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Podcast review: Room 20

Room 20 poses intriguing questions with mundane answers throughout the series.
Photo courtesy of LA Times

Meet an unknown man, known only by the name Sixty-Six Garage, who has been kept alive on life support for over fifteen years in a California nursing home. On a journey to give the man a name, journalist Joanne Faryon from the Los Angeles Times sets out to find his identity and uncover his elusive story. Even though the podcast reels listeners in with an eye-catching premise and strong beginning, Room 20 as a whole fails to meet its own standards and raises questions of ethicality.

After the traumatic decision of removing her mother from life support, Faryon became nearly obsessed with reporting on the life support system in California. While meeting life support patients in a nursing home in 2016, she found a man known only by the name Sixty-Six Garage. According to the caregivers, the only information they have about the man is that he was an undocumented immigrant injured in a car accident who was found by a building called the “Sixty-Six Garage.” 

As Faryon investigates, she uncovers that much of what was then known about Garage’s story was a lie. Mixed in with a hint towards uncovering a border patrol cover up that goes all the way to the top and determining whether Garage truly is in a vegetative state, the show promises listeners a show with twists and turns to answer the burning question: Who is Sixty-Six Garage?

That interest, however, is short-lived—Faryon answers the entire thematic question of the show in episode four: “The Name.” What follows feels more like filler than the Serial-like promise of the first three episodes.

The show seems to have an identity crisis with each successive question being dully answered in the following episode, then turning to a different plot. One episode asks, was Garage actually being chased by border patrol agents who caused the crash? Yes, yes he was. Okay, well, is he actually in a vegetative state? Here’s a top neuroscientist in the country to deliver the verdict: yes, yes he is. Well, what if part of the focus is on the host’s personal story? Sure, it’s emotional that she decided to remove her mother from life support, but that’s not the show. 

Beyond whether or not the series is actually good, the ethical dilemma of the premise is overwhelming. Garage is a human person who did not give consent for his story to be shared. There’s something slimy about a stranger inserting themselves into a severely disabled individual’s life to further their own career. Even further, Garage is an undocumented immigrant. Delving into his story risks compromising the tax-funded treatment that keeps him alive.   

This story does not need to be broadcast to the world; it just needed to reach his family to find their loved one. The effort of reuniting Garage with his identity and life is admirable—but Room 20 fails to live up to the standards it sets for itself.

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