Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour: The Glow as Metaphor
Bryan Lee O’Malley finished the Scott Pilgrim series in 2010 with Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour. The final volume wraps up the character arcs for Scott and Ramona while also being unusually packed with action, making it a quick read. The plot contrivance that finally comes full circle is The Glow, a concept introduced off hand in the first volume and left undeveloped until volume four, where Scott also gets The Glow. The concept would see more development in volume 5 and it’s thematic relevance is hinted at, since it always shows up when Ramona is in her worst and most fearful moods. In the ending stretch, its metaphorical meaning as symbolism for negative deterministic thinking, or what the scholars out there would call “jerk-brain”, is fully revealed and explored. This essay will be looking at the three central characters who have The Glow and how it affects their character arcs.
The first character I’ll be looking at is Ramona Flowers, as The Glow concept affected her the most and is introduced through her. Knowing everything about the series, we know that Ramona was infected with The Glow while she was dating Gideon, its inventor. Gideon calls The Glow “emotional warfare” and he claims that it is capable of trapping the victim in their own head. It also clearly has a connection to subspace, as Ramona is able to use her Glow infection to travel through subspace without a door. Those who may remember my fourth essay should be familiar with my assertion that subspace is a metaphor for romance, specifically the one that Scott and Ramona share. Going forward with my original conjecture, we can see that Ramona’s romantic life and her jerk-brain are closely related, which suggests that she’s been her own worst enemy in romance thus far. Incidentally, the Glow first shows up directly after Scott and Ramona decide to go steady, which is a pretty good way of showing us that Ramona’s mindset will be a larger barrier to their relationship than the evil exes (in hindsight anyway).
Ramona allows her hard set conviction that she’s a bad person and can’t change to drive a wedge in her relationship with Scott in volume 5. Its even directly involved in her disappearing before his very eyes. Come the final volume, we learn that Ramona had the intention to return after getting her bearings, but this took longer than she anticipated. This plot point comes off as being for the sake of convenience, because she really wouldn’t have any reason to not get in touch with Scott if she really wanted to return, but her reappearance to Scott after his first death makes for a cooler entrance, so that’s how things went. In the fight with Gideon, Ramona is hit with The Glow once again and it seems to affect her even more now. She considers leaving again by using the Glow, muttering that maybe she can’t change. She is then stabbed by Gideon, and Scott has to enter her mind to chase Gideon and rescue her.
After essentially rescuing herself and achieving freedom from Gideon’s influence over her, Ramona is gifted with the Power of Love sword, and this is a notable advancement. Scott’s acquirement of the Power of Love was a big step up for his character, but it wasn’t the peak of his arc, which comes with the Power of Understanding. Ramona’s peak is, in fact, her shrugging off the Glow and truly accepting that another person can love her, something she wasn’t able to do before. Notice how, in volume four, Ramona tells Scott she loves him after his confession, but she isn’t awarded a sword at this moment. I would guess that she wasn’t truly able to accept Scott’s affections due to her poor self image and confidence. Now that she’s liberated from her deterministic mindset and believes in her ability to do better, she can admit to loving someone in a genuine way, and this development allows her to defeat the real Gideon alongside Scott, a team effort that I thought was an endearing ending to a love story and great subversion of male dom, female sub gender roles, presenting an egalitarian model instead.
Scott’s experience with the Glow is much different. It is unknown how he got infected, but the fact that his head serves as a subspace highway might have something to do with it. The negative effects of him being stuck in his own head effect the people around him for the worse more than they affect him. Scott is presented from the beginning as being both absent minded and self centered, and this personality aspect may be a result of his other half, the Nega Scott, or the Glow. I’m unsure if the Nega Scott and the Glow are related, but in many ways, his overcoming of the both of them serve a similar purpose. In both cases he learns to understand the people around him and gain some empathy for once. I at one point thought that the game structure of the diegesis was a result of Scott’s limited world view, but I had to do away with that interpretation once the gaming themed contrivances and metaphors continued after Scott conquered both Nega Scott and The Glow (see essay 1).
Concerning Nega Scott, Scott accepts the Nega Scott as part of himself in order to overcome it, rather than fighting it. This basically means that Scott accepts the negative things he’s done in the past and is forced to hold himself accountable for his dismissiveness towards his friends and lovers. After this is done, he remembers everything that he couldn’t before, showing that selective memory was probably more of his problem than the Nega Scott or Glow was, even though that did exacerbate the problem. Scott conquers the Glow once he sees part of himself in Gideon, and thus he has an experience that is similar to his overcoming of Nega Scott. He accepts that he has negative attributes and should deal with them like an adult. This revelation deals him The Power of Understanding and he uses it to defeat Gideon.
Gideon is a prime example of what not to do when you have both a selfish and deterministic mindset. Gideon based his Glow technology on his own poor disposition, and thus he is unaffected by the infection himself. As he says, “I’ve been stuck in my own head since the day I was born”. Instead of looking within and accepting that he should move on, he both stagnates himself, blames others, and tries to make himself feel better by comparing himself to other flawed individuals.
In terms of stagnation, he cyro-freezes his former lovers and never has time for the women who are interested in him, such as Envy. He blames others for his problems and for the problems he brings upon them, as he justifies his tormenting of Ramona and Scott by saying that they are just as bad as he is. After being defeated, he tries to say that he isn’t so bad because Ramona and Scott made mistakes and acted like assholes too. Scott and Ramona both conclude that Gideon is way worse and then beat him for good. This is because Scott and Ramona have examined their behavior and have resolved to do better, Gideon on the other hand only wants to blame anyone but himself.
How Ramona and Scott overcome the Glow serves as the coming of age story for the series. Sure, these characters are approaching their mid-twenties so perhaps this is more like a second coming of age, and the transfer into adulthood by examining one’s own actions and owning them differs from how many teenage coming of age stories have more to do with taking the plunge into a new setting or life stage. The series does end in a similar fashion to teenage coming of age stories, what with Scott and Ramona jumping into subspace and disappearing in order to set out into the unexplored territory of their now fully reciprocated romance. The symbolism towards the end does have more to do with the romance angle than maturation, so I’ll give it a pass for being cliche and also excuse it for being a very fitting end to a comic that makes great use of negative space.
So, that was my run down of the meaning of The Glow and few of the other metaphors present in the final volume of Scott Pilgrim. I’ll be doing a film shot to comic panel comparison video essay of the Scott Pilgrim movie last, which will take me a while to edit and write.