Recap: Penny And Aggie Pre History
"And that's why we study history. To learn what's not working for us and leave it in the dustbin."
After a gruelling math exam, several of the characters hang out in the student lounge, studying for their last fall semester exam, in American history, or chatting. Among the latter, the conversation soon turns to Stan, who's filming his latest vlog post out of earshot. Fred suspects that Stan is gay, because the impression he gets from him is similar to the one he gets from a girl in his chemistry lab. By constant talking and listening to music, respectively, both seem to Fred to be "trying to drown out uncomfortable questions with noise."
Penny, still confused and conflicted about Stan in the wake of their Accidental Kiss
, blurts out that she doesn't understand how anyone can find Stan's personality attractive. Brandi responds nonchalantly that as long as he's loyal to her, Stan can think of whomever he wants. She clarifies that the previous week, Stan had spoken to her about getting serious, so they're now "bf/gf," although they'd like it kept quiet for now. Aggie gently questions whether Brandi should trust him, whereas Penny, realizing this would've taken place after Stan kissed her, reacts angrily, rushing off to warn him not to hurt her friend. Brandi follows in an attempt to stop her.
Aggie, having discovered in the previous arc she's interested in girls, asks Fred to point this classmate of his out to her. Minutes later, she nervously approaches the sweatshirt-hooded girl and asks if she can study for the history exam with her. The girl accepts, enthusiastically doffing her hood to reveal herself as Xena, a manic, self-styled L. Ron Hubbard follower. (Although previously unnamed within the comic, she had made a couple of memorable one-line appearances.) As Xena offers a psychotic take on the causes of the American Revolution, Aggie regrets having introduced herself and is about to disengage when she sees Charlotte happily interacting with Duane and decides to give Xena a chance.
Meanwhile, Penny confronts Stan, accusing him of going behind her back, "jerking Brandi around" and pretending to be interested in commitment. Stan retorts that she shouldn't claim to know his real motives, and that if he and Brandi have decided to get serious, he owes no one an explanation. At this, Brandi, having caught up to them, points out to Stan that Michelle's standing right behind him. Stan, out of guilt and panic, tries to run off but Brandi stops him. Michelle at first confronts him, demanding to know why, contrary to what he'd told her months ago about not wanting to be tied down to anyone, he's chosen Brandi over her. Stan (given that he can't talk about what happened with Penny) can only say that he doesn't know why he wants what he wants, nor why his wants change.
At this point Michelle overhears Xena make an unexpectedly sensible point about how the study of history allows us to recognize our past bad thought patterns and habits, and let go of them. Accordingly, Michelle walks away from Stan without another word. The concerned Penny and Brandi chase after her, but Michelle assures them she'll get over this. She warns Brandi, though, that she'd better be prepared to fight for Stan against "tramps" who want to use him to boost their egos. Penny feels ashamed.
Xena tells Aggie she's easy to talk to, given that she doesn't know how to relate to most people. (As she says this, her thoughts reveal she has a crush on Fred.) Aggie says she understands, as she has gay friends who can only talk about certain things with each other. At the mention of homosexuality, Xena goes off on a loud rant, parroting Hubbard's claim that gays are "sexual perverts" who need to be quarantined and "processed." Aggie, struggling to keep her temper in check, quips about the "janitorial duties alone" making that impractical. Xena, again directly quoting Hubbard (from his personal correspondence), says that others can do the dirty work, because "That's what niggers were born for!"
This slur is the last straw for the already stressed-out Brandi, and she impulsively knocks Xena unconscious from behind with her history textbook. She immediately recoils at what she's done, and Penny ushers her, Michelle and Aggie, the only eyewitnesses, out the side exit, before they're all discovered and expelled. Minutes later, Elmer comes across Xena, smirks, and makes an "...And stay down, bitch!" joke, not noticing the shocked Principal Giuliani behind him.
A few days later, at the mall shortly before Christmas, Penny tells Aggie that no one's pinned the incident on Brandi in their tweets or status updates. Aggie isn't happy with this, suggesting that they shouldn't be covering up for her. Penny says that Brandi's a good person, whereas Xena is mad, and that compassion aside, one needs to decide where one's loyalties lie. The last panel of the arc is a close-up of Aggie fiddling uneasily with her peace-sign buckle.
- All There in the Manual: In the aftermath of this arc, readers wondered what happened when Giuliani caught Elmer joking over the unconscious Xena. Did he think Elmer was the assailant? Did Elmer face expulsion for the assault? If so, why didn't Aggie come forward if she's so concerned about justice? Nearly a year later, Campbell answered this in the forum: Giuliani did indeed expel Elmer, not for the assault (because there was no direct evidence he'd done it and Xena hadn't seen who did) but for his callously joking upon discovering her knocked out rather than calling for help. However, as Elmer has no friends except Bob, no one else at school knew why, or even that, he'd been expelled; it was assumed he'd just disappeared.
- Artistic License – Medicine: Although Brandi hits Xena on the head hard enough to knock her unconscious, and Xena hits the floor face first with nothing to break or cushion her fall, and is then abandoned for at least a few minutes, there's no indication, here or later in the comic, that she suffered any injury whatsoever, even a minor one.
- Ascended Extra: Brandi, previously a relatively minor character, becomes a more prominent one beginning with this arc. Xena, with only two prior, one-panel appearances, would count had she appeared in a significant capacity beyond this arc. (She does have a line in "Missing Person," and is depicted in chibi form in the background, in "June.")
- Beware the Nice Ones: Brandi is normally all about avoiding conflict, but Xena's racial slur is the last straw for her after a stressful few hours, and she responds unthinkingly and violently.
- Church of Happyology: Note, however, the Word of God that Xena is not an official member of the religion in question. (An actual initiate wouldn't learn about Xenu, and his imprisonment of souls in volcanoes, to which she alludes in her "history" speeches, until the third course level, and would be strictly instructed not to reveal these teachings to outsiders, nor to initiates at lower levels.) Rather, she's a do-it-yourselfer who's read indiscriminately through the organization's documents as leaked online, as well as those not part of its official policy, such as Hubbard's personal correspondence, from which the above racist quote comes.
- Circling Birdies: Parodied. When Xena hits the floor, Church of Happyology logos circle her head.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: Xena's comments about the purpose of studying history not only make sense to Aggie but inspire Michelle to stop living in the past with regard to Stan.
- Filler Strip: Several filler pieces (strips and otherwise) ran in the middle of the arc in order to give Waltrip a Christmas vacation:
- The second annual Penny and Aggie Crossword Puzzle.
- "Matter/Anti-Matter," a prose vignette about Cyndi, revealing that Sara's rejection of her advances still bothers her on an unconscious level, try as she might to repress the feeling.
- Two gag strips, one with art by T.J. Kirsch and another with art by Onezumi Hartstein, about the Christmas presents various cast members give each other.
- A Fanservice pinup of Brandi sending Stan a cellphone photo of herself in a Sexy Santa Dress.
- A sans-dialogue preview of 2010 storylines.
- Gaydar: Fred claims to get a gay vibe from both Stan and Xena, which says something about how well his gaydar actually works.
- Heteronormative Crusader: Xena.
- Jerkass: Elmer.
- Leave Me Alone / Stop Helping Me!: Michelle's initial response when Penny chases her down the hall after Michelle walks away from Stan. She relents somewhat when Penny answers "Never," and when Brandi adds that she won't ignore Michelle being in pain.
- Malicious Misnaming / The Nicknamer: When Penny finally tires of Stan calling her by the names of blonde celebrities as an insult, and tells him to knock it off, he says, "Okay, Petty."
- Odd-Shaped Panel: When Brandi knocks Xena out, the panel borders themselves buckle, as if from the force of the blow.
- Precision F-Strike: The comic's first, as Xena utters the word "niggers" uncensored.
- Rage Breaking Point: For Brandi, it's Xena's racial slur.
- Relationship Upgrade: Stan and Brandi go from Friends with Benefits to exclusive couple status.
- Right Behind Me: Stan tells Penny he doesn't owe anyone notice that he and Brandi have gotten serious. Brandi then points out that right behind him is Michelle, the one person they didn't want to know about their going steady, because the reason he'd given her for ending their relationship was that he didn't want to be tied down to anyone. On top of that, the breakup had contributed to Michelle's eating disorder. No wonder Stan, upon seeing Michelle, feels so guilty he tries to flee.
- There Are No Therapists: Averted. Michelle, in recovery from an eating disorder, mentions that she's seeing a therapist and implies that it's been helpful.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Penny and Stan.
- You Are Not Alone: Penny and Brandi, concerned that Michelle's about to have another emotional health crisis (she isn't), insist on sticking by her when she walks away from Stan.
- Your Head Asplode: This happens, figuratively, to Aggie when Xena (before clarifying what she means) tells her that the purpose of studying history is "So we can forget it."