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Recap: Penny And Aggie The New Reality Part Two
"There is a way out of Hell. That way is trust, freely given. Kindness, and the willingness to accept kindness from others."
— Sara

(Note: This recap incorporates "Leted Scenes," a three-strip appendix Campbell posted, in between chapters two and three of "Missing Person," in order to fill in narrative gaps that many readers felt were present in Part Two of "The New Reality.")

At night in her room, Sara tells Daphne via Skype about having unexpectedly seen Rich on the set (without him noticing her), albeit less proud-looking than he used to be. She asks her not to tell Penny yet, because she's not sure he wants to be found. After going offline, Sara watches Lucy in the bed next to hers. Given that the girls have only two rooms between them, Sara felt she couldn't let her keep rooming with the nasty Hilary. Neither, however, does she feel comfortable telling Daphne, out of concern she'd be jealous. Despite reminding herself she's only doing this out of pity, Sara finds herself ogling Lucy's chest.

In her spare time, Sara looks for Rich at the caterer's and finds him out back, about to make a delivery. She catches his attention, but he rebuffs her without a word and drives off. During the next rehearsal, she's pondering how, or even whether, she should try to help him, given how unhappy he seems, when Hilary snaps at her for missing yet another cue, and adds that Lucy, of all people, is the only one getting her lines right that day. This causes Sara to wonder.

Later that day, heading back to her room after an interview in which Meighan subtly probes her for dirt on her costars (getting only a diplomatically-phrased comment about Hilary's manner), Sara begins to stress out over the constant need to watch her words, given that she never knows when she's being filmed. She finds Hilary waiting for her alone, with her glasses off and blouse partially unbuttoned. The director, with uncharacteristic gentleness, notes how good Sara is at coaching her costars, confides that she's worried about the play's success and asks her for advice on how better to deal with the others. Sara stops herself from ogling and begins to answer when Lucy interrupts from outside and Hilary, reverting to type, snaps at her. Sara throws her out, saying that "a bully who admits she's afraid is still a bully." On her way out, Hilary warns her to watch what she says about her in public, and she'll do the same, but if not, Hilary implies that she'll spread the "Internet rumors" (i.e., the rape slander) about her.

Following Hilary out the door, Sara (with Lucy still outside) overhears the normally Pollyannish J'Cru bragging on the phone about his efforts to drive his roommate Martin mad with bad hygiene, horrible cooking and terrible (but Christian) music. As even Lucy realizes that J'Cru's a plant, and worries aloud whether everyone but the two of them is, Sara tells her they mustn't let the others erode their self-esteem. Lucy asks what that is, prompting Sara to think no one could really be that stupid and wonder whether she too is a mole. She begins to crack, thinking she can't trust anyone. Early the next morning, having barely slept, she desperately waits for Daphne to come online, to no avail, and finds herself tempted with desire for Lucy, Hilary and now Meighan.

Later that day, Sara has a catering order delivered to a parking lot, as a pretext to talk to Rich, who's annoyed at the deception and wishes only to be left alone. Sara offers to help him by sending some recognition his way, if he'll only "save" her. She breaks down crying, leading Rich to relent and hug her. As they go for a bite, Sara ignores a text from Daphne, telling Rich she's no longer as eager to talk to her now that she's constantly horny and tempted. Rich gives her a pep talk about not taking the others' crap, pushing back, and owning the situation.

That night, Sara drops by Martin in his room, ostensibly saying his prayers. She tells him that, having overheard J'Cru loudly and blatantly boasting about tormenting him, right outside her room, she's concluded that this was so she'd never expect an attack from Martin himself. Martin, caught off guard, responds out of character with "You...don't know that," confirming her suspicion. Noting that Hilary is genuine, and vindictive to those she sees as a threat, she threatens to expose him as a mole. Then, smiling devilishly, she offers him a way out.

The No Exit performance finally arrives, broadcast live unlike the previous Hot Lights episodes. They reach the conclusion, in which Estelle (Lucy) tries to stop the mocking stare of Inez (Sara) by stabbing her, so that she can make love to Joseph (J'Cru), only for Inez to remind her they're all already dead. Meanwhile, Sara contemplates how Meighan and her two plants have all along tried to wear her, and the other participants, down, with various ploys and stunts, and how she realized the only way out was to pull her own stunt. As Martin (the valet, present only in the opening portion of the play), acting on Sara's instructions, opens the backstage exit, the players speak their lines in which the characters realize they're all trapped in Hell with each other forever, leading to the final line, spoken by Joseph: "Well, let's get on with it."

At this point, Rich, in costume as the devil, drives onstage on his motorcycle and, throwing horns, shouts a triumphant "Yeah, bitches!" at the audience, stunning everyone, including Penny, watching at home with her friends. As Sara rides offstage and out the door with him, she reflects on the play's message that "Hell is other people," which she interprets as people being trapped within themselves, alongside each other, no one able to relate to each other. However, she thinks, there is a way out (see page quote), and she's grateful to Rich for helping her remember.

As Meighan orders an assistant to find Rich, emphasizing the need to convince the media the stunt had been planned, Hilary, in a violent rage, goes looking for Sara. However, Lucy, now in street clothes and coming across as uncharacteristically poised and intelligent, stops her short. She coldly warns Hilary to thank Sara for ensuring her play will be remembered, claiming that her careless habit of leaving her credit cards and phone browser unattended when they were rooming together allowed Lucy and Sara allegedly to fabricate suspicious online purchases and e-mails that have made her "a person of interest to the NSA." As Hilary na´vely searches for the supposed evidence, which Lucy claims to have erased, and as Sara joins her, Lucy advises Hilary that she should always be nice to people in show business, as they will continue to be to her in public, because one never knows who'll be in a position to help or cause harm.

Sara and Lucy, arms around each other as they walk down the street, share a laugh over how well their deception went. Sara tells Lucy that, apart from the one night she doubted her, she's always known she could trust her, although she wasn't sure Lucy would get her out-of-character lines right just then. Lucy cheerfully admits to being slow, but nevertheless able to act well when she understands her lines and sees their authenticity. As she expresses hope that this will make up for her being a "burden" to others, Sara kisses her. Lucy responds in kind; however, Sara breaks it off, telling her she has a girlfriend. Lucy accepts this, but then Sara notices a hotel across the street and is tempted once again. Reading her mind, Lucy tells Sara not to do things that won't make her happy, and they head back to their quarters.

As Sara arrives at the Belleville airport, Meighan calls to congratulate her on beating all the challenges the show threw at her, and helping Rich to boot. (She mentions that the on-air stunt has landed him invitations to perform in motorcycle events.) Sara notes testily that Meighan would've won no matter what, to which the producer responds that she would've lost if the show had been boring. She further predicts that one day TV producers like her will lose to the trend towards online "grassroots" programming, and Sara can take comfort in that.

Welcoming Sara home are her parents, Penny, Aggie and Daphne, who immediately tries to smother her girlfriend with hugs and kisses, oblivious to her standoffish attitude barely concealed by her claim that her parents are right there. Penny gently admonishes her for not giving her advance notice that her "first love" would appear on national TV, but says that given what had gone on with Cyndi the previous week, she's not upset. Daphne demands to know how Sara kept herself from strangling Hilary and Lucy. Sara responds evasively that they'll talk about that later, and asks what went on with Cyndi.

Tropes

  • Alternate Self: A version of Fans! character Shanna Cochran's schizophrenic mother appears as a, well, schizophrenic homeless person.
  • All There in the Manual: Campbell revealed in the forum that Lucy is from a small town in Idaho and that her parents, while loving and supportive, believe her intellectual shortcomings are something she could overcome if she tried. She is also bisexual (which she mentions in the comic later, in "The Last Summer of Youth"); Sara was her first time actually kissing a girl.
  • Anachronic Order: While the strips within the arc itself are in chronological order, the last two strips take place a week after the conclusion of the following major arc, "Missing Person."
  • An Aesop
  • Being Watched: Among the factors contributing to Sara's breakdown is the awareness that cameras may be filming her at any time of day in her room or on the set, but also that she never knows exactly when or where.
  • The Bus Came Back: Rich.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Sara fears that Daphne may be this.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Discussed. Rich suggests that Sara deal with her perpetual horniness and temptation by masturbating in the shower. Sara points out that she's Being Watched.
  • A Day in the Limelight: For Sara.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Sara, constantly, due to her separation from Daphne and her inability, given the omnipresent cameras, to find relief through masturbation. Also exploited by Hilary when she tries to get Sara, whom she perceives as a threat to her authority, on her side.
  • The Ditz: Zig-zagged with Lucy. Throughout Part One, and until roughly halfway through Part Two, she comes across to Sara, and the reader through her, as genuinely dimwitted. However, when she starts to show a marked improvement in remembering her lines, Sara begins to wonder. She becomes further suspicious of Lucy upon hearing her ask what self-esteem means ("I used to think I knew, but Hilary says I have too much of it"), and having just discovered that J'Cru is a plant. Immediately after the play, Lucy appears, to Hilary and the reader at first, to have been engaging all along in Obfuscating Stupidity while in reality being a shrewd, tech-savvy manipulator. The next strip, however, reveals that too was just an act, as she utters a malapropism and admits that she's slow, getting "words" and "ideas" wrong. However, despite her genuinely low cognitive intelligence, Lucy shows in her final appearance of the arc, when she stops Sara from cheating on Daphne with her, that she has considerable emotional and moral intelligence.
  • Fashion Dissonance: Justified. In the last two strips, the normally fashionable-to-a-fault Penny wears a top with a big black "Y"-shaped stripe across the shoulders and down the middle, making her look, in some readers' eyes, like someone out of a Flash Gordon serial. Campbell assured readers that there was an in-story reason for this. As it later turns out, this is Foreshadowing for Penny's attempt to dress like Aggie (specifically, Aggie's signature top), in order to signal her interest.
  • Gambit Pileup: Meighan's, J'Cru's and Martin's; Hilary's; and finally Sara's and Lucy's.
  • Genre Savvy: Sara starts out as somewhat na´ve as to the workings of Reality TV, but eventually learns how to play the game.
  • Heroic BSOD
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Hollywood loses its idealized sheen for Sara in short order.
  • Malaproper: Lucy, who admits in the same strip to "get[ting] words wrong," praises Sara's plan to teach Hilary a lesson as "malificent," apparently meaning "magnificent." Although unintentional on Lucy's part, the malapropism also works as a Portmanteau of "malicious" and "magnificent."
  • Manipulative Editing: Subverted. Despite the build-up with Sara's friends in Part One coaching her on how to stymie this practice, Sara's ogling of Sara and Hilary being explictly shown as captured on camera, and her anxious realization at one point that she forgot to change her hair from the previous day...there's no indication at all that the show as broadcast portrayed her in an especially negative light. The subversion is arguably justified in that showing much of the series as viewers saw it would have detracted from Sara's role as the viewpoint character trying to figure out what's going on. Furthermore, if the program had been shown portraying her at any point in an embarassing or negative light, it would've undercut her final victory.
  • The Mole: J'Cru and Martin.
  • The Only One I Trust: Rich, for Sara. Subsequently, Lucy as well for her.
  • Prima Donna Director: Hilary, given her bullying, Jerkass personality, shows elements of this.
  • Reality Show
  • Rousing Speech: Rich gives Sara one:
    I think what's important is for a man to stop takin' the world's crap and start pushin' back. An' you're a little bit Penny, but you're a lot more man then most men I know. You can own this. So own this.
  • Show, Don't Tell: More than perhaps any other arc in a comic already known for its tendency to minimize exposition and show only snippets of conversations, this chapter, as originally presented, created considerable reader confusion. Among the questions that readers had were: How did Sara go from having a nervous breakdown in one strip to being confidently Genre Savvy, with her own gambit, in the next one? Did Sara and Lucy really frame, or try to frame, Hilary as a national security risk, or were they merely bluffing? What is No Exit about, and how does it relate to the themes of this arc? Campbell admitted that he'd rushed the second part of the story, out of concern that the comic would spend too much time away from the main cast. Rather than simply clarifying these major plot points in the forum and leaving it at that, he and Waltrip later added three strips of "Leted Scenes," with indications as to where they fell within the arc.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Sara is a non-violent example.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Sara's and Rich's, as well as Sara's and Lucy's.
Penny And Aggie Mister SmilesRecap/Penny and AggiePenny And Aggie Missing Person The Belleville Interviews

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