By Ian Cory
When talking about stories told in an ongoing manner, there are two types of viewers: serial viewers and archival viewers. The former experience the story as it’s being told, whether that means waiting a week for a new episode or checking back to a website every few days. The latter, having arrived late to the party, experience the story at a pace of their own choosing, which in our Netflix binge culture, usually means in one 12 hour sitting. These groups are fairly fluid. Archival viewers can become serial once they catch up on the backlog (which is how I experience nearly every TV show or comic I read/watch) and serial viewers can become archival if they don’t have time to keep up (which is where I am at with Mad Men at the moment). Unless Act 6 Act 6 ends up being longer than most of the rest of Homestuck combined (unlikely, but not impossible) I will have read most of the story in an archival fashion*.
This has undoubtedly affected the way that I view much of the story in both positive and negative ways. While I never had a chance to experience the mass elation and shock of Cascade as it happened, I also didn’t have any idea that a 15-minute long multi-segmented flash animation was on its way. Archival readers also have a much better sense of narrative time, while serial readers had to deal with Trickster mode for a solid month, archival readers can probably blow through that section in a weekend at most. This week’s relative lack of updates and smaller focus are another case of Homestuck favoring the archival crowd, but there’s still plenty to break down for the serial consumer.
We start with yet another framing device, a character selection screen that suggests three long paths, each following one of the duos from the divided meteor crew. This week we only got updates on Dave and The Mayor’s activities on the Land Of Heat And Clockwork, which really means that we got to see a lot of Dave. The increasing irrelevance of The Mayor (or WV, as we first knew him) is something that bums me out. At this point, he reminds me a lot of Lapudis from Lost, a character that has been eclipsed by the narrative’s shift in tone and subject matter, but is being kept around for his inevitable importance in the endgame. The exiles and their mission to rebuild the world doesn’t have much value in the power struggle between our heroes, The Condesce and Lord English, but there’s no way such a huge part of the early story will be abandoned once we reach the finale, so we’re probably going to have to deal with a lot of The Mayor hanging in the background while we wait for the story to come back around to him. In the meantime, we have Dave Strider and his crippling nostalgia. As someone currently visiting the house he grew up in, this sequence really hit home for me. Certainly there’s some self-aware humor in how Dave’s old interests were never elaborated on in the story, but it also feels true to life. Homestuck has always ostensibly been a coming of age story, but its only recently that we’ve seen what’s its meant for these characters to grow up. Sadly, if Jade’s shots at Dave are anything to go by, the kids haven’t had the chance to mature, and are instead acting out the same patterns that gave them comfort when they were younger.
Speaking of jade, last week I mentioned that I really liked where Hussie has taken her character as a villain. While this week has shown that her exact moral position is somewhat more complicated, my reasons for finding her compelling remain the same. It’s been a long time since Homestuck has had an active antagonist, and has never had one as upfront with their intentions and goals as Jade is right now. The first four acts were mostly spent dealing with household mishaps and the kids struggling to learn the rules of the game. Even when more directly dangerous forces entered the equation they were either hands-off schemers (Doc Scratch, Vriska) or avatars of mindless violence (Bec Noir, Gamzee). Jade is somewhere between the two. She’s clearly still positioning chess pieces for a larger event, but she’s doing so up close and personal, and is just as ready to disembowel you as she is to call you out for being a shitty boyfriend.
There’s a definitely a chance that this week’s updates will gain greater significance in retrospect. The return of the cue balls and the caledfwlch certainly bode well for large-scale conflict in the future, and John’s temporary return was heartwarming as well as visually striking. But with three days and no updates, we know something huge is coming down the pipes. Let’s hope the kids find the fortitude to handle it.
*I caught up during Act 6 Intermission 3, right around the second Meenahquest game.