[Theory] Villains Are Destined to Die: I Think It’s a Coma (Spoilers)

By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting

I tend to dislike “it’s a coma” theories when I read them because the idea of everything being a dream or part of a coma is overused and clichéd. However, I can’t say that these types of theories don’t have merit. I mean, a cliché becomes one for a reason, right? And, for the first time (I think) in my reading of a work, I have a coma theory.

For some context, a coma theory is a common fan theory in which the main character of a story is theorized to be in a coma. The events of the story are imagined or dreamed up by the character while they are unconscious, suggesting that the character’s subconscious is creating an alternate reality to cope with the trauma of their injury or illness. The coma theory has been applied to a wide range of fictional works and is sometimes made canonical in the work itself. For example, Bones had an episode in which the main character Booth was in a medically induced coma for a short period, and he dreamed of an alternate life. There are movies too the most prevalent example being Disney’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) adaptation wherein Dorothy wakes up from a dream at the end and exclaims that everyone around her was also in her dream of an alternate world. However, despite being a trope in fan theory communities, these kinds of theories are often dismissed, usually because of canonical reasoning.

While a coma theory is often easily dismissed, I don’t think that will be the case for Villains Are Destined to Die. Rather, I believe that the creators of the series, SUOL and Gwon Gyeoeul, intend for this story to be about a coma victim rather than a girl who has simply transmigrated into an otome-game. Moreover, I don’t think that they plan to have her wake up at the end. Let’s get into it:

For those not yet familiar with this story or those needing a refresher, Villains Are Destined to Die follows the story of a college student who is excited to start school and pursue her interest in, assumably, archeology. This college girl has a tragic backstory. Following the death of her mother, she was taken in by her biological father who was also parenting her two older half-brothers. Her relatives were not friendly or welcoming, and she seemed to suffer from neglect and bullying at home–regularly finding herself starved for attention and food. She has found some success in school and living in an apartment away from home.

While she does not have much in terms of a disposable income, she does have a single vice for the mobile otome-game “Daughter of the Duke, Love Project” that is popular at her school. She has played the game multiple times at varying levels of difficulty as the heroine, but in the final and hardest mode, she’s set to play as the hated villainess Penelope Eckhart. In this version, she’ll be given a head start prior to the heroine, and since the game is set to the most difficult setting, one wrong move could lead to death. Upon pressing start, she is able to play in hard mode a few times before going to bed. However, after falling asleep, she wakes up not in her bedroom but in the body of Penelope Eckhart. To make matters worse, there’s no reset button in sight, with options that are limited and painfully difficult to comply with, “Penelope”–the main character–has an end goal of gaining the full affection of at least one of the male leads to clear the game in a single play through if she hopes to be released from her death flag filled fate, and all five romantic interests are going to be extremely hard to charm for various reasons given her role as the villainess. Moreover, she really only has a chance up until the game’s normal/easy-mode heroine makes an entrance since the heroine has a much easier time romancing the male leads.

For the purposes of my analysis here, I will be referring to our main character as “Penelope,” and I will referred to the game-original’s Penelope character as “game-Penelope.” This is because I have not yet seen the original name of the main character in the text, but also because Penelope says she is now the same person as the game character in Chapter 4 along with how much the two overlap as the story progresses.

Source: Villains Are Destined to Die, Chapter 44

Changing The Story & Overlapping Visions

While in this other world, Penelope regularly gets a window and otome-interface, and while the choices on the interface make a difference, the otome’s story progression is not optional for Penelope, so the story will progress through the game regardless of Penelope’s agreement or disagreement. What I have noticed though is that her words have a significant amount of influence over current events and the story than the choices she makes that are provided through the otome-interface. This is the first plot inclusion that makes me think Penelope is in a coma, and not just a character that has been transmigrated into the otome game.

For example, in Chapter 44, Penelope gives game-Penelope a tragic backstory that overlaps with her own past from the real-world. This includes the events of being taken in by her biological father, the tragedy of starving and the bullying at home, as well as the dashed hopes of living a happier life with her father and half-siblings in said home. We know that Penelope is drawing on the experiences of her past because she tells us so. We also know that this Penelope is unaware of whether these events are true to game-Penelope’s past.

After Penelope overlaps her personal story with game-Penelope’s situation, this becomes the new reality of the chacater’s past as shown in a later chapter when Duke Eckhart confirms in a later chapter the tragic beginnings that current-Penelope created in Chapter 44, which included not just her real-life experiences but also a bit of potential fiction–like being in the presence of her mother’s deceased body for a period of time and eating of rotten food from the trash to survive prior to being taken in by her father.

This overlapping of story and the impact of it warping the reality becomes some of the strongest evidence to further suggest that Penelope is in a coma or dreamworld rather than being a character that has transmigrated to a game. For example, there are multiple times in Season 1 or the series and thereafter wherein Penelope overlaps the images of her real-world family and the adoptive Eckhart family, starting as early as the first few chapters. This becomes a persistent theme as the series goes on, with a great coming out of Chapter 17 where Penelope tells her second brother how much she hates him and her second brother’s image overlaps with the vision of game-Penelope’s second brother. This overlapping vision of the two brothers happens again in Chapter 44 during another argument, and again in an even later chapter.

Source: Villains Are Destined to Die, Chapter 17

Beyond the overlap of visual imagery, I believe that there is a potential argument for the overlap of the sensory experiences too. This is certainly more speculative, but not without some merit. Many coma patients, particularly those who have undergone a medically induced coma for treatment have described sensory overlap between what was happening to their bodies and what was going on in their dreams.

For example, ice packs being laid upon the body to help lower a fever being perceived in a dream as having visited a cold place or overheard conversations being perceived as a personal interaction. Claire Lucia Wineland’s, an American activist who spoke on health issues and illnesses among other things, video on this subject provides a great example:

Title: Claire Wineland Talks About Being In a Coma | Source: https://youtu.be/DRQoayUBcBE

In the literary depiction of a dreamworld or coma story, rather than multiple dreams the patient tends to have one long and continued narrative. As such, Penelope’s story of transmigrating to a game-world and staying in the dream consistently as the story progresses makes sense.

Penelope seems to get injured around her neck and other places pretty consistently and I believe that these could be examples of further sensory overlap. For example, in Chapter 2, she wakes up from a pin prick by her maid, which could be her body experiencing the real-life introduction of an IV. There is also the cut to her neck in Season 1, and an additional neck injury near the end of Season 2 that I suspect could also be related to patient care as long-term coma patients often require additional supportive care like breathing assistance and the administration of medicines through multiple veins. Perhaps, going a step further, what she experiences as arguments or unexpected visits from her game-family are actually her experiencing her real family visiting her in the hospital. This would match well with the overlapping images we see in the arguments with her second brother, and also account for some of the responses she’s getting.

Perhaps as the affection levels of the leads go up, what she’s really seeing is a softer or more affectionate side to her neglectful family. Assumably, then, the other male leads and characters could have another real-world equivalent too. Perhaps doctors or nurses, which would explain why she has a much easier time raising the affection levels of those outside the family and those in the duchy.

In The Wizard of Oz movie adaptation, there was also a high level of overlap between the real-world family and friends of Dorothy and the characters from her dream, as revealed at the end of the movie. Dorothy also had a level of impact in the world and story progression, as she made the choice to help others and often decided what the group would do (and why they would do it). This also seems to be a trope of many other examples of coma-storylines when seeing the story from the dreaming character’s perspective.

How she got into a coma is anyone’s guess, but since there is an abundance of focus on food and the idea of starving, it is possible she was malnourished to the point of falling unconscious from lack of nutrition, or fell unconscious and hit her head, making her unable to wake up yet. It could also be that after falling unconscious and making it to a hospital, she’s been kept that way through medical means to help her body recover.

Source: Villains Are Destined to Die, Chapter 2, 8

A Chance To Change & Waking Up

The idea behind coma plotlines is typically that, in this dream, there is a chance for self-reflection and a change of perspective. If Penelope is in a coma state, then the trope would be that she needs or is reflecting on her biological family’s treatment of her and letting go of that pain. If my theory is correct regarding the affection levels, then she may unconsciously be repairing her relationships (literally) as the family comes to visit. However, Penelope is pretty clear that it doesn’t matter whether the relationships repair or not. Frankly, I don’t blame her since these characters are not really making a redeeming effort as time goes on outside of, maybe, Penelope’s personal maid.

All that matters is Penelope surviving and gaining the freedom she’s always longed for since coming into her father’s house. A freedom where she can explore her passion for archeology, enjoy a life away from her cruel family, and perhaps find the same kind of love the heroine from her favorite game experiences. This is why I think the creators don’t plan to have Penelope wake up at the end.

If Dorothy’s freedom was longing for home and the motto “There’s no place like home,” Penelope’s would be the complete opposite. With the choice to stay in a dream that ends happily as romances do, or the choice to return home–I think Penelope would choose the former because of how awful her family has been and how difficult the real-world is compared to the wonderful dream that’s getting better all the time.

That’s my theory. What do you all think?

As a side note: To be honest, I’m thinking about picking up the novel to find out. I know that adaptations to a different form often take on different story aspects or even different plots entirely, but I want to know if the same thing that has happened in the comic has occurred in the original novel text too. Out of all the transmigrated to a game-world as the villainess stories I’ve read, this one really does feel like it is trying to do the “it’s a coma” trope rather than an actual tale of transmigration and I kind of want to read about it to see if the feeling sticks. If, and this a big if, she is in a coma-story, do you think she’ll wake up? That is the most typical answer, but I’m leaning heavily towards a “no,” and I’d be interested to hear if others agree or disagree with me. Well, thanks for reading!

One thought on “[Theory] Villains Are Destined to Die: I Think It’s a Coma (Spoilers)

  1. Ooo, very interesting theory! I also got “this is all a dream” vibes from the series. I mean the whole story starts with her going to sleep, so it kind of feels like this might be a dream. As for if she’s in a coma? Hmm, she seemed happy at college and pretty healthy, I’m not sure why she would be in a coma. Maybe there’s some detail that the author hid from us readers? Do I think she will wake up at the end? I really hope she does. The main character seemed genuinely happy at university and was starting to get friends. It would be sad if she couldn’t return to that, even if she chooses to not forgive her family. Maybe this adventure would help her move beyond her anger towards them and let her break free from her past.

    Liked by 1 person

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