On Vriska Serket, The Tyrant Less an Arm, Eye, and a Changed Heart
Of all the opinions I voice on this little slice of Homestuck cyberspace, I expect this one to be among the most controversial. I’m as shocked by this as you are unsurprised. Apparently you are wise to a recent newsflash that I missed upon its first release. It seems that people who manipulate and murder their friends for their own advantage and glory aren’t as universally disliked as one might originally suppose. Who would have ever dreamt it! Among this celebrated body of criminals, there is one I know, one that—I confess—I do not care for in the least (bubble burst?). Horns as crooked as the devil himself, lips as blue as the corpses she leaves behind, pointed teeth as sharp as the words and weapons she wields… Her name? Vriska Serket, of course.
How was that for an attention grabber? Offensive enough? Excellent!
A CORDIAL INTRODUCTION
Except it isn’t excellent. It’s terrible. Now that I have you here, let me make something plain: my beef is with Miss Serket, not her fans. Therefore, I apologize for that shamelessly attention-seeking, controversial grab (I MEAN, WHO AM I? HUSSIE?) and propose we carry on, good standing restored. Here’s a little bit more clarification for you.
I think Vriska is a “good character” in the sense that she’s well-written, has an engaging story, and can be deemed complex. I do not, as I said, like her and, accordingly, don’t have her on my favorites list. Everyone establishes their own elite fav list based on different criterion, and that’s fine. Dr. Nick, for instance, says in her lovely essay that Vriska is "one of my favorite characters because she’s absolutely fascinating. [But] she’s a horrible, horrible person, don’t get me wrong." I think it’s important to acknowledge these widespread, yet seemingly minute differences in favorite qualifications among the fandom so people don’t get their backs up unnecessarily. When I say that Vriska is awful, I’m speaking to her personal character, not her technical, from-a-writer’s-view character. On the other hand, when Dr. Nick says that Vriska is awesome, she’s referencing the latter rather than the former (or so I gathered from her essay). Yes, we disagree as to whether this makes Miss Serket worthy of “liking,” but look! We’re still friends and we’re perfectly capable of swapping essays to discuss the character at length without devolving into snarling, fangirl harpies engaged in a nasty, hissing brawl at this nice Homestuck themed tumblr party. Passion is applauded and discussion is encouraged (passionate discussion is the height of the echeladder here), but it’s to be understood that none of this is personal, so nothing should be read that way or penned with such intent.
Basically, behave yourselves. If you don’t think you can handle an essay with views contrary to yours, then I suggest you hit the back button. In fact, you might as well just close your browser and delete all internet applications from your computing machine, because you’re like a beauty queen at a monster truck rally. This just ain’t your scene, sugar. Now, witty retorts and clever quips like that ( though preferably ones of a higher caliber) are welcome in any submissions / responses, but keep it friendly. If I detect a taunting tone, then I’ll take you to town, amazing alliteration and all.
Oh my good bloody gosh, Overalls, we aren’t total dunderheads. Can you just get on with this? (I hope you don’t mind that I’ll be transcribing your thoughts here periodically throughout the post so other members of the audience can hear your part of this discourse — because of course it’s just me and you talking, Present Reader, no one else. I would tell them how flattered you are by my undivided attention, but I don’t want to make anyone jealous, so we’ll keep that to ourselves. Inside jokes and feelings! We are best friends!) Uh, I mean, right, yes. On with it we get!
ALL BAD DEEDS (NEARLY) WENT UNPUNISHED
Considering this is my first major point, I’m not going to spend much time or space here. But why, you ask? Mostly because any reasonably sane person with a moderately sized brain in their head and more than a black hole for a heart in their chest can acknowledge the undeniable truth discussed in this section. That truth, of course, being that Vriska did some pretty terrible, pretty screwed up, pretty shitty things to the people she somehow called friends.
Now, unless I’ve been doing this whole friendship gig wrong for the past two decades, it’s generally understood that manipulating your friends is frowned upon. This is especially true if you are blessed with grand psychic powers that permit you to control said friends through mind control. Real buds don’t make little Timmy go see The Grey instead of Hugo via brain voodoo. You would think it’d go without saying, but real buds don’t make you kill your girlfriend through the same methods for the sake of revenge either. Someone, however, doesn’t seem to have passed that memo along to Vriska.
In fact, these missing memos must be a pretty big problem, because there are some other major ones that she doesn’t seem to have gotten. For instance, if you have a friend who isn’t playing up to your standards in a particular game, the solution is not to exercise your mind powers and make him fling himself off a cliff. If you do do this horrific thing which paralyzes your friend and confines him to a wheelchair, you certainly should not taunt him about being weak or attempt to goad him into climbing some stairs that you built for him in lieu of a ramp, even if your dubious intention is to make him stronger. After doing all this truly God awful shit to this poor soul who is unfortunate enough to know you, much less be tangled up in your web of complete, utter psychosis, you absolutely should not turn on him when he finally confronts you about everything you’ve inflicted upon him during your fucked up relationship. And, supposing you do (which you undoubtedly will if you’ve come this far, because you’re clearly out of your blue-blooded brains), you definitely shouldn’t run him through with a lance, especially not while wearing a giddy grin.
Just where the hell is Vriska’s desk, anyway? Because those aren’t the only vitally important, yet obvious-to-any-decent-person memos she didn’t seem to receive. This one is huge: if you and your friends are fighting an incredibly strong enemy who could potentially completely annihilate all of you, you should not, under any circumstances, deliberately make him stronger, especially if that same opportunity could be used to make him weaker. It doesn’t matter how much you unnecessarily think you have to prove, or how badly you want to play glorious hero. Defying that memo is an atrocious, selfish, and idiotic thing to do. If, however, you do this atrocious, selfish, and idiotic thing, you definitely shouldn’t tell your friends that it’s some actually innocent girl’s fault and then permit them to torture and torment her across the time-space continuum throughout her childhood. That would be icing on the disgusting, despicable cake that is you.
Above all, once you’ve ignored all these memos, don’t you dare act surprised that no one wants to partake of the cake that is you.
You are the worst cake. The worst.
I WANNA BE THE VERY BEST
Like no one ever was. To trick them is my real test, to kill them is my cause. I will flarp across the land, searching far and wide, for each Trollian kid’s helping hand, so I can serve it up fried! PSYCHOSIS! It’s you and me, crazy’s my destiny! PSYCHOSIS! Ooh, kill all my best friends, bring this world to an end! PSYCHOSIS! Our blood so blue, our genes will pull us through! You save me, and I’ll feed you, PSYCHOOOSSIIIS! Gotta slay ‘em all, psychosis!
It’s a confirmed fact that Vriska listened to this song like Michael Phelps gearing up for Olympic gold as she brushed her teeth in the morning or rolled her sleeves back to paralyze permanently maim some innocent people. For whatever reason, the powers that be dumped it as her theme and picked up this noise instead. What gives, right? Clearly whoever penned the glorious number above is a creative genius who should be celebrated for her wondrous way with words, aliteration and rhyme especially. Dave Strider himself would adjust his sweet shades so as not to be blinded Terezi-style by the hells a ill light being put off by these sick beats. They are, simply put, dope.
Enough about that gifted lyricist, however, back to Vriska, who undoubtedly “wanna be the very best 8888).” Being the best and/or making others the best/stronger were often the professed reasons behind her terrible actions listed in the above section. It’s important to note that such ambition is not a bad, nor is determination. It’s when your ambition becomes so great that it fuels your determination to the point of overriding any moral constraints that the two otherwise beneficial traits turn into a detriment - for you and those around you.
There is no more fitting example of this in Homestuck than Vriska. She aspires to be like her lethal ancestor Mindfang, as well as live up to her role as guardian to her hungry spider lusus, and her determination to do so motivates her to kill thousands of children as arachniad food on flarping adventures and treasure hunts. She wishes to be “the best” at everything, and pushes these dangerous standards onto others like Tavros, aspiring to create heroes / non-boring friends worthy of her time well before she ever enters the Sburb gameplay. When these aspirations fail and her victims don’t live up to her demented expectations, she makes them pay. Once in the game, she seeks to satisfy her ambitious thirst making their enemy Jack strong so she might have greater glory in ultimately destroying him. When that plan (shockingly!!!) backfires and the Trolls find their hopes of eventual success pinned on the Beta kids, Vriska yet again aims to be the best and cultivate the hero in John… and all of this done primarily, if not entirely, for her own sake.
But Overalls, you begin with a heavy sigh (because I am such a giant pain in the freaking nook to deal with) Vriska’s culture fosters this ruthless drive in its young through the lusus trials, and she had one of the most demanding lusus of them all. To that, I say BLUH BLUH BLUH SO WHAT? Whoa, whoa, whoa—calm down over there, and take it easy on that keyboard, I can hear you revving up a scathing answer to my unbelievable insensitivity from here. At the risk of sounding like the politically incorrect trollaphobe you already think I am, cultural differences don’t really excuse the immorality of murder. (If you have high blood pressure, maybe you should stop reading?) Less than two hundred years ago, our culture used to think it was okay to enslave a whole race of people, and even kill them if we so pleased. Do you shrug that horrific arc in our nation’s history off because it was a different time and different culture with different values because of a different financial, political, and social climate? Of course not. That past culture is just as alien to us now as the Troll culture is, so I fail to see why murder should be condemned in one and excused in the other.
Okay, okay, you concede, won over on that particular point by my undeniable reason and dashing good looks; but things were a bit different in Vriska’s case, as stated before — she had to feed her lusus or she would’ve been lunch herself! Well, well, well, You. Here, I will give an inch, a reluctant and half-hearted inch, because I can buy into the “survival / self-defense” justification more than I can any other. Or, at least I could have, if Vriska had gone about her duties with a little less enthusiasm and a little more hesistance. She prided herself on her ruthlessness and ability to manipulate others to their tragic demises, happy to mirror the vicious escapades detailed in her ancestor’s journal. I could maybe understand these “coercion murders” for her lusus if Vriska didn’t perpetuate the system herself by doing exactly what you say her lusus was doing to her: giving her no choice.
Vriska prides herself on cheating, not playing fair, and tricking and manipulating others into doing what she wants, whether that’s through blatant mind control or slightly more subtle methods. In short, she traps people, corners them, and—if she offers a choice—she doesn’t really give them a choice. (“You know very well that I can make you go to that g8 whether you want to or not! … What will it 8e? Advance, or advance?”) She robs them of their free will. Even with cases like tricking John into god tier, it’s more a powerplay to exert her position as “the one responsible” than a move made for her own victim’s good.
But she was brought up being told she needed to be strong, that’s why she makes powerplays like that. Yeah, Vriska was raised in a culture that puts huge emphasis on strength and power. But what could be stronger than bucking that system? What better way to gain power than to cease to acknowledge the cultural norms that exert the very same over you when you have the chance? The Troll culture could have ceased to exist when their planet did. Though they were denied the ultimate reward for a successful session, the Troll kids were nonetheless given the gift of a blank slate in regards to their own personal society. Blood castes could have been done away with, the teams could have been dissolved, the murdering and thirst for revenge could have been banned — Feferi’s dream of revolutionizing the Troll people could have been realized. But there were those like Eridan, Gamzee, and Vriska—all highbloods—who were unwilling to forsake the old ways and, through their selfish stubbornness and horrible actions, perpetuated the awful system they arose from.
Vriska had the opportunity to change who she was the minute she entered the Medium, freed from her old world and all the chains that went with it. She chose to keep wearing them. Yes, after meeting John and being exposed to his good heart, she finally began to entertain the idea that perhaps she made the wrong choice, but, by then, it was….
TOO LITTLE, TOO L8E
My God, what a brilliantly executed transition, you’re thinking. This girl really knows what she’s doing. What an ace. What a doll. What a brainy babe. And to that, I say, guilty as charged, you stud! But look, we’ve got to keep this professional. There’s a truly troubled teen troll to talk about.
Wow, she can really work some alliteration—- NO SERIOUSLY, YOU, YOU’VE GOT TO STOP. I’M TRYING TO WORK. PIPE DOWN. Jegus. Thank you. This section is the most relevant (though not a direct response) to Dr. Nick’s wonderful essay on John and Vriska, so maybe You want to go check that out? I’ll still be here when you’re done.
Like I was saying, back to the barmy basketcase. After some exchanges with our cow-licked, buck-toothed, yet somehow not a hick hero, Vriska begins to doubt her own integrity, moral compass, and general worth as a person, as she should. Around John, who doesn’t? The kid’s just such a shiny hunk of 24 karat gold that makes even a newborn baby’s personal character look like a cheap, plastic ring with chipping yellow paint that twenty-five cent machines at the grocery store crank out. And, let’s be real, Vriska ain’t no newborn baby. To her credit, she starts to acknowledge that she’s done some downright shitty things (see part one of this post for more) to the people she somehow still calls friends, and I acknowledge that that’s a pretty big step in the right direction. It is, however, just that: a step, one step.
This one step really only takes place in one legitimate conversation at that. Yes, it’s a long conversation, but it’s still just one talk. In this heart-to-heart with John, Vriska does express remorse over her past actions and even some hesitations over a “perfectly justifiable killing” she seems to think she needs to do, but that doesn’t translate to her instantly becoming a totally different character/person to me. Mere words, no matter how sincere or heartfelt they are, do not change years’ worth of actions, especially atrocious actions. But she did take action to try and change it, she tried to go after Jack because she thought fighting him would fix all the horrible things she did, you protest. And you know what, You? I would agree with you if it were that simple, but it’s not. Of course it’s not, this is Vriska we’re talking about, and Hussie did a great job of creating a complex, divisive character.
Seeing as how Vriska is responsible for Jack’s unstoppable nature, I think her going alone to try and defeat him despite having next to no chance, sacrificing herself in an effort to protect her friends, would be a pretty redemptive act. Vriska’s motivations weren’t so selfless, however. Terezi warned her (GC: W3 BOTH KNOW YOU C4N’T B34T J4CK || GC: 4LL TH4T W1LL H4PP3N 1S TH4T YOU W1LL L34D H1M H3R3 4ND H3 W1LL K1LL US 4LL || GC: H3 W1LL FOLLOW YOUR SUG4RY P1X13 TR41L W1TH H1S K33N C4N1N3 SNOUT”) that if she went, Jack would deny her a fight and follow her trail back to the meteor where he would undoubtedly slaughter all the rest of the Trolls. Yes, if Vriska had been allowed to continue, she might have vanquished Jack, but the odds were incredibly slim; she even admitted as much when talking to John. Still, Vriska wanted to go. Still, Vriska was willing to risk her friends’ safety for ultimate victory. Still, she was willing to take the choices and fair chances away from others under the banner of her knowing best. That is selfish, not selfless. This isn’t unchanged behavior. This is the same thing she’s been pulling for years, just coupled with a new, perhaps well-intentioned, but entirely insufficient thin veil of “fixing things.” Terezi, who could no longer ignore Vriska’s dangerous behavior (yet still felt bad about and recognized the significance of what had to be done) wasn’t going to stand for it this time. And she didn’t.
I do pity Vriska for beginning to realize her mistakes too late. I am sorry that she didn’t have more time to have a full change of heart and become a better person through her actions, but — we must be honest — she had it coming. Vriska reaped what she sowed, and it was a bitter, bloody harvest accordingly. Her death was justified, so it stuck. It stuck good.
John and Vriska as a couple did have potential to become my favorite, Vriska herself even. I agree that he was a good influence on her. I acknowledge that she expressed remorse the terrible things she did. I completely concur that her confidence in John that she wanted to be a better person/Troll (more human-like) was a big deal and a great sign. Yes, I’ll even go so far as to say he changed her somewhat. But do I think she became a totally different person — a fundamentally and radically altered person? A better person? Absolutely not. Perhaps if there had been more time and her actions had proven her words sincere, that would have eventually happened under John’s influence… but, you know, I have the potential to write a best-selling series that resides fondly in the hearts of millions and generates films, theme parks, and copious amounts of crappy tumblr content, but no one is going to pay me as such until I actually do it. Likewise, how can I be expected to pay Vriska any fondness or respect merely because she has the potential to earn it, but hasn’t yet done anything to actually secure it?
A MOST LIKELY MIGHTY DISPLEASING FAREWELL
At the end of the day, it’s her potential that I mourn for; I don’t grieve for the girl she died as. Like I said, she had it coming, and, frankly, I wasn’t broken up about it when she got it.
[If you have any general comments or questions for discussion, feel free to hit up my ask box. If you’d like to submit a longer response or an essay of your own, knock on the door of my submission box. If you’d like to rip me a new one in any rage this might have provoked, however, I’m afraid I don’t have an appropriate outlet for you. Shatter some glasses of milk or punch some robots, maybe?]