Session Thirteen: The Return of the Recap

5/15/10 – 6/12/10
pages 1854 – 1988

My surgery is now more than a week past, the painkillers are out of my system, the dizziness is coming on in shorter bouts and listening to my headphones only gives me a moderate headache, and it’s my birthday: I would say everything is back on track. Since I haven’t been reading Homestuck, what have I been doing with myself you ask? Well, I haven’t been able to read, look at a screen or stand up for the last few days so I’ve mostly slept. During the handful of (boring, stressful) waking hours, I listened to the estimable Matt Lees narrate his way through Bloodborne and then watched all twenty episodes of The Sponge Squad to their heartrending conclusion.

Sponge Squad in particular is a marvelous piece of modern tragedy. Somewhere in their desert camp, the renegades and exiles gather together away from the prying gaze of the overlords and huddle around their campfires to exchange stories of the legendary exploits of Sandra Bacon and Merryberry Crunch, the iron fists of XCOM. They declare that it was not the aliens who brought about Earth’s downfall but their fellow men, traitors who sold themselves to the invaders for the scraps of power and a promise. In hushed tones, they tell the tale of the terrible toll paid to these defectors and the bitter vengeance wrought by Slim Jack Perry across the rooftops of the Exalt building before the end. With the announcement of XCOM 2 it is perhaps not too much to hope that the Sponge Squad will rise again from the ashes as it has so many times before.

But anyway, it’s time to get back to serious business: wizard fanfic.

Dave saves The Complacency of the Learned for later and checks in on Rose. He’s shocked to find her burning her notebooks. She assures him that her wizardly masterpiece is safe and that she’s simply destroying an encrypted genetic code at the behest of the elder gods. She heard their voices once her dreamself awoke on Derse. Dave’s claims ignorance but Rose has a few things to point out:

TT: Aren’t you often distracted?
TT: By music and puppets?
TG: uh yeah
TT: Have you ever looked into the sky without your shades?
TG: no what a ridiculous question
TT: Maybe you should try it some time.
TG: ….
TT: You’re the prince of the moon.
TG: ……..
TT: I’m sure they’ve been meaning to seek a royal audience.
TG: ……………………..
TT: What do all these dots mean………
TG: dunno
TG: anyway yeah i guess ill do that
TG: get some sky monsters to boss me around sounds cool

Why Rose, if I didn’t know better I’d say you were going out of your way to make him uncomfortable. Part of Dave seems to crave these moments of honesty,  but he can’t allow himself to ask or accept an invitation to talk, at this point in the story he needs Rose to push him.

With Davesprite on the scene, Rose has to do double filial duty. I have to think Davesprite must be relieved to find out that Rose remembers some of their time together in the doomed timeline; he’s not alone. Notably, Rose uses the term “Other Dave” rather than “real Dave”. She doesn’t diminish Davesprite’s importance or humanity. They’re able to have a more equal conversation.

TG: so why is the cat code so terrible now
TT: I don’t know.
TT: But the gods were pretty emphatic about it.
TG: well ok i guess its done but why are you so sure theyre right
TT: Have you ever known them to be wrong?
TG: i guess not
TG: but they sort of freak me out
TG: i mean listening to gross space mutants all day isnt my idea of an awesome time
TG: especially the ones that sing oh god
TT: Is that why you always kept the music turned up?
TG: no i flip out to ill jams because they kick ass
TG: obviously
TT: I guess we’ll chalk another riddle up in the solved column.
TG: yeah case the fuck closed

Rose likes to claim the role of rational skeptic, but it’s Dave who questions the absolute authority of the gods.

Dave gets jealous over Rose talking to Davesprite and decides to go upstairs and talk to Davesprite too. This will turn out to have been a fortuitous choice.

Dave and Davesprite do that thing where they take a long time to say something very simple and Dave decides to burn the notebook as well. He returns to his bedroom only to find the notebooks and game discs missing. He decides to go back in time to stop the thief, or rather realizes that he’d already decided that.

This must be a time player thing, rather than spiraling off into the doomed timeline that would have been created by Dave’s death, his body remains in the current time where Dave can stumble across it, kind of like the blood stains in Dark Souls. This sight sours Dave on the idea of time travel, but he still has the wherewithal to dispose of the body.

Look who’s here.

John, meanwhile, has decided to start pushing buttons.

He zooms in on a monitor locked to December 1st 1995, which happens to be Jade’s birthday. The device is focused on a woman he recognizes as his grandmother. As his father and grandmother walk down the street, a meteor hits the Betty Crocker facility behind them. The caption heavily implies that the facility is the property of Jade’s grandpa. John, unwittingly, makes a ghost paradox imprint of Nanna and the slime is suctioned into a tube. He then turns on the fourth monitor and sees Jade and her grandfather discovering their island. Overhead, a meteor is heading for Texas.

John makes another ghost imprint and then tries the third monitor. This shows an outrageously cool dude standing in apparent shock over the crater that used to be his favorite record store. But he can’t be too shocked, because he came prepared.

How long do you think he kept those tiny shades waiting for this moment?

The next monitor shows a view of John’s neighborhood on the day of his birth. He zooms in on a shopping mall and a joke shop that he’s never seen before. There’s a professional lady with her young child approaching the shop. She came, the caption tells us, at the behest of a wealthy scientist to investigate the meteorological phenomena taking place. It seems that Grandpa Harley is the impetus behind Skaianet Laboratory and much of the Guardians’ activities.

The meteor hits the joke shop, leveling it and killing John’s grandmother. The lady flees to a nearby hill but loses her scarf, which Dad faithfully retrieves. John makes a fourth ghost imprint and fills the final canister.

John boggles as the passel of babies he materialized while the mutant kitten from Skaianet takes over and pushes the next button. This releases the slime from the tubes into the lower chamber, which produces interesting results.

I can’t remember if it was on Formspring or a newspost where Hussie said that he decided to go this route because making the kids all clones of their Guardians would have been too obvious. It’s a simple choice with profound consequences. The impact, as far as most of the fandom was concerned at the time, was to render the two major pairings in the comic un-shippable. This was brilliant, and I’m not just saying that out of an enduring amusement over the distress of shippers.

Shows with teenaged protagonists like brother sister pairs because it allows for an intimate, gender-balanced relationship without the looming prospect of romance. This is going to be incredibly important for Dave and Rose because it means fans will now actually read their conversations for content rather than skimming them for keywords while chanting “kiiisss…” under their breath; well some of them still will but we’ll talk about that at some other time. I love the relationship between them and finding out that they’are siblings almost makes it sacred, for lack of a better term.

It makes it sacred in another sense too. One of the tropes of classical heroes is that of searching for their other half. He/she seeks the submerged male/female half of their personality, the subconscious with it’s connection to dream and the root of spiritual power. This other half is often a lost sibling, Luke and Leia would be the modern example, Seigmund and Seiglinde are an older example drawn from mythology. Hussie knows this and had a high good time skewering the concept in Problem Sleuth.

This concept always struck me as too binary. Our understanding of gender has evolved and we now see that male and female are not opposite states but convenient labels for collections of traits that are not nearly as fixed and separate as some would believe. However, the concept of submerged selves is one near and dear to any writer’s heart and I recommend Diana Wynne Jones’s essay on the subject of heroism for further reading.

There’s another element as well. Those baby Guardian clones have eyes and mouths, clearly they have the potential to be players, and given that Hussie has already thrown around the term “mobius”, we have a pretty good clue as to where this will inevitably go.

John’s button mashing nets him mad exp; he seems somewhat dubious.

Out in the veil, an old man is still working hard to get everything in order. He’s transporting his two companions to the battlefield. Mom and Dad have their reunion, having not seen each other since the day of John’s arrival on Earth. Their reunion is nevertheless a tender and touching one, perhaps all the more so for the long absence.

Mom and Dad, the official couple of Homestuck.

Karkat messages John with his two cents. There is a noticeable uptick in the level of vitriol in his text. John, for his part, has become friendlier. He’s still trolling the troll but it’s closer to the teasing he bestows on all his friends. He even makes a SBaHJ reference, forgetting that Karkat won’t get it. The point being that chatting with CG has become as comfortable (nearly) as chilling with any of his internet buddies. I’ll take another moment to point out, again, how clever this counterweight balancing act is.

It’s not flawless, of course. I find it odd the way Karkat switches from his polysyllabic insults (clearly the torrid romances he reads have expanded his working vocabulary to no end, he uses the word “feculent”) to “dumbdumb”. That one feels more up Terezi’s alley than Karkat’s, though I suppose he could have picked it up from her. Likewise, I can accept a troll understanding the concept of “mother” given they have lusii and mother grubs, but how is “daddy” even a thing for them given their incestuous slurry means of reproduction. Karkat also calls their parents Guardians, rather than Ancestors but I can get past this by telling myself that Guardian must be a Sburb/Sgrub term while Ancestors are from troll mythology.

This prolonged conversation is important, both in terms of plot and character. Karkat does a lot of explaining. He defines paradox clones as copies that go back in time to become the original. There’s a mention of null sessions. Jack Noir in all his multiplicity comes up and we find out that he was an ally in the trolls’ session. We know that the trolls beat their final boss, and that it wasn’t easy. Karkat was John’s counterpart in their session, and noticing this connection between them is what caused him to stop at this point in time and message John. Amidst the onslaught of info, one part sticks out.

CG: BUT WHAT ALL THESE LOFTY SYMBOLIC ALLUSIONS BOIL DOWN TO IS SOME GRANDER STATEMENT ABOUT WHAT YOU SEE HAPPENING HERE.
CG: THAT YOU WERE ALWAYS THE KEY TO SEEDING YOUR OWN EXISTENCE THROUGH THIS GAME.
CG: AND ANY HOPE THAT IT COULD HAVE PLAYED OUT DIFFERENTLY OR THAT YOU COULD HAVE AVOIDED THIS WHOLE MESS WAS ALWAYS JUST A RUSE.

This is the crux of everything. Homestuck is a comic that was created with more freedom than perhaps any other form of media in history. It was written by a single artist who had a plan of sorts but no outline, with input from millions of readers through various formats, direct or otherwise, and distributed for free on the internet. It has warped and shifted in the telling and yet it is a story about characters trapped by immutable fate.

Looks like Hussie had Karkat’s backstory in mind already.

John, being the sweetheart that he is, pauses the conversation to check on the rugrats.

That is so cute and so grim at the same time…

John convinces CG to message him in a sane linear fashion, twice. This is the conversation that made me start enjoying hating Karkat the first time I read the comic. That’s key to the success of Hivebent. I didn’t like Karkat. That Karkat is an asshole is a fact and one that will not change in the least throughout the events we see in the future. Yet his conversations with John are amusing and I’m now glad to see him, as is John. We’ve relished his pain and discomfiture but now we’re being primed to understand it as well.

AR is out shredding his way through the Veil on Bro’s rocket board when he discovers a frog temple. In pursuance of his duty, he ceases his mad shreds to investigate. Inside he discovers a time capsule and watches a screen where a young girl is living with her new adoptive father in 1910. A crash outside indicates the arrival of yet another meteor. They head outside to investigate and the old man falls victim to a unfortunate firearms accident. Fortunately, the Colonel’s dog is there to step in.

Meet the happy family.

The boy and girl are raised by a wicked pastry baroness with only the dog, Harley, to act as their true guardian. When they turn thirteen, the boy decides to abscond for adventure, leaving his sister behind.

AR is interrupted by the arrival of a powerful agent from his own kingdom. AR knows that DD is too dangerous to confront directly so he hides and observes. The agent discards a notebook and some game discs, the notebook lands on the floor and the game discs end up in the time capsule. DD takes the final notebook to the monitor that AR was just watching. This is the Draconian Dignitary in his role as an agent of change, going around completing stray time loops for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

Back on the meteor, Karkat describes Jack Noir’s vendetta agains the Black Queen and the workings behind the Reckoning. He’s also resigned himself to the fact that in a moment he’s going to have to watch John do something incredibly stupid. In fact, it seems like Karkat even gives John the idea.

EB: oh, hey…
EB: sorry, hold on, this little lady is bugging me about something.
CG: YEAH YEAH, YOU MIGHT AS WELL GET IT OVER WITH AND GIVE HER THE LOUSY RABBIT ALREADY.
EB: oh!!!!!
EB: oh man, i just had THE BEST idea, this is so perfect.
EB: a blonde mother and daughter together, this is totally perfect.
CG: PERFECT FOR WHAT, FLEXING YOUR FORMIDABLE MENTAL HANDICAP LIKE A FUCKING HEAVYWEIGHT FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL MINUTES?
CG: OH WAIT, LET ME CHECK, THE ANSWER IS YES.
EB: it is like that scene in con air, i will give her the bunny like i am nick cage fresh out of the slammer.
CG: FUCK.
EB: i wish i had a filthy wifebeater on, oh well.
CG: JUST…
CG: AUGH.

Truly, Karkat is the instrument of his own grief.

Homestuck Act 4 How do I live
Karkat, seen questioning every moment of his life up to this point.

As predicted, John starts handing out bunnies like they were candy while Karkat looks on in growing consternation. I laughed at this animation the first time I watched it and in light of later developments between John and Karkat it only becomes more hilarious. I found myself hitting the little arrow and re-watching the sequence twice. This purports to be the end of Act 4, but actually we’ve a ways to go yet.

We come away from the spectacle of John’s corny movie reenactment only to be confronted by Dave covered in his own blood. Homestuck has two hearts; the previous animation embodied the light side of Nick Cage, pop culture, goofy reference jokes, and ridiculous plot twists. This image is the other side, the dark one. The two beat in harmony and when we see one we can expect an example of the other soon after.

These troll conversations have been coming in cycles and sure enough, Terezi messages Dave. She asks him what his blood smells like. I think it gets to him. He tries to retaliate by making fun of her blindness. For someone who doesn’t know anything about Terezi yet, this is a low blow.

TG: and yet as much as that guys the tooliest dude i could ever hope to meet he and i would still get along famously
TG: cause we can both see
GC: H3H3H3H3H3H3H3H333H3H3H3H3H
GC: H4H4H44H4H4H
TG: just him and me
TG: havin a see party
TG: like a couple of eagle eyed bros peepin shit up into the wee hours
GC: D4V3
GC: C4N 1 COM3 TO YOUR S33 P4RTY?
TG: i guess but youll have to be careful not to stumble around bumping into all the gorgeous masterpieces hanging around everywhere
TG: god so beautiful to look at with my perfect eyesight
GC: C4N 1 L1CK TH3 P41NT1NGS?
TG: yeah thats fine

These two really can’t stay mad at each other. The next troll in the cycle is Tavros. He speaks to Jade via her dreambot. This is the first time we see Tavros’s other side. He can be obnoxious, but he’s also sweet and thoughtful. He tries to help Jade out without being asked or making a big show of it, making him unique among the trolls. They talk about Prospit and how all the trolls’ dreamselves are dead. Jade didn’t even know that was possible. Tavros passes a message from future Jade telling present Jade that her dreambot will blow up and that Karkat is actually alright. Something else it’s important to point out. Tavros outright states that Karkat is not a good person. He has his reasons, as we will see. Given Tavros’s interactions with Vriska, I want to point out that at this point in time he is holding Karkat responsible for his own behavior. Remember this.

We round out this cycle of conversations with Rose and Kanaya; who indulge in some romantic comedy style misunderstandings. Kanaya tries to figure out the motives behind Rose’s behavior, failing to realize (since Sollux hasn’t activated her view function yet) that Rose is only being brusque because she is otherwise occupied.

Dave and Terezi continue to converse. They are well matched indeed, there’s a similar turn of mind there, as evidenced by their banter. Dave asks Terezi where his brother is and she confesses to not knowing. Instead she offers to help guide Dave through his session so he can avoid the usual time player pitfall of serial suicides.

The next page is Descend. I would describe it but… better to watch it again.

It was worth the surgery just to be able to listen to this again… The use of musical leitmotif has dropped out of the comic over the years but it’s used beautifully here to emphasize elements of the animation, even the squiddle interlude.  Homestuck has two hearts. The squiddles are a children’s cartoon and harbingers of the horrorterrors of the Furthest Ring in equal measure. This cutscene is still rightfully renowned among fans.

There are two things about Dave’s entry into the Medium that I want to mention before the end of the Act. John had to sacrifice his innocence. Rose had to take a leap of faith. Dave had to wait. These are all mini lessons that are tied into their roles within the game and the quests they’re meant to undertake in their Lands. Patience is a hard lesson for a boy who finds the five minutes it takes to draw a comic an onerous burden. Waiting can seem like nothing, a non-action, but there’s an element of commitment in it that I’ll come back to in future.

Secondly, Bro splits the meteor because he’s the Prince of Heart. He’s always splitting things, Dave’s sword, the record on his shirt. As a Prince of Heart he’s a destroyer of integrity. I bring it up because it was referenced in a recent update and I’m not sure why Dirk would find the idea of his alternate self splitting anything in half far fetched. It’s what he does.

Act 4 ends…

This is the final entry in Rose’s walkthrough. Going back to Karkat’s statement about all players being inherently trapped by their fate, Rose isn’t having it. She’s refusing to play along. She destroys her gate and refers to Skaia as a malevolent entity. The first time I read this, I totally agreed with her. Anyway, I still believe this defiance is the right attitude to take even if it is contrary to the path she was “meant” to walk. I believe I’ve said it before, just because Rose can see the light doesn’t mean she’s required to follow it. She sends her words into the Furthest Ring for the gods to distribute and then leaves on her self chosen quest for answers.

We jump a few hours into the future to witness further transitions.

WV remembers witnessing the fall of his army. He finds the Jack doll from John’s Prospit bedroom and tears it apart. He takes John’s blanket, which is decorate with ghosts, and uses it as a shroud.

John finds Jade’s body and the White Queen’s ring. He then looks into the clouds and sees his own future.

In another future, PM wraps herself in the remains of a Prospitian banner and treks off across the deserted Earth, becoming a mendicant. (We never do see how it is she ended up on Earth.) She remembers back to the culmination of her quest.

The nonviolent Parcel Mistress slays HB in order to claim the White Scepter. She arranges to meet Jack and delivers the collateral he demanded in return for the green package, which she promptly delivers to John.

Our heroine finds victory but the price that was paid for it leaves a bitter taste in her mouth.

John reads the two letters enclosed in his birthday package. One is from Jade’s pen pal. It turns out it he was the one to convince Jade they needed to make the thing inside the box, and in turn someone else twisted his arm to get it done. I don’t believe we’ve had an explanation as to all of this but given the way things are going… probably Vriska… I’m not sure. I’ll have to keep reading. The second letter is from Jade talking about how much she’s looking forward to flying around Prospit with John. Yeah…

John’s mourning is interrupted by Jack Noir, who wants the ring Jade was carrying. But John’s not as alone and defenseless as he looks, it’s time to reveal what was in the box…

It’s a bunny of course. It had to be. Everyone knew this was coming.
Check.

The Gamebreaker Bunny was so cool. It’s a shame she had to be de-powered later for the sake of other plots. I like the idea of her being an embodiment of the kids’ friendship. As the rabbit passed through the hands of each of John’s friends, it gained a bit of their virtue and right now that’s powerful enough to halt even Jack Noir in his tracks.

A regulator becomes a renegade.

By following AR, we see what became of John’s body once Jade succeeded in waking his dreamself. He’s asleep back in the lab, where AR finds him after fleeing from DD and the newly created Bec. While AR is poking at John’s sleeping body the Reckoning reaches their lab. He makes a quick decision and secures John to the rocket board and sends him off. The meteor is hurled towards the battlefield and hits one of Skaia’s defense portals, ending up at the frog temple on Earth.

This is what I meant before about AR’s basic nobility. He his from DD but he is by no means a coward.

Back on the battlefield, Grandpa Harley drops off Mom and Dad, then retrieves the corpse of his daughter’s dreamself and follows the family tradition of embalming and mounting the dead.

I wonder if he ever met Jade’s dreamself on his travels. I like to think so.

The White Queen flees her kingdom and takes a shuttle through another Skaian defense portal. She leaves her entourage to quest through the desert until she finds the pod created by Dave’s entry into the medium. She uses a key, from somewhere, to repair the station and travel to meet the other three exiles.

We see them all together again and it turns out that WV has been carrying the White Queen’s ring all this time wrapped up in his trusty knife.

John witnesses this reveal in the clouds. Inside another cloud we see the laboratory where Jade grew up. We zoom in to find the missing fourth wall and..

…this strangely arresting sight.

I skim the contents but find no explanation for how PM got to Earth. It seems like all four of the kids’ Exiles chose their exile in the end. WQ certainly did. AR chose exile over leaving behind a civilian. WV exiled himself in shame. I’m not certain about PM. I think she left in frustration and disgust.

Wow, I’ve gotten through four acts and almost two thousand pages. To anyone unfamiliar with Homestuck, that number would seem significant, but we know what’s coming. Everything before was setup, a drop in the bucket. Now we enter the strange, the convoluted, the very, very long…

==> Next session, Act 5.

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