Scott is, on this rare occasion, quite right. He may be the hero of our story, but Scott Pilgrim is kind of a dick.
When we first met him in volume one, he was dating Knives Chau. A cute, sweet, non-threatening high school girl who in no way reminded him of his last disastrous relationship.
Then he cheated on her, so he could be with Ramona Flowers. Who he didn’t tell about Knives, so he was cheating on Ramona, too. His first big act of personal heroism is when he finally breaks up with one of the women he was dating. It takes him until halfway through the second volume
He doesn’t pay his cool gay roommate any rent, he moves in with Ramona as an alternative to finding his own place, and his first big step towards adult responsibility is getting a job as a dishwasher. He’s generally focused on short-term self gratification, to the exclusion of his friends. He is not a very good bass player, and he’s kind of dim. His future prospects, beyond being the hero of the book, do not look good.
Scott Pilgrim would be an excellent dog. Happy, energetic, able to beat up killer robots. A nice pet, perhaps a casual friend… but would you want to be in an actual relationship with him?
So what does Ramona see in him? Why does the smart, sophisticated, capable, and cool beauty see in a guy like Scott?
He’s Knives Chau.
He’s simple, basically a pretty good guy, loves her unconditionally, and in no way reminds her of her last disastrous relationship. And while Volume 4 had Scott’s groundbreaking moments of responsibility and dedication, it showed the two huge problems with their relationship: The aforementioned “Nicest Guy I’ve Ever Dated” remark, and the intrusion into Ramona’s dreams that showed at least a part of her was happy with one of her Evil Exes.
If Scott were a real person, and he were my friend, and I was the sort to candidly tell a friend what’s wrong with his relationship with the girl of his dreams, I’d say “Scott, buddy. You can’t win. Maybe you love her, and maybe she loves you, but she’s not going to get over Gideon any time soon. You can try your best and so can she, but there’s going to be a huge motherfucking shadow hanging over you.”
Yes, I speak from some small amount of experience with this sort of thing. No, I’m not going to get into it right now.
Volume Five makes good on the threats hinted at in Volume Four. Ramona and Scott are living in co-habitated bliss, but without the bliss. Everything’s fine, but it’s not great, not the sort of heaven one might expect from the end of Volume Four. Cracks are beginning to appear.
For one thing, Ramona’s not even paying that much to Scott’s epic battles with her ex-boyfriends, in this case a set of Japanese twins who build robots. She’s annoyed by Wallace’s drunken mash texts, expresses disbelief at how Scott can get over an ex in under two years, and – and this is the big one – reveals she doesn’t really like Sex Bob-omb.
Which turns out to not be a huge problem, as Sex Bob-omb is gradually evolving from being a recording band to not being a band at all. Stephen Stills, miffed at his 31st breakup with Julie, drops a bombshell on Knives, who in turn drops it on Ramona.
All the while, Scott is pretty much oblivious. Perhaps it even goes beyond that: Scott Pilgrim is barely even the star of his own book. Things are happening around him, and he’s either oblivious or confused. He’s even oblivious to most of the life of Kim Pine, who is possibly his oldest and best friend, but who might be using him anyway.
Most of the important emotional stuff happens between other people: Kim and Ramona, Knives and Ramona. There’s actually quite a bit happening with Kim, even scenes between Kim and Scott, but Scott has no idea what’s going on. Which is probably for the best.
“Have you ever dated anyone who wasn’t evil?” Scott asks Ramona.
“Once, this guy Doug,” she answers (surprisingly, since she doesn’t answer questions about her past). “He was kind of a dick, though.”
Apparently Doug was a dick because he dumped Ramona. Scott is a dick, or at least a dork, but is unlikely to dump Ramona, so is, by default, the nicest guy she’s ever dated. It’s not a high standard.
Does Ramona love Scott? She’d like to. Perhaps she even does. But if you’re the sort of person who’s ever been dumped, you probably know about the difference between “Love” and “In Love.” If you’re particularly unlucky, you may even have had one of those relationships that’s just not meant to be – it’s not you, it’s not her, or him, it’s just the way it is.
And that’s what the fifth volume of Scott Pilgrim is all about. A relationship that’s not meant to be, despite what the previous volumes may have suggested. Bryan O’Malley has brought Scott and Ramona closer together, but he’s also been dropping wedges on the ground that they’re destined to stumble over.
Part of the metaphor of Scott Pilgrim, part of the appeal to many, is that you can conquer the demons in your past and skeletons in your closet by punching them. Evil Ex-Boyfriends can be terminally head-butted and dragged off by the Vegan Police, and that’s that. Ramona is a girl with troubles, but Scott can help her. He can win her, earn her love, and live happily ever after.
“I just have to defeat you and Gideon and then everything will be perfect!”
Such is Scott’s heartfelt proclamation to the Evil Twin Ex-Boyfriends. And we love Scott because he believes it. If you’re the optimistic sort, maybe you even believe it. But that just means that neither you nor Scott have been paying attention; Scott can’t read his own narrative, but what’s your excuse?
Scott Pilgrim is full of fun, cool people doing fun, silly things. But no one is actually happy, not for long. Envy Adams broke Scott’s heart. Scott doused his burning heartache in Knives Chau’s gentle brook, but only until Ramona came along. Knives used Young Neil, who is apparently half-decent and kind of looks like Scott, but got bored and gradually grew fixated on Stephen Stills. Stephen Stills broke up with his girlfriend Julie, which is okay since they weren’t very happy anyway. Young Neil is turning into an asshole, but one hopes he can grow out of it. Kim Pine had her brief flirtation with happiness, but it didn’t last long and happened almost entirely off-panel.
So we want Scott to be happy. We want Ramona to realize that Love is All You Need, accept Scott whole-heartedly, and live happily ever after. Because that’s what we’d like to happen in our own lives.
But then it doesn’t work out like we hope, and we end up confused, trying to catch runaway cats, and freaking out on any guy wearing glasses.
I mean, c’mon. He’s Scott Pilgrim. But he can’t win all the time.