"Sometimes these 'looks' give you perspective...and sometimes they're just puttin' things off. You tell yourself you're just taking a sec. And then another. And you feel like you're doin' somethin' by thinkin' ...even if you know better than you feel."
This arc interweaves several brief stories, told from different characters' perspectives, in some cases simultaneously.
As Penny's friend Katy-Ann hangs a puzzle box outside the school, she sings a modified version of Bette Midler's "From a Distance," a song of faith in God's watchfulness despite the world's apparent evils. Lisa mocks her for this belief as Charlotte observes silently. Later, during a Scrabble
game with Aggie, Helen and Fred, Charlotte claims Penny and her friends are jealous of Aggie because she's "smart" and they're "dumb." Aggie isn't so sure on either point, and specifically defends Sara. Helen, as a former childhood friend of Sara, bitterly disagrees.
Michelle and Sara, observing Stan and Jack together, react differently, Michelle lusting for Stan, Sara revealing that she views him and Jack as secretly in love, like Penny and Aggie. Penny, for her part, still putting off telling Duane she's not interested, dreams to her horror of waking up in bed with him and Aggie.
Later, Michelle attempts to pick a fight with Aggie for showing Penny up in English class. As a curious crowd gathers, Aggie notices Principal Giuliani watching her, recalls his warning about causing disruptions, and instead delivers a barb at Penny's expense, thinly veiled as an apology. Undaunted, Michelle calls upon Duane to defend Penny, which he does as diplomatically as possible. Penny is less than comfortable with his public show of affection.
Meanwhile, Aggie spots Charlotte, Helen and Tharqa stealing and photocopying one of Katy-Ann's papers. (Minutes earlier, Charlotte had suggested punishing her for "misrepresenting God's love.") She calls Nick for advice on choosing friends and overlooking their flaws. However, Nick, in the midst of a workout/makeout with Charisma and fretting about how Aggie will take his relationship, is too distracted to be of much help.
Penny's friends advise her to let Duane go quickly. Katy-Ann adds she should do so gently, and suggests she should look at this from a long-term perspective and concentrate on attracting the sort of boy she does want. This inspires Michelle to make a move on Stan. Although aroused by this, Stan is reluctant to take her up on it because Rich, having once "dated" Michelle, may see it as a betrayal. Jack tells him he's overthinking things (see page quote).
As Helen, at Charlotte's urging, reluctantly forges Katy-Ann's handwriting, Penny finds Duane who, to her shock, has filled his campaign office with elaborate Valentine's Day gifts for her. This finally spurs her to tell him, gently, that ever since their kiss, she hasn't been eager to kiss him again, and that this must mean something. Duane walks out angrily, and seeing him this way, Penny is tempted for a split-second to kiss him again.
Meanwhile, Aggie discovers what Charlotte has been up to: she's just posted, on a bulletin board in the hall, a puzzle-box bomb threat purporting to be from Katy-Ann, claiming it's "God's will" that everyone die. Aggie is too stunned to react, but Helen steps in, tearing down the forgery. Charlotte angrily cuts her off as a friend and smashes the puzzle box in frustration, while Aggie thinks, with sad, self-disparaging irony, "My name is Aggie D'Amour. I'm an activist."
- Anachronic Order: Done to a limited extent, in that the last panel of this strip references a scene that takes place later in the arc.
- Book Ends: The arc opens and closes with "From a Distance," including Katy-Ann herself briefly reprising it.
- The Bro Code: Discussed by Stan and Jack.
- Characterization Marches On: Lisa, in her first substantial speaking appearance, bears little resemblance to the cheerful, friendly Genki Girl she's best known as. Instead, she's presented here as a somewhat alienated and angry sort. Campbell later explained in the forum that Lisa was in a "transitional period" then as a New Transfer Student, and was also going through a "rebel phase" which put more distance between her and others than she's usually been known to maintain.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Implied with Stan after Michelle comes on to him. The comic depicts him entering a washroom as soon as she's left, then exiting the washroom with a sigh of relief.
- Decompressed Comic
- Downer Ending
- Erotic Dream / Homoerotic Dream: Penny gets a twofer.
- Frameup: Charlotte attempts to frame Katy-Ann for a bomb threat.
- The Fundamentalist: Charlotte.
- Get a Room!: Sara shouts this at Stan and Jack, who have no idea what she's talking about.
- Grand Romantic Gesture: Duane's Valentine's Day surprise for Penny.
- Hopeless Suitor: Although subverted in previous arcs, here it's finally double subverted. Sorry, Duane.
- Ho Yay: In-universe example with Sara seeing Stan and Jack as secretly mutually attracted.
- Imagine Spot: Michelle imagines herself as a werecat jumping Stan and (off-panel) mating with him.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Jack, when cautioning Stan to be careful of Michelle's feelings, given how Rich used her to get to Penny: "'[T]he hero' led her on and dropkicked her, and now 'the sidekick's' gonna do the same? Kinda bad storytelling."
- Montage Out: The arc ends, Teen Drama style, with a narrative reprise of "From a Distance," accompanied by a silent, forlorn look at most of the key characters, followed by a long shot of the school.
- Put on a Bus: Duane essentially disappears from the comic after this arc, making only the occasional, silent background appearance. He finally returns as an active character midway through "The Popsicle War," two years later in real-world time.
- Rebus Bubble: The standard "screwball" gag.
- Saintly Church: Katy-Ann, in contrast to Charlotte.
- In this strip, God is whimsically portrayed as Snarky, the Websnark mascot
- In Sara's Imagine Spot about Stan and Jack: "I wish I knew how to quit quotin' Brokeback at you." Later, Jack references the movie in response to Stan's idolization of Rich.
- Simultaneous Arcs
- Sudden Principled Stand: Helen, when she abruptly sabotages the bomb-threat frameup and tells off Charlotte.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Katy-Ann, even if her friends don't all quite see it that way.
- Writing Around Trademarks: The arc alters the lyrics of "From a Distance" just enough to preserve the thrust of the original.