"You know who the greater evil is in this room."
This chapter, the darkest of the comic's run, centers on two mentally disturbed girls facing off in a life-or-death contest of will. In the toolshed Charlotte, removing the tape from Cyndi's mouth but keeping her bound in the wheelchair, says that her having gotten away so far with the assault and kidnapping means that her imminent murder of Cyndi must be God's will. Brandishing a serrated knife, she lists Cyndi's misdeeds, and claims that death is the only thing that can stop her from going on to hurt, even kill, others. Despite her friendship with Duane and literary conversations with him (one of which, her "alibi," she in fact had conducted via IM using Cyndi's phone), Charlotte considers herself already beyond hope and damned for her
transgressions. She hopes, however, that like the biblical Pharaoh and Herod, she can still serve God by sending an even worse person to Hell.
Throughout their conversation, Cyndi tries a variety of stratagems to save her life. She recalls their "friendship" during "The Popsicle War." She asks why Charlotte hasn't already killed her, suggesting that Charlotte feels if she talks with her, she'll understand the evil inside herself. She appeals to pity ("Just leave me my face."). When this last earns her painful blows on the wrist with a hoe, she argues defiantly that Charlotte's misdeeds are far worse than hers. Just as her captor is about to slit her throat, she suggests that Charlotte actually wants to kill her abusive mother. Charlotte protests that her mother loves her, so Cyndi then attempts to shame her ("And this is how you pay her back? By being a damn murderer?"), then implies that there's another evil whom Charlotte must eliminate, but it's not her. Charlotte responds, "No. It's just you first," implying she intends to kill herself next.
Meanwhile, FBI Agent Carter, surveilling the Simms's home from across the street, phones McBell at the police station and says he'd like to search the house's perimeter. McBell denies him permission unless Carter spots something suspicious, saying the team's already stretched too thin, given that Agent Marcia Veron has just discovered on Cyndi's laptop a disturbing, password-protected document that has led him to put Michelle under surveillance too.
Cyndi, having gone through other strategies to save herself, next resorts to honesty. She confesses that she's always felt unable to relate to other human beings, considering them all stupid. However, she says, there was one person (Sara) whom she did recognize as being like her inside, and if allowed to live, she may be able to "discover love." So she tells Charlotte to turn herself in and "find a way to atone." In tears, Charlotte claims she can't, that she's tried to do good but always ends up doing wrong again. Cyndi reinforces this idea by suggesting she try for Duane's sake while implying that this act too was for him, but maybe next time she'll do better. As Charlotte falls deeper into despair, Cyndi asks, "What would Judas do?" At the answer, "He hung himself," Cyndi again uses reverse psychology, telling Charlotte that suicide's not an option for her, or she'd have done so already, with the knife in her hand. "You'll just have to live with what you've done."
Charlotte slits her own throat, eliciting a giggle from Cyndi, who lifts her wrist out of an armrest, knocked loose when Charlotte hit her wrist. In the same strip, there appears the document that shocked Agent Veron: an extract from Cyndi's journal, the previous November, in which she states her desire to manipulate others into killing themselves. She claims this can be done with almost any person; all one has to do is find the thing that they hate about themselves and work with it. Cyndi notes having nearly succeeding at this with Michelle, if the "Peacies" hadn't intervened. She says she'd like to take on Daphne next by fooling her into believing Sara's been unfaithful, then seducing her, making her dependent on her and finally breaking her heart. But as Daphne now has too many friends watching out for her, she thinks it best to practice on another "shallow" person, her "friend" Meg.
As Charlotte bleeds out in agony, Cyndi, starting to loosen the duct tape with her free hand, "consoles" her by saying she'll send Duane to join her within a year. After her would-be murderer loses consciousness, Agent Carter bursts in with a gun.
While paramedics work to save Charlotte's life, we see Charlotte's mother raging, Katy-Ann weeping and praying, and a perplexed Duane reading up on psychology. Cyndi, for her part, tells her parents during a car ride that her ordeal made her find God and wish to devote her life to helping others. Her parents, however, inform her that the FBI showed them her secret journal. Even Carl admits he can't trust her now, and says he has obligations to others, as they pull into a psychiatric hospital to commit her.
McBell visits the recovering Charlotte in hospital, telling her that she could face ten to twenty years, so it's in her interest to cooperate. He adds, by way of reassurance, that whatever the sentence, she'll be in prison until she's a legal adult, meaning she's now free of her mother's control. Charlotte, looking happy and at peace, though not yet able to speak, asks via tablet for Internet privileges, presumably so that she and Duane can keep in touch. Katy-Ann (who feels she "failed" Charlotte) and Jack differ on whether she was worth saving.
Once she's fully recovered, Duane visits her in prison, where she apologizes to him. He anguishes over how she could've done what she did, and over their talks not having been enough to help her. By way of consolation, Charlotte says she hadn't expected to regain the will to live, but God now gives her strength, while Duane, the only one to see her existence as "a net gain for the universe," makes her ask for it. She kisses him good-bye. "You're a good man, Duane," she says, smiling. "Go find a good girl." Duane leaves the prison weeping, comforted by Penny, Aggie and his father.
- Adults Are Useless: Averted. Agent Carter arrives on the scene in enough time to save Charlotte's life. As well, Cyndi's parents, even the formerly indulgent, in-denial Carl, commit her after they read her journal.
- Alone with the Psycho: Played with, in that both girls are disturbed in their own way.
- Break Them by Talking
- Call Back: Several. The most significant parallels are, fittingly, to Suicide Run:
- Charlotte's "This is what you'll do to the world," spoken to Cyndi, recalls Penny's "That's what she'll do to the world," spoken about Karen.
- Charlotte's "I can't [redeem myself]" parallels Aggie's "I can't... I can't... I can't [go on]..."
- Cyndi's "[Your mother] knows there's something bad about you" parallels Marshall's "Your parents would be ashamed of you," said to Aggie.
- Cyndi calling Charlotte a "poser" recalls Karen calling Aggie that.
- Cerebus Syndrome: Some readers felt the comic achieved this in the present chapter. Others place it earlier, in Whispers and Silence, or even in Vertigo. In any case, the fandom consensus was that Penny and Aggie had come a long way from its origin as a light-hearted gag-per-day comic about two teenage girls locked in, as Campbell has put it, a perpetual Tom and Jerry rivalry.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Discussed. Cyndi views Daphne this way.
- Cowboy Cop: Carter disobeys McBell's order not to trespass on the Simms's property unless he sees something suspicious from the front of the house where he's supposed to be. His disobedience saves Charlotte's life.
- Deadly Euphemism: In her journal, Cyndi uses the expression "push people into the pool" as a euphemism for "manipulate people into committing suicide."
- Driven to Suicide: Charlotte, though she survives and rediscovers her will to live.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Charlotte finally finds peace, but at the cost of nearly losing her life and of a prison sentence.
- Evil Counterpart: Cyndi to Penny, and Charlotte to Aggie. In addition to the parallels listed above under Call Back, note the similar use of lettering and iconography in the comic's logo and in the chapter title.
- For the Evulz: Yes, Cyndi was trying to save her own life, but the giggle she lets out when Charlotte slits her own throat, and her taunting that she'll send Duane into death after her as Charlotte bleeds out, indicate she's enjoying having manipulated Charlotte into attempted suicide.
- Hannibal Lecture
- Identity Concealment Disposal: The Belleville Interviews had used various methods to conceal Agent McBell's full face, before finally showing it in the last strip of that chapter. Both of his appearances in the present chapter show his full, unobscured face as well.
- Interrupted Suicide
- Last-Second Word Swap: Cyndi confesses that for years she worried she would "die a—", then stops and says "die without ever having a boyfriend" instead. Given that her words appear in conjuction with a Call Back to this strip, it seems Cyndi had been about to say "die a virgin" but, fearing that might inflame Charlotte's fundamentalist sensibilities, censored herself.
- Manipulative Bastard
- More Than Mind Control
- Out-of-Genre Experience: This chapter goes beyond Teen Drama and into the Psychological Thriller genre.
- Pity the Kidnapper: Considering that Charlotte kidnapped Cyndi as a twisted expression of her own self-hatred and hatred for her abusive mother, she's pitiful enough. When Cyndi talks her into slitting her own throat, she's all the more so.
- Poisonous Captive
- Put on a Bus to Hell: The strip in which her parents commit her is Cyndi's final appearance in Penny and Aggie. Campbell has said, however, that it won't necessarily be her last appearance anywhere, implying that he might use a version of her in another work.
- Revenge: Although Cyndi doesn't explicitly mention this as the motive, the statement in her journal that she's eager to make Daphne her next victim, plus the entry's mid-November date, around the time of the School Play during which Sara chose Daphne over Cyndi, suggest that her choice of Daphne has a more personal motivation than her usual For the Evulz one.
- Reverse Psychology
What would Judas do? Charlotte:
He hung himself. Cyndi:
...Oh. Well, that's not an option for you. I mean, if you were gonna do that, you already would have. The knife is right there.
You're just gonna have to live with what you've done.
- Sadist: Cyndi. She giggles with pleasure over Charlotte's attempted suicide.
- See You in Hell: Discussed.
I am damned [...] But the damned can still serve a greater good [...] [W]hen my skin is being ripped by burning acid fishhooks
[...] I will at least know that I prevented some
evil with my life. Cyndi:
Listen to yourself. You'll "see me in Hell?" Who are you, the Wicked Witch of the West
? You don't believe what you're saying. You can't! Charlotte:
I don't think I'll see you there. I don't think you get to pick your roommate. But you'll be there. And that will be something.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Subverted. Charlotte attempts this several times, either with words or with torture, in response to Cyndi's stratagems. It doesn't work.
- Signature Laugh: "Hee," Cyndi's customary tiny giggle over hurting someone, or the prospect of doing so.
- Suicide Dare: An indirect example on Cyndi's part, using Reverse Psychology (see above).
- Talking Your Way Out
- With Friends Like These...: While previous arcs had established Cyndi's and Meg's friendship as shallow at best and marked by pettiness at worst, Meg would no doubt be shocked to learn that Cyndi intended to push her into suicide, and that as mere practice for doing so with Daphne.