This post is really an excuse to talk about the two prior strips. After all, I've been sorely remiss in not posting on #665, which at long last returned Roy to the land of the living. Not only did Roy originally die in #443, meaning the ostensible main character was dead for a third of the strip's entire existence, but as someone on the forum pointed out, Roy originally died over two years ago, when Da Blog only had a score of posts and I was only recently removed from the residence halls at school. That's only a little more than six months after my original User Friendly archive binge.
Not only that, but with Roy's resurrection and the deus ex machina that returned de-spliced-V to the OOTS, we have reached a state some people probably thought we'd never reach again: the entire OOTS is in one piece and unencumbered by any sort of weird temporary effects, whether negative (Belkar's Mark of Justice, Roy's death) or positive (spliced V). The last time we could say that about the OOTS was right before Haley started speaking in cryptograms, and the incident that caused that was back in #245, meaning a good 63.2% of the strip's existence to this point (nearly two thirds) has been spent with the OOTS dealing with some issue of some sort. It seems almost inevitable that another such issue will crop up soon (albeit in the next book and probably not until the next gate), and the chances are it'll be something fairly permanent (especially given all the death prophecies floating around out there), meaning this brief respite of a whole OOTS changed only in character development from the dungeon crawling group (well, and the presence of Celia) almost seems to be something of a plot hole.
Speaking of death prophecies, re-reading some of my original comments on Belkar's faux-character-development has given me something of a new perspective on strip #666, and an incident in there that tells me I wasn't far off in my reading of the situation: Haley's skepticism about Belkar's new "team spirit". Recall what I said in my original post:
However, I also said that Belkar didn't seem to interpret it this way: he seems to interpret it as meaning that he needs to follow the same moral framework as the rest of the OOTS, whereas I felt he only needed to know what it was. He could be a "team player" without sacrificing one ounce of his personality. Regardless, the effect is the same in more ways than one: sure enough, Haley and Roy know damn well what Belkar is doing (if not the details of it)... but the reason they're not doing anything about it isn't the same reason that Shojo provided. Sure, they appreciate having a "team player" Belkar, but if it were as simple as that they'd probably still keep Belkar on a short leash; they know that Belkar can't do much given the short amount of time he has left.Nudge die rolls, palm cards, "forget" penalties... but you have to sit down to play first. As long as the people at the table see a fellow player across from them, they'll tolerate you. A crooked player is a pain in the ass, but someone who refuses to play at all makes them start questioning their own lives - and people HATE to think. They'd rather lose to a cheater than dwell too long on why they're playing in the first place.The apparent implication of this speech is that it doesn't even matter if the other players know Belkar is cheating, so long as he plays at all. It's entirely possible that Belkar could continue to be the same stabby, backstabbing jerk he's always been, so long as he gives a rat's ass about what everyone else is doing, and doesn't display a willful ignorance of the rules.
As for Vaarsuvius... as it turns out, she learns two lessons in one in this strip (which practically begs for Belkar to call out its weepy sentimentality regardless of whether or not it deserves it). The one she's already learned is the lesson regarding blunt force; but while she's already learned about doing small things, Durkon now teaches her about accomplishing small things, regardless of whether they were done in anger (teleporting the fleet) or desperation (saving O-Chul). The first lesson involves a potential future change in strategy for V; the second means she might whine less when confronted by a sidequest or a seeming failure (or at least might decide to do something different when confronted with a situation as hopeless as this).
(Hmm. One: for some reason, the Heal removed the bags around V's eyes that have been present, except during the splice, for the entire book. Okay, I can chalk that up to the "rejuvenating effects of the splice", but I still wonder about long-term implications. Two: did V just use her tiara or head-ring or whatever it is to put her hair into a ponytail instead of supporting her old style without explanation? Huh? Well, it makes me more convinced than ever V's a she at least...)