"You wanna...pretend a little more for a minute?"
"The Last Summer of Youth" is the final major Penny and Aggie
story arc and, at four chapters and a running time of nine months, the second-longest arc in the series. During its course, the romantic undercurrent in the title characters' relationship, hinted at
throughout much of the comic, finally comes to the surface, as Penny and Aggie explore being more than friends. The relationships, romantic and otherwise, of several supporting characters also undergo challenges and changes.
"May," following a prologue in which Aggie's father Nick, a math teacher, lectures on the Möbius strip, opens during exams review week towards the end of the main cast's junior year. Penny, Aggie and their friends and acquaintances are building an art installment, on the lawn in the back of the campus, consisting entirely of full-length mirrors. As Penny and Aggie trade barbs about each other's hair colour, Michelle catches sight of herself in the mirror and anxiously compares her figure to Penny's. To make herself feel better, she snarks that Penny may as well dye her hair Aggie's colour because, with her unusual "Y"-patterned top (last seen at the end of The New Reality
) that resembles Aggie's signature shirt, she's already dressing as her "fangirl." Penny blushes at this, but recovers herself and, in the face of Michelle's continuing criticism of the blouse, explains it away as showing empathy for Aggie's lack of fashion sense, just as she coordinated her outfits to match Michelle's during the early phase of her recovery.
As the three join the other groups working on the installment, Duane explains its purpose in an e-mail to the currently-imprisoned Charlotte. The project, Second Looks,
is Katy-Ann's brainchild, and meant symbolically to encourage students to look more closely at themselves and each other.
The reality, however, is that three current and former couples are approaching crisis points in their relationships. A near-mishap with the mirror Stan and Brandi are carrying leads to an argument, culminating in Brandi walking off in exasperation. Jack, at Stan's request, attempts to smooth things over with Brandi, but she maintains that their attempt to go back to being friends, in the wake of their split, isn't working. This leads in turn to a discussion of Jack's relationship with Katy-Ann. Despite all of Katy-Ann's assurances, Jack remains convinced he's a bad influence on her and is "dragging her down." Meanwhile, Sara reflects on her continuing reluctance to tell Daphne about her kissing Lucy. Furthermore, when she sees Daphne looking annoyed at Penny's mock-aristocratic invitation to her post-exam party, Sara simultaneously hopes that she doesn't "make a scene" and that she does, presumably so that Sara will have an excuse to dump her.
The story jumps ahead to Penny's party, at which Lisa, in conversation with Aggie, expresses sadness that Stan isn't welcome there after what he did to Brandi, despite his having worked on Second Looks
and despite, in her opinion, his having done nothing unforgivable. Aggie, however, is unconcerned, given that he's throwing his own get-together for his student election supporters. Meanwhile, Penny's father Rob prevents an alcohol-fuelled potential date rape from happening and bans the culprit, Bob, from his home.
Penny gathers her closest friends and acquaintances for a game of Switch, the object of which is to pretend one's sexual orientation has switched and to say which person, any person, would then be one's crush. Sara names Archie Andrews
because—inwardly picturing Lucy as she talks—she sees him as someone who's simple, uncomplicated, completely honest and (said with Daphne's onetime belief in the rape slander in mind) unlikely to "turn on you." During her turn, Sara also reflects inwardly on her still keeping in touch with Lucy twice a week, and on not yet having told Daphne.
Michelle names Britney Spears
because, she says with due respect to Sara, she personally finds girl-girl relations "gross," so her match may as well be someone she could pretend is a "trashy, out-of-shape guy.
" Lisa, reluctant as always to commit to one gender preference, names Humphrey Bogart
as her guy-crush and, mischievously, Michelle as her preferred girl. When Michelle fails to realize Lisa's needling her, Lisa says the hopelessness of her crush is what makes it romantic.
Fred and Daphne go next, play-kissing each other on the lips to show they'd be each other's crush. Daphne explains that Fred's always been there for her, helping her discover herself, come to terms with her mother's divorce and remarriage, and become a better person. Sara glares at Daphne for kissing him, but backs off from starting a break-up fight when Daphne asks her point-blank if she's jealous and she denies it.
Aggie names Republican columnist and blogger Meghan McCain, given her integrity and willingness to disagree with her father (Senator John McCain) on issues, and also because of "the boobs." Penny, noticing that Aggie, consciously or not, has just described someone much like her, blushes in appreciation and says she too would go for a woman who'd be unafraid to argue with someone she loves, someone who'd challenge her, who had a different background and values from her. As everyone, especially Sara, realizes whom Penny's talking about and pays rapt attention, Penny falters and says that someone will come to her later. Aggie, finally clueing in and realizing for the first time her own attraction to her, returns Penny's longing gaze.
Then Lisa spoils the moment by making the Meghan/Penny connection explicit and urging Aggie to kiss her. Sara, followed in rapid succession by Katy-Ann and Brandi, helps the titular characters save face by claiming also to be in love with Aggie, and the game dissolves into levity.
After the party, Aggie stays behind to help Penny clean up, and they discuss Bob's ban from future get-togethers. Responding to a mocking suggestion from her friend, Aggie asks for his phone number so she can try and reach out to the otherwise apparently friendless Bob. As they step outside to put out the soda cans, their discussion turns back to the Switch game, which Penny justifies by saying it's fun to pretend sometimes, and Aggie draws the analogy to their acting in Macbeth
. Nervous, Penny asks Aggie if she'd like to keep on playing (see page quote).
When Aggie assumes (or pretends to) that Penny's talking about playing at her being Meghan, Penny, to Aggie's initial surprise, kisses her. As Aggie kisses back and they say goodnight, with Penny's suggestion to her "pretend girlfriend" that they do this again, there is juxtaposed a lecture by Nick on the physics of soap bubbles, serving as an analogy for the state of things between the two girls right now (see below).
- All the Good Men Are Gay: Michelle to Fred: "It is a crime that you aren't straight."
- Ascended Meme: Yolanda first appeared, briefly and sans dialogue (other than "Woooooo"), in Vertigo and Awakening. Though unnamed at the time, fans loved her for her sheer inebriated joy and named her "Drunk Girl." When she reappears in this chapter, in a more substantial speaking role, she refers proudly to herself by that nickname.
- Book Ends: In the first comic, Nick lectures on the paradoxes inherent in the Möbius strip which, he says, is simultaneously one, two and three-dimensional and, depending on one's perspective, either has neither beginning nor ending, or ends where it starts. The final comic in the chapter shows Nick lecturing on the physics of soap bubbles, in particular the fact that two bubbles remain separate and sealed even when joined together. Both lectures are metaphors for Penny's and Aggie's complex, ever-changing relationship.
- Call Back
- The art installment's title, Second Looks, alludes to the arc by that name.
- Brandi recalls her advice to Michelle, for getting involved with Stan, in Behind Closed Doors ("Above all...do not fall in love"), and regrets that she herself didn't follow it.
- When Penny and Aggie kiss, Aggie accidentally spills soda, from the can she's holding, on Penny. This is an allusion to Aggie's soda-spraying prank on her in Dinner for Six, when they were still enemies, and thus a humourous comment on how much their relationship has changed since then.
- Celeb Crush: Several characters play with this trope during the Switch game:
- Lisa, whose ever-changing celebrity crushes outside the game are a Running Gag, currently has one on Humphrey Bogart: "His eyes look like they've seen the whole world." As with her earlier Robert Downey, Jr. crush, her answer reveals Hidden Depths to her character.
- Michelle inverts the trope with her naming of Britney Spears, for reasons mentioned above.
- Aggie's choice of Meghan McCain is, like Lisa's, more serious (regardless of the extent to which she's thought about this prior to the game), and inadvertently encourages Penny to come clean about her feelings for Aggie.
- Duane's choice of Oscar Wilde, as the game breaks up, is more facetious (playing off Jack's jokingly choosing Duane) but does reflect his love for literature.
- Coming-Out Story: Penny finally acts on her long-suppressed attraction to Aggie, both in front of friends and, more directly, in private. Aggie, for her part, though having been aware for some time she likes girls in general, recognizes for the first time her attraction to Penny.
- Deadpan Snarker: Rob Levac, in dealing with Bob. Rather than losing his temper, as many a parent might do in such a circumstance, he confines himself to wry insults.
- The Ditz: Michelle, despite her emotional maturation over the course of the school year, remains comically slow in other respects, mispronouncing "critiques" as "critiquahs," assuming that when Penny says "I do watch trends, but I also watch friends" she means the tv show, and failing to realize that Lisa's joking about having a crush on her.
- Double Entendre
- Stan attempts one to defuse the tension between him and Brandi. When, angry over his dropping the mirror, she demands to know if he's kept up exercising, he arches his eyebrows, grins and says, "You...know I don't go long without the cardio." She is not amused.
- Aggie, noting that she finds Meghan McCain attractive, says of their hypothetical relationship, "We'd have a fun time redefining the word 'bipartisan.'"
- Everyone Can See It: Sara's claim, back in Campaign Trail, that the Penny/Aggie attraction was obvious to everyone, comes true. Even Brandi, who was the last of Sara's friends to realize she was gay, can see it.
- Filler Strip: Several filler pieces (strips and otherwise) ran in between "Missing Person" and this arc, in order to give Waltrip a Christmas vacation:
- A Remix Comic by Campbell, based on an early strip with Charles the cat's only thought-balloon in the series.
- The third annual Penny and Aggie Crossword Puzzle.
- Lagacé's early conceptual sketches for the comic, featuring, among other things, Penny's little brother Matt who never made it into the comic after Campbell decided to focus on the teen leads rather than their families; a more jock-like Duane; and a blonde, sweeter-looking Charisma.
- "20Never," in which Campbell parodies his own annual tradition of sans-dialogue storyline previews. Features the unlikely romantic pairings of Penny with Archie and Aggie with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, as well as nods to fandom jokes and Crack Fic.
- A guest strip, written and drawn by R.C. Monroe of Out There, in which the imprisoned Charlotte chats online with Rich's assailant Gary.
- First Kiss: Not only Penny's and Aggie's first time kissing each other, but Aggie's first real kiss, period.
- Foreshadowing: Lisa's expression of sympathy for Stan, and look of distaste when Michelle makes a joke at his expense, presage her later secret Friends with Benefits relationship with him as revealed in "July," as well as her later, more adamant defence of him in "August."
- Flower Motifs/Love Bubbles: These appear in the background twice during the Switch game: first, when Fred and Daphne play-kiss to convey the idea they'd be each other's true love if they were straight, and subsequently when Penny and Aggie exchange a Longing Look.
- Good Parents: Rob and Lynda prevent a potential date rape at Penny's party and ensure that the intoxicated Yolanda gets home safely.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Yolanda, aka Drunk Girl.
- Heroic Self-Deprecation: After all this time, Jack still feels he's not good enough for Katy-Ann, and that in fact he's "draggin' her down."
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Jack, despite the events of Communion, persists in seeing Katy-Ann as being on a loftier moral level than he is, and worries that he's pulling her down.
- Insecure Love Interest: Jack.
- Limited Wardrobe: Lampshaded by Penny, with regard to Aggie.
- Longing Look: Penny and Aggie exchange one during the Switch game, and another that evening before they kiss.
- Love Revelation Epiphany: Aggie becomes attracted to Penny when Penny reveals her own interest in her during the Switch game. As becomes clear from subsequent, similar moments early in their relationship, the reason Aggie only now has romantic feelings for her is that Penny, in confessing her interest, is also showing Aggie her vulnerable side for the first time.
- Madness Mantra: When Michelle, still in recovery from her eating disorder, catches sight of Penny and herself in full-length mirrors, she thinks, "Thinner than her. You'll always be thinner than her, now. It's all right. It's all right."
- Palm-on-Cheek Pose: Penny does this jokingly, when the Second Looks setup is complete, as a prelude to announcing her post-exam party. "All done! But oh no! Now we have nothing to look forward to!"
- Panty Shot: Brandi's skirt is a little too short for manual labour.
- Parlor Games: Switch.
- Please Dump Me: Sara, unable to muster the nerve to tell Daphne it's over, searches instead for pretexts that might force a breakup fight. First, she half-hopes that Daphne will "make a scene" over Penny's pompous behaviour. Later, she glares at Daphne for platonically kissing Fred, but backs off when Daphne asks her point-blank whether she's jealous.
- Shipper on Deck: Although, during the Switch game, everyone picks up on Penny's and Aggie's mutual attraction, Sara is the one who gets the most visibly excited at the prospect of Penny finally confessing her feelings.
- Show, Don't Tell: The comic, over time, shows Penny having twinges of attraction for, and Erotic Dreams about, Aggie, and her attempts to deny and repress them, even after she and Aggie become friends. Then, for several months in-universe, or over a year in real-world time, the comic drops this plot thread apart from occasional, mostly subtle hints of a growing closeness and synchronicity between the two girls. Then, in the current chapter, Penny makes a series of increasingly bold moves to signal her interest. Missing from the comic is the intermediate stage in which Penny would've finally accepted and embraced her feelings for Aggie and made the decision to act on them. Outside the strip, Campbell has declined to fill in the blanks, other than stating that the girls' conversation in Suspicious Minds helped solidify Penny's decision.
- Wild Teen Party: Averted. Not with Rob and Lynda around!