In the third episode of Dontnod Entertainment’s teen time drama Life is Strange [official site], everything changes. Now that the episode has been out in the wild for several days, Pip, Adam and Alice gathered to discuss the temporal wobbles and rocky relationships.
If you haven’t already played, avert your eyes - there are spoilers right up to the final moments.
Pip: WOAH. That was my main reaction. And then there was a bit more in the way of dissecting it and then also a concern. How on earth shall we even start with Episode 3?
Adam: Is starting at the end too obvious? Does the end overshadow the rest of it? I did a WOAH too but then I felt a bit disappointed because the WOAH wasn’t quite as satisfying as the little cry at the end of the other episodes. I’m not necessarily a WOAH person. I like it more after a couple of days’ thinking and whatnot though.
Who wants to explain exactly what happens? Or what it means? Or shall I do it?
Alice: WOAH there, Nelly. Episode 3 sees Max larking about with Chloe, and I guess also gaining the power to travel way, way back to before she even had the power by focusing on photographs. The chaos theory everyone's been muttering about for three episodes comes stomping through everything when Max's stops Chloe's dad from taking the car journey that killed him, rewriting history so he's alive in the present and gasp oh gosh Chloe is not remotely a sullen punk but in a wheelchair.
Pip: That latter is the only part that's making me a bit uneasy – like, it had better being going somewhere considered with this reveal rather than it being treated as a shock tactic, you know?
Adam: I seem to remember we felt like this about certain aspects of Episode Two. Not exactly the same but there’s a nagging concern that some of the dramatic events are there for shock and drama, but don’t have any impact beyond the WOAH factor. And as I did last time we talked about Life is Strange, I’m going to make it clear right away that I’m really enjoying it and think it’s pretty goddamn great because I’ll probably sound like a huge grump at times here.
It doesn’t help that chaos theory plus Big Bad Butterfly Fuck Up reminds me of that Ashton Kutcher film, which I really really intensely dislike. But I also disliked the parts in that film where Ashton was larking about - I love the larking about in Life Is Strange. I’d definitely be playing it if the time travel and shocks weren’t there. It does good character.
Pip: Yes it does. I'd also like to register my enjoyment of and affection for Life is Strange – particularly the characterisation. It's the only game I can remember playing where I recognise a significant part of myself in the characters. It's a mixture of Chloe and Max but it's something I've never had in a game before. Certainly not on that indie teen girl level.
Alice: Pip and I still haven't settled which of us is the Max in our friendship and who's the Chloe.
Pip: Although I did have an unfortunate moment while playing where I realised that the outfit of Rachel's which Max was borrowing was pretty much exactly what I was wearing at that moment. Red plaid shirt, black skinny jeans. How embarrassing.
Adam: I am definitely a Max. And typing “a Max” makes me imagine horrible Buzzfeed quizzes about which character we all are. Nobody should be a Warren. In fact, I don’t want to be any of the guys and I don’t think I’m like any of the guys. But I’m enough like Max that I was offended in a doofy sort of way when Pip trashed Max’s lovably dorky series of fuck-ups early on. That was before she actually fucked up the continuum of time - at this point, it’s not loveable anymore. Spilling Every Drink is fine. This is a disaster.
Alice: In Episode 5 you take one of those oh-so-rude peeks at Warren's computer, and his Fauxcebook page is full of rants about 'the friendzone'.
Pip: I keep trying to cold-shoulder him but it feels like that's one aspect of the game where Dontnod just won't let me. I've been ignoring his come-ons but then there was no option to not let him hold you at the end of Ep 2. At least he's gotten with that other girl when you've fucked the timeline good and proper.
Alice: I suppose that's butting about against a constraint of what's a pretty defined character. That's such a Max thing to do. Whoever Max is now, in her new life as part of the Vortex Club. Not a person or a life she'd recognise, I wouldn't think. Who's anyone anymore? Chloe seems happier and that's probably good and yet…
Pip: Should we go back a bit? That might also give us a chance to assess how we feel about Dontnod's ability to deal with the fallout from shock events too, given Episode 3 picks up as everyone is trying to deal with either the suicide or the attempted suicide of Max's classmate, Kate.
Adam: I think the tension in the storytelling is that Kate’s story is doing two separate jobs - it’s a thing in and of itself, but it’s also a method by which we’re exploring the limits of Max’s powers and ability to influence the world (with and without those powers). Obviously that’s how every beat of a story works to an extent but I do feel that Life Is Strange is doing two things very well but failing to convince me that they need to touch each other.
I could spend lots of time thinking about the implications that the extended powerset has - with the journey into a photograph at the end of the episode - and that’s interesting and fun, but I’m not sure if it adds to my understanding or appreciation of the actual mysteries or mundanities that I’m enjoying for the bulk of the time that I’m playing. I’m not saying that it has to for the game to succeed but I don’t feel that everything hangs together as well as I’d like it to.
Pip: I really liked that Max spends time thinking about what happened with Kate and whether she deserves the "hero" label (Kate lived in mine) and that other characters are affected – the principal drinking, for example. Something that's bothering me a little right now is that I don't remember seeing Kate in that montage at the end of Ep 3 now that everything's changed and so does that mean whatever you did on the rooftop is somehow meaningless at this point?
Adam: Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong but I have been assuming that there’ll be a pretty rapid reboot to the original (?) timeline in episode 4. I don’t see the big switch lasting for very long.
Alice: I suspect we'll stick around long enough to feel dreadful about wanting the old timeline and our old friend back.
Pip: I already do – I really miss blue-hair Chloe. She was my friend. But also so broken and with her dad killed so I feel selfish for wanting the old timeline back.
Alice: Max confides to NuChloe "I have a gift: a magic power that will murder your dad, get you kicked out of school, and saddle you with a paranoid step-dad."
Adam: I bet he is a better busdriver than he is a security guard.
There’s another whole thing going on as well - the apocalyptic stuff. Part of me expects to find out that Rachel was another incarnation of Max torn across timelines and that they’ve been meddling for so long, looping in and out, that everything is collapsing around them. And whales. And dead birds. Because. There’s a heck of a lot happening and I can’t decide whether I like that there’s still time for swimming pools and quiet or whether that’s just punctuation in a sci-fi story I’m going to end up confused and slightly irritated by. I guess it’s good that I’m happily trundling along toward whatever the end might be.
Alice: The Disaster is the third wheel to me. Almost everything we've done has been about friendship and small-town mystery. Every now and then Max mentions "Oh, I suppose a hurricane's coming Tuesday?" then we get back to hanging out in her room. I assume The Disaster will work out fine in the end, so whatever.
What happens to the people is far more interesting to me. The Disaster could not be in the game at all and I wouldn't miss whatever narrative purpose it serves - the mystery of Rachel Amber has so much more heart, and whatever's going on with this new timeline (and the power freakout in Episode 2) warns about meddling.
Adam: The Hurricane is adulthood and the end of innocence. Or Warren’s eventual hard-on (also the name of a very passable math-rock band). I’m looking forward to the next episode more than any of the others so far because the title alone makes it seem like it’ll move the Rachel mystery along. That is what I want.
Pip: Have any of you been digging into the fan theories?
Alice: Not in the slightest! I like to take things as they come but try not to obsess over the past or speculate about what's to come. That's how I live my life. And also why I'm perfectly happy to never finish Twin Peaks, a show I adore and have seen most of six times.
Adam: Twin Peaks goes rubbish for a good while. You may have made the right choice, even if it happened to be an accident! I read some fan theories this morning, mostly because I was trying to remember or discover names of songs that were used and stumbled onto reddit and then it was like being trapped in a bush of brambles, with peoples’ ideas prickling into me. It was bracing. And bonkers, on the whole.
Do either of you take issue with the basic idea of introducing this new aspect or manifestation of Max’s time-troubling so late in the day? I like that it opens up another can of works but it does feel like it has trampled over some of the established...I don’t want to say ‘rules’ because I’m not hung up on the NOT-SCIENCE of all of this...but it feels like a Big Deal that isn’t necessarily going to leave enough quiet space in the final episodes. Lots to tidy up now.
Alice: I like that Max is kept on her toes. Episode Three saw her really get to grips with her short-term rewinding, pulling clever tricks like making, detonating, then undoing an Anarchist's Cookbook bomb to get through a locked door. I felt pretty in charge of the power Groundhog Daying a hoodlum and dodging guards. Then everything gets complicated again.
The Rachel Amber mystery could be fairly simple to wrap up (heck, Twin Peaks could have satisfactorily dealt with its murder conclusion and supernatural baggage and tided away in one episode) but that dang Disaster might be messier... I bet time did it. Time made a hurricane and scared off the fish. That naughty time.
Pip: I agree with Alice in that Ep 3 is a lot smarter with its use of Max's powers. There was a puzzle in Ep 2 which was just an exercise in observation and rewinding over and over – there's none of that tedium this time around. I also feel like stepping up the effects of those powers was a good move because I do really feel the impact of Max being stranded in time right now – rootless, lost and most definitely confused.
The Disaster is taking a real back seat though. I keep being surprised when the characters bring it up at all. What tornado? Oh *that* tornado. Yes, I ought to try and do something about that I guess.
Alice: I hope it doesn't explain where Max's power comes from or anything like that, or even exactly what's going on with The Disaster. I hope it stays vague and mysterious. Just like the passage to adulthood, ay? The last thing I want is someone breaking out fauxsyics to lecture with wanky science fanfic. Mystery is a grand thing to leave in a mystery.
Pip: I feel like Life is strange is at its best when it's dealing with people things. Chloe's sense of betrayal over some of the things Rachel has not told her about, the sadness when you see Joyce's relationship with Chloe's dad contrasted with the relationship with her stepfather, the triumph-then-stomach lurches when trying to thwart William's fatal trip to the diner. I mean, God, when I hid those keys I felt so pleased and then for him to get out that fucking keyfinder beeper thing and head towards the door…
There were also a bunch of lovely quieter, more vulnerable moments in the pool with Chloe - I screenshotted that section so much. Then in the bathroom at her house when Max looks at the blue hair dye and says she hasn't had a blue hair phase yet – that gave me the giggles. As someone who did have a blue hair phase but hated the idea of bleaching it and tried to blue on top of natural red hair… I guess I sort of had a greyish greenish red phase? But it felt so… so much an echo of things I actually recognised.
Alice: So I AM the Chloe! I also identified strongly with the moments of being in water and smiling to a pal then looking away sad for a second. More water in the final two episodes, please. Maybe somewhere outdoors, given how much time is spent in forests.
Pip: We are not playing Life is Pond.
Alice: Fine. Then more quiet moments of other kinds. More swings. More benches. More beds.
Adam: Oh god, I just realised - you know who would end the whole thing with fauxsyics and wanky science fanfic? Warren. Warren would do that.
Alice: That's what Chloe is saving her Chekhov's gun for. Mid-sciencespeech, down he goes.
Pip: Should we make some predictions for the last couple of episodes? It feels like this would be the time to do that (although I tend to prefer to let games play themselves out). I feel like my main prediction is "If it turns out to have been a Time Ghost All Along I'm kicking off."
Adam: I reckon Rachel’s disappearance is time-linked. Whether that means she’s some kind of literal time angel or just someone who mysteriously discovered powers, meddled and then removed herself from the situation either deliberately or accidentally, I dunno, but I figure there’ll be a connection between all of these things and that might be the thread. What say you, Alice?
Alice: Max, Chloe, and Rachel move to Seattle and start a band.
Pip: BUT WHAT IF RACHEL IS MAX? Then what of the band?
Alice: It worked for Breyer P-Orridge.
Pip: You're such a Chloe.
Alice: Don't you have some plaid to wear?