I should never have asked her not to leave me. I should've asked her to live.
Aggie has a dream that significantly changes her outlook on life. The dream opens with a memory of a real-life volunteering shift with Penny, Lisa, Sara and Daphne at an animal shelter. As her friends sign her arm cast, Aggie, along with Lisa, affectionately ribs Penny in order to help her get over her lingering guilt from having injured Aggie in the previous arc. However, the dream soon twists into a nightmare as Sara and Daphne, sneaking off to a back room to make out while their friends eavesdrop, are mauled to death by an escaped tiger. Aggie simultaneously dreams that Charisma's standing over her in bed, pointing out coldly that she's having an anaphylactic reaction to her pain medication and is in danger of dying.
Lisa urges Penny and Aggie out of the shelter and into one of their cars, as a blizzard begins. With Penny mumbling to herself in shock, Aggie takes the wheel and speeds away, the tiger still in pursuit, while calling for Charisma to help her. Charisma tells her she has to find her own reason to live. She adds that with Aggie out of the way, she and Nick could start having sex again. Charisma fades away, whereupon Aggie, verbally lashing out at her, ends up crashing the car into a tree. She pulls Penny, still in shock, out of the car and tries to snap her out of it so they can continue running. Lisa, trapped in the car by the tiger, calls for help, but she's too late, and Aggie runs, pulling Penny after her as Lisa pleads with her attacker off-panel.
As they run, Penny, lucid once more, castigates Aggie for abandoning her best friend and claims that Aggie doesn't care their friends are dead. Aggie retorts angrily that, with her having lost her mother, the one person she feels truly understood her, everyone else in her life is just going to "come and go." The two of them having stopped at a cliff edge—a dead end—Penny bursts into tears and says, "What are you saying, we don't matter to you? I
don't matter to you?" Aggie starts to respond that she does matter, but stops short in confusion when she sees Penny looking at her with longing and heartbreak. Before Aggie can process this, the tiger lunges at Penny, who falls off the cliff to her death. To Aggie's surprise, however, it then licks her hand.
Aggie then recalls how, as a young child, she climbed into a tiger pit at the zoo, thinking the tiger was "like Tigger
." A terrified Melody rescued her and told her never to leave her, never to let her go, words that Aggie, in clinging to grief over her mom, apparently took literally.
Back in the "present," Aggie identifies the now-affectionate tiger as her mother and feels that Melody must've been waiting for her to join her all this time. She climbs on the tiger's back and rides off through the snow into an apparent void, having seemingly chosen death.
Instead, she encounters, to her confusion, Melody herself, in human form. Melody gently chides her for imagining she'd want her daughter to give up on life. Aggie responds that it's selfish for her to enjoy life when her mother is "not enjoying anything," a notion Melody dismisses. She tells Aggie that she wants nothing more than for her and Nick to live and be happy, even saying she's glad Charisma, for all her failings, gave him some contentment for a while. She also discounts her daughter's feeling that she was "in the way" of them finding permanent happiness, because Nick wouldn't have stayed with a woman that uncaring to her own son regardless. She turns to the tiger, whom she identifies as merely her "selfish, jealous" side, and banishes it, then assures Aggie the best part of her is "standing right beside me," and bids her wake up. Aggie does so, gasping for breath.
Later in the emergency room, Aggie, now beginning to feel better, tells her father not to wish that Melody was still with them, because she senses that's not what she would've wanted. Aggie, without exactly knowing why, leaves the hospital happy and at peace with herself.
- All Animals Are Domesticated: Subverted. Also discussed in the Flashback to young Aggie entering the tiger pit:
Aggie: He's like Tigger!
Melody: HE IS NOT!
- The Aloner / In the End, You Are on Your Own: Aggie, due to lingering grief over her mother's death, takes this position when Penny confronts her. However, Penny's broken-hearted reaction, and Melody's subsequent pep talk, lead Aggie to reject that stance.
- Art Evolution: In his first few arcs as regular artist, Waltrip's art, by his own admission, involved close copying, and even tracing, from LagacÚ's work on the comic. However, beginning in the latter part of this arc, both Waltrip and many readers saw his own style beginning to emerge. Among other elements, Waltrip began around this time to ink thinner lines, resulting in less blocky figures and faces.
- Call Back: Several: to the first arc, in which Aggie gets upset over one of Melody's medical journals being torn; to Crush'd, in which Nick recalls the tiger pit episode; to Suicide Run, in which a briefly suicidal Aggie recalls her mother's death; to What You Can't Teach, in which a younger Aggie harbours her first doubts about God; and to Dinner for Six, in which Charisma accuses Marshall of having been nothing but an obstacle to her.
- Crazy Cat Lady: Discussed. While playing with a cat at the shelter, Penny says jokingly that she's in danger of becoming "Crazy Cat Lady: The High School Years."
- Famous Last Words: Lisa: "Y...you don't want to eat me! My body's 90% Pixie Sticks, I'll give you diabetes...Please."
- Fever Dream Episode
- Flashback Nightmare: The "tiger pit" sequence within the dream is a realistic and presumably accurate childhood memory of Aggie's.
- I Miss Mom: The arc finally resolves this plot thread as Aggie unconsciously learns to accept her mother's death and integrate the positive aspects of her memory instead of focusing on her absence and harbouring an unhealthy unconscious wish to join her.
- Longing Look: Penny gives Aggie one just prior to plunging off the cliff.
- Near Death Experience
- Odd-Shaped Panel: In this strip, as Aggie rides the tiger, the borders of the last panel fade midway into nothing, suggesting an ominous passage into the unknown, the void, or death.
- Out-of-Genre Experience: The nightmarish portion of Aggie's dream, unlike the comic's previous bad-dream sequences which were mainly Played for Laughs, belongs to the Horror genre.
- Real Dreams Are Weirder: Played with. Although Aggie's dream, like most fictional ones, has a coherent beginning, middle and end, it also, like many real dreams, abruptly shifts between one setting (the tiger chase with Lisa and Penny) and another (her bedroom with Charisma). At one point, Aggie experiences both settings at the same time as she begs Charisma's help while fleeing the tiger.
- Self-Deprecation: Melody gets in a dig about her political orientation.
Aggie: How, how'm I supposed to enjoy an ice cream sundae if you're not...enjoying anything?
Melody: "Not enjoying anything?" What, you think I went to Hell? I wasn't that liberal.
- Ship Tease: Aggie unconsciously realizes, for the first time, that Penny is attracted to, and possibly in love with, her. Note that this is the first instance in which the possibility of attraction between the titular characters is played entirely for drama, and not partially or wholly for laughs.
- Shout Out: The arc title alludes to the Frank R. Stockton short story, "The Lady, or the Tiger?". Aggie, somewhat like the prisoner in the story, must choose between "the tiger" (obsessive, suicidal fixation on her mother's death) and "the lady" (honouring her mother's legacy by embracing and enjoying life).
- Snow Means Death: The nightmarish portion of Aggie's dream is the only time snow is depicted in the comic.
- So Proud of You: Melody to Aggie: "[T]he best part of me...is standing right beside me."
- Your Mind Makes It Real: Justified in that Aggie really is going into anaphylaxis, which can be fatal if not promptly treated. Also discussed when Charisma references Lisa's claim in Mixed Nuts that one isn't supposed to die in dreams; rather, one is supposed to wake up just before the moment of death:
Charisma: Of course, the people who say that are biased. They're all alive. Those who've died in their sleep are curiously silent on the issue.