"Heaven's Gate" Podcast Review
There are a lot of questions that come up when thirty-nine people commit suicide.
Even if you know the philosophy involved with those thirty-nine people, those questions get multiplied across the ones they left behind. The parents, the friends, the former lovers of those thirty-nine are going to have hundreds if not thousands of questions. And unsurprisingly, hearing what those people have to say is intense.
Enter Glynn Washington, a radio host from Michigan that acts as the guide for one of the most powerful podcast series I've ever listened to. Washington has a great radio voice, but he also has something else: A past that brings him closer to the members of Heaven's Gate than most would like to admit. Washington grew up in a cult, and so the entire series is an empathetic look into the members of Heaven's Gate and how they ended up dead in a mansion.
I think anyone whose heard of the cult probably knows about the mass suicide, and maybe they know about the cult's philosophy based on mixing aliens and the Bible, but the cult's long history that stretches all the way back to the 1970s is where things get murky. Luckily, the podcast found people that were there, all the way at the beginning. These interviews are where the podcast finds its deepest material, and luckily the podcast is mostly made up of these interviews. Some are with former members, others are with family members touched by the cult in various ways, and one interview is even with Glynn Washington himself as he reflects back on his days growing up in a cult.
The series is split into ten parts and each episode is expertly produced. There are clever montage recaps throughout to keep the complex timeline straight, especially when some episodes are purposely designed as tangents to the forward progression of the cult. The tangent episodes definitely have their value here, especially the seventh episode that centers on a Heaven's Gate member named Gail Maeder that feels emotionally devastating well before its over.
I'm keeping the details of the episodes vague so that you can discover the series for yourself, but the story of Heaven's Gate is a powerful saga that managed to truly get under my skin. The final episode easily got me to cry and I have a feeling that I'm not the only one who had that reaction, even knowing that this all ended with thirty-nine deaths. I might write a more in-depth piece about one particular episode of the series and my own personal relationship to it, but I don't want to spoil that episode here. If you're a podcast fan of any stripe, you should be listening to this right now.