Before Catastrophe Theory solidified into the emotional and philosophical mess it is today, it was a mess of a different sort: details, details, obscure references, intricately constructed jokes, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jokes, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it major plot points, and captions lampshading those things.
It goes without saying, then, that you’re not expected to catch everything on the first read. But who has time to read a hobby blog twice, especially in times like these? So I’m going back and ruining everything. ‘Show, don’t tell,’ sure, but telling is faster, to make an oddly politically relevant statement.
(I’m trying to keep the political stuff to a minimum not because it’s not important—I’m not quiet about this on my professional social media accounts—but because this story is a temporary respite for me so I can stay strong and keep moving forward. RBG was a MASSIVE badass, and I’ve also spoken to thousands of women over my lifetime who are capable of great things like she was. I know I could be doing so much more. But I know what’s holding me back, and it’s that every day of my life, for decades, I’ve been dealing with trauma that I can definitively say is a direct result of mistreatment due to my biological sex. Even now, I can barely stand up for myself. I can stand up for other women fine, though. But I’m scared of being doxxed, so I won’t say any more here.)
(Mm-hmm, yes, if someone wanted to erode my professional credibility, my Sims blog is the worst dirt they’re going to find.)
Anyway. Here are 20 details, ranging from trivial jokes to structural Easter eggs that required hella planning, that you may have missed or forgotten about. Or maybe you didn’t! Everyone’s different. Idk.
1. Pi/Pie O’Clock! Bitches! (‘Aileen’s Life is One Big MF-ing Never-ending Party’)
Starting with one I’m certain everyone caught. These captions didn’t rely on authorial cleverness so much as a ridiculous coincidence: what are the odds of snapping a pic exactly at 3:14 AM and an hour later watching two non-controlled characters raid the fridge for some freaking pie? Couldn’t have planned it if I tried. What a trip.
2. “Cinderella” (‘Seven Days at the Von Haunt Estate’)
Speaking of stunning coincidences having to do with time, Xiyuan and Bernard’s first kiss happens at midnight. That’s why Bernard’s calling him Cinderella.
Cinderella, besides, is a story I will always be bored to tears by—but Cinderella III? You gotta watch that shit. One, Cinderella goes back in time. Two, Prince Charming yeets himself out a window totally out of nowhere. Three, Prince Charming drops the most amazing line ever dropped by a Disney prince, explaining to his dad why he’s changing brides on his wedding day with “the talking mice told me to.” Four, every door in that movie was like 30 feet high. Did I mention that the king forbids Prince Charming to use the stairs, so he just smiles, says okay, and launches himself out of a fucking window? (The window is also 30 feet high, to match the doors. Everyone in that kingdom has amazing quads.) So Cinderella’s great, girl power, woo, whatever, but the takeaway is that Prince Charming is a lunatic.
What habit would that be? It’s called Not Watching Your Kid and Aileen’s a natural.
4. “Steaming some hams” (‘Charlie in Charge’)
Meanwhile, Summer Holiday is steaming some hams, and definitely not focusing on her workout.
I like to think someday this’ll catch on. C’mon, internet.
5. Chantel’s parents are bonkers (‘yada yada Partner Count Pt. II’; ‘Look What You’ve Done to Me, Xishu Liu’)
Cluster B personality disorders have a genetic component and an individual’s chance of developing them is higher if they have childhood trauma. Is this realistic for Chantel? Well:
Shu was stuck making the birthday cake after the caterer walked into a conversation about sperm count… while Chantel’s parents bring out a notebook and ask Aileen if she’s a carrier for any recessive genetic disorders…
(And A Week in Windenburg? In the same chapter? Notice anything similar in the chapter title list?) Oh, and also:
“At least we won’t have to worry about this with Jolene.” She and Colten snickered. Jolene was right there. Seriously, right there. Ten feet away.
“Can we not bring Jolene into this? This is literally the worst day of my life.”
“Huh?” Colten said, shooting his wife and then daughter a bemused look. “We never said anything about Jolene.”
And other similar bits from the same chapter. Anyone familiar with narcissistic family dynamics will instantly identify Jolene and Chantel as the scapegoat and golden child, respectively.
6. A.I.B./A.A.B. (‘yada yada Partner Count Pt. II’)
Age-Inappropriate Boudoir (A.I.B.), in case you forgot the callback joke
And after Shu ages up:
…before an unofficial party starts in the A.A.B.
7. No-no square (‘Guide Me, North Star’)
The intruder, the one with the negligible no-no square…
So you’re telling me the world has already forgotten about this banger?
8. “Eaten by ants or something” (‘Guide Me, North Star’)
So this should drive home the point that no one should beat themselves up about missing jokes in CT, ever, because some of them are capital-U Unfair. Because the author is using her hobby blog to joke about obscure bullshit rather than to tell a story that appeals to a broad audience. Remember this?
Jasper at last felt his thirst for knowledge outweigh his desire for material goods: the universe had sent his guru in the mountains, his Brahmachari.
I don’t know if this is google-able because I vomit onto the page and forget about it, but Brahmachari here refers to Sri Ramamohan Brahmachari. Many modern yoga disciplines, including Iyengar and Ashtanga, originated from sequences given to Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya to his students, and Krishnamacharya in turn claims he learned his postures and sequences from Brahmachari, a wise man (guys, siddhis, everyone freak out) who lives in the Himalayas. So basically the I-got-it-from-a-guru-in-the-mountains trope. But as the rumors go, no one can prove Brahmachari’s existence or even read the philosophical texts Krishnamacharya’s yoga is based off of, because there was only one copy of the book he studied and it was eaten by ants. Other rumors (not the one on that website) claim that Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya’s student who founded Ashtanga yoga, received the Yoga Korunta at some point and it’s his fault for letting the book get eaten by ants. Skeptics (I’m raising my hand but you can’t see me) believe this is hooey spread to make Ashtanga’s asana sequences seem older than they really are because yogis have a stuff-that-is-thousands-of-years-old fetish. When you tell this story you have to pronounce it “hih-MALL-yas” so other yogis think you’re cool.
Anyway. Compare that to the next sentence in ‘North Star’:
There would be rumors a century later that Jasi received his side-splitting neologisms from on high, Moses-style, but you can’t see the evidence because one of his acolytes let it get, I don’t know, eaten by ants or something.
9. “The fourth one” (‘Guide Me, North Star’)
Father Winter announced his presence. ‘Ho ho ho!’ Jo put down her camera to admonish the fourth one for swearing, only to find he’d escaped by self-defenestration.
This entire list could be filled with snippets from ‘Guide Me, North Star.’ But if I had to pick two, the haplodiploidy/arrhenotoky section is my favorite and this is my second favorite. It’s so reliant on construction and so easy to miss. Everyone has a good excuse for this one, since it’s one of the only jokes I’ve written that my spouse didn’t understand on the first read, if not the only joke. Here it is again with most of the words removed:
‘Ho ho ho!’ … the fourth one…
And then he auto-defenestrates. Which reminds me, Cinderella III. You gotta watch it. You gotta.
10. Island Living update ruined Shutel’s Love Day date (‘Love Day, Actually’)
Remember the Island Living update that didn’t mesh well with Dine Out?
A spectator had taken Shu’s unfinished plate and was eating it as they watched the conversation. Shu didn’t react.
11. Charlie’s disappearance was revealed in ‘No Place For a Heroine’
…Charlie (who’s missing)…
I have yet to find another work of fiction that reveals a main character’s disappearance in a parenthetical statement. But if you point me toward one, I will read it.
12. Kendra’s poetry topic (‘No Place for a Heroine’)
“So your question is—“
“—what would scare a ghost? And that’s when I figured it out.”
“Eating fruit from weird stalls next to trailer parks.”
“Losing control of your own body.”
She’s a Sim. She’s a Sim.
13. ‘Is This Loss?’ is, in fact, actually ‘Loss’
Here are the last four images together:
14. How mechanic-aware are the sims? (Several)
Even though they may not be aware that they’re in a game, CT sims live in the game world. Not ours. There’s some ambiguity around how many game concepts they can acknowledge and name. It starts with some caption-contained speculation in ‘I Call Shotgun! Pt. II’:
Mike also decided to dance. This is when you realize, oh god, is the wedding march music diegetic? Then you wonder how many of the sound effects can be heard by both the Sim and the player: obviously, they can hear the radio, but the volume of the radio varies with its distance from the player’s camera, while no such thing happens with sound effects. Are the sound effects happening in these guys’ heads?
Later on, in ‘The J.-E.s Replace Charlie With a Dog,’ a passage written from Claudia’s perspective acknowledges teleportation as their mode of transport between locations, and furthermore, that they’re used to having to wait to enter a new location while it renders:
Pay attention; your brother’s house isn’t going to render itself!
And then there’s the notifications. When the information presented by the notification is obvious—e.g. “Jorles discovered the fire!” when Jorles is three effing feet away from the fire—they pay it no mind.
But sometimes the notifications contain information that would have otherwise been inaccessible to the sim. In that case, they have to admit where they got the information from, since it couldn’t be obtained by direct observation. The earliest example is Claudia learning she’s been marked for death in ‘Al Mal Tiempo.’ How would she know what a death curse feels like? Did the hexers leave a Post-It explaining her predicament? Assuming it’s an unfamiliar and unexplained sensation, Claudia wouldn’t know she’d been marked for death unless something told her, hence:
… branding a notification into her fried brain.
Kendra has one in ‘The Reaper’s White Elephant Pt. II.’ She wasn’t present at Claudia’s death, so there’s no earthly reason for the knowledge to instantaneously ding into her head. Unless she learned it from an inexplicable but commonplace third party:
Kendra had been slicing limes when the notification popped into her head.
15. Shu’s office (‘Tarantella’)
In her conversation with Gen, Kendra claims that she “works next to Shu’s office.” This joke is easy to miss if you’re not familiar with the layout of the Narwhal Arms. Kendra’s bartending station is right beside…
16. “Shoot.” (too many to list)
17. The missing word in ‘Sunshine and Laughter’
‘Sunshine and Laughter’ is a monster chapter, clocking in at 11 parts and 30k words. But there’s one word that never appears.
People who have gone through traumatic experiences often omit the names of their attacker or abuser as a form of distancing language, as in “I don’t want to see that man again” rather than “I don’t want to see Dave again.” Mike is never referred to by name: he’s always “that man” or “him” or “the comedian” or, according to Bernard, “that underhanded ratbag.”
New or intermittent readers, or anyone else who forgot Mike’s name and was like “whaa who’s that” through the entire chapter may have picked up on this.
Knowing this, maybe you can guess the first word of ‘The Reaper’s White Elephant’ without looking.
18. Xiyuan is a chromesthete (Seven Days; The Reaper’s White Elephant, Pt. III)
Xiyuan’s got quite the ears: he’s eloquent in at least two languages and used to be a professional musician. So what’s he doing in the visual arts? For him, they’re linked. He sees color when he hears sound. He directly admits it in ‘Seven Days’:
“Maybe you’re familiar with my work? I did a series based on synesthetic interpretations of Rachmaninoff’s compositions two years ago.”
And the part of ‘The Reaper’s White Elephant Pt. III’ told from Xiyuan’s perspective refers to Mike’s words having color:
…and whose face now seemed to be shifting color along with his words…
(So in case someone out there is wondering why I chose ‘be shifting color’ instead of the parsimonious and more descriptive ‘darken,’ it was to stress the word ‘color’ in that phrase.)
19. Why Bernard lectures Mike in ‘The Reaper’s White Elephant, Pt. III’
Remember Bernard’s takedown? There are hidden clues that completely change the meaning of this interaction. Let’s go over them. Most are in ‘Sunshine and Laughter Pt. V,’ but that’s a mouthful, so I’m going to use the slangy abbreviation adopted by myself and people with insider knowledge, which is S&L5. Similarly, ‘The Reaper’s White Elephant Pt. III’ is RWE3. Et cetera.
In S&L5, Xiyuan is in full freak-out mode while Bernard is staying calm to manage the tragedy:
There’s an innate understanding between some couples that if one party is darting around like a trapped bee, the other has to ramp up the tranquility in case an adult is needed to handle the situation their S.O. is freaking out about. It’s like leashing a Chihuahua to a tree. Anyway—Bernard, ever the drier one, usually took on this role.
Things haven’t changed in RWE1, where Bernard’s best efforts aren’t enough to keep his husband’s uncontrollable sadness in check. Suddenly, we run into a situation where Yuan is oddly quiet and it looks like Bernard’s the one having an emotional outburst. What gives?
If you assume that dynamic carried through, Xiyuan being quiet and unresponsive in a time of distress is a massive red flag. Bernard, on the other hand, has complete control over his actions. His monologue was a deliberate choice.
S&L5 was all about strategizing. Let’s start with Bernard’s plan. We’re treated to some direct foreshadowing at the end of their conversation:
“There will reach a point where someone holds him accountable for his exploitative habits. I’d wager my eternal soul that I’ll be the one to do it.”
He’s also prepared to protect the conflict-averse with the skills he’s acquired from spending 100 years as a giant middle finger:
“Then what I want you to understand is that my strategy hinges on presenting myself as the more combative, and hence more dangerous target, in comparison to his passive victim.”
Xiyuan’s are subtler. His intentions stand out more than the foreshadowing: he’s still on Team Claudia, as he was in ‘Unlike Mike Pt. II’:
“Mixed? I’m backing Claudia one hundred percent. It’s more that speaking up against my first real friend is unpleasant, to say the least.”
If you believe him, it doesn’t make sense for him to be torn between sides, as he might appear to be on a first read. He also predicts the event, but in a way that requires you to have fully understood what happens in RWE3:
“That being said, if we handle this as a team, our intentions may be just divergent enough to keep each other in check.”
Before Bernard’s entrance, Mike has Xiyuan backed into a corner.
Xiyuan is also not only balling up his fist, but pulling his arm back. Granted, he’s left-handed and his left hand is toward the wall (dammit), so it’s hard to see.
When Bernard intimidates Mike, his step forward creates room for Xiyuan to escape, and he does.
Xiyuan is a meticulous Simlish speaker, so when he gets sloppy with adverbs, he’s about to crack. Both Bernard and Aileen establish this (really, they make fun of him for it) in S&L5:
“Besides, I use words to serve as a clear warning. Not like you. I should much like to hear you proclaim to be ‘really very disconcerted’ mere seconds before ripping out a man’s throat.”
And the statement that causes Bernard to drop his conversation and bolt over immediately is:
“I’m really quite unwilling to talk about it at the moment.”
Bernard’s words back up the emotional-state claim. Check his delivery. You can’t be flawlessly eloquent if you’re screaming at someone in a rage.
I imagine you’ve figured it out already. But it’s nice to see it in writing, so here’s what happened.
Xiyuan was about to attack Mike.
He’s already emotionally distressed by Claudia’s death, but he’s Mike’s best friend, so they’re forced to interact. Mike has him backed up into a corner. Xiyuan’s growing increasingly uncomfortable as all Mike does is talk about how upset he is, demonstrating no empathy for Claudia. When Mike feels he’s losing Xiyuan’s attention, he aggressively steps toward Yuan, boxing him in further. By now, Yuan is enraged, threatened, and cornered. He prepares to fight his way out. When addressed, he says something that would be innocuous coming from anyone else, when in truth it’s the last thing you’d hear before the straitjacket comes off.
The unusual phrasing catches Bernard’s attention. (Notice that it doesn’t catch Mike’s.) When he looks over, he sees his husband growling, stuck in a corner, lining up to throw a punch. He launches himself over. To de-escalate, he first assures Yuan that he’s there, then keeps Mike’s attention off of Yuan by, in his words, presenting himself as the more combative target. He’s already expecting to dress Mike down at some point, and already knows the role Mike had in Claudia’s death (why? Aileen told him in S&L9), so he has this verbal beatdown already prepared. By making a scene, he’s able to hold Mike’s attention, and also push him forward so Xiyuan can escape. Yuan isn’t paying attention: he’s looking at his own hands, realizing what he almost did. When he says “This isn’t what Claudia would have wanted,” he’s not referring to Bernard’s takedown, he’s admonishing himself for almost cold-clocking Mike at her funeral.
There you have it. Xiyuan is the aggressive and dangerous one during this interaction. Bernard’s intervention barely stops him from assaulting Mike. And if Xiyuan, of all people, is about to blow up at you, you done fucked up.
20. The last chapter of Book I foreshadows the last chapter of Book II
Nothing much happens in ‘Option 3.’ It’s just Aileen speculating to herself. But in the process, Aileen expresses concern for Claudia’s mental state, and in particular notes that
Claudia had a husband who was a Joke Star, besides, she could make it look like an accident and no one would be the wiser.
Foreshadowing not only Claudia’s death, but the ambiguity surrounding it.
Does this mean there’s something in RWE that gives away the ending to Book III?
(Is this list missing anything? For example, that time in ‘The J.-E.s Replace Charlie With a Dog’ where the adoption agent didn’t know what to do with his hands? Or the repeated references to Xiyuan’s tailcoat closet? Name it below and I’ll track it down and link it!)