By: Peggy Sue Wood | @peggyseditorial
Welcome to Storytelling Class, everyone. Now, who remembered to brush up on their Shakespeare? No one? Not to worry, Prof. Peggy (not official… yet) is going to explain it all anyway with a bunch of unnecessary questions she plans to answer for you. Ready?
Here’s a question: What is a double plot?
It’s a more common occurrence in storytelling than you may think and is sometimes mistaken for subplot though the two are not the same. Shakespeare used double plots in several of his works, though King Lear is the most common example. We generally call a double plot structure that which takes two stories with combined plotlines. The two stories could stand alone but are purposefully combined to depict complex situations mirroring each other, often to comment upon or reinterpret events that transpire in other dramatic situations. “Often this takes the form of relatively minor characters and plotlines doubling events and situations from the ‘main’ dramatic narrative” (Reinke 1, LINK). The main characters of the “second” plot are often supporting characters in the “main” story and vice-versa, meaning that the main characters in the “main” story may act as supporting characters in the “second” plot.
Subplots have entirely different focuses that ultimately guide the main plot, such as on a hero’s quest, the hero’s party must split into groups to find different items for a magical spell. Following the group that went away from the party in different chapters is an example of a subplot, as this is a subordinate “plots” that serve the progression of the main one. A good indicator of a double plot instead of a subplot is figuring out whether or not the two plots could stand alone.
Using King Lear as an example, our “main” plot features King Lear as the main character of his tragedy, and the “second” plot features Lord Gloucester in a tragedy mirroring King Lear’s story. In both plots, the main characters suffer from their past choices. A more modern example would be that of Netflix’s Russian Doll, in which we follow two distinctive main characters suffering from, and traversing, a similar path. We can define them as double plots because splitting the two stories in each work to create separate works with connected characters would still work. (Essentially, the two stories of each work can stand alone–we don’t need to know what is happening to Lord Gloucester to get what is going on in King Lear’s story. It helps to know that Lord Gloucester’s story, but it is not required to understand Lear’s story since what will be important to Lear’s plot will be revealed to Lear’s character later on.)
Another example of a double plot structure in a modern work would be that of Hazbin Hotel–let’s discuss.
We often define a plot by three things. First, the main character; second, the question that said character needs to answer; and, third, the problem(s) that led them to seek an answer to the asked question. In a double plot, you have to answer the first and third questions twice, which we can easily do with Hazbin Hotel.
Let’s start with Question 1. Who is/are the main character(s)? I’ve stated that it is Charlie and Angel Dust, but why? Two reasons. The first is how each character is introduced, and the second is that they are both asking the same question, though with different reasons behind it.
In the Prologue/Chapter 1 of the Hazbin Hotel comic, the first character we are introduced to is Angel Dust. He is our introduction into this fictional world, and his story follows the hero’s journey narrative making him one of the main characters and defining his story as at least one, if not the main, plot in our double plot structure. Charlie is one of the two main characters for the same reasons. She also appears in that first chapter near the end (just like King Lear, who comes in after Lord Gloucester’s introduction), and is beginning a hero’s journey of her own. Both their stories ask the same question but have different reasons for seeking the answer.
Beginning with Angel Dust, we see that his story starts in a comfort zone–that zone being a criminal lifestyle shown with him trying to make a deal with some demonic mafioso-looking dudes. We soon find out that he’s actually acting out despite appearing comfortable in this kind of situation because he what? Wants something, that’s right (I knew you were a smart cookie).
When the deal with the mafia-demons doesn’t go so well, we see him thrown into a familiar though much worse situation with his abuser and pimp, Valentino. This is our introduction to the main problems in Angel’s current life, the issues that are making him want something outside of his comfort zone. To get what he wants, Angel must enter an unfamiliar, perhaps dangerous, territory and adapt to it until he achieves the goal or fails trying, and the person that provides the opportunity for entering the unfamiliar world, the Hazbin Hotel, is Charlie.
With Charlie’s introduction at the end of chapter one, we begin seeing her hero’s journey unfold. At present (her meeting Angel Dust), she is seen in her comfort zone. She’s in a chauffeured limo with her bodyguard girlfriend, comfortably giving money to Angel Dust and acting as a somewhat naive and rather hopeful princess you might find in any fairytale story. She wants something but has yet to enter the unfamiliar situation (at least until episode 1, where Alistar steps in but that’s not important right now). This closes the comic, but perfectly sets up the double plot narrative moving forward, thus helping to identify our two main characters.
What fully defines them as the main characters, my second reason for claiming both Angel Dust and Charlie to be one, is that second question we have for defining plot (the question that the main character needs to answer).
Charlie says that the goal, or question she seeks to answer, is whether or not a sinner can be redeemed once they find themselves in Hell; however, I would argue that the real question is whether or not salvation (preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss) is possible for Hell’s population. Charlie’s “redemption” is instead a method to seek the answer to the question rather than the question itself.
I argue this because that seems to be the end-goal Charlie is seeking for the citizens of Hell–salvation from being slaughtered on an annual basis. It is also the goal of Angel Dust, who seeks to be saved from his current life through his own hands or by someone else (though he doesn’t seem to believe that someone else would help him without costing him something in return). For those of you wondering, Angel seems to be seeking an escape from many things, such as needing to trade sexual favors to his landlord because Valentino doesn’t pay him well, an escape from hunger, and potentially other physical dangers.
The two are both seeking answers to this question but going about it in somewhat different ways.
In a recent video by Diregentleman, Why Angel Dust Should Be The Protagonist In Hazbin Hotel (it’s brilliant, btw–a highly recommended watch if you have the time because most all his points are great), he argues that because Angel’s story is more compelling and interesting, he should be the main character and while I agree that Angel’s story is more compelling to myself as a viewer (just as I felt Lord Gloucester’s story was far better than King Lear’s parts), I still think Charlie’s story worth the focus it is given in tandem with Angel Dust’s.
WITH THAT CONCLUDED, I want to talk about my favorite character, Angel Dust! The lesson is over–let’s nerd out.
I have been thinking about this A LOT since Episode 1 came out, and when “Addict” dropped, I was pumped. In October of last year, I uploaded the first draft for the review into the Google file our team shares but had been writing said draft for a long while already, and watching Diregentleman’s video pushed me over the edge to scrap the planned post that should have gone up at 7 AM this morning and instead re-write and post this. Because as much as I loath spiders–I LOVE Angel Dust.
Gosh, where do I begin….
Angel has been beaten down to the point that his character is a tad bit all over the place. Is he the villain? Sort of? At least, he comes off as one since he’s not working very hard to fulfill his end of the bargain with Charlie and since he is a demon–but he also has qualities that are very much fitting the “redemption” Charlie is aiming for without any prompting. In fact, it’s what made him so likable to me before the music video release of “Addict”–which just made me love him more. What do I mean?
Well, in the first episode, we see him just coming back from prostituting himself–a job he appears to be forced to do by Valentino (one of the big-bads of Viziepop’s Hell):
Valentino: Did you get my money, Angie Baby?
Angle: I’m wittha John now [sic]. I don’t get why this needed to happen so soon after the extermination tho, Boss
Valentino: Just do it. No sass k sugar.
Angle: yes Val
He then buys drugs, which get stolen only to see a large piece of a building fall onto the would-be thief. Is he worried about the thief? No. Angel is only concerned with the drugs. Immediately after that, he joins a turf war with a friend of his, Cherri Bomb, and participates in wrecking what remains of the city from the previous night’s purging (when Angels descend upon Hell and kill off a bunch of Hell’s populous).
Cherri is his friend, and it is at this moment, we see his first redeeming quality in the animated pilot–a self-sacrificing protective nature for a friend. How? You may ask, well, Angel is shown saving Cherri. It happens when Angel sees a weapon pointed at them, something that Cherri doesn’t notice. He pushes her out of the way, unsure of what may happen, thereby allowing himself to be captured (or potentially injured) instead of her.
That’s self-sacrificing and is generally considered a “righteous” quality.
It’s not like she could be killed–they’re already dead and, from what we’ve learned, the already dead demons of Hell can only be killed by weapons the angels use or that which is made of the material angels use during the culling period that just ended the night before. The egg creature is not using one of these weapons at this moment, meaning that Cherri is not in danger of death, only injury.
Despite knowing that Cherri would ultimately be fine, Angel pushes her out of the way and takes the injury risk. (If he suspected that the weapon might kill her, then even more kudos to him here as that means he threw his life before his friend’s.) This moment shows that Angel does value life outside of himself, which doesn’t immediately come across when we meet him given the crushed thief moment we had prior.
This act of self-sacrificing, which is generally considered a virtue, shows that he has potential to change.
Expanding from this, we see him empathizing with Charlie and expressing a moment of guilt. The scene happens after Angel, Charlie, and Vaggy return to the hotel. Angel is presented with the opportunity to “change” (offer an apology to Charlie that he actually means), an opportunity he doesn’t take, but the fact that he’s considering it when he previously felt no guilt for his actions shows that he is capable of it.
Once Alistar comes into play, we see more of Angel’s potential to change. For example, Angel is shown holding Vaggy back from attacking Alistar, which could be read in two ways. Either he holds her back because he doesn’t want Alistar to leave (unlikely that Alistar would leave over Vaggy’s attack), or Angel is preventing Vaggy from running at Alistar and potentially getting hurt, a very strong possibility that we learn through Vaggy’s comment about how powerful the Radio Demon is and how he’s grappled bigger demons on a larger scale to take over parts of the underworld.
If we’re to believe the story elements pictured in the music video of “Addict,” then Angel is in a horrible spot. He’s being abused and treated like a working slave to Valentino with little hope of escape on his own and few options to reach out to for help (if one can even ask for help openly in Hell given the place and the people).
While Charlie is nice, shown by her giving Angel money and helping him avoid having to sell himself on the street that night for Valentino in the Prologue/Chapter 1 of the comic, she too has expectations for him or does it with an ulterior motive in mind. He’s a big name in Hell, and she wants him for her program. While it may not be intentional, Charlie asking him to try the program in exchange for money sends the same message Angel points out during the offer: Nothing is free–even kindness, particularly from the Princess of Hell. No matter how cute and lovable she appears…
Charlie’s story is less compelling, and it’s not simply because she comes from a place of privilege, as I’ve heard some say. I mean, I love lots of stories with the rich and powerful, and if the many seasons of Dynasty can stand as an example–so do a lot of over people. Charlie’s story is less compelling because we can’t relate to her choices given the situation we see her in or the problems she’s facing. For example, she has great political power that goes completely unused. She’s a princess of hell, obviously not struggling too much since she’s chauffeured around and seen atop a tall–safe–tower overlooking the purged city below in Episode 1. She isn’t in a bad situation, from what we can tell, not the same way Angel Dust is, at least. Her problems are more like a passion project from what we’ve seen so far, and we don’t know why she is motivated to make this redemption program work outside of wanting to help her people. But if she wants to help people, why the hotel?
She has power as a princess that she could use to help correct injustices in her kingdom, such as attempting to put an end to the turf-wards since it seems that the demons fighting for territory still follow and respect the royals and nobility to some degree. But, instead, she’s created a program to change people into what she thinks is Heaven’s ideal–a thing that may stop the culling by allowing demons to transition out into what? Angels? Spirits? Who knows. Regardless, it’s a small-scale venture that doesn’t attempt to use the influence she’s been given to make sincere changes in the kingdom. Instead, she uses it to get publicity on a news station, and even that is a weak attempt. I mean, if she was doing this right, that new-caster shouldn’t have been able to make a single nasty comment towards her during the whole process. I mean, I doubt the newscast would have said a thing had her parents been up there, which shows that she’s walked all over and that she’s let it happen.
My point is that Charlie’s story doesn’t yet make sense. It’s harder for us, the audience, to put ourselves in her shoes than it is with Angel Dust, and that’s why I love him more than other characters, and certainly more than his double plot counterpart, Charlie.
I look forward to seeing more of this series going forward and hope that Episode 2 comes out soon!