Rule number one of time travel: however much you are tempted, do not go back and save the adorable tragic dead dad. They tried it in Steins;Gate and it almost destroyed anime.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet though. It’s barely hours after Kate’s death (sorry Kate… we tried…) and the student body have made a full 180 turn from ridiculing and harassing her to leaving candle-filled memorials. Max notes how hypocritical this is on her way to sneak out and meet Chloe, who has nicked the keys to the school and wants to do some good old fashioned stealth investigation.
Which turns out to involve breaking into the principal’s office with a pipe bomb, which Warren tells Max how to make upon request, and is the only time he’s really relevant this entire episode. And I have to laugh, just for a moment, because he was set up as like… the pillar of social activity and support in Max’s nerdy existence, and practically had neon arrows saying “dogged dedicated good guy friend who deserves the girl” around him. Maybe it’s just that he has a similar haircut to Jaune from RWBY, but I kind of assumed the natural response to that archetype would be to boost him as a sympathetic wonderful hero character, but he’s effectively fallen off the face of the earth unless the plot requires him as a human shield or a science textbook. He’s a plot device secondary love interest.
And he is a love interest, apparently, though again I can’t see any opportunity to romance him when there’s so much going on with Chloe. Warren, you are a placeholder and I’m sorry. I’m so used to seeing this character type as a girl I’m actually baffled. Though having both of them as options means Max, a perfectly ordinary and wonderful protagonist, must be bisexual! Bi-curious teenaged girls saving the world with their cute nerd boy and colourful-haired girl combo must be a budding genre, and frankly it sounds like fun.
You know what else is fun? Sneaking into the swimming pool after you’ve gathered your intel. It’s Chloe’s idea, obviously, but as Max is coming more out of her shell and Chloe’s humbling a little, their relationship is reaching more even ground and it doesn’t feel as though Max is being dragged around. The two enjoy a peaceful moment in the blue water, talking about old times and new times and travelling time, and Max confides that Chloe’s the only one helping her keep her cool at this point. Chloe responds that Max is the only one who makes her want to stay in this town, and assures her that “I’ll never leave you”. It was sweet and emotional and, amazingly for a semi-romantic bonding scene between two girls in their underwear, not at all fan servicey.
Though that probably comes from the same logical centre that’s keeping Warren from the spotlight: this game is about girls and is kind of for girls, though of course everyone can enjoy it. It’s not stuffed to the brim with male gaze or macho heroism, it’s about Max, a perfectly believable, likeable, ordinary girl protagonist, who has relationships with other girls that are important to the plot and her emotional growth. It’s really sweet, and refreshing, especially as the characters grow beyond the archetypes they were set up in. Victoria’s still a two-dimensional scheming slutty meanie-poo, who we saw chatting up Jefferson about the photography contest (to his discomfort), but maybe she’ll come later.
Now it’s about Max and Chloe, as they finish their swim and flee security, and wake up in Chloe’s room in serene sunshine and indie music. Their dynamic has changed so much since Max’s first visit in episode one, and it’s reflected in everything: the atmosphere, the lighting, Chloe’s strange and beautiful lack of anger and restlessness. They banter, it’s fun, really actually fun amongst all the chaos and awfulness and drugs and dead people, which culminates in Chloe daring Max to kiss her.
I can’t even remember why, I was too excited. Of course we chose to kiss her. No one was more shocked—but happy—than Chloe. I hadn’t realised how much I wanted to see Chloe happy. She was initially a character I disliked, but that was because she didn’t want anyone to like her. That girl has barbed-wire fences around her, but Max can get through, and that makes Chloe happy. If only this could extend to her family relationships, which are as strained as always. Again, the amicable relationship between Chloe’s mother and Max contrasted with the antagonistic one between actual mother and daughter is so very real.
And that’s not to speak of the tension between her and David, who comes home spitting fire, turning a comfortable breakfast into a shouting match—Max backs Chloe up though, and Chloe’s mother is so shocked about the accusation of home CCTV among other things that she basically kicks him out. Chloe’s keen to leave the house in emotional ruins, so Max reluctantly leaves Mama Price—taking with her the childhood photo they’d been looking at—and follow Chloe to the next bit of their investigation.
Time to talk to Chloe’s drug dealer, Frank, who is hanging out at the diner eating beans and certainly won’t just give you guys a tour of his truck. Chloe’s convinced there’s vital evidence about Rachel in there, and after much back-and-forth and time reversal and gathering information to unlock speech options, Max gets the keys and they discover she was right. Rachel evidence is all over the damn place, because it transpires she and Frank were sleeping together. Chloe is so livid she forgets her fear that her best friend has possibly been kidnapped or killed as part of a repeated drugging conspiracy.
Again: so very much is going on. Nathan’s strung out by something seemingly bigger than he is, his family is apparently buying up land, secret cops are involved, Rachel and Chloe were in strife with a drug dealer but also Rachel was semi-dating him, birds are swarming and fish are dying, and yet at the centre of it all is Chloe and her rage. Max tries to calm her down, but receives only fire in return. You’ve got to stop blaming other people, says Max. Chloe balks at the idea, because if she doesn’t blame other people for screwing her over and screwing up her life, she has to blame herself, and she is not going to do that.
Chiefly, in a way that makes her blatantly unfair but very real, she blames her real dad for dying and leaving her alone. Max carries this in her heart as she goes home to her dorm and contemplates the photo Mama Price gave her, of a young Chloe and Max, taken by Chloe’s late father. It was the last day he was alive, then… the last time Chloe had been really, properly safe and happy…
Fwoosh. What was that? Voices coming from the photo? The world blurring around it? Shift your focus and… aha! Max finds herself in the photo. Or at least, so moved by it that she has time reversed five years into the past to the moment it was taken.
I was wondering if all this symbolism and focus on footage and photography was going to come to a head. During the highest intensity time rewinds the screen burns inwards like image dissolving off film, and the colours can invert too—not to mention that Jefferson called photographs “little pieces of time” in the very first scene. Time travel, female relationships, bisexuals and good foreshadowing? This game is really speaking my language. And for the first time it seems to show world-altering consequences for a decision Max has made… in that she goes back in time, to the day Chloe’s father died, and stops it from happening.
The universe rewrites itself, shown in photographs (of course) and Max comes to, fully aware, sitting on the school lawn with Victoria. She’s apparently part of the Vortex Club for Cool Kids, Warren has a girlfriend, and everyone’s colour schemes are inverted, leaving Max horrified in beige jeans. There are also whales beached on the bay, a sign that things are just as messed up in this new timeline as the other one. Mr. Price is alive and well, though, and greets Max at the door to his comparatively well-kept family home.
He calls out Chloe to meet her visitor, and the fact that she’s sporting her natural sandy blonde hair is the least shocking part of the change: she rolls up in a wheelchair. It looks like she’s a permanent installation in it. She is not incredibly expressive, though I can’t tell if that’s the animation or a sign of paralysis. Either way, Max has created a whole new world where things are far from perfect, for different reasons she could not control. By changing one thing, she’s altered everything, from events to relationships, even ones that have nothing to do with her. One flutter of a butterfly’s well-meaning wing can ripple and cause a hurricane.
The question now is, can she change it again? Can she face the fact that she has to effectively exchange Chloe’s health for her father’s life? Can she find a way to have both? Are we stuck in this new timeline, rendering the last three episodes (and all that relationship build-up) useless??
All is chaos.