"This has to be a case of mistaken identity..."
At five and a half months' running time the third-longest Penny and Aggie
arc, Dinner for Six
brings the title characters' rivalry back into focus, changes the dynamic between Aggie and Marshall, and resolves the plot thread of Nick's and Charisma's relationship, all set within a framework of farce.
Nick, impatient with Charisma's attempts to forestall their meeting each other's children and letting them know they've gotten serious, lays this down as a condition of their continuing to see each other. There follows a brief flashback to a pregnant, teenaged Charisma assuring her mother that the baby won't slow her down, and to Charisma, a few years later, having her ex-husband sign the divorce papers as a forlorn Marshall waits with her current boyfriend, wondering who his real father is.
In the present, she tells Marshall it's time for him to meet Nick. By now dismissive and contemptuous of her short-lived, commitment-free relationships, he asks her what's different about this one. Her answer—that Nick makes her "unafraid of growing old"—makes him worry that she's serious this time, and that he may be getting a real stepfather. Meanwhile, Aggie reacts, on the outside, with smart-alecky humour to Nick's announcement about Charisma. (At this point, Aggie knows only that Charisma's son's name is "Mar," while Charisma absently tells her son that "Nickie's" daughter is named "Annie or something.") That it's worrying her, too, on the inside is apparent when, with Daphne's and Lisa's help, she pranks Penny at school by spraying her with soda.
Enraged, Penny attempts to hurt Aggie by bringing up her parents, but Aggie is unfazed. As Penny storms off to rinse out the stains, Sara shares her theory, about Penny and Aggie's alleged secret mutual attraction, with Katy-Ann, with Helen listening in, unobserved, for Karen. Penny overhears Aggie discussing "dates" with Lisa and mentioning an upcoming one at the mall food court for the next day. She assumes Aggie is meeting a boy there and, with exaggeratedly malicious glee, vows to "destroy her," ignoring Katy-Ann's suggestion that she examine why
she's eager to prevent her rival from dating boys. Meanwhile, Karen hears from Helen, via her friend Cyndi, that Penny is supposedly meeting a girl at the food court the next day; Karen insists it must be a guy she's meeting. Then, recalling that Marshall will be there tomorrow, she leaps to the conclusion that Penny's out to steal him from her.
The next day, as dinnertime approaches, the main characters make their way to the mall. Nick and Charisma enjoy a "quickie" in a utility closet. Penny has prepared several "sabotages" for Aggie, including purchasing a revealing top to seduce her "date." Karen observes her doing this and goes shopping for push-up bras. Aggie arrives at the food court and, finding Marshall seated by himself, eagerly seizes the opportunity to talk with (and fawn over) him, while he remains friendly but oblivious to how she feels. Penny sees the two of them together and, thinking that Marshall is seeing Aggie behind Karen's back, gleefully takes photos with her cell phone. Marshall, unaware of her lifelong, animal-rights motivated vegetarianism, offers Aggie a bite of his chicken sandwich; eager to please him, she takes one and soon runs off to the washroom to throw up...just after Marshall reveals that he's there to meet his mother's boyfriend "Nickie."
Charisma, having gone on ahead of Nick (who, unbeknownst to her, has fallen asleep in the closet), finds Marshall and, wishing to get the evening over with, stops him from going after Aggie. Penny, still observing, thinks Charisma is yet another woman Marshall's playing the field with and snaps away, whereupon Charisma spots her and, recalling that Nick's daughter is an "artsy" type, assumes Penny to be her and invites her to join them, creating an uncomfortable situation for Penny and Marshall who, because of their mutual, contrasting relations to Karen, dislike each other. Aggie, meanwhile, having concluded that Nick and Marshall would probably like each other, heads back from the washroom, just in time to overhear Marshall, out of Penny's earshot, tell his mother that he doesn't like "this girl" and is opposed to her being his "stepsister-in-training." Aggie assumes he's talking about her.
Karen is still bra-shopping when she realizes she's lost track of the time and rushes to the food court in a panic, fearing the worst. Charisma stops Penny (who momentarily mistakes her grabbing her arm for sexual interest) from leaving and tells her they'll have to try and get along "if I'm gonna keep shagging your dad." Noting that Penny's retreated into stunned silence, Charisma angrily calls Nick, waking him up, and tells him to get over there. Aggie and Karen, both in tears, literally run smack into each other. As Karen runs off without a word, inadvertently contributing to a somewhat contrived mishap that knocks Nick unconscious inside the closet, Aggie is disturbed by the tingling feeling she's gotten from contact with her chest, hoping it's left over tingles from her time with Marshall as her day's been complicated enough.
As they wait for Nick, Charisma tries to convince Penny the relationship is happening, asking whether "her" father used to be apathetic, joyless and inactive, but has now become full of life. Penny reflects that her father, Rob, has in fact been a couch potato for years (the reason for this is revealed in a subsequent arc), and then recalls his having openly gawked at younger women earlier that day. Now convinced Rob is
having an affair with Charisma, Penny hugs her in gratitude for supposedly bringing back the lively, fun dad she once knew, and by doing so, giving her parents another shot at happiness. This confuses Charisma, who knows Nick is a widower. At this point Karen turns up and, thinking Penny's "working the mom" to get at Marshall, trades insults with her, thus further frustrating Charisma.
The turning point in this pile-up of misunderstandings comes when Marshall finds Aggie weeping by herself and tries to comfort her, only for her to yell at him to stop pretending to like her to her face when he actually hates her. After having her explain what she means, he assures her he was talking about Penny, "Nickie's daughter." Finally realizing their mutual mistake, they run to find Nick. The fed-up Charisma takes Karen with her to do the same.
Meanwhile, a janitor finds Nick still passed out and has him taken into the corridor where, as a crowd gathers, Marshall arrives with Aggie. As Nick revives, with some temporary short-term memory loss but otherwise okay, Marshall uses his first-aid training to care for him until the paramedics arrive. Nick gives Annie a sly wink when Marshall tells him his name until Aggie desperately interjects "His Mother
calls him Mar
". At this point Charisma comes by, and Marshall tries to explain that the evening's off. Charisma loses her temper and yells at him, "You were put on this Earth to slow me down!" As Marshall barely stops himself from saying "I hate you," the paramedics walk past them, carrying Nick on a stretcher, and as their eyes meet, she realizes her mistake too late.
Some days later, Nick stops by Charisma's home and, meeting Marshall outside, tells him gratefully that no matter what, he'll always be welcome in his home. Inside, Nick asks Charisma to look him in the eye and tell him she wouldn't
be happier if both their children didn't exist. She can't. Realizing that it's over between them, Nick accepts a goodbye hug from Charisma as she tells him one last time she loves him. "I love you too," he says. "But I love my daughter more."
Following "Dinner for Six" in the archives is a five-page preview of Burgerzone
, an unfinished teen fantasy/horror graphic novel unrelated to Penny and Aggie
- Art Evolution: With this arc, more so than in previous ones where there had been gradual development in this respect, LagacÚ's art showed much more attention to background detail and scenery. This trend would continue through the end of her tenure on the comic.
- Chekhov's Gun: Subverted. Early on in the comic, Penny learned of Aggie's greatest vulnerability—her grief over her mother's passing—but refrained, on two separate occasions, from using it against her. Now, following Aggie's soda prank, she does so: "What would your parents say?" However, this fails to sting, perhaps because Penny says "your parents" rather than "your mother," allowing Aggie to act as if both parents were still alive. Aggie herself gives another possible reason much later, in Suspicious Minds; see there under Call Back (spoilers).
- Contrived Coincidence: Karen accidentally bumps the utility closet door shut as she runs past it, right at the moment that Nick, inside, slips on a wet sponge and instinctively leans on the door to prevent a fall. As a result, he's knocked unconscious. All this was for the purpose of further delaying him (since he'd already been woken from his post-coital snooze) from reaching Charisma and helping clear up the various misunderstandings. Although arguably justified as Slapstick in the service of the overall farcical plot, many readers didn't see the strip in question that way.
- Disappeared Dad: Poor Marshall doesn't even know who his dad is, let alone whether his father ever wanted or loved him.
- Elevator Going Down: The arc opens with Nick and Charisma making love in an elevator.
- Eyelid Pull Taunt: As Charisma leads her away from the table, Karen directs this at Penny, along with an implied You Are Fat insult: "Don't eat all the food yourself."
- Flashback: To Charisma's past.
- Flirty Stepsiblings: Although Aggie and Marshall never actually become stepsiblings, and Aggie's feelings for Marshall aren't mutual, the trope is discussed several times. In what is arguably the storyline's most bizarre and squicky moment, at the point where both Charisma and Marshall think Penny is Nick's daughter, Charisma tries exploiting this trope in order to convince Marshall to accept Penny as his stepsister: "She's hot! Are you gay, or just blind?"
- Foe Yay: In-universe example, with Sara shipping Penny and Aggie, this time even convincing Katy-Ann of her theory.
- Funbag Airbag: Aggie crashes head-first into Karen's chest, and is disturbed to find it arouses her a bit.
- Good Angel, Bad Angel: A recurring trope with Karen.
- Love Makes You Dumb: Exaggerated when Aggie, upon noticing Marshall at the mall, gets so aroused and bashful she forgets how to say "hi" midway through the word. Where Aggie is concerned, love also makes you loud and makes you forget you're vegetarian.
- Mistaken for Cheating
- Penny thinks Marshall is cheating on Karen with Aggie and Charisma, until she learns the latter is his mother.
- Penny subsequently thinks her father is having an affair with Charisma. She remains convinced of this even after the arc's conclusion, when all other misunderstandings have been cleared up. Subverted in that Penny is happy about it, even phoning Sara to tell her the "great news."
- Mistaken for Gay
- Sara and Katy-Ann, with regard to Penny and Aggie.
- Helen and Cyndi think that Penny has a mall date with a girl.
- Penny briefly thinks that Charisma is interested in her.
- When Aggie tells Marshall "You can stop pretending now!", he responds, "Why does everyone think I'm gay?"
- Oblivious to Love: Aggie couldn't be more obvious, in the earlier part of the storyline, about her crush on Marshall if she tore all his clothes off and jumped him...and yet he completely fails to pick up on her feelings. Even when he later finds her weeping angrily over his (she thinks) dislike for her.
- Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: While washing her stained blouse, Penny hears Aggie and Lisa entering the washroom and hides in a stall. She overhears Aggie saying such things as, "Yeah, it's gonna be fourteen pounds of awkward" and "I mean, dates are completely alien to me." As well, Penny apparently overhears, between that strip and the next one, plans to meet at the mall food court the next day. She assumes that Aggie has a date with a guy, because she missed the beginning of Aggie's and Lisa's conversation (also implied but not shown) which would've mentioned that Nick wanted him and Charisma to meet each other's kids.
- Poor Communication Kills: The basis for nearly the entire arc.
- Really Gets Around: Charisma, prior to meeting Nick.
- Resentful Guardian: And resentful child in turn.
- Revenge: Subverted. This time, Penny does attempt to get revenge on Aggie, but the "dead mother" card fails, and her subsequent "forbidden fruit" and "paparazzi" strategies at the mall are abandoned and forgotten when she encounters Charisma.
- Shout-Out: Karen's Good Angel resembles the title character of Ugly Girl.
- Slasher Smile: Penny in this strip.
- Slapstick: Most notably in these two strips.
- Smitten Teenage Girl: Aggie for Marshall.
- Splash of Color: Aggie's blush, after she crashes into Karen's chest, is coloured pink. Note that her blushing around Marshall, in the same arc, is in monochrome like the rest of the arc. Could that possibly mean something?
- Teen Pregnancy: In a Flashback, Charisma's mother admonishes her that being pregnant so early will affect the rest of her life: "Party time's over now." Charisma counters that her pregnancy won't slow her down... then falls on her butt.
- Webcomic Time: The arc, most of which covered about two hours in-universe, ran for five and a half months.