Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together: Subspace as Metaphor
The fourth volume of the Scott Pilgrim series is the best of the bunch. It revitalizes the characters by giving them new goals and Scott makes his first big step toward character growth. While Scott becomes stronger as a character in this volume, Ramona’s cracks start to show, setting up the major conflict for the fifth volume. Both of these journeys are depicted in the normal narrative and in the metaphors presented in the novel as well. While the Power of Love sword is a rather obvious metaphor, even more is revealed in the subspace sequences.
First of all, I think it’s worth trying to pin down what exactly the subspace is in the context of the diegetic narrative. The story presents it as a relatively well known fact about the story’s setting, even though Ramona has to explain the concept to Scott in the first volume. While the ninjas and Gideon are the ones who appear to know the most about it, anyone can use the subspace. Scott is capable of utilizing it on his own twice in this volume and in the fifth volume, Kim casually refers to it. Not only is it useful for teleporting, it is also useful for looking in on, or becoming part of someone else’s dreams.
This dual purpose is what makes it a compelling narrative device. Looking at this volume specifically, subspace plays a very prominent role. It is visited five separate times in this volume: the first in Scott’s first dream sequence about a secret code, then when Scott uses it to escape Mr. Chau’s attack, again when Ramona and Scott try to flee from Roxy’s attack, a second dream where Scott is asked about the secret code again and is assaulted by a dream Roxy, and lastly when Scott runs from Mr. Chau and accidentally runs in on a private scene from Ramona’s own head.
So looking at its utilization in the story, we can categorize its purpose into a few general categories: escape, subconscious projection, and prophecy. For the rest of this essay I’ll wax philosophical on how metaphorical semiotics are used in the visuals and the dialogue to communicate these concepts.
Now I’ve gone on and on about the structural metaphors of the series in my first essay. Structural metaphors structure one concept in terms of another such as, time is money or argumentation is war. In this case, Scott’s life is a game, both literally and metaphorically. In regards to subspace, I’ll be looking at the ontological metaphors first, before addressing the structural metaphor. Ontological metaphors associate emotions, activities and ideas with entities and substances. For an obvious example from this series, we see love manifest as a physical sword and a power up.
Both Scott and Ramona use the teleportation abilities of subspace to escape from their problems. The teleportation elements of subspace had previously been used as a matter of convenience by Ramona for her job and whenever she really needed it. It isn’t until volume 4 that we see Scott using it as a way to avoid physical conflicts, and it’s utility as an easy way out is established too. The star symbols on the subspace doors are also associated with Ramona. As we get to know the darker elements of Ramona’s personality in the next two volumes, we see that Ramona is a “runner” and flees from situations when she can’t handle them. So one ontological metaphor for subspace is that it is an escape hatch. Ramona demonstrates the pinnacle of this when she uses The Glow and subspace in conjunction to disappear in front of Scott’s eyes in the conclusion of the fifth volume. While this metaphor becomes more obvious in future volumes, its nature is first shown in this volume through Scott’s experiences.
Subconscious projection is another pretty clear utility of subspace upon examination. Since subspace is a fantasy element of the story and the rules aren’t explained in full, the audience isn’t really in the know about why this teleportation service is tied together though other people’s subconscious, but this general idea of physically travelling through people’s thoughts and dreams isn’t completely original. I’ve seen it used in The Sandman series and the general fantasy concept of astral projection borrows from it as well.
Ramona’s introduction into the story is in Scott’s dreams, which are a reoccurring element of the story. In this volume we get more of the same until Scott steps in on Ramona’s subconscious for the first time. Despite the fact that Ramona uses the subspace to barge in on Scott’s dreams without much remorse, she become extremely upset when he accidentally runs into her subconscious without asking. In addition to how unreasonable she had been about Lisa Miller, she shows some of her hypocrisy in both her burst of anger and because she allowed Roxy to stay at her house for the night (and it’s implied that they got more intimate than Scott had any intentions of getting with Lisa). We also get a look at how Ramona is still attached to Gideon through this sneak peek.
The visuals present in these dream sequences is revealing as well. In these visuals, we also get to see get foreshadowing and see into the future a little bit. The secret code that Scott is asked about is an obvious reference to the conclusion of volume 4, which is Scott saying “Love” out loud. This “code” is referred to outside of dreams as well in terms of the L-word and Scott’s inability to understand it, even though Wallace explains it to him in the very beginning. But beyond that, we see an image of Ramona in Scott’s second dream that hints at her dual nature, since it has both demon and angel wings.
The imagery in Ramona’s dream is showing as well, although I do think it is worth pointing out that the imagery that is used is more about eliciting a certain reaction from the audience and from Scott. Namely, Ramona appears in a T-shirt and lingerie, a look that we’ve never seen her take on before. While Ramona’s always put a great deal of care into her appearance, we haven’t seen anything like this from her. I would assume that this particularly sexy manner of dressing up for another man, the Gideon in her dream, is meant to elicit jealousy from Scott, which is actually a nice mirror to the jealousy that caused Ramona to have her big fight with Scott in this volume.
After examining the ontological metaphorical themes associated the subspace narrative device, I can come to this conclusion about what the structural metaphor of it is. It is the main tool that allows both Scott and the audience to understand Ramona as a person and character, and it also demonstrates just how similar they are due to the how the metaphorical traits of the subspace are shared by both of them. To put it succinctly,subspace is Scott and Ramona’s romance.
To back up this assertion, look at how pivotal it is to their relationship, as well as how Gideon manipulates it. While subspace is something everyone is aware of and can probably use, its primary users are Ramona, Gideon and Scott in this story, so that’s what I’m looking at. Scott and Ramona first meet in subspace, and the mystery is what makes Scott obsessed with her. Their big breakup is facilitated by subspace, and lo and behold it’s where they reunite (in the same place they met, no less). The series ends with them jumping into subspace. Gideon manipulates the relationship between Scott and Ramona, and big surprise; he is also a manipulator of subspace. He’s even capable of altering Scott’s memories and can even block them out completely with The Glow. Gideon’s powers over subspace represent his ability to damage the romance between Ramona and Scott.
So while subspace may have some other utilities, and indeed, in the earlier volumes its purpose wasn’t obvious, it is primarily a narrative tool to explore the lead romance. The semiotic indicators first start to appear in this excellent fourth volume. So with that done, one challenge I have for the audience at large is to try and notice these kinds of structural metaphors in art and everyday language. For people looking to learn more about this subject, I would suggest Metaphors We Live By, written by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.
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