Homestuck Musings - Nepeta and Equius
After reading Homestuck, it's really kind of hard for me to understand why so many other tv shows and books and movies manage to fuck up so comprehensively when it comes to making good characters, especially good female or POC characters. It's gotta be laziness, right? Because Hussie has created a work with a cast that is practically unwieldy in it's magnitude. Many of the secondary characters are sketchy, but among the main cast of 8 humans and 12 trolls (with the looming potential for 14 more), there's a refreshing amount of variety and depth. I think even Hussie would argue that among the more minor trolls there actually isn't that much depth, but I think he's built the characters in such a way that a lot can be implied from the details we do have on them.
Two such characters are Equius Zahhak and Nepeta Leijon. They are minor players in the story, but I find them both pretty interesting for features that are both explicit and implicit.
Equius is a character who is creepy and awesome in turns. He's (fantasy-) racist, but also pretty loyal to his friends. He has some freaky sexual issues, but his romantic fantasies still manage to inspire a mix of pity, sympathy and mirth. He is a stickler for rules and etiquette and he detests profanity, but he's into the alien version of rap. Two points of interest that really endeared the character to me were his racism and his control issues.
The trolls have a pretty rigid caste system, and while most characters don't seem to care much about it, Equius does. Loudly and insistently. His actions and feelings don't always mesh with what he says though. His beloved moirail is of a lower caste, he is flush for someone from the lowest caste, he's willing to help the lowblood Tavros, and he respects casteless Karkat as a leader. He's not all that fond of the higher caste Eridan, and the other two highbloods, Gamzee and Feferi, baffle him. At one point Aradia rejects the possibility of going to Equius for help because of his prejudice, but Terezi asserts that he actually isn't that bad.
And he kinda isn't? I mean, I think the situation becomes clearer when you couple his offensively racist pronouncements with his love of rules and protocol and structure in general. He's constantly going on about proper behavior befitting one's place. Equius is someone who clings to the social order. There's this social expectation about how he as a blue blood should treat those who are a lower caste, but there's a disconnect between how he feels and how he thinks he should feel and act. And his story arc, outside of jokes about robots and horse porn (I'm not even going to touch the whole thing with Aradia) was of him trying, and failing, to resolve that difference, and the failure cost him his life.
His conformity led to his death, but you gotta understand why he's such a conformist. Bear in mind that this guy has serious anger issues. We almost never see that rage come into play, however, because he's actually pretty responsible. He's aware he's got problems with anger, and when he can't talk it out with his moirail he beats up robots instead of people. He deliberately displaces his rage, when he could probably get away with hurting or killing people of a lower caste. He's clearly not happy with his rage issues and finds his freakish strength to be a mixed blessing, and I can't help but wonder if his obsession with decorum ties into his own need for self-control. Like if he's relentless about sticking to these rules, if he can govern his behavior in general, he can also govern his temper.
And then there's Nepeta. And shamefully, I don't have as much to say about Nep as I do Equius, though again, I think there's a lot of potential there. Her story was kind of tragic, as it was mostly about her unrequited love. She stands in contrast to three other characters in situations where their affections where not reciprocated, and even though she's a joke character, she still comes out looking better than any of them. Vriska and Eridan got stalker-ific and downright violent when their love interests weren't didn't return the sentiment, and Kanaya was quietly resentful of both her crush and her crush's crush, although eventually she did move on. Nep never really got the chance to move on due to an unfortunate encounter with a clown, but she didn't resent either Karkat or Terezi. I think she realized that her crush was hopeless, which was why she was so (unsuccessfully) secretive about it.
There really is more to Nepeta than a schoolgirl crush, role-playing, and shipping and cat puns. And the shipping in question isn't so much shipping as it is an uncanny matchmaking ability, possibly something that would be prized in troll society. As with Equius, you've got to look at the implications of her character and the setting.
I think Nep is someone who is fiercely independent and self-reliant. She was essentially raised in an isolated and hostile area. Her clothes look manufactured, and her tablet had to come from somewhere, and she's got an internet connection, so it's not like she's completely cut off from society, but it's likely that day-to-day survival tasks like hunting, gathering, cooking, mending, etc. are things she handles herself. She preps her own meals and animal pelts, and mixes her own paints. She can handle adversity.
She often gets portrayed as this cutesy Genki girl, which I don't think is very accurate. In one fanfic I read, she worked at an animal shelter, but couldn't bring herself to euthanize animals. And I'm thinking, really? That's what you got out of her character? I mean she's a stone cold killer who has been living by her wits and by tooth and claw, essentially. I don't think she'd have a problem with animals dying - circle of life, and all that. I think she's an extremely pragmatic person, tbqh. I think that's part of why she'd make a good matchmaker - she can look realistically of what it takes for two people to get along well in a relationship. The only time we ever really see her being overly impractical or romantic is with her role-playing and her crush on Karkat.
Despite being pragmatic she is very cheerful and friendly, even though she almost always communicates with people through RP-style exchanges. Karkat blithely labels her as autistic, but I wonder if isn't just shyness. I think she spends most of her life living a kill-or-be-killed existence, and she knows that what's acceptable in the wild is not proper in civilized society. Role-playing is a reliable and fun framework for her to relate to others, and it also gives her a measure of slack in what she can play off as being part of the role.
I think her shyness and social awkwardness is also why she defers to Equius so much, even though she isn't afraid to sass him. His commanding manner may look assholish at first glance, but Nep knows him enough to know that he's not trying to be a dick. She also knows him enough to realize that he's a good source of intel on appropriate behavior., and that hes got her best interests in mind.
Basically, I'd really love to see more fanfic with Equius and Nepeta, helping each other. Eq getting a better hold on his rage, Nep getting better at relating to others, more about their moirallegiance, and either of them in a flush relationship that isn't crack. Equius at least gets that in fanfic; Nep, not so much.