What happens after the monster is defeated? What happens when the hero has to settle down and re-acclimate to an ordinary life?
I’ve always loved stories that ask these questions, that treat the usual climax as a secondary focus, prioritizing the emotional journey the character faces even if they’ve stopped moving their legs. Scott Pilgrim still has yet to defeat the final few evil exes, but he’s over halfway through and settled into a pattern. Far more pressing than the evil robotics twins he’s up against is Scott’s need to smooth over relations with Ramona. Scott continues to cling to his past, despite his promise to move on in the previous book. What’s more, despite giving him hell for it, Ramona seems to be in a similar position.
The fifth book continues much of what the fourth laid out, and for my money, it isn’t as tight or cohesive as its predecessor. It’s still pretty damn solid, though.
3P Reviews Series: Scott Pilgrim (graphic novels), Book Five – Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe
Audience Assumptions: None
Star Rating: ****
Part One: So Helpful
First things first, I’m here to ease your concerns: yes, Wallace is still around, and yes, he has breakfast.
Scott and Ramona have been living together for a few months. The band is finally finished recording their eight songs, Scott still has his job, and now that Scott’s a year older (at least nominally), things are going great.
So that’s it then, story over, right?
Well, no, we still have three more exes to get through. While Scott is adjusting reasonably well to stable life, he’s not much more mature. He remains oblivious to Ramona’s indifference toward his band and games, he’s distinctly bad at getting chores done, and he still struggles to communicate directly with his girlfriend. Ramona is on-edge herself, as reminders of Gideon, her most recent ex before Scott, haunt her at every turn. Ramona has never lasted long in a relationship, and if her exes are to be believed, it’s often been for self-made reasons. But she seems to hold on to Gideon more strongly than the others, and might not be over him as much as she claims. She’s malcontent, and though she could probably figure out the real reason for it, Ramona isn’t ready to address that part of herself yet.
So she blames Scott. It doesn’t help that on top of Scott being his usual pathetic self, Knives has informed Ramona that Scott cheated on them. Reminded might be a better word; although the group is now allowing her to hang out with them on a more regular basis, her attempts to woo Stephen Stills are, uh, unreciprocated. Knives believes she has gotten over Scott, but she’s visibly far from it, and spending time with him and his friends doesn’t seem to be helping. This pent-up confusion comes out when she corners Ramona in the bathroom and attacks her again, only for Ramona, confused and irritated, to trounce her. Knives tries to explain her behavior, but it just comes out as sorrow that Scott cheated on her. And, she adds, Ramona as well.
It’s a technicality that shouldn’t come as a surprise to Ramona, but it’s enough for her to seed a grudge. If nothing else, it’s a reminder of the mess Scott was not too long ago, and how much of a mess he still is.
As in the previous book, Ramona sees a lot of herself in Scott. She’s not cold enough to kick him out for a past ill he’s already [mostly] repented, but she doesn’t have much sympathy for him when he forgets his keys again.
So, back with Wallace for the time being, Scott gets his first (ish) glimpse at Gideon Graves. A blurry glimpse, that leads him to attack every brunette with glasses in close proximity.
All is well.
Part Two: The Friends We Don’t Deserve
Just as the previous book was Wallace’s culmination, this one is Kim’s.
Kim has been a constant background character throughout the series. She’s introduced before we even see Scott, providing the series with its opening line. But aside from hints here and there, a lot of her character depth is overshadowed by the more ridiculous things that happen in the series. Despite its robots, this book strips away much of the fantasy that the series is famous for. With the setpieces removed, Kim shines.
Kim is the straight man to all of the clowns running around in the rest of the books. While she doesn’t exactly stand in contrast to Scott and the others to the extent that, say, Julie does, Kim is far more cognizant of how childish her group of friends can be. She leans into it a bit herself, shouting out the introductions for Sex Bob-omb* and complaining constantly, but for the rest of the time, she avoids the manic fantasy escapades and relationship drama that bothers everyone else. She just wants to get through life and not have to worry about crappy roommates or crappy boyfriends or crappy psychic superhighways.
So, naturally, she’s the one who ends up kidnapped by the twin evil exes as part of an intricate plan to lure Scott into a trap.
It’s not exactly the ideal scenario for when you’re heavily hung over from tequila night.
Kim isn’t a damsel in distress here so much as she’s dehydrated and in need of a nap. This isn’t the first time twins Kyle and Ken have tried to trick Scott or used dirty tactics; throughout the story, they’ve sent progressively larger robots after him at Julie’s parties. They’ve kidnapped Kim after seeing her spend copious time with Scott at the latest party, imagining her and Scott to be close.
And they’re not entirely off the mark. Mercifully, there’s no hidden love triangle or secret swooning, but Kim and Scott are fairly close friends. Kim is probably closer to Ramona at this point, but of all of Scott’s own exes, Kim is the only one he spends time with on a regular basis. Kim and Scott share a history they pointedly never talk about, but in this book and the next one, we see bits of it poking through. Kim loves Scott like any of his friends, and though far less physically caring, Kim is a close second to Wallace in terms of Scott’s platonic friends.
All the same, Kim holds off for most of the fight against the twins. Part of this is the cage, which is a pretty firm deterrent against combat. But mostly, she just wants Scott to get it over with and ignore the taunts from the twins. They harangue Scott with warnings about Ramona, telling him, like Roxy, that Ramona was the cheat in the relationship, that she was the one who turned them into what they are, and Scott is next in line.
And Scott is starting to wonder whether they might be telling the truth.
At this point, Kim interjects with her first words of encouragement in the entire series. She tells him to ignore the exes, that Ramona is fine and loves him and that every step he takes, Ramona is behind him. That’s what pulls him through and allows him to defeat exes five and six. It doesn’t particularly matter that Kim’s message is made-up, that Kim just wants out. There’s a glimmer of genuine affection in Kim’s act, but even though it’s from Kim, Scott isn’t ever going to know it. He thinks the message is from Ramona, and that’s enough for both him and Kim. When Kim is freed, Scott leaves her to her own devices in a sad little moment for Kim.
That seems to be her role for much of the story: supporting cast. She’s there in the background, important, but not often visible, and not really able to fulfill her own plot. Kim eventually leaves Toronto at the end of the book, heading north to the small town where her parents live. She’s had rotten luck trying to adjust to adulthood, so she opts to quit the game entirely and reset herself — live with her parents, go back to school, figure out her life a bit. It’s not a particularly pleasant ending, and she’s not completely out of the series yet, but it’s an ending nonetheless, and at least this time the audience gets to see what Kim contributes.
Part Three: Cats, Man
After all of that, though, even with the twins defeated, even with Ramona ready to forgive Scott, she still leaves. Victory doesn’t always come with compliments.
The part I particularly enjoy about this book is that it keeps going, forcing Scott to accept that Ramona might actually be gone, and that he’s going to have to move on. Many romances have the sappy midpoint where the love interest runs away or vanishes for arbitrary reasons, but Ramona leaving isn’t about romantic drama; it’s about reality. We know there’s another book, because there’s another evil ex, so Ramona’s coming back whether or not she and Scott are still a pair. Instead, this little epilogue is here to set the stage for the series’ final question.
Is Scott ready to accept reality and grow up for real this time, or is he going to cling to Ramona.
For a while, Scott mainly just seems depressed. It’s a reasonable response after a sudden and unpleasant change in one’s life. We see another glimpse of the figure that first appeared in the fourth book, the Negascott, but otherwise, Scott remains solemn, desperate, and lonely. Even Ramona’s cat (weirdly also named Gideon) has left him, and as if the cat is key to bringing back Ramona, Scott spends much of the rest of the book giving out little offerings to bring it back. The progression from sushi to sandwiches to goldfish crackers as time passes is as adorable as it is heartbreaking.
Eventually, Scott stops sleeping in his friends’ beds and accepts help from his parents, who agree to pay for an apartment for him. Scott’s brother has taken back his bass — what’s left of it, anyway — and although Scott no longer has Ramona, he’s closer to living the regular nine-to-five life than he’s ever been. No more evil exes, no more magic, no more waking up at noon and playing video games all day.
But there’s still that letter.
Here’s where that final question comes in. The last thing Ramona left him was a letter addressed to Gideon. He’s known about it for most of the book, but only opens it once he’s settled down in his new place. It reveals that Ramona intended to completely cut Gideon off when she broke up with him, but never actually followed through. Thus is the duality of Ramona’s nature.
This book doesn’t actually answer the question of whether Scott will chase after her, and by extension, the fantasy he’s been living for most of these books. Gideon calls and taunts him, knowing as we do that Scott will face him in the next volume, but it won’t be until next time that we see how Scott is adjusting to life without Ramona.
Here’s a hint: not well.
*Scott’s band. I’m honestly surprised I got this far without making clear what the band’s name was.
Characters and Character Development: 8
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Main Plot: 7