Solve isn’t your ordinary audio-drama. Produced by iHeartRadio, each episode tells a new fictionalized story based on a true crime and has the listener try to guess the guilty party. In episode eight—Admissions—a high-school senior named Hazel has just discovered a ring of admissions fraud, and when she tries to blow the whistle, she’s silenced in the worst possible way.
Admissions is immersive, well-acted, and mostly well-written (minus some occasional cliché dialogue). Like other Solve episodes, it engages us through mystery, drawing us into the narrative before asking us to solve the crime. The chosen music enhances the overall mood, signalling the characters’ emotions without ever distracting from the dialogue.
This episode has its flaws, but Solve remains an interesting way to practice some deductive reasoning. I suggest listening to this podcast in a quiet space, with headphones. Of course, you must listen carefully to spot clues in dialogue and flashbacks, especially the clues in background noise or seemingly innocuous sounds. Remember to be on the lookout.
WARNING: Further plot discussion and minor spoilers below.
There are five major players in Admissions. Hazel Blackwell is the star student and daughter of the town sheriff. Amy is Hazel’s best friend, who wants to attend college with her but doesn’t quite have the grades. Meanwhile, Mr. Briggs is the school’s guidance counsellor who has a unique way of helping Amy; Kiera is a popular student who refers Amy to Mr. Briggs; and Lucas is Hazel’s brother and another recipient of the guidance counsellor’s help.
After finding out Mr. Briggs’ “help” is actually admissions fraud, Hazel becomes torn. On one hand, she feels obligated to expose the guidance counsellor, while on the other, she doesn’t want to jeopardize Amy and Lucas’ futures. The guilt picks away at her, and so she decides she’ll tell her father everything first—except she never does. She’s murdered minutes before he can pick her up from school.
Admissions opens strong with two intense scenes: Amy frantically calling 911 as Hazel bleeds out, followed by Hazel’s father giving an emotional speech. Whereas most Solve episodes hook the listener by starting with the victim’s death, starting with the aftermath can be just as gripping.
Admissions does well in giving each suspect a motive for murder, so the culprit never becomes too obvious. While the evidence is there, I found it too subtle. The episode’s “smoking gun” goes by so quick that it’s nearly impossible to catch, which ruins the fun of solving the mystery and makes the reveal feel unsatisfying.
This episode could’ve benefited from integrating more clues that subtly point to our killer. Other Solve episodes tend to sprinkle in multiple clues or show enough events and character relationships for the listener to put together what may have happened, with or without the smoking gun. It’s a tough balance for a mystery to have clear enough clues to spot, but not be so clear that the reveal is obvious.
Hazel’s characterization is another one of the episode’s weak points. She’s essentially perfect: a straight-A student and varsity athlete who’s liked by everyone and possesses an unshakeable moral compass. A golden child that’s more than bordering on cliché.
Her father also seems too perfect, but he’s barely in the story. Hazel is the protagonist, which puts her unnatural, tiresome persona on display for the entire episode. The other characters are more nuanced and morally grey, so Hazel, while not unlikeable, feels flat by comparison.
Despite this episode’s flaws, Solve gives you enthralling, meticulously crafted stories. Sometimes, the tales need refining, but they’re still a worthwhile listen for anyone who loves a good mystery.