oh YO here we go here we fuckin GO BRO
this is it pack it the fuck up everybody they did it it only took them five tries to absolutely goddamn nail it.
At its core, The Final Scene is a game about how there is ultimately no way to escape becoming prey to the machine of capitalism.
But I guess I should set up the story before I unpack that. Nancy and her friend Maya are at the historic royal palladium theater in St. Louis so Maya can interview movie star Brady Armstrong, whose most recent film is about to premiere there before the theater is due to be sadly demolished in three days. Maya enters Brady’s dressing room, a scream is heard, and when Nancy breaks in, the room is empty. Nancy receives a threatening phone call from a disguised voice telling her that if the demolition isn’t cancelled then Maya will die, which gives Nancy a strict three day time limit to find her friend, who is almost certainly hidden somewhere in this old magician’s theater, or cancel the demolition. She’ll work to do both throughout the game, and is met with nothing but skepticism, competition, and outright hostility by a cavalcade of shitfuck assholes who are determined to twist a tragic crisis towards their own personal gain.
It’s a decidedly different tone for this series, and while I strongly enjoy the comfortable creepiness of past entries at their best, Her pulls off a frantic, sweaty energy here arguably better. Nancy, who is only able to be characterized through dialogue and voice performance, is written completely differently in this game – she’s frazzled, and caustic; much more prone to irritable jabs and frustrated outbursts. This is a desperate situation that fucking nobody is taking seriously but you and Lani Minella sells this urgency in Nancy really well.
There’s a general streamlining to the proceedings that goes along with this idea of urgency. The theater might be the smallest space of the series so far, maybe even smaller than the school areas of the first entry, Secrets Can Kill, and you definitely have to do the least amount of backtracking through secret areas that require puzzle-solves to access. Puzzles are also pretty light and breezy in general, which could be considered a criticism but I think is appropriate for the tone and speed of play in the game, and the heavier focus on characters and narrative. This one definitely leans more on shooing you from event flag to event flag, dialog to dialog over solving a grand puzzle or piecing together a historical narrative (that element is present but takes a decided back seat). Once again the identity of the culprit is extremely clear almost from the beginning but it’s fine here imo; the WHO of it all is almost taken for granted, barely played as a reveal at all. There are simply other things going on in this game that are more interesting and important, even with that character (whose identity I will be spoiling along with everything else in the game starting in the next paragraph – if you might be interested and you care about spoilers – play the game! It slaps!)
So, capitalism will kill us, and there’s no escape. Not for the people who are routinely crushed under the heels of the wealthy and powerful, and not even for the people at the top of the heap. We are all grist for the mill, and the wheel never stops turning.
Consider Nancy Drew. A young woman in a world that hates her for being. Nobody takes her seriously, nobody listens to her. Her friend is kidnapped almost literally in front of her eyes and the cops don’t care, they just explain to her all the reasons why the kidnapping probably wasn’t a kidnapping, okay then why it was a hoax, okay then why her theories as to what’s going on that have been investigated and substantiated with evidence are wrong and her friend probably isn’t being held in the building and there’s nothing to worry about. Every man she interacts with flirts with her, condescends to her, or manipulates her for information to further a personal agenda under a veneer of being trustworthy and “one of the good ones,” taking advantage of knowledge of a woman’s place in the world, in the power structure. “You can trust me, I’m [x].” Every time it’s a lie. The only other woman she encounters has given into the system. She is cruel and selfish and urges Nancy to be like her; it’s the only way to be free, or as close to free as you can be, when this is the world. Nancy hates her, but she’s not as different as she wants to believe, as the ending of this and every game attests to. Nancy acknowledges that everything is fucked, the cops are useless or complicit, the kidnapper was barely a criminal and probably needs help and sympathy more than anything else, the people who profited here are cruel and deserve worse. But hey, crime’s crime buddy, you gotta go to jail, and I gotta girlboss, and what are we gonna do not have cops? Not have rich people? Not have bribes? Not let them get away with it as long as the courts refuse to bring justice? Nancy doesn’t have answers. It doesn’t occur to her to think about these things. This is how They get us – by assimilating us into Them, or better yet raising us like that in the first place; just, a lesser version, if it can be helped.
Consider Joseph Hughes, the elderly caretaker of the Palladium, who acts like he’s resigned to pack his shit up and move out of state to live with family when the theater that he’s dedicated his entire life to is needlessly demolished, but who in reality has concocted a slapdash plan to kidnap brady armstrong from his dressing room and ransom him for the landmark’s safety. He’s a desperate person who panics and kidnaps Maya instead when she enters the room before brady does, and things spiral further and further out of control for him until he eventually resigns himself and Maya and at last Nancy to die along with the building that has become his life. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He makes a point of treating Maya well throughout the ordeal – so well, in fact, that it’s stated during the ending monologue that she plans to testify on his behalf in court. He’s a good man with a righteous cause who plays by the rules and is stymied by a guy who has more money than him bribing the official system to destroy his entire life and getting away with it scot free. And as we so often see in real life, Joseph eventually turns on the other little people around him via combinations of desperation and misunderstandings until he’s made things bad enough that he feels he can’t take them back. This is how They get us - by making us turn on each other instead of on Them.
Consider Brady Armstrong. He is wealthy, powerful, and adored. He is revealed to be the only person known to have an ownership stake in the Palladium and therefore the mysterious person behind the demolition scheme. at the end of the game Nancy begs him not to signal the demolition to begin, she KNOWS that her friend is still in the building and she’s THIS close to proving it. At this point, we know that Brady has been bribing city hall officials to stop the theater from becoming a protected historical site. WE know that there’s a possibility of discovering the other owner if we have a little more time, but HE does not. In his eyes, he has absolutely nothing to lose by letting us look around for her, but he chooses instead to walk outside and begin the demolition, and knowingly accept the responsibility for Maya Nguyen’s death. This is how They all think. This is what it is to be wealthy. The luxury of not having to care about other people, and not having to face consequences for not caring (he doesn’t, either - Brady gets a happy ending). At the same time though, the reason brady wants to tear down the theater is because to him it is symbolic of his own existential dread; he is grossly aware of his own status as a product with a quickly diminishing shelf life. He worries about his wrinkles, his muscles, his rapidly receding hairline; he knows that when these qualities are gone he'll be discarded by the culture that supposedly adores him as easily as he discards the little people around him. Brady wants this theater gone because he looks at it and he sees an old, outdated husk of something that used to be. That he needs a place to break ground on a new business venture to secure his legacy and financial future is almost immaterial; he even admits that he could do it anywhere, which is what he does do at the end of the game when the theater is saved at the last minute.
Because of course it is. This isn’t fuckin full metal jacket guys it’s goddamn Nancy Drew colon The Final Scene from 2001, you bought it for like nine dollars in a cardboard sleeve at Walmart. Her Interactive did not intentionally make a scathing indictment of our entire social and economic world order, they just made a game set in it, starring a person whose values conform to its popular values, and unfortunately it’s really hard to do that WITHOUT making it come off as a scathing indictment. The game ends with the same cheery letter from Nancy to her dad, the same saccharine slideshow telling you what happened to all the characters, the same declaration that next time she’ll be off on another vacation in a fabulous locale without her boyfriend (does she LIKE Ned like are they gonna break up or what serious question when do they see each other). It’s just that this time the events were so stark and the resolution so upsetting that the feelings hang in the air long after the credits roll, suffocating, impossible to ignore.
We are all grist for the mill. The wheel never stops turning.
NEXT TIME: SECRET OF THE SCARLET HAND
Reviewed on Sep 24, 2021