exits are NORTH and WEST
Content warnings: The Homestuck Epilogues. I talk a lot about the Homestuck Epilogues and they're just really bad. I have no idea how to do a concrete content warning but just so you know. Be on your guard for triggering stuff.
Sorry I only post about Homestuck! I feel like I should revisit this piece, since I reread the Homestuck Epilogues for the first time since their release not too long ago. I think it's kind of important, since my last thing that was critical towards them is... it's not something I really stand by? It's really caught up in what Homestuck means to me, specifically, and why it bites the biggest one in relation to Homestuck proper, but a lot of things have popped off since then, I've stopped being incensed by the Epilogues as much, I reread Homestuck (with additional author commentary) and Pesterquest and Homestuck^2 started, as well as the Bridges and Offramps letter, which adds some more context into their function in relation to Phase 2 of Homestuck, or whatever, and most of all I'm trying to chill out about new Homestuck not necessarily being my thing, and taking Homestuck^2 on its own terms instead of the terms of Homestuck proper.
Along with that, the standard for what constitutes a good criticism for me has changed, and instead of having something half-formed, I'd like to have something a little bit more coherently thought-out and focused to point to when I say "fuck the epilogues", just so it seems like I'm not full of shit when I say "they're bad." because like, up front, my opinion of the Epilogues has not changed at all. They're pretty bad, and definitely the worst thing I've read in the last decade.
I'm not going to say this isn't subjective because like, it's a lengthy critique of a dense work that is always, constantly reinventing itself, so I am gonna say "yeah if you liked them, whatever, that's your right" but on the condition of at least trying to understand why people don't like them, since a lot of the discussion is actually non-discussion, you know?
Since Homestuck is in full swing at the moment, and things may be recontextualized in the future, I think having a timeline for writing this in mind? I wrote the original piece about a month after the Epilogues launched, in May of 2019. I started writing this on 2/25/2020, the day before the reveal of Roxy's Pesterquest sprites, just so we all have a clear basis and in case future works cause things to be received differently. I'm editing this again on March 3rd, the day before Roxy's Pesterquest route is released, and putting the finishing touches on it on March 4th, the day of release. I held off until after the route to post it since I wanted to experience it, and also syncing release with Pesterquest wasn't right. I wound up liking Roxy's route well enough, also.
So my original read on Homestuck, and one I think is fairly well-supported textually, is kind of important for the understanding of why I both like Homestuck, and dislike the Epilogues so much. Like, the question of whether Homestuck is good or bad is irrelevant, the question here is, why did I care in the first place? This is one of those "the most important context for a work of art is that which the audience brings to it" moments where I could get personal, and I've made that mistake before! But let's just kind of talk analysis for a moment.
I'm in a rare position where I think the conclusion to Homestuck, Act 7, was a really genuinely solid ending - while Homestuck comes to a place of completeness through Act 7, a lot of people were left soured by it, soured enough that Homestuck fanventures Act 8, Act Omega, Double Death of the Author, etc. all popped up in response to the ending feeling "incomplete", I'm not one of those people. Nothing against them, of course, I respect a lot of the work put into making Act 8/Omega/DDotA, etc, I'm literally working on a fan follow up to Homestuck as well. (Psssst. Check out @burndowncomic. Sound of the summer.)
So with that in mind, there's really two ways I need to address the ending, one is diegetically - what happens in-universe that makes this a viable ending, and two is non-literally, what happens beneath the surface to make it a viable ending?
The first answer is that Lord English is a beast of systems - mechanics and ideas working together, to produce a beast of unfathomable power. The mechanics interlock in some unique ways, as well. The crowbar hitting the clock, a juju breaker nullifying the clock's effect on Caliborn's resurrection, guarantees his unquestioned immortality. It calls back to the Intermission, Caliborn's destruction of a clock echoes Jack's quest to do so, and it also plays with the ambiguity around Vriska's lack of resurrection when she's killed by Terezi. The mechanics of a First Guardian being given to Lord English are also an echo of when the same thing happened with Jack, during Jade's entry, and on top of this, he has clown immortality and sprite knowledge, as well as the powers of a fully-ascended master class.
A lot like the black hole in Problem Sleuth, I imagined the plot of Act 7 works because of the very mundane rules of a literal black hole. Time is dilated to a standstill, and this is what stops English at the end - his sources of power are dismantled one by one, the Green Sun that powers First Guardians being consumed, and the complete stop of time more or less disrupt his whole shit. This is later discredited by the Epilogues, but those didn't exist for another 3 years, so it left Act 7 being pretty complete, as a capstone to Homestuck's sprawling narrative. There are some threads that seem unresolved, but when taking an unresolved thread at the end of a story like this, I don't think something being unresolved at the end of a story means that it's poorly written. An approach to storytelling like this, in which all things create "loose threads" that have to be cleaned up in a very mechanical way, doesn't necessarily capture a lot of the things that make a story appealing to me.
Along with that, there's the hanging thread of the English fight.
THE TALE MY MASTERPIECE DESCRIBES, IS BASICALLY A SPOILER TO THE ENDING OF THINGS. IT TAKES PLACE IN A FUTURE MOMENT. LONG BEYOND WHEN WE, YOU, OR I HAVE ANY BUSINESS SEEING WHAT HAPPENS.
- Homestuck, page 7412
This is something I kinda took seriously, and at the time I liked it, and I still sort of do - the defeat of Lord English takes place after the story has ended, since there's no real tension to how it will go down, the heroes will win, or this was all for nothing. In fact, my original read was that English wound up getting one-shotted by the house juju! It's been hinted that's what could have happened and there's nothing in Act 7 that defies that read.
VRISKA: Not that I'd have it any other way. This just sounds like the 8est plan to me. Why 8other messing around with an army of ghostly dipshits, or some shy magic alien when you can go str8 for the ultim8 weapon?
VRISKA: Hell, may8e I'll just walk right up to him, one-shot the guy and end it all right there.
VRISKA: That's how a real pro goes a8out 8usiness. You take any shortcut you find.
- Homestuck, page 5390
There's also a questionably-diegetic read that's worth mentioning here - it's symbolic, but it's not necessarily thematic, nor is it entirely literal, so it occupies this strange middle ground. Throughout the story, there's a web of symbols that crop up: Vriska is immediately thematically tied to the 8 ball, the 8 ball being her fetch modus and the thing she 8r8ks, as well as her exile being Sn0wman, the 8 ball in the Felt's pool motif. Lord English is tied to the cue ball - Doc Scratch is the most direct and obvious way, but the story also refers to his sceptre as a cuestaff. When Vriska is killed by Terezi at the end of Act 5 Act 2, the beta session ends, but the Scratch occurs as well.
This relatively simple pool motif is complicated by the way it interacts with the chess motif that Sburb establishes. The use of chess in Homestuck is actually rather shallow, its presence is only to directly avoid actually making chess analogies. The only times Homestuck truly engages with such analogies is in two places - PM traversing her way to Derse and gaining the ring allows her to become incredibly powerful, and Caliborn, during his chess game with Calliope, finally wins a round by switching the location of his king and queen, though they had to act as the pieces they resembled as not to cheat.
This chess game complicates the attributed symbols within pool by having Sburb function as both games. A healthy, multiplayer session of Sburb is derived from chess, while a single player session is derived from pool. This ties the two together, and sets us up for the end of Act 7, in which the glowing white house juju erupts from the treasure chest it was in at the same time that Lord English's eyes settle in on the matching 8 balls, signalling that this is the shitty twist - the character assigned the 8 ball was actually the cue ball, and the character assigned the cue ball was actually the eight ball. When a game scratches, by sinking the cue ball, the opposing player is allowed to place the cue ball wherever they want, and thus Vriska-as-cue ball returns through the retcon mechanics, while English, the 8 ball, sunk into the black hole and the game properly ended.
The fully non-literal, thematic hand is thus: The point of Homestuck proper to me, is that the process of growing up should include a further, deeper understanding of the way social structures imposed on people, by people with power, affect others, and in this sense, Homestuck takes a very anarchist approach to it.
VRISKA: No8ody should control a universe. That's what 8ad guys try to do.
VRISKA: We just want it to 8e a nice place to live, and free of any controlling influence that will make life misera8le for the people who live there.
- Homestuck, page 7538
This is the core question of Homestuck - who deserves to create a new universe? The answer is pretty concretely, nobody. In Homestuck, once the goal of Sburb is revealed at the end of Act 5 Act 1, it's never in question whether a new universe is going to exist, the conflict is then over who gets to control it - this conflict is expressed by Her Imperious Condescension, one of the "final bosses" of Homestuck, who wants to use the new universe to reinstate Alternian rule, outside of the grasp of her master, Lord English. This is opposed by the kids, and the surviving trolls, who know the fuck better than to do that.
Part of answering the question of who deserves to create a new universe is how you can arrive in a position where you can become someone worthy of answering that question. Sburb itself is a cyclical thing - a universal reproduction system that has, at the very least, been implied to be part of a cycle of universes being born and then destroyed, so long as Lord English exists, and a successful session of Sburb would not be enough for this cycle to break. Instead, defeating Lord English (or at the very least, nullifying his abilities that allow him to start this cycle over) would be essential to not necessitating the cycle of death and rebirth. This manifests in the story in smaller forms as cyclical abuse - sometimes it is overt, like Doc Scratch's direct manipulation of Vriska, and sometimes it's more subtle, like the instilling of harmful ideas into youth. Lord English is the metaphorical manifestation of those cycles - he was always already here. Sometimes his influence is more subtle, like the structures of a society. Gly'bgolyb, the monster that requires being fed, or else trolls start dying en masse, was a gift from Doc Scratch as a "sentience-warming gift", and the effects of Gly'bgolyb's existence drive both Vriska and Eridan into their paths of relentless child murder and monster murder, respectively. Sometimes, his influence was more direct - the Handmaid travelled through time, doing his bidding until Her Imperious Condescension showed up, but either way, he's enslaving women, until they find someone new to replace them.
On a character level, this also manifests as a cycle of revenge - while the Team Charge debacle seems to cool, come time for the trolls to watch over the kids's session, my personal read was that the cycle of revenge in Homestuck only truly stops at the end of Act 5 Act 2, when Vriska dies, and this becomes sort of a running theme - Gamzee going off the shits is definitely just the well-worn lethal joke character archetype, it's relevant that the way that he manifests this lethality not through direct bloodlust, but by asserting his place on the hemospectrum, as a highblood, and it's relevant that his on-screen kill, Equius, is because Equius, though capable of standing up to Gamzee moreso than any other troll, doesn't actually fight back against this, again because of his respect for the hemospectrum. Nepeta, playing into her role as Equius's moirail, leaps in to avenge him and also gets killed. A recurring theme when it comes to Eridan and Feferi is that they are "made for each other" and when this turns out to not be true, Eridan goes off the shits, killing both Feferi and Kanaya, and KOing Sollux. Vriska thinks that she can take on Jack Noir alone, and in order to save everyone, Terezi kills Vriska.
Okay, so why did I just recap all of Murderstuck for you? The thing is, everything here can be contextualized in a way that becomes something of what I think the core theme of Homestuck is - the role society sets out for you can be, and often is, harmful, and unpacking this and understanding where you exist in relation to that role is both difficult, and rewarding.
Over the course of Act 6, this theme of denying or accepting one's pre-defined role repeats itself, though with more human-centric terms mixed in. Dave and Dirk unpack the ways their upbringing affected them. Dirk reflects on how he could have very easily become like Bro, and Dave reflects on how the abuse suffered at Bro's hands had stopped him from being the way that he feels he should be.
This is reflected in Sburb as well - Sburb destroys the planet that the players live on, transporting them to new worlds with facsimiles of culture on them. The only things preserved is the living space of the players, as well as exactly one thing that can be brought back to life, which is then immediately reflected in the enemies of the game. Bits of the culture players bring in become ingrained in the societies these consorts build, like Casey becoming a wizard or that one salamander that wanted you to behold their robes. Players are clones of themselves, always owning an innate self-ness that is warped and changed by societal pressure.
While things like ectobiology and kernelsprite prototyping and the behavior of consorts are mostly mechanical, it can be read with the same framework as any real video game. The culture you bring with you into a new world shapes and affects the way that world develops. This isn't always directly through Sburb, though.
Here's a small subsection for Mindfang and her presence in the story, since I think it's the most potent iteration of this. After Game Over, Vriska detached herself from the action and her idea of herodom, and comfortably lived her life as a butch lesbian in the dreambubbles with Meenah. Her reasoning for this is that her heroism shtick was always kind of horseshit anyway, and seeing Aranea echo it back to her was enlightening, in a sense. In the same event, Aranea outright states that she is emulating Mindfang, an iteration of herself that was considerably more powerful and respected than her.
There's two specific scenes where Mindfang's image comes up that I think are worth talking about as well: First, is the doomed timeline during the Scratch segments, where Vriska runs off to fight Jack Noir. During this stint of heroism, Vriska dons Mindfang's coat, specifically donning it during an act of what she perceives as heroism, but is actually reckless stupidity that gets her friends killed. The second time is the scene in which she picks up the house juju. Vriska's notably wearing the coat that she roleplays as Mindfang in. Right before Vriska sets off to pick up the house juju, she takes off the Mindfang jacket, throwing it down, and giving her speech that she's going to continue on to be a hero, the only way she can: "8y 8eing me". When they leave the cave the house juju was found in, Kurloz picks up the coat conspicuously, while the Miracles motif plays. It's extremely telegraphing that the Mindfang jacket is part of Lord English's Cairo Overcoat.
This image of Mindfang as a toxic force of the past that, through keeping her alive in effigy, keeps coming back and traumatizing and killing people, in ways that aren't necessarily unlike Gamzee accepting his role as a murderous highblood.
It's this, unpacking the baggage of the past in order to become a person worthy of authoring the future, that I think makes up the core of Homestuck. This is more or less what I read into the black hole upon which the Epilogues hoist themselves - Caliborn is defined as stunted, unable to properly grow up because he failed to predominate the "proper" way, using Sburb as a mechanism for this predomination. The story emphasizes this over and over, that Caliborn is going to be a stupid, idiot child forever.
HUSSIE: You may be destined for bigger things, but you're still an atrocious, stupid child.
HUSSIE: And you may have won the "game" with your sister, but that doesn't mean it was the best thing for your development as a person.
HUSSIE: You had her dream self killed, which is not an opportunity your species typically gets. So she died prematurely, instead of allowing the conflict within you to settle itself naturally.
HUSSIE: In short, you forced your predomination to happen a little too early, and now you're stuck.
HUSSIE: Yes. Your personality is stuck in some sort of cantankerous prepubescent limbo. You are going to be a stunted, miserable tool forever.
- Homestuck, page 5481
This makes the black hole, a place in which time is forever slowed to a stand-still, a karmic death as well as a mechanical counter to his abilities, since failure to grow up beyond what you're supposed to be is a death knell within Homestuck's internal language. It's this scene, with the house juju opening up, that we also see Vriska for the last time. Her status as alive or dead is left ambiguous, but her not returning at all to Earth-C is also, in a sense, an ambiguous ending almost identical to one of the more iconic ambiguous endings, the ending to The Sopranos. I haven't fuckin' seen the Sopranos. But I know about the ending, you know? Even though the Epilogues and Homestuck^2 now exist, Act 7 really wants to be treated as an ending and thus, treating a non-resolution as a resolution is the way to go. It's a very messy, but still resonant and coherent statement.
We're approaching Vriscourse here, so get on your hazmat suits, there's so much radiation in here, you'll die if you're unexposed. I think the line cut between Vriska and (Vriska) at the end of Act 7 is the most potent thing in Homestuck. (Vriska) has gone through some shit, since she died - the first and most obvious thing is that Terezi killed her. So she has to reckon with that, as well as being fused to Tavros for exactly 30 seconds, but still experiencing the trauma she inflicted on him, in the search of "heroism". After that, there's the stuff with Meenah, and then Game Over. It's hard to say that she really goes through Game Over because she's not even in the Flash, but this is more or less the kickstand for her development away from retcon Vriska and into (Vriska). Each thing is her dealing with the ramifications of her actions taken in the name of "relevance", and each new thing is pushing her towards being a better person with each, sympathizing with people she hurt and recognizing the actions that hurt others in other people - it's Aranea regurgitating the act of identifying with Mindfang before going to do some heinous shit that grabs the narrative by the horns finally kicks things off into (Vriska) being okay with irrelevance, and it's this change that allows for Terezi, who spent her dying actions correcting her need to dispense justice, to be the focal piece of the most "dramatic" scene in the comic.
This is juxtaposed against retcon Vriska, who did not undergo that development, and never had the belief that she was the hero that was going to fix everything meaningfully challenged until the very end, where her fate is left ambiguous. Terezi is left without closure for her, spending what should have been time on Earth-C searching for her and notably, not finding her. This line, between a (Vriska) who grew up, and accepted that she isn't meant to play the hero (no one is) and for this, is happier, and a Vriska who didn't grow up, continued to play the traumatizing role of hero, and was wholly left out of the happy ending, is one of the more coherent statements Homestuck makes about its own topics.
So much of this is me getting ahead of thoughts that I think people will say, and here's one I think about a lot: I don't think more Homestuck is a bad thing. I posted a thing not too long ago about how much I dread and loathe sequels, because they so rarely exist in a way that adds to the original experience, but for what it's worth, I'm literally in the process of writing my fanventure which picks up at the end of Act 7 right now. Like, seriously. I'm 200 pages in. That might not seem like a lot, but for one person, it is! But I think that the Epilogues constitute this kind of "came back wrong"-ness that sequels often fall into, and I'd like to kind of explain why.
The Epilogues take the form of a cursed tome, a sort of tantalizing look past the end of the story, bait that upon reading, causes the story's happy ending to collapse under its own weight. This isn't just "I don't like it, so it sucks." speak, this is just paraphrasing authorial intent. In the Perfectly Generic Podcast episode "Semiotics, Bridges, and Off-ramps", a letter to the show from Hussie reads as thus:
... Such is the nature of a cursed tome retrieved from a place which may have best been left undisturbed. It is also the nature of any creative inclination to reopen a story which had already been laid to rest - a reader's desire to agitate and then collapse the bubble which contained the imagined projection of "happily ever after", simply by observing it. There exists inherent danger in a reader's eagerness to collapse that bubble, or to crack that tome. There is also danger in a creator's willingness to accommodate that desire. It's a risk for all involved.
It's worth treating this as a thesis statement for the Epilogues, that it relies on collapsing the "happy ending" from Homestuck proper to lead into Pesterquest, Homestuck^2, and whatever (in the voice of the aloof character in an action movie saying "Ah, what the hell. We're all gonna die. I'm in.") inane horseshit comes next. In this sense, it has to prepare the reader for what could come of another Homestuck property, and if this is what to expect from future Homestuck properties, I'm extremely unenthused. Here's my thesis for this writing about the Epilogues: the Epilogues neither come together to form a coherent artistic statement that wasn't already visited in Homestuck, nor are they enjoyable enough on a surface level to justify reading for fun.
I'm also not going to engage at all with any of the discussion of whether something is "canon" or not. Something being canon is more or less wholly irrelevant, and kind of a weird topic since it's a construct entirely built around serving the story, with little to no applicable meaning to a person's life. One of the core ideas of postmodernism is built around the idea of drawing attention to the specific way a work is constructed within a medium, in order to draw attention the fact that a work is in fact, constructed at all, which then encourages you to think about why the author made the choices they did, and what meaning they attempt to convey with it, et cetera. Diegetic authors are still written by living, breathing authors. "Canon" is this way too in a sense. Having spent a third of my life as a Homestuck fan now, I've been around the block when it comes to canon. I've fully accepted that canon is bad, and whether it's canon or not doesn't matter, what matters to me is that it's in the text. It's being printed, and being read. "Canon" and "not canon" are arbitrary labels, assigned without any coherent meaning behind something being canonical or not. The issue is that, again, whether they are canon or not (Jane sending Jake divorce papers seems to not be canon, for one) they are still being printed, and the audience is still being exposed to these things. Whether something is canon or not, these things get folded back into audience reads on characters, as well. As much as I avoided engaging with the Epilogues and Epilogues content after they launched, simply being in spaces where people do engage with the text, whether they like it or not, affects my read, and it affects other people's reads as well. Jane might not have canonically been a fascist, rapist Trump insert, but she was textually a fascist, and people integrated fascist Jane into their reads on her character. But believe me, we will get to Jane.
I take the approach that implication and subtext should be treated as textual as much as the text itself. Deliberate use of implication, symbolism, metaphor, all of these are things that go into the writing process, and as such, while it's not directly stated that the person authoring the Candy route is alt-Callie, it is heavily implied, and thus I don't see a reason to act as if it isn't true for the sake of satisfying someone with wiki brain out there. It makes narrative sense: during the best scene in the Epilogues, the "a martyr died and said fuck." scene, Calliope speaks with the narration font, and the bizarre approach to human relationships would be in character for her. I don't know how much I have to say about alpha Calliope as a character so it may not ever come up, but I'm going to be referring to the two of them as the more formal Calliope for "the dead cherub", and just Callie for everyone's favorite Homestuck fan, since they're more or less different characters.
So first off, the pacing on the Homestuck Epilogues is really bad. Both routes have this issue, but I think that the core issue is that there's a rule of storytelling that I think is fundamentally under-addressed here: emotions take time. Both routes have this issue - the Epilogues refuse to just sit with a scene for very long, each page can go through 3 or 4 scenes. With Homestuck proper, this pacing feels alright - acts can have quite a lot going on, and a lot of Homestuck already happens in the reader's head as they imagine character acting and blocking to go with each pesterlog.
This approach of allowing things to happen in the readers's head works when you get initial setups in the drawn out panels, but in the Epilogues, there's not really much room for that, since characters grow and change and can be so removed from initial impressions of those characters that it's not even worth it since the dissonance between them can be downright impossible to gauge. You can show an emotional state a lot easier through panels and while I'm not wholly against Homestuck going text-only, I don't think the transition is very fluid. It just kind of made me miss panels, but like I said last time around, I doubt you could really get away with drawing most of the things that happen in this story. I don't know, I'm certain it'd be a hell of a door stopper, if it isn't already, I'm not going to buy the book to see, but I feel like Homestuck is already such a wordy, unwieldy piece that spending some more time on location, on set dressing, on character action that isn't just "X character did Y thing." in the middle of a pesterlog, wouldn't actually be that hard a sell.
Homestuck proper also uses the medium effectively and skillfully, even when not doing flashy gimmick pages like the ones with the crowbar. While most panels are spaced and sized the same, there's plenty of animation and there's a lot of panels that use their verticality or width to their advantage - the period in which John is floating around the ruins of the alpha session post-Game Over come to mind. The flash games are aging poorly, but that's not Homestuck's fault. Okay the dancestor walkaround is Homestuck's fault. But they're still interesting breaks from a standard comic format, that make the most of their status as walkarounds to bring some interesting character interactions to the table - Vriska and Nepeta talking about RPing is a highlight of [S] Past Karkat: Wake up.
It's times like this that I think about this excerpt:
[while "being" Vriska] You’d be hard-pressed to describe what’s happening right now. If they sent a poet, maybe he’d do better job of it. But they sent someone who’s actually useful instead, so you’ll give it a shot. It looks to you like the complete obliteration of space and time, the end of all things, the disintegration of literally thousands of ghosts. And no doubt your admirers out there would love it if you described it all in painstaking detail, but you’re not an executionist. You just call it like you see it, and what you’re seeing right now is pretty awesome.
- Meat, 13
There's a certain topic I think about a lot, as a mostly-solo game designer, and it's this: when I can get away with underperforming to subvert expectations. While this is a characterful thing for Vriska to think, it draws attention to the lackluster prose throughout in a way that evokes the same intent as doodle mode, but without the charm inherent to an exaggerated, loose sketch of a character interaction in lieu of actually depicting it.
While in the Meat route it can hide behind Dirk's voice, and Dirk being uninterested in properly telling the story, it can't do as well in Candy, and the prose is part of the slog that Candy becomes. The authors being detached from the events doesn't help - while reading Candy, a thought kept coming back to me: "This only sucks because the authors want this to suck." I'll get into it more, but ultimately, this failure is kind of whatever in the long run. Sometimes you try something and it doesn't work. But then, on the other hand, I've read bits of the Monster of Elendhaven. While that's also not really my thing, C_V is definitely capable of writing well! I can safely say that when the Monster of Elendhaven doesn't draw me in, it's because the things in it aren't up my alley, and not because I think it's poorly constructed. But the Epilogues do feel that way. So much is presented, without much to actually latch onto, and it feels hollow, even when I don't think it's supposed to.
Second off, there's this tendency to praise it for "subverting audience expectations". C_V directly compared it to MGS2, in which Snake dies and you play the whole game as Raiden, I think. I don't know shit about Metal Gear Solid, honestly. The purpose of subversion of expectations (EXTREMELY IMO I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH) is to either replace the subverted trope with something better, like the episode of Space Dandy where the zombie apocalypse goes off without a hitch, and life is actually better post-zombie apocalypse, or to call attention to a certain quality of a trope, such as the game I talk about in every blog post and my favorite game of all time, Magic Wand, eschewing a standard narrative, in service of pointing out how much beginnings and endings actually matter to a story. Subversion for subversion's sake leaves the story feeling less like it has a coherent point to make, and more like its intent is to make you feel like the author is trying to be smarter than you, for having a twist lined up.
This is most prevalent in the way the Epilogues handle their offensive content, and I'll be getting to that here in a bit.
The Epilogues are constructed around a duality - it builds on a theme loosely established in Homestuck proper, a dichotomy between "meat" and "candy".
Part of the thesis of this is that the Epilogues fail at making a coherent statement, and the crux of this is that the "meat" / "candy" binary, in my opinion, doesn't work. The first time through this topic, I did a sort of unresearched take on this - I decided, "meat" was plot, while "candy" was shipping. My recent reread of Homestuck with the available author commentary has added some more pieces to this pile to sift through and dissect, and while my opinion that it doesn't work as a concept hasn't changed, the actual reasoning for this opinion has.
Initially, there was this sort of read that I can only describe as "galaxy brain negative space", the kind of thing you create when you are trying to galaxy brain, and are aware of the potential to galaxy brain, but are not entirely galaxy-brained. The metaphor seemed obvious - the meat path was going to be difficult, but cathartic, while the candy path was going to be saccharine, but unfulfilling. In retrospect, I almost feel like this is set up this way to subvert that specific read - in my experience, the Meat path is grueling, but at the same time lacks substance, while the Candy path is not particularly sweet and is laden with things to think about.
So my understanding of the binary changed. My understanding now is that it's based on two approaches to storytelling - "meat" is "authorial scorn", challenging characters in a way that creates tensions to be resolved, while "candy" is more akin to "authorial affection", an approach which views characters with maternal support. It's illustrative of Hussie's approach to writing in a way that I think is insightful into his process, but I don't think it necessarily works, and I'll be getting into that here in a bit. I kind of want to define my terms and cite my sources first.
This is commentary from Vriska's introduction:
The core of Vriska's initial profile—the ultimate troll and supreme source of controversy—has the secondary effect of creating a portrait of an individual who heaps scorn on characters deemed as weak, and who persecutes or torments them to put them in situations that force them to grow and evolve. Which is exactly what an author is supposed to do with fictional characters. To challenge them, break them down, force hard decisions, prompt evolution, and let them build themselves back up or die trying. In other words, the basic constituents of what we consider compelling character arcs and narratives in general. To challenge them, break them down, force hard decisions, prompt evolution, and let them build themselves back up or die trying. In other words, the basic constituents of what we consider compelling character arcs and narratives in general.
- Homestuck book commentary, correlates to page 2356
So looking at it this way, another dimension to Vriska's already dense profile is her role, in a rough-sketch kind of way, as an avatar for what I'm calling "authorial scorn" for one's own creation. Not necessarily all of it, but certain characters, events, and conditions. It's not as ill-willed as it might sound, but more of a universal principle of storytelling that for things to be interesting, harsh outcomes must befall those you create, in response to which they may thrive or fail. Which to the casual observer may read as hate. "Why did the author hate this character so much?" is a question some ask of fiction that is harsh to its occupants. It isn't "true hate," but something else, a necessary degree of authorial viciousness to produce the right kinds of tension, which is tempered and balanced by an opposite force, authorial affection for a creation, which can express itself in extremes too, like various kinds of indulgence. These forces are explored symbolically in a more coherent sense later, but I think the themes begin to develop as Vriska's portrait comes into better focus, as a vessel for this particular kind of scorn, one obsessed with challenging others in cruel ways to force them to overcome their limitations and get stronger. As the "most favored character," it makes sense that she would echo this authorial attitude. In fact, she by definition only inherits favored status in the first place because she's doing the dirty work for me, stirring the pot, pushing the buttons, raising the stakes.
- Homestuck book commentary, correlates to page 2358
Pages later, as Kanaya cleans up Vriska's room while she's being a huge 8itch:
[The quality of authorial scorn] probably becomes noticeable in this sequence, because it stands in contrast to what Kanaya is doing. If Vriska is the current mouthpiece for authorial scorn, Kanaya counters with authorial affection. While Vriska wants to throw weaklings into the water to sink or swim, Kanaya prefers to support them with maternal concern. Acting as this sort of authorial mouthpiece is not a huge part of Kanaya's character, but it comes through in the right context. And anyway, like I said, these ideas were very raw in Hivebent, emerging as sketches and loose themes to build on later. The concept of authorial scorn—or actually, "wrath," as a better term—comes into sharper focus in Act 6 through certain avatars. Pushing further the thesis that there is a part of any creator that "hates" the creation, everything inside it, and even those outside it (such as fandom), leads to a metafictional examination of what happens when those forces are fully unleashed and spin out well beyond the author's control. As if to say, a monster has been summoned, and once loose, operates autonomously of the author at great cost to everyone and everything inside the story, and, to some extent, outside. This is basically the crux of Lord English as symbolic figure, through his emergence and how he "presides" over the story thereafter, casting a pall of hate, terror, and destruction over the narrative itself. A symbolic counterbalance exists too, an elevated personification of affection for everything in the story, in the form of Calliope.
- Homestuck book commentary, correlates to page 2360
It's these two specific paragraphs that I feel codify "meat" and "candy" as the building blocks of a story, "meat" is a story directly challenging a character, forcing them to either grow or fail, while "candy" is when a story gives a character what they think they want.
ROSE: Whichever way our fate unravels there’s too much of... something.
ROSE: Too much blood, too much sugar.
ROSE: I almost can’t see through it.
ROSE: It’s as if our extra-canon reality, our surroundings, our actions and their consequences...
ROSE: They’ve all lost the ability to blend the ingredients responsibly.
ROSE: Do you know what I mean?
- Meat, 25
While the concept within the Epilogues is that they've stopped being able to mix the ingredients properly, even without this conceit of each thing existing without the other, it conflates two things which I don't necessarily think are 1:1 parallels. Meat and Candy loosely parallel to the way I write characters - each character has a "need" and a "want" respectively, and in the process of attempting to resolve a character's "want", the "need" should also be resolved. If this sounds familiar, it's because it's the backbone of a three-act structure. Homestuck itself plays with the conventions of a three-act structure, and the hero's journey and all that, look at all these storytelling 101 things, please respect my analysis, but it's impossible to truly reject it, since it's not a framework, it's a theory through which a story can be understood. A character's "want" is directly related to their motivation, what they desire, while a "need" is often related to a character's foremost flaw, what can most directly help them grow as people.
This is different from the idea of authorial scorn and authorial adoration, the approaches of challenging and rewarding characters. It can interact with the idea of such a dichotomy of "needs" and "wants" but isn't necessarily the same thing - scorn and adoration are both ways to frame such things, and in turn tell us what the author values and what point the story tries to make, but it's not something that necessarily works.
It doesn't work because it fails to express what makes any story work, but especially, it fails to make Homestuck work - Homestuck's huge, insane plot moments only matter when they matter to the characters. [S] Terezi: Remem8er isn't a good flash because it revealed to us that the dead John on his quest bed ACTUALLY DIED BWOOOOOMP, it's because we give a shit about the characters that died in Homestuck. Well. Most of the characters that died in Homestuck. It does start on Eridan. So I can't make snap judgments. And in turn, [S] Collide doesn't really matter because it's action without tension - there's no tension on who's going to win or lose, it's the ending of Homestuck. You can't fake-out Sepulchritude. So in practice, it's kind of just... 15 minutes of cool things happening, and it's alright, but it's really clear that the direction is kind of limited, and the people running it aren't great at choreographing fights, even when fights are compressed down to just emulations of old JRPG fights. Homestuck doesn't really have a lot of action sequences, and I understand why. But that's irrelevant nitpicking, because then Act 7 happens and it's gorgeous.
It's worth getting into the cherubs here, since it's the place where meat and candy first appear as the metaphor. Actually, that's possibly not true - it's possible that the first actual iteration of this motif is the dichotomy between the Team Adorabloodthirsty memos, which are plot-driven rants Karkat specifically makes, and the Rainbow Rumpus Partytown memos, where everyone just goes wild, but cherubs are the more artistically deliberate version and so I'm gonna be taking a crack at that. Cherubs love meat and candy, and while the common read of Homestuck is that Calliope and Caliborn are standins for fandom archetypes, the commentary does explicitly state that they are manifestations of these approaches to storytelling - Calliope is adoring and supportive who loves to talk to her favorite characters, I mean friends, while Caliborn is wholly wrathful and loves to play games.
Of course you think you were doing them a favor. You're an alien.
So is your sister. She thought the juju would be a great boon for them as well. But she was wrong.
See, you cherubs are predisposed to love all this trickster crap. All that goofy squeaky candy coated nonsense is a critical part of your people's mythos.
That sugarized zillyjunk sort of embodies a unified field of absurd Platonic ideals to the cherubim, so when you see expressions of it in reality of course you're gonna go apeshit.
But that kind of stuff is freakish and disturbing to humans. Those aren't our ideals.
- Homestuck, page 5781
With the read of Calliope and Caliborn as "author mindsets", this conversation makes sense - nonsensical adoration for everything a text contains does not sit well with real human beings, but this isn't necessarily what comes across. There's a really obvious move when making a character like Calliope, someone who adores everything within a work, especially in something that uses internet person archetypes as a character roster. It's also a pitfall that Homestuck is still falling down, to this day, in a not even particularly hard-boiled way. This, what I think is the thorn in Homestuck's side to this day, is to make her a fandom avatar.
She is excited to play Sburb, and she's excited to befriend the alpha kids, and she takes fan tropes, like Trickster mode, and makes them a part of her species' personal mythology. Her in-universe art is even done by an ascended fan. Therein lies a problem though - Calliope as a fandom avatar gets wrapped back into the text and it muddies the waters, and at certain points, when the limits of Calliope's adoring worldview become prevalent, it doesn't come off as interesting thoughts on the nature of how you treat your fictional characters, it just kind of comes off as spiteful.
As an avatar who expresses nothing but adoration for the things within the text, Callie becomes a fangirl, and Caliborn becomes people who hate Homestuck itself and fans of Homestuck. This does muddle things, quite a bit even - when Calliope-as-fangirl fucks up, it reads less as "this approach to storytelling fails because it isn't very compelling" and more "fan tropes are so stupid". The implementation of Candy mostly manifesting as shipping also muddies things, since it devalues the actual potent tension and characterization and storytelling that a good relationship can add to a story. It's strange and sort of a cognitively dissonant message to put forth in the same commentary as this:
[Vriska and Terezi] is the most important character relationship resulting from all the sound and fury of Hivebent’s chaotic dispensation. Forget all the other scrubs and their melodrama. Just put them in the trash, and focus on this. It’s the arguable axis around which the whole epic revolves, when you really study all the ramifications from the fallout resulting from their rivalry, ensuing revenge cycle, and mutually floundering struggle for redemption, in the warped way each of them defines that idea.
- Homestuck book commentary, correlates to page 2237
The Candy route almost entirely focuses on relationships without tension, then reflexively bouncing that into its own tension for those characters.
As this read of Callie finds its way into the text more and more, it consumes the role they play as "adoring author" and necessitates another iteration of herself that is separate from that role, the dead Calliope. If Callie is defined by being a Homestuck fan, dead Calliope is defined by not liking Homestuck.
This makes her a weird choice to cast as the rival to Dirk in the Epilogues, because while Dirk's status as an author avatar was never in question, dead Calliope's status as an author avatar is, and choosing a character whose presence in Homestuck was almost entirely built around pragmatism rather than appreciation is strange. But even then, it carries this issue through it - the Candy route is loaded down with references to fan tropes and what I'm going to call fan service, knowing that the phrase mostly refers to something else. (And I guess that's there too, there sure are a lot of direct references to Jane's fat fucking titties that never gets any less jarring.)
The narrative, despite being ostensibly correct about the chaotic beauty of fandom interpretations of characters, is downright bitter about the presence of these tropes. Just from what I thought to write down, here's a list of times the story is bitter about a fan trope. There's almost certainly more but here's a handful.
This is what I mean when I say the Epilogues are spiteful towards fans, it pairs its "every character gets what they want, so long as it does not challenge them" idea with fan tropes to create a myopic view of fandom that undersells the potent drama that even simple relationships can bring to a story, the importance of a direct conflict in a story, and the skill of fan works at creating stories out of the same cloth as a "canon" story. It also clashes with one of the stated goals of the Epilogues, which is bringing on big name fans like cephied_variable, author of infamous fanfic Promstuck, to write the Epilogues themselves, and bringing on like, the whole Vast Error team, to shape the direction of Homestuck^2.
With this, Candy as a concept gets muddled by fan tropes, which aren't necessarily compatible with this idea of author adoration that the text seems to impose on fandom - remember, of course, that it is not Homestuck itself that produced Daddy Dearest.
ROSE: Take the Candy timeline. It’s a hypersaccharine Stepford-wives heteronormative nightmare scenario in which Gamzee’s presence shatters a supposedly-idyllic future and drives Earth C to civil war.
ROSE: But Gamzee couldn’t have driven that car in a direction it wasn’t already pointed. We don’t end up at that result unless circumstances were already primed for us to fall to villainy or heroics or rebellion.
JUNE: ...rose, do you know how cars work?
JUNE: because i have driven a car, and they come with these fancy devices called steering wheels that you can use to turn the vehicle.
ROSE: ...admittedly that was a poor choice of metaphor, but you're missing the point.
ROSE: It’s not just any supposed-utopia we’re supposed to be living out in canonical-Candy.
ROSE: It’s a white person’s utopia.
ROSE: A hyper-atomized future in which our community fundamentally doesn’t matter to us, in which we tie ourselves up in our immediate romantic relationships and our own tiny lives without bothering to spend any time with the friends and family we created a universe with.
ROSE: A future in which Renaissance-born individualist liberalism pastes over the community-oriented cultures that some or all of us might theoretically have a connection to.
ROSE: And, for that matter, one in which our interpretation as people of color relies on us being either too fundamentally selfish to intervene in a case of obvious cross-species oppression, or too unbelievably fucking stupid to see the ways it parallels intra-human racism.
ROSE: That’s what frustrates me about this, June.
- my hammer as a hammer, by kapbird
The Candy timeline wears the face of fan tropes but it's all... surface level stuff - the stuff that matters to fans is not there. Despite never really having a chance in hell, and dying a mysterious death to Davekat, Johndave is still one of the most popular M/M ships in all of AO3. While fan tendencies to ship any character with any other character is fun to make fun of, codifying fan tropes as overwhelmingly straight, as overwhelmingly white, as overwhelmingly fluffy, is just... incorrect.
I'm not one of those "fanfiction is just as legitimate as real fiction"-types, usually, but it does a disservice to fans to say this, it does a disservice to leave Homestuck in the hands of fans in the condition that it's in post-Epilogues, and it does a disservice to fans to
This is just another layer on the issue of integrating fandom tendencies into a story has only been a thorn in Homestuck's side since it first attempted to do so. Fandom may suck, a lot of the time - I'm writing this in the midst of the eternal yo-yoing on whether I even like Homestuck enough to consider myself a fan - but it's fundamentally a community, a culture, and flattening it down to tropes and tendencies is going to leave the people who don't fall into that feeling slighted.
Remember my reading of Homestuck that cast the black hole as a punishment for failing to grow up?
Complacency of the Learned comes back into the Epilogues in a strange way, where its function is to demarcate the big differences between the routes.
ROSE: But the basics are the same as the series you’ve read. The plot concerns the machinations of twelve wizard children.
ROSE: They revolt against the complacency of the wise, kind wizards, and go on to become responsible for great evils.
ROSE: It isn’t their intent to commit atrocities, or within their nature to do so originally. They become corrupted by an overabundance of knowledge. The kind never meant for the mortal mind to grasp.
- Meat, 16
ROSE: In the silly wizard story I wrote when I was a child, [t]he realm most comparable to heaven existed in a state of subliminal conditionality, dependent on the inscience of the individual experiencing it.
ROSE: Which is to say that it would cease to exist the moment you realized what it was.
ROSE: And so, those with knowledge could never truly be happy.
- Candy, 33
While the original wizard children were read as the troll session, it's recontextualized by Dirk into being about the people who arrived on Earth-C, since 12 people went through the door at the end of the session, and this difference - partaking in knowledge and ignoring it in favor of happiness... it doesn't really apply all that directly to the characters. Maybe, like I suggested, meat and candy were meant to be initially read as shallow metaphors, meat as a grueling, but cathartic experience, and candy as a shallow, but saccharine one, just so the audience expectations could be subverted again, but we know how I feel about subversion for subversion's sake.
Part of this is the experience of the Epilogues as collapsing a happy ending, in service of starting a new story. If you know about the events of the Epilogues, you can't escape Homestuck^2 and Pesterquest and all the new things that Homestuck will bring. But even then... if you don't read the Epilogues, you can't escape the new stories either. The Epilogues aren't necessarily aware of the way that fandom works. Fandom is fundamentally a form of culture, not just a group of fans.
JADE: physically, it is cordoned off by the black hole’s event horizon. it is safe. untouchable.
- Candy, 40
But even fanon isn't safe - by virtue of existing at all, the Homestuck Epilogues have changed the face of fandom. By existing in an official capacity, even when presented as out-of-character in the text, the text gets wrapped back into the fandom understanding of a character, and these things are inescapable. There is no place you can continue enjoying Homestuck (2009-2016), because the Epilogues exist.
There's some other compelling ideas in the text - the idea of the characters you loved not growing up to be the people you wanted them to be is one that I think is pretty valuable, but I don't think it necessarily does anything with this in either route - Jane doesn't grow up to be a fascist, she is not a fascist at the end of Act 7 and is one at the start of the Epilogues. Jade doesn't end Homestuck as a sexual predator, we jump cut to her being weird in the Epilogues. This is probably the juiciest theme since it allows for a lot of compelling drama, and as people grow up to be Nazis and predators and transmisogynists, it's a theme that could be reflected in a pretty interesting way. But it never really makes the most of that, IMO - while the audience can ruminate on this, it's more of an extension of the idea of "collapsing a happy ending".
There's a scene in Candy, and it's the kind of scene where the story slows down to engage with its own themes that I like in a vacuum, when Aradia and Calliope-Jade slow down to talk about author agendas, and how the existence of an author telling a story indicates an agenda within that story. It's a good scene, but to be fair, I'm a sucker for this type of scene - I loved Evangelion episodes 25 and 26 enough that I just didn't criticize Evangelion as a story for quite a while because of how much I liked them, and I'm still picking out brain worms from that to this day. But this idea was one of the bigger things in Homestuck, though, and all things considered I think Homestuck proper did it better. The reason Her Imperious Condescension was evil was because she wanted to control Earth-C and then turn it into Alternia, again. This theme in the context of creation of a diegetic new universe is one thing. The direct consequences of this are more easily relateable. We've spent a lot of the time in the story unpacking how Her Imperious Condescension's presence as a shaping force on Alternia and Earth is poisonous and traumatic to the characters within those worlds, and it's an easy understanding of why and how it's wrong.
Raising the stakes of this theme in the Epilogues to the scope of the story itself feels different - with a literal new universe, there's an assumption of "controlling it is evil", but this doesn't necessarily scale up/down to the level of the narrative, especially since in the story itself, Dirk does manipulate characters but the times he does are so over the top and obvious, that it's hard to read the points where he doesn't as him manipulating characters as well. After all, he pulls back when he wants Davekat to be canon.
There's this sort of idea in narratives of normalization - putting together situations in which a character does things that wouldn't be justifiable under normal circumstances, but are justified because of the situation the character is within, which, when presented uncritically, helps to normalize that specific action. Homestuck does the reverse of this, vilifying authorship by having it presented as WV being an idiot, and then Doc Scratch being a weird predator, and then Trickster Mode being weird and uncanny, and Caliborn's intermissions being so openly loathsome towards the idea of Homestuck, that it seems like Homestuck is making a case against its own existence, against the existence of stories in general. Every in-universe author is at best, kind of a dick sometimes, and at worst, the unseen, unstated author - Hussie - is directly responsible for everything bad that happens within the story. And this is, of course, true, everything present within a story comes back to an author putting it there, consciously or not. I don't think that it's a correct thing, and in the Epilogues alone, I think it makes sense. As a sense of finality, as a sense of things left ambiguous, Dirk flying off to a new, uninhabited planet to start a new session with the same verve as Mario squaring up to fight Bowser, it's alright. The demiurge is evil, this is a bad end for the characters, because you chose to collapse this happy ending, etc.
It just... Homestuck^2 exists, and Pesterquest exists. More things will inevitably exist after these two things. Homestuck's going full cinematic universe, and it's going to be tough to carry this idea into a story which never ends, because it's, at least in my opinion, a bad idea.
A lot of the conceptual imagery is really good, at least. The Candy timeline being within a black hole means you get dreambubbles emptying out ghosts all over the place, and the image of troll ghosts raining down on Earth-C is really striking. It doesn't really wind up going anywhere other than a weird, possibly-unintentional parallel between Gamzee and Vriska as Gamzee leads around a ghost army for redemption sermons, since characters other than Gamzee never really interact with the ghosts. The scene where Jade wakes up under Calliope's control is really striking too, but maybe that's just because I'm imagining Haven's art of Calliope-Jade. I also really like the last scene of Rose in the Candy route, as the war starts. The idea of this moment as "in this moment, when it hadn't before, everything makes sense" for both Rose and John is a really nice capstone for the whole thing.
These are the hot takes - the ones that everyone feels qualified to talk about, the kneejerky ones, I wouldn't blame you for checking out here because it's just kind of depressing to talk about, and not really analysis in the same way that I just spent who knows how many words writing. Anyway, Homestuck? Well, it's kind of... problematic...
A common response to criticism is that "we warned you", and "let queer people be messy", and I kinda want to get ahead of that. One of the conceits of the Epilogues is that characters are acting "out of character" because of an outside influence. First off, I fucking love melodrama. I love stories that rely on characters fucking up and making mistakes, and if that's what the Homestuck Epilogues were, I would love them so much more, because it seems to try really hard to get there, but it never quite makes it, because it has to traverse through edginess - these things that seem to be there for dark humor's sake, but are neither humorous nor taken seriously enough to not be seen as a dark joke that just doesn't land.
Second, it's generally accepted that the trigger warnings at the beginning of the Epilogues just don't work. Even people who work on Homestuck (worked?) admit that it was a mistake.
saw some discussion of the topic in the new FT discord but it was way too chaotic and hectic for anyone to put forth a nuanced opinion so I wanna give mine: the tags for the Homestuck Epilogues come off as a joke and don't do a good job as actual content warnings
Certain topics are not handled with the deft hand that they deserve, in either route, and the ethics of writing suicide scenes and rape scenes could be argued until the end of time. A common defense against this criticism is "you just hate Problematic things in media, go write a callout post". But like, I don't. It is problematic for child sexual abuse to exist but if handled with respect I think it can be extremely potent, if not downright powerful. I tend towards shying away from outright depicting this kind of thing because the horror and/or tragedy of such topics is lost when the narrative is voyeuristic about it, and it can easily, when not handled with the caution that it deserves, become dangerous. The Epilogues are split down the middle on this. There's a few things that I think of when it comes to the Epilogues handling topics poorly.
This is just fucking creepy, man, and it's really quite out of character for Jade, whose last on-screen interactions with any Dave were being kissed by Davepetasprite^2 and being told that he missed her by alpha Dave. This event happens in the Candy route, but she's not actually any better in the Meat route - Jade gets written out of the Meat route pretty quickly, after Jade goes to try and convince Roxy and Calliope to join Karkat's movement, her presence is exclusively used by Calliope to fight for control over the plot, which is cute but this is Candy timeline, so people being out of character is just sort of... the point. Along with this, there's another scene in this route, where it's said outright the reason that Dave and Jade don't have kids yet is because Jade can't conceive, because of a transformation that involved Becquerel when she god-tiered. This is a direct reference to a fan trope.
That trope is Jade having a dog cock, because of her combination with Becquerel. The text dances around this, and the authors do too! But it's pretty fucking clear in this route that is packed fucking full of fandom references that it's what it is. This combines into a pretty transmisogynist thing to write: Jade Harley is sexually aggressive because of her penis, which is trademark transmisogyny. This is the thing you learn on day one of your transmisogyny class, right after you get your "I don't have preferred pronouns, I'm just a woman." badge and your bangs cut. Cool thing to write, but hey I guess it was a trans person writing this, which makes its consumption for an audience consisting of non-trans women totally cool.
There's also racist implications to this, depicting a character most commonly read as a person of color as animalistic, but I am white and thus not qualified to talk about it, so here's Twitter user dogexmachina saying it:
i'll spell this out: i, a poc trans woman, think the dog dick joke in the epilogues combined with popular fandom interpretations of jade as a POC and her bring a sexually aggressive stereotype, is bad. to me, it was a bad choice. if someone else cant see why, thats a them problem
This bites, but even on a higher level, within the story, it's arguable that nothing really comes of this - Karkat is freaked out and pushes Jade away, but it doesn't really go anywhere - this is kind of a recurring thing, of sexual assault not being addressed, even in the Meat Epilogues, when the thing that makes portraying sexual assault an acceptable topic is the addressing of it. Without it, it's just leering on someone being assaulted. Cool.
I don't have much to say, here's a link to a study that directly correlates graphic depictions of suicide with increased suicide rates.
I have some shit to say about this string of scenes. This is the closest the Candy route gets to being batshit insane in the way that I think it wants to be. This is the closest it ever gets to being Homestuck-does-Riverdale. This is so close to being what the Candy route could have been. So let's talk about why I think it fails. Big time spoilers: It's because the joke about child molestation flops. So this whole section of the Epilogues builds to this scene where John, eager to have Roxy react and clash with him even a little bit, attempts to kidnap Tavros Crocker. It helps that John believes Tavros is being abused, or at the very least, extremely neglected by Jane and Gamzee.
This chapter carries a lot of baggage - Jane as an abusive parent is already insane and off-base, there's a direct reference to Nanna being a sweet old lady in an earlier chapter where this plan is hinted at. But this is really the point where Candy starts going for balls-to-the-wall insane, and again, that could have been fun, in a dark kind of way, in the way that you enjoy an episode of Robot Chicken when you're 12. The Epilogues are grueling and I sure didn't remember everything my first time around so here's a recap:
John takes Harry Anderson to Tavros's birthday party. He gathers things to help escape from Jane's house with Tavros, has a short dissociative episode, and then he tells Harry outright that the family is getting just a little bit bigger soon. They arrive at Jane's mansion and the group of them have some downright delightfully middle-aged parent dialogues - Dave and Jade offer to buy Harry Anderson from John and Roxy and it's fucking... pure pabulum. It is filler dialogue in the most wonderful way. It's words with absolutely no sentiment behind them, a delightful imperfect mimicry of humanity, just short of calling Harry Anderson a ladykiller, despite being 5 years old, because that is the nice thing you say to your friend's child when you are straight. They pass through the plot covering of Kanaya and Rose not being on speaking terms with Jane and Gamzee anymore, because of political tensions, and Dave tells Harry Anderson to not be a misogynist, despite being 5. I stan a woke king. It cuts to Jane, slamming the door and leaving into the main room, screaming at Jake about how shitty he is at everything, including about how bad his dick is, but once she finds her guests downstairs, she flips tones instantly. It's like a cartoon and it's so fucking... it sucks a lot. It sucks so goddamn much. Everyone play-acting heterosexuality is the funniest thing in the fucking world. Jane gets Harry Anderson a drone for his birthday and everyone's just a little bit put off by Jane getting a tool of state violence for John's son, and John is put off by it the most, side-eyeing and nudging Roxy to back him up. She doesn't, because Roxy is literally not a character anymore, and John acts okay with it too.
Then he enacts his plan. It's so stupid.
JOHN: yeah! it’s... it’s whatever. i get it. jane’s just trying to show that she cares.
JANE: You know I do adore little Harry Anderson.
JOHN: what i DO care about, however, is that cake.
JOHN: and not eating it, i mean.
JANE: Excuse me?
JOHN: nothing personal, jane, it’s just that i’m not the biggest fan of cakes.
This is a direct reference to a fan trope again, John disliking cakes was a big point of contention in the Homestuck RP circles, I know for a fact that at least one John RP blog differentiated themselves from others by making a very public account of how much their John loved cake. This direct reference to a fan trope being used as an excuse to do horse shit like kidnap a child, is like... in this moment I can see it, I can see into the light, this vision of the Epilogues that succeeds at being this batshit insane in a way that makes it sublime, instead of cringy.
But then Roxy teaches a child that incest is another word for friendship, and it starts building more - Tavros is obviously not living a great home life to begin with but in the moments before this, it builds piecemeal the idea that Tavros is being molested, and then... backs off.
This little diversion into child sexual abuse is dropped as soon as it can be, and it raises the question of why is it present? I literally cannot think of a reason why beyond the chance to transgress against nothing. It's unpleasant, and not in a way where it's fun, nor is it interesting. Again, I love to roll around in the fucking dirt when it comes to characters doing stupid and insane things. I said as much last time around, Homestuck but it's just revelling in being noncanonical as an excuse to do wild shit all the time rules. But as it turns out, child molestation is fucking vile, and not funny. Sorry. Tavros's home life is already shitty enough to have John be justified in feeling this way. Nothing is gained by having the narrative build to, and then back off of a child molestation plot except for a lot of upset child molestation victims that are mad at their trauma being used as a cheap plot point that is dropped instantly.
And it's a shame, because it picks up into a fuck-up flurry again so easily when Jade walks in mid-kidnapping. It really, genuinely sucks to have this actually traumatic thing used as a joke.
Speaking of traumatic things used as a joke.
Hey, I hate how much I have to talk about child molestation plots in Homestuck media.
This is the most insidious shit in the Homestuck Epilogues right here. This is the most obvious moment where the Homestuck Epilogues shit the bed in terms of being offensive for its own sake. Here's my recap for this segment, if you don't remember: Vriska falls into the Candy timeline after kicking off the Lord English fight just a few hours ago, and immediately does some kind of vague sexual shit shit with Gamzee, then when Gamzee wants more, Vriska beats him to death in front of Vrissy.
So first things first, this is framed like every sex scene in the Candy route - it leads into it with an action, then there's a chapter break, and then the narration comes back up for breath at the start of the next chapter. This is pretty established by now - it happens a handful of times, enough to establish it as a pattern. It gets retconned down into "hate-smooches" in the Homestuck^2 recap of the Epilogues, but it uses the same language as every other sex scene in the Epilogues, and I don't think it's unfair to read it that way - the text certainly seems to want you to read it that way.
Back to the Tavros thing for a moment, during one of the timeskip Terezi recaps, John has photo evidence of Gamzee making out with Tavros. It's possible it's just Tavros Nitram, given that the photo is labeled PBandJ.jpg, and Terezi has already seen something like this, but the topic of Tavros hinges on John revealing his plot to kidnap Tavros Crocker to Terezi. It's sort of deliberately unclear which Tavros is being made out with. It establishes this sort of "I'm not touching you" thing with the concept of child molestation. It establishes up front that no, Gamzee is not a child molester, so that when he does actually become one, it's not questioned as much. Pushing the boundaries of what constitutes an acceptable relationship by deferring the label of such a thing is a very common tactic used by pedophiles to justify their abuse - in the past few years I've seen attempts to deny this through the use of the term "minor-attracted person", "kidhearted", "pro-expression/anti-repression", shit, it goes the fuck on.
Along with this, Vriska in general has a history - I'm not, by any means, going to call it a "relationship" but an essential part of Doc Scratch's character is that he is a child predator. There's ways ingrained in the text to weasel out of this, which leaves it mostly at the level of subtext, like him being a puppet without genitalia, or whatever, but as I said before - the subtext is still there. Doc Scratch and Vriska's interactions just don't make sense without that read.
When Vriska dies, and grows the parentheses, the thing that causes her to chill out in the bubbles is her relationship with Meenah, who also has an age difference on her, the gap between 19 and 13 is pretty big and it seems almost like it's the core idea of why the relationship is unstable.
What changes about this interaction is that Vriska starts it.
I'm gonna cut this topic here because it risks becoming very personal, very quickly, but this rhetoric is used by pedophiles all the goddamn time to justify their attraction to kids - it's a whole-ass genre of post to make where kids these days are learning about sex earlier, sexualizing themselves for adult consumption, justifying it to themselves and others. I could spend all day here and I'm not going to enjoy it. The important thing is that nothing really comes of it - a paragraph of Vriska explaining her "clown lust catharsis" and then straight into talk about Terezi and (Vriska). It's really strange and while it's not technically "canon" it is textual, and not saying anything meaningful about it goes towards normalizing that specific thing.
So I'm going to get a little bit tinfoil hat-like in this segment, so I'm going to ask up front that you grant me my premise here. My working theory is that Jane is an underdeveloped character in Homestuck proper because the Epilogues began percolating before Homestuck ended, and she has to become the character she is in the Epilogues convincingly. I'm not going to say I'm not biased here, because Jane is one of my favorite Homestuck characters because of how grounded she tends to be in terms of "being a regular person", her skepticism and stubbornness play nicely with the off-the-rails Strilonde nonsense, and in a story that didn't sit her on the edge of the precipice into fascist rhetoric, eager to push her off the moment they can get away with it, she would be the best character.
So if you'll grant me my premise, let's get digging: Like a lot of Homestuck characters, Jane's arc is told almost entirely through references to other, similar arcs.
The only other character I can think of with "averageness" as a built-in feature of her profile is Jane. Who is also a Life player, and an heiress to a different throne (occupied by, yet again, the Condesce). Returning to the idea that most of these characters tend to be composites of various constituent building-block personas, or platonic ideals of certain character types, we appear to be isolating another ingredient here: Janeness. Or Feferiness, depending on how you look at it. I'm more inclined to see Jane as a distillation of a rough idea that began here, since that's the pattern which keeps playing itself out over this Hivebent reread.
- Act 5 Act 1 book commentary, from Hussie himself
With this, it's worth looking at the direct parallels here - Jane is set up at the start to have what I call "the Homestuck arc", the one described in which a character rejects the role society has built for them, and is happier for it. This is done through echoes of other, similar arcs - most notably is Vriska's:
Breaking them has developed into a habit BORDERING ON FETISHISTIC, and with each you destroy, you add to an insurmountable stockpile of TERRIBLE LUCK. You have to stop. But addiction is a powerful thing.
- Vriska's introduction page
You have broken so many bows, it has developed into a habit BORDERING ON FETISHISTIC. You have to stop. But addiction is a powerful thing.
- Equius's introduction page
Ugh, look at this dreadful clutter. You have got to switch. But then, brand loyalty is a powerful thing.
- Narration upon Jane opening BettyBother
Along with this, we also get this sort of inversion of an established dynamic - Eridan and Feferi, two characters who are defined as "made for each other on their very introduction", turn out to not be so lucky. They have their aspects transplanted into Jane and Jake, with Jane being a Life player and Jake being a Hope player. This kind of implies that something similar will play out with Jane and Jake, and it does - Eridan was attached to the idea of them being meant to be together because they are royalty, and Jane, as an heiress to Crockercorp and the most brand-loyal person of all time, plays out this role of a suburban 1920s housewife. It's implied that she wants Jake to play the role of the perfect trophy husband, something that directly parallels Vriska and Tavros's relationship, with Vriska's desire to recreate the romance that Mindfang and the Summoner had with Tavros, the JaneJake ship seems set up to fail.
In her first conversation with Roxy, quite a bit goes on, and a handful of things are established. It's a very economical conversation. The following things come up:
In theory, all four of these points are addressed, but the last one specifically is hollow - this is setup for the Homestuck arc, still, and it goes through the motions for quite a while. Jane spends a lot of the story Crockertiered out, and you'd think that would have some effect on her character, some idea of, "maybe, Her Imperious Condescension, isn't that great, maybe being mind controlled isn't that great", especially since even when Crockertiered out, she pushes herself into sexually harassing Jake, still operating under the idea of creating a Crocker dynasty. This is all objectively pretty evil stuff that later gets undone when Vriska returns, but it stops there - there's a conversation that Jane has with Nannasprite, which I like a lot, and then she's more or less silent for the rest of the comic. There's hardly any time spent on her character after that. She doesn't even get to hug her dad.
This arc comes to a screeching halt... but Jane doesn't leave the story.
More than any other character, Jane has the hardest shift between Act 7 and the Epilogues. Part of the "danger" in the Homestuck Epilogues is that it collapses the happy ending, raises this looming threat of character arcs getting walked back, from Dave coming out to being back in the closet when the Epilogues start. The issue here though, is that Jane's arc doesn't necessarily get walked back - Jane just completely changes, off-screen. Maybe there were some snapchats that explained it.
In both routes, Jane does not appear on screen before we're told outright that she is a fascist, by a character whose political beliefs I think we're supposed to take seriously, despite mostly being a joke about how stupid the idea of an economy is in a post-scarcity world. It's almost instant - Meat page 2 has Dave calling her a fascist. This, while overly cynical writing, is technically a valid point B for Jane to have - the innate tragedy of failing to have the Homestuck arc is certainly a powerful one - but she doesn't appear on screen in either route before her political beliefs are brought up.
Jane as this manifestation of failing to outgrow the trappings of capitalism after the death of anyone who could have had that system exist as it did on Earth-B is a compelling one, but it comes back to the Epilogues as collapsing the implied happy ending of Homestuck proper. The amount being asked of an audience to accept this incarnation of Jane is pretty big, if you just finished reading Homestuck. But it's a shame because Jane was set up for the Homestuck arc, and I don't see what Homestuck gains from subverting it, because Jane's iteration of The Homestuck Arc is probably the most down to earth and politically charged - the process of a character actually being radicalized into socialism would fucking rule.
To some extent, that's what could happen in Catnapped (As of writing, only three chapters are out) but shit, having to walk it back in the first place is really, really shitty. If part of the appeal of the Epilogues is "they're dubiously canon" why do you have to walk it back at all? There's already some pretty heavy retcons involved - Jane being called a neoliberal instead of a fascist is one big one, because she's been banging the Great Replacement drum since before she ever appears on screen.
So let's uh... let's kinda talk about the real politics behind Jane's presence in the Epilogues. The sticking point for Jane's characterization in the Homestuck Epilogues is that she wants to restrict troll reproduction, and that unrestricting it would cause trolls to grow in numbers until Earth-C becomes Alternia 2, since "we know what trolls are like", from the teaching of Alternian history.
The worst thing is that this is real talk that people use. The kind of rhetoric Jane pushes mirrors a right-wing conspiracy theory, kicked off by Renaud Camus, known as the Great Replacement. It's white nationalist rhetoric used to stoke pre-existing anti-immigrant, racist fires with the belief that migrants are moving to white nations to outbreed and replace the white majority in their nations - it originated in France, to fearmonger about Muslim migrants, but it's not uncommon to see the same rhetoric used against Mexican people and black people in the United States. I genuinely do not know if this is an intentional parallel or not - it's a shockingly, downright uncomfortably real thing for any fictional character to echo in a fictional way, let alone Jane, but with it, it falls trap to the same parallel that fictional racism metaphors always do. There is an in-universe justification for it, that isn't as horseshit as the justifications used in real life, and thus it becomes shallow because she is so cartoonishly removed that nobody could ever see the racism she spouts in herself. It steps up from Crash (2005) and recognizes this oppression as systemic, and not the failings of individual people, but then fails by giving it legitimate legs to stand on when held up to scrutiny.
But Earth C’s paper-thin idyllic history was very close to a boiling point—its very first boiling point, in fact, which will have everything to do with the problematic nature of troll reproduction. The first generation of natural-born trolls obviously cannot be entrusted to a troll.
Which was absolutely not a xenophobic thing to think. It was just realistic. The citizens of Earth C were able to rest easy knowing that the government held careful rein over the... well, over matters of equity. No one could possibly trust something so important to a troll, knowing what everyone knew about their violent history. - Meat, 10
Karkat corroborates this, and it's not worth mincing words about how bad Alternia is supposed to be - Alternia is a eugenicist dictator state, flat out, but it raises more questions than it answers. Who taught the citizens of Earth C about Alternia? In the snapchats, they just zoom off to the future the moment some babies exist. It raises more questions than it answers, and by giving Jane legitimate concerns, weakens her presence as a metaphor for racism. There's also questions of troll bioessentialism here as well, the brooding caverns are still packed with jade bloods like Swifer, and the only other new troll we see is Vrissy, who is sold as "literally just Vriska, again, but without the context that makes Vriska Vriska".
Thinking too intently about Jane's politics cause the whole thing to collapse and if it were just in the Candy timeline, that'd be fine - thinking about the Candy timeline isn't something you're supposed to do - but this rhetoric and worldbuilding is at play in both timelines, and its presence is sacrificing what I think could have been one of the most directly powerful arcs in Homestuck to do so.
Ultimate Dirk is an antagonist, and one of the things about antagonists is that it's a very easy defense to just say "This character is an antagonist." when you have an issue with their behavior. But the thing is, I really like the kind of antagonism that ultimate Dirk presents - it's a unique flavor next to Caliborn's flavor of authorship and ultimate Dirk is a huge fucking cunt. It gets to be so much fun, at times, especially when he squabbles with Calliope, but it's not necessarily fun all the time. Sometimes... (bows head) it's problematic.
The two events here are that kind of not fun. There's this elephant in the room of me being one of the biggest stans of transfeminine Roxy. That has to come up here since there's not really another place to put it, and I don't want to dedicate an entire section to it when the horse is well and truly dead. In Homestuck proper, Roxy is coded as transfeminine. The X and Y in her name are referred to as "chromosomal". Hussie mentions in a book commentary that he gave the girls the chumhandles with paired abbreviations because of XX chromosomes, while Roxy's is TG - which is also like, you know. What the fuck else is TG gonna stand for? She also refers to herself as a girl more than any other character in Homestuck, even the ones who are treated as transfeminine in Pesterquest.
This erasure of a trans-coded character as well as the other Epilogue-canon trans woman being a sex pest, and June being a distant glimmer of hope, a dream and a wish, is like... it feels aggressive towards trans women. Maybe it was intentional, maybe it wasn't. But shit, that point's been argued to death and I am just not feeling it today! Roxy was a fucking trans woman, may her memory be a blessing. Let's cut our losses and get on with our fucking lives, and instead of bitching about Homestuck finally sinking to the level of Persona in terms of mishandled trans characters, let's talk about Dirk some more. Nobody's ever gotten tired of talking about Dirk fucking Strider, before.
Dirk being a transphobe fucking sucks. It's a real kind of person that exists, gay transphobes are a dime a dozen, but it feels confused, at least to me. Dirk expresses his approval of Roxy being they/them almost instantly and then never once refers to them as anything but she/her.
Calliope takes a teacake between two of her claws and eats it delicately, hyper-aware of the horrible gnashing and snapping her powerful jaw is capable of.
CALLIOPE: my ideas aboUt gend—
SHIT. Between two of their claws. They take a teacake between two of their claws and eats it delicately. Sorry, my bad. - Meat, 19
This is so fucking bizarre because Dirk literally does not even try anything other than she/her, until Terezi can hear his narration and pushes him to use he/him. It's confused, confusing, and it comes off as if the writers are insecure in this plot detail, like they weren't entirely confident in pushing Dirk Strider funny transphobia moments. It doesn't seem like the text knows whether it wants Dirk to be a scumbag all the way, which is really weird against the next point, in which he is all the way a scumbag.
That wasn’t really what I was going for, but hey. With political warfare comes collateral damage. It’s harmless enough anyway. It’s not like I gave him a sick scar, or anything that would hurt his value as priceless sexual commodity. The only thing affected was his brain. It’s a bit like if someone hacked a comments section. Who gives a shit? - Meat, 39
This is absolutely a line that once again puts the Homestuck Epilogues straight into the fucking creep zone. When he hits, he slaps, him showing up just to correct Calliope about the nature of swords owns so much, but so much of his shit is wrapped up in weird power play talk in a way that feels... loaded, for a character who is still, somehow, the only canon gay man in Homestuck.
I could be here forever, and I get into why this sucks but if I spend a million words on every little thing that's weird or out of character, but if I shut down the presses every time a character in the Epilogues acted weird or out of character, they'd hardly ever be up enough to even get this post out.
Because I fucking care about Homestuck, still, against all the odds. And I want it to be good, I want it to be something fantastic. Homestuck is never again going to capture the raucous, blinding energy and enthusiasm for its own existence that Cascade and Unite/Synchronize and Caliborn: Enter brought, but at the very least, I think the direction Homestuck^2 is moving is confused. Homestuck is a lot of things to a lot of people, and part of taking on sequelizing it means figuring out what people like about Homestuck, and what people don't like about Homestuck, and I think that expressing strong opinions isn't enough to straighten it out. A shallow cry of "X thing is bad" isn't enough to make a change, it just seems like hostility, when it's not that. "X thing is bad, here's why I feel this way, with sources" is how you get shit done, I guess.
I also do a lot of shouting on Twitter about how much Homestuck sucks but Twitter's just a downright awful platform for that and I forget that I have my own platform, where I can express more coherent thoughts and write more coherent ideas. It'll be nice to have something to cite when I need to elaborate my opinion more than just "bad tweet".
If you still long for Homestuck stuff, but don't want to deal with the Epilogues, consider checking out my own comic, burning down the house. It's not out yet at the moment, but I'm certainly trying! It picks up at the end of Act 7 and I'm really proud of the stuff that's done, and excited for the stuff that's to come.