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a beautiful red flower a black and white sketch of a rabbit a beautiful white flower with many spaghetti like petals a black and white sketch of a rabbit


pen illustration of a flower with curled pink-red petals


Control, a third-generation spy, has been appointed the acting director of the Southern Reach. He's replacing the previous director who went on the 12th expedition and never returned. His handler is called the Voice, and the Voice works at Central.

The book begins on his first Monday in the Southern Reach compound located outside of Area X.


The director of the Southern Reach herself was the psychologist from the 12th expedition, the same expedition as the biologist. After she fails to return, the Voice dispatches Control to "acclimate, assess, analyze, and then dig in deep." Control's mother, Jackie Severance, a spy, warns him that this is his last chance. Control didn't even know he needed a last chance.

The anthropologist, the surveyor, and the biologist of the 12th expedition were found and taken from places outside of Area X. Control questions the biologist, who had been found in an empty lot, but she doesn't give him many answers and claims amnesia.

Grace, the assistant director, does not like Control, and this is made known quickly. Because Control interviewed the biologist by herself against Grace's wishes, she sends the anthropologist and surveyor away to Central as a warning not to do anything she doesn't like.

Message received, Control tours the science division and watches the infamous videos of one of the earliest experiments done by the Southern Reach: herding over two thousand white rabbits into the mysterious border, where they disappeared in the blink of an eye. But even many experiments later, they don't know much about the border at all. They didn't even make the door that they use to send expeditions inside.

Whitby, the "science division's jack-of-all-trades," a "cohesive naturalist and holistic scientist specializing in biospheres," invites Control to see a special room.

"I can show you something interesting in one of the rooms near the science division that pertains to this," Whitby said in a dreamy tone, still following the path of the bird. "Would you like to see it?" His disconnected gaze clicked into hard focus and settled on Control, who had a sudden jarring impression of there being two Whitbys, one lurking inside the other. Or even three, nestled inside one another.

The next morning, Control starts to get acquainted with the rest of the Southern Reach and digs deeper into the director's files. He discovers an old cell phone in a drawer along with a strange plant. While cleaning and sorting, he also discovers the director had written the words that are written on the walls of the topological anomaly on a wall in her office, proof that she had an affinity for Area X that extended beyond the norm. Considering this, Control goes for a tour with Cheney, chatty physicist, head of the science department, and Whitby to the border and sees the door for the first time. On his side, it is thunderstorming. On the other side, it is a golden day.

Beyond the red wooden frame, Control could see a roughly rectangular space forming an arch at the top, through which winded a scintillating, questing white light, a light that fizzed and flickered and seemed always on the point of being snuffed out but never was... there was a kind of spiraling effect to it, as it continually circled back in on itself. If you blinked quickly it almost looked as if the light consisted of eight or ten swiftly rotating spokes, but this was an illusion.

Control comes back and interviews the biologist again and notices that she's acting much differently than before. She admits to more memories of Area X. They discuss the picture she found in the lighthouse while on her expedition of the lighthouse keeper, his assistant, and a little girl.

Later, Control opens the door to a storage closet and finds Whitby inside wearing an expression of abject agony. Horrified, Control manages to steady the conversation, and Whitby takes the opportunity to introduce the idea of parallel universes. Awkwardly, Control jokes that maybe Whitby's presence is the reason why they haven't solved the mystery of Area X in this universe.

Control finally sees the videos from the first expedition. There was only one survivor: Lowry.

In the foreground, a woman, the expedition leader, was shouting, "Get her to stop!" Her face was made a mask by the light from the recorder and the way it formed such severe shadows around her eyes and mouth. Opposite, across a kind of crude picnic table that appeared fire-burned, a woman, the expedition leader, shouded, "Get her to stop! Please stop! Please stop!"

Yet for a good twenty seconds the camera flew above the glimmering marsh reeds, the deep blue lakes, the ragged white cusp of the sea, toward the lighthouse.

Dipped and rose, fell again and soared again.

With what seemed like a horrifying enthusiasm.

An all-consuming joy.

He goes to interrogate the biologist; however, she says she's not the biologist. Chewing on that, he goes to the cafeteria where Grace confronts him with a story from his early career, one where things went horribly wrong, airing all his dirty laundry for Cheney, Whitby, and Hsyu, a staff linguist. Grace hates him, and Control no longer has any secrets.

"And around the time that he's excited he helped crack the case wide open, and a judge is issuing warrants, the boyfriend has shot McCarthy in the head, twice, and let her fall, dead, into the shallow water below."

The Voice and Control have an argument. During their next call, Control screams obscenities until the Voice hypnotizes him to shut him up. A bullhorn goes off and Control screams obscenities and ticks off an item on his list on the neon orange paper in front of him. This repeats until the last line, when Control repeats all of the hypnotic prompts back at the Voice, who screams.

"Here's a joke for you," Control said. "What's the difference between a magician and a spy?" Then he hung up.

Control gets a call from his mother and he learns that the Voice is actually Lowry.

Control throws away the old cell phone he found in the director's desk.

He visits the director's house to see if he can find anything that Central or the Southern Reach missed on their own searches. He finds the words written on the wall in an obvious place, but there had been no mention of it in the search details, and the front door unlocked. He calls his mother and recommends they send a team in to investigate.

After the weekend, Control bluffs and tells Grace that the biologist has confessed a lot of information about the director taking an unauthorized trip across the border. Grace listens and reveals all that she knows about the trip, which is only enough to help him understand the director's good intentions. They stop for cigarettes and Grace reveals that the biologist left on Friday, pulled away by Central, so he's caught in his lie.

Betrayed and embarrassed, Control doesn't know what to do until he decides to return to the storage closet and investigate. He discovers a trap door in the ceiling and opens it to find paintings on the walls.

Along the wall and part of the ceiling, someone had painted a vast phantasmagoria of grotesque monsters with human faces. More specifically, oils splotched and splashed in a primitive style, in rich, deep reds and blues and greens and yellows, to form approximations of bodies. The pixelated faces were blown-up security head shots of Southern Reach staff.

Control realizes that Whitby was living in the Southern Reach building. Taking in the impressive oil paintings, he hears breathing noises. He turns his head and learns that all this time he has been looking at the monstrosities, Whitby has been tucked into the shelves uncannily and watching him. They make eye contact. Whitby reaches out and pets him on the head, and Control escapes.

After some time studying the director's notes and the pictures he'd gathered over his week as acting director, Control tries to leave a room but discovers that there isn't a door. And the walls are breathing. When he gets outside, he sees the director approaching from Area X, emerald dust trailing behind her. The border is advancing to the Southern Reach.

Control runs away and as he does so he realizes that the girl in the picture with the lighthouse keeper is the director as a child.

After driving away, he goes home and speaks with his mother for the last time. She tells him the biologist escaped.

Control guesses that the biologist will be at Rock Bay, a place she'd worked before. Clutching Whitby's terroir manuscript, he spends long days finding and catching up to her. He finds her along the coast along with a jagged, sharp, deep hole. She tells him she's not the biologist again, and he believes her. She jumps into the hole.

"Jump," said a voice in his head.

Control jumps, too.

our thoughts


We have several feelings about Control. On the one hand, he's a boring cop. He eats his vegetables, goes running, listens to classical music, suspects that everyone around him is an idiot, and naively follows his superiors without questioning them. On the other, he's just a guy who we just kind of imagine a big doofy dog. Stupid, bark worse than his bite, he's just lumbering along trying to solve a mystery he's completely unprepared for.

consolidation of authority

Control's authority over the Southern Reach is nominal. He doesn't last very long as the acting director, and the entire time he was losing to Grace (at first just because of the newness, but the loss is cemented after the incident on his second Monday).

But does Grace really have authority? Cheney has no authority either, even as the head of the science division, because science has proven incapable of handling Area X. Grace controls the Southern Reach from the sidelines as the assistant director, controlling things like who's hired and what equipment they need, that sort of thing, but she doesn't control the expeditions or what happens during them. The director engineered what came out of the expeditions, metrics and such, but Lowry controls how often the expeditions happen and when. Neither of them have complete authority and are both indebted to the other.


The Voice has authority over Control, however. This is unambiguous. Up until the point where Control turns the hypnosis back on him, the Voice determined what Control said and did and even what he thought. The times that we think that Control is doing things that make less sense than usual is because he was inspired by hypnosis. Or maybe not. But the authority rests with the Voice.

But not really! The Voice is Lowry and Lowry is chained to the first expedition. He's not free from the effects of Area X. He's part of it, and so his authority is diminished. Area X is the real authority.Only Area X can make decisions that affect them all.


The psychological effects of hypnosis is a theme that comes back over and over. It may not be the most realistic at times (is it truly common to have hypnotic suggestions be so short and so simple?) but it's powerful and terrifying.

We just watched the X-Files episode "Pusher," where the titular character can encourage other people into taking their own life, or otherwise using words to control their actions. The comparisons between him and Lowry are obvious: they're both terrible people who revel in the death of others, they're both terrified of the source of their power, and they claim to be above life and death itself. They abuse their power for their own gain. They both like to watch from afar.

In both stories, it's just a little bit science fiction. Hypnosis is real and it exists. Some people are more suggestible than others, but hypnosis is real. But not like this, not in the same way, and it's this closeness to reality that makes it all the more interesting. If hypnosis really did work like this, it'd be horrifying. If the government could control people like this, it'd be awful. So it's awful in the books. It gets under our skin because of the underlying closeness to the real world.

a black and white illustration of the back half of a bunny in mid leap


In Control's dreams it is early morning, the sky deep blue with just a twinge of light.

first line

Control's mother often seemed to him like a flash of light across a distant night sky. Here and gone, gone and here, and always remembered; perhaps wondered what it had been—what had caused the light. But you couldn't truly know it.

Control followed the progress of one white brute, larger than his fellows—or larger than her fellows—who sought the higher ground in limitless leaps and bounds. There was something defiant in its stride. Or Control was projecting that onto the animal, just as he was projecting onto most of the other rabbits a peculiar stillness and watchfulness.

For example, the eleventh expedition series had been composed of all men, while the twelfth, if it continued to X.12.B and beyond, would continue to be composed of all women. He wondered if his mother knew of any parallel in special ops, if secret studies showed something about gender that escaped him in considering the irrelevence of this particular metric. And what about someone who didn't identify as male or female?

sometimes control is just a big silly dog

"The terror," Whitby had said during the morning meeting, staring at the plant and the mouse. "The terror." But oddly, slurring it slightly, and in a tone as if he were imparting information rather than reacting or expressing an emotion.

Everything had been fine just a second before. Why would anything be different now?

this line appears in annihilation

They talked for a while. Then the Voice said, "Good," while Control kept looking, at irregular intervals, at his sheet. "Just stabilize and do your job. Paralysis is not a cogent operation, either. You will get a good night's sleep tonight."
Stabilize. Paralysis. Cogent. As he hung up, he was alarmed to realize that he did feel as if he had been stablized.

spoilers evidence of the voice's hypnosis on control, the psychologist says a similar line in annihilation

But when you encountered a real ghost—the Thing Entire—it was a shock... it took your breath. Not away. It didn't take your breath away—your breath wasn't going anywhere. Your breath was still in you, locked up, not of use to you. Took your pulse only to mutter dire predictions for the future. So when you came back into the moment, you doubted at first who you were, because the Ghost Entire trapped Control somewhere between the person he had been and the person he had become.

this quote is just kind of sweet

"Well, it's the high ceilings, isn't it? Makes you see things that aren't there. Makes the things you do see look like other things. A bird can be a bat. A bat can be a piece of floating plastic bag. Way of the world. To see things as other things. Bird-leafs. Bat-birds. Shadows made of lights. Sounds that are incidental but seem more significant. Never going to seem any different wherever you go."

quote by cheney

"What kind of contamination?" Although he thought he knew.

"The kind that cleanses everything. The kind you can't see until it's too late."


a sketch of a rabbit control

john rodriguez

  • third generation spy
  • acting director of the southern reach
  • son of agent jackie severance
  • carries his father's animal sculptures
  • paranoid
  • discovers whitby's paintings
  • watches the footage of the 1st expedition
  • watches the footage of thousands of white rabbits being herded into the border
  • antagonistic relationship with grace upon his arrival
  • escapes the expansion of the border
  • follows ghost bird to rock bay and confronts her
  • jumps into area x through the door in the ocean created by ghost bird
an illustration of a fig branch with a caterpillar and fig and a large moth the director

the director of the southern reach

  • subject of control's inquiry
  • the little girl in the photograph with saul evans
  • lived alone and brought area x documents with her
  • entered area x for two weeks with whitby
  • served six months suspension from lowry
  • did not return from area x
ghost bird
  • the biologist's double
  • develops a rapport with control
  • escapes and goes to rock bay
  • created a portal into area x

the assistant director of the southern reach

  • hates control
  • fiercely loyal
  • sympathetic to the expedition members
  • airs control's dirty laundry with rachel mccarthy right out in front of everyone
  • formerly married with grown up children, now partnered with a woman
  • ascertains control over the southern reach, leaving control just a figurehead
  • is inside the border when it expands

environmental scientist

  • dedicated to his work
  • introduces control to terroir
  • sympathetic to the expedition members
  • gives control a tour of the facility and offers to show him a special room
  • works late
  • concerned with the catalyst for area x; control jokes that whitby is the reason why they haven't uncovered area x's secrets and that bothers him
  • the secret room is above the utility closet, where whitby has painted the various members of the southern reach as fantastical creatures
  • hiding inside shelving, reaches out and touches control's hair, then returns his hand
  • is inside the border when it expands

head of the science division

  • talks a lot
  • dismissive of others, including whitby
  • is inside the border when it expands
jackie severance

control's mother

  • spy
  • absent from most of control's life
  • daughter of jack severance
  • former southern reach employee
  • confesses the identity of the voice
  • sent control to the southern reach on purpose
  • prompts control to leave after escaping the border
the voice

the one who orders control

  • abusive
  • demanding
  • manipulative
  • connected with central
  • hypnotizing control to obtain his information
  • control throws the voice's phone away, severing contact between him and central
  • is jim lowry

survivor of the 1st expedition

  • only one to survive the first expedition
  • works for central
  • filmed disturbing events of the 1st expedition
  • is the voice
  • uses advanced hypnotic techniques to brainwash control into doing his bidding