providing “non-diegetic” background music via shape-shifting), the twist was that her motivation was to benefit Squirrel Girl.
This was a clever method of concealing the antagonist’s identity in plain sight. Why would the villain be someone Doreen made into an ally in the comics series, especially when The Vulture (John de Lancie) and the Regular-Sized Shocker (Bobby Moynihan) call in? Plus, a grumpy man with the last name of “Smythe” runs Empire State University’s radio station.
But Rachel raises good points in the podcast’s denouement. She’s been a Chaotic Neutral god for several lifetimes and a Chaotic Good journalist for only six months. Furthermore, no one is born knowing Earth’s customs, morality or laws — they must be taught. As an Asgardian deity, Rachel is still learning.
Deprogramming Brain Drain
The revelation that Rachel is behind “Fine Art” sheds light on one of the most important recurring themes of North’s work: the importance of deprogramming people afflicted by fascist or corrosive ideology.
Throughout The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Doreen befriended plenty of people. Her closest friends from that run return to play supporting roles on the podcast. One of these characters is Brian Drayne, A.K.A. Brain Drain (Peter Hermann). He’s a philosophy-adjacent superhero and brain-in-a-jar on a fabulous robot body.
Brain Drain first met Squirrel Girl in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (2015b) #1 by North, Henderson, Renzi and Cowles. As we learn from one of Deadpool’s trading cards, Brain Drain was a HYDRA scientist who a UFO squished. He was reassembled by aliens who didn’t understand what humans looked like (very “Talos IV”).
Nancy and Doreen use their computer science acumen to help Brain Drain override the negative programming contained within his robot body. This allows him to stop acting villainously.
Brain Drain subsequently becomes one of Doreen’s closest allies. Furthermore, his unique skill set proves invaluable for the team on more than one occasion. This demonstrates how bringing “enemies” into the fold can benefit the community in unforeseen ways. His return to The Unbeatable Radio Show is welcome.
Recovering Chaotic Neutral
Brain Drain’s computer body means that Squirrel Girl was able to deprogram him in one go. But reformation isn’t always that straightforward. With Rachel, we see this concept embodied to its extent.
While her intentions are pure, she doesn’t quite understand how to help ensure Doreen’s radio show (which Rachel knows is essential to her friend) is a success. Not without reverting to her well-worn Chaos God skill set, anyway.
Recovery isn’t a straight line. Having a character learn a lesson more than once isn’t a lack of character development. It’s a realistic portrayal of how people struggle to become the people they have the potential to be.
Fortunately, Doreen is empathetic enough to understand Rachel’s intentions. Supported by the restorative justice “peace circle” of friends that Squirrel Girl assembled throughout her Marvel Comics run, Doreen negotiates a way to understand Rachel. Once they agree on a course for Rachel to make amends with those she wronged, a stable situation is restored.
Like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic, The Unbeatable Radio Show will lure you with silly jokes about Marvel Comics continuity. These lower your defenses before you are blindsided with serious philosophical theory.
This propensity is on full display in the fourth episode of the podcast. Nancy takes over for Doreen, taking callers while Squirrel Girl and the other heroes repair property damage an earlier exploit inadvertently caused.
At first, Nancy has to answer a few “who would win” questions involving the Hulk. While this sequence will have you laughing, the episode kicks into high gear when Gretchen (Rinabeth Apostol) calls in. Gretchen is a superhero truther. Over the previous four episodes, she’s been hosting the lead-in show for Doreen and calling in to harass our hero.
While Nancy nearly bans Gretchen from calling in, she adopts a different tactic. Armed with Occam’s Razor, Nancy helps Gretchen identify the signs that the group telling her they have “special knowledge” about the world’s operation might not have her best interests in mind. It’s a touching and thoughtful monologue. Plus, thanks to the serialized format, we see how it has a material effect. The following week, Gretchen is no longer hosting her superhero truther show.
Squirrel Girl: The Unbeatable Radio Show
With a solution to its central mystery that is narratively clever and thematically meaningful, you’d think The Unbeatable Radio Show has done enough to live up to its name.
But the podcast delivers humor and heart beyond that baseline. This is thanks to North’s consistently outstanding writing and cast. It was exhilarating to hear trans superhero Koi Boi brought to life by Leo Sheng. Just as each member of the comic book creative team brings their A-game issue after issue, every episode of this podcast features impeccable sound effects, music, direction and production.
The only downside to The Unbeatable Radio Show podcast is there are only six episodes. Since the final episode dropped, there’s now a Doreen-shaped hole in my heart. There’s more than enough potential in the concept to provide many additional seasons. In the meantime, these six episodes will be worth more than a few listens.
Marvel’s Squirrel Girl: The Unbeatable Radio Show is available for free on SiriusXM or wherever you get your podcasts.
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