Monday, September 12, 2016

Worm: The Tail

We're wrapping up the week of Worm posts here. I may return to some topics in the future as I reread my favorite passages, but it's been enough for this breakneck pace.

You know who we've barely talked about? Taylor. Skitter. Weaver. Khepri.

Taylor's power and its relationship with the story has been intriguing throughout. The many things insects can do leave her with a lot of flexibility and creativity, especially for someone who is smart and knowledgeable.

But they don't pack a punch. When we first see the fight with Leviathan, and when we imagine the super-monster fights that will happen in the future, we realize that Taylor's ability to directly influence a lot of important battles is going to be limited. She can't really get a punch of wasps together and punch Leviathan or Scion into submission. She's at her best when she stretches the limits of what her power can do this way (such as in the fight against Mannequin), but the limits are very clearly there.

Even more than that though, she can't really "level up". The vast majority of superhero bildungsroman stories involve a special child who has untapped power in addition to their normal power, and as the climax approaches will learn to do the equivalent of the Ultimate Fighting Technique or whatnot. For Taylor we can't really foresee that.

(The joke on this, where she presents decoys of her body made out of insects, that can be shot and pretends it is her "new form", is a pretty great subversion of these expectations.)

Which of course, gives the story a lot of room for her to focus on her social decisions. We spend a lot of the story watching her take over Brockton Bay, then manipulate the PRT as she tries to turn it into a superior fighting force, then as she is one of the leaders in organizing the world against existential threats like the Slaughterhouse 9000 and Scion.

Throughout all of this, the thing that most upsets her is disunity. She's furious at the way cities and heroes don't work together already for crying out loud. Instead they are always disagreeing (usually with her) and letting bigger threats slip through their fingers (remember the boat meeting about the Slaughterhouse 9?). She's the sort of fascist that is obsessed with cooperation. This isn't an entirely unique point of view (just talk to anyone who's upset that "politicians in Congress can't work together!"), but it's well done as a sort of "enlightened ideological blindspot" to give a character in her position.

Around the time she attacks a rebellious colony with a pet Endbringer, we should probably be questioning her focus, and methods. Yes, they weren't helping the fight against Scion, but spending your time lashing out at some defectors with horrific force, is generally what we associate with the bad guys. It definitely counts as bullying, but she's well beyond that.

Her real power was social mastery. Her obsession was making everyone work together.

I should not have been so surprised what the climax turned into.

It's done pretty well too. Taylor's power is useless against Scion, but she's so self-centered (or self-martyring) that she can't see herself not being a pivotal figure. So she undergoes a wild-good-chase of brain surgery to maybe get a second trigger and maybe contribute to the fight. (In this way she's a lot like Doctor Mother, digging through vials to the end.)

Wildbow pulls of a really tricky job in the scene where she wakes up from that surgery, He had to convey Taylor's bewilderment at what was going on, but also the dialogue of all the other players who were suddenly very scared at what had happened.

The world in that one instant is transformed into "everyone vs Taylor". We get the eerie image of Tattletale, Marquis, and Lung working together to best figure out how to contain her. In the midst of getting destroyed by Scion, they are worried about her, including the people she trusts and respects most in the world.

And then she realizes, her power instead of controlling insects, controls people. In a universe where mind control was usually portrayed as a fairly scary power, her absolute control is horrifying.

What's great is that she doesn't even think. She doesn't wrestle with whether fighting and enslaving the world is a moral idea. Because the entire story has led up to her focusing on cooperation as a necessary goal, which must be enforced with power. We can argue for pages about whether it was good or wrong to do, what's clear is that it was very Taylor to do.

Also part of the reason that we don't get much mental pondering of this question is because the tone is becoming very dreamlike, with these sections feeling alien and mysterious. This goes well with Taylor losing the ability to speak, and eventually, understand language. In fully becoming the Queen Administrator, she must lose her actual humanity and the way to communicate with people normally.

(The story is full of scenes where Taylor loses some sort of sensation - even her sight - as a battle heats up, she she compensates by focusing on her insects as a her contact with the world. This was all buildup to disconnect from humanity.)


  1. Every single Worm-related post by you was fantastic. Nice job.

  2. > Her real power was social mastery.
    I don't see it. Her real power was tactical brilliance, and she parlayed that into social power (as Grue called out). What was the secret sauce that let her run her territory well? It wasn't earning trust via charisma, or grooming an especially good set of subordinates, or anything. It was spying on everyone with her bugs.

    > self-centered (or self-martyring)
    It's empirically-validated heroic responsibility. Taylor assumes she can be a pivotal figure in any conflict, because she's almost always right when she assumes that. Leviathan is basically the least successful fight she has. She seems just as screwed against Behemoth and Echidna, and yet somehow has a big hand in landing epic blows both times.

    So she faces Scion, and obviously her power is worthless. She comes up with the replicating decoys, and it seems like she should give herself a pat on the back, she got more than zero value out of her power in that fight, better than most would do in her shoes. Taylor doesn't accept that. She's going to keep looking until she finds a way to win the fight. And whaddaya know?