I’m doing my very best not to format this as a literary analysis paper but that’s basically what this is so forgive me if I slip back into those old habits at all. And I'm going to tag @betweenlands and @fluffy-papaya in this because guys look what your fic made me brainrot. XD
(This is a long one, y'all. We're talking 2k words. Sorry.)
Hey, let’s talk about the bead curtain in Dog at the Door.
That dang bead curtain, and why I’m currently fixating on it, and how I think it has symbolism that may or may not be intentional.
(At this point, I’m assuming it’s intentional. Everything about this fic is intentional. Including the pain. Heh. “The only difference between a running gag and a recurring theme is how seriously you take it,” says Solar. Cool. I’m taking it seriously.)
The curtain first shows up in chapter one. It’s one of the first things we see in the van, and the first thing we know about it is that Doc finds it obnoxious. Ugly. Revolting. Renbob loves it, obviously, but Renbob has odd tastes. Doc, on the other hand, literally uses his hatred of the curtain to motivate him to get out of bed in the morning.
The Red King, when he shows up, also has similar dislike of the thing, but his reaction is a little more measured, a little less extreme. More distaste, less disgust. He finds it “distasteful” and compares it to wearing a labcoat without a shirt (lol). But he doesn’t loath it like Doc does, and when Doc suggests (in chapter 13) that they take it down and use it for friendship bracelets, he’s as displeased with that idea as Renbob is. He has an ambivalent opinion, overall.
And then Ren. Ren actually reacts the least to the curtain—but ends up with the most dramatic interaction with it, which we’ll come back to in a second. He simply says (chapter 24) that normally he’d find the beads hideous, but that the light of Doc’s eye reflecting off it into the shadows makes it oddly peaceful.
There’s exactly one other use of the word “curtain” in this fic, and it’s this line right here:
“I haven’t done anything but possess him and lead his soul back to the controls.” RK throws his hands up in the air. “He’s put himself behind the curtain because he thinks I’m out to get him. My only crime is the original contract I made with him, doctor.”
In this instance, RK is talking about their “imperfect metaphor” of Ren being behind the curtain that separates the “driver’s seat” from the rest of the van that is Ren’s mind/soul. He’s saying that Ren has deliberately put himself in a position of defeat and surrender because he (Ren) doesn’t think there are any other options.
M’kay. Right about now, any sane person is going, “Red. Why are you so fixated on this bead curtain. It’s a running joke at best.”
And... I mean, sure. Kinda. But also definitely not.
This is the part where I really step out on a potentially-shaky limb with all the confidence in the world, because here’s what I'm seeing: the dividing line between life and death is often portrayed in literature as a curtain.
(And it’s interesting to note that the curtain is a barrier, a separation, but it’s only a curtain, and this one is made of beads at that. It’s a flimsy and fluid barrier, easy to pass through. Back and forth. Surrender and control, life and death.)
In fact, even in this fic it’s used that way: RK may be referring to the metaphorical bead curtain in their van of an explanation for how his and Ren’s relationship works, but in the story at that point Ren is convinced that he’s dead. Or is supposed to be dead. And by putting himself “behind the curtain,” he’s surrendering to that. Almost insisting on it, because that’s the truth of how he sees the world right then and he can’t process any other possibilities. He’s basically saying “I’m supposed to be dead, and this side of the curtain is death, so that’s where I’ll stay.”
So if the curtain in the metaphor represents the two sides of that, it’s really interesting to look at the various characters’ reactions to the literal bead curtain and see how it reflects their attitudes toward death—and specifically Ren’s death.
Renbob is... chill. He has an entirely comfortable relationship with the bead curtain, with life and death, with his own emotions—even with dealing with the emotions of the others he’s chauffeuring across the universe. While he isn’t immune to the grief of losing (or thinking he’s lost) Ren, he deals with it in a relatively healthy way—at least as much as we see. I think there was a possibly-canon ask at some point that said he was journaling and meditating so... yeah. Renbob’s got this. And 50 other bead curtains in storage. He’s the only character in the fic who passes in and out of the curtain regularly and without it being a big deal.
To put it simply: Renbob is on good terms with whatever happens in life, up to and including the end of it. (Renbob is arguably the equal and opposite of Grimdog. Two sides of the same coin in more ways than one.)
Contrast that now with Doc. Doc is... not a fan of the bead curtain. It represents a loss of control to him, (“freakin’ hippies”) and a separation from what he loves. In the past, he and Ren were on opposite sides of that conflict, and the beads still somewhat represent that tension (though in a mostly nostalgic, and not actively-antagonistic way.) But the language Doc’s narration uses to describe the beads is strong. “Obnoxious.” “Accursed.” “Horrendously evil.”
Nearly as scary as his best friend trying to kill him.
It’s played for laughs, obviously, and it is funny. But if we project the symbolism of “the curtain represents death” onto Doc’s reactions, it gets a bit less amusing. And it really fits with Doc’s attitude toward Ren’s death in the whole fic. It’s the worst thing he’s ever faced—to the extent that until RK’s seemingly-permanent presence forces him to, Doc doesn’t even try to process it. He goes right to work on the prosthetics, growls at anyone who tries to make him do anything he doesn't want to do, accepts RK as “New Ren,” and pretends that he’s going on with life.
He refuses to look at how weird the whole situation is, because if he does that he has to deal with Ren being gone forever. He ignores the thing that’s right under his nose and pretends it’s not there until a moment of quiet or actually having to interact with it brings it back to his attention, and then his reaction is vitriolic.
Doc hates that curtain, and he hates the concept of death, the concept of losing control. Even in his nightmares, he holds tight to what little control he can take, even if it’s just taking the initiative to sit in the snow and let it kill him faster. Hold onto that thought, because I’ve got more to it, but we have to talk about RK and Ren first.
RK holds both distaste and acceptance of the curtain. He doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t want it destroyed either. The distaste, notably, is when he’s with Doc, and the acceptance comes from being around Renbob. The Red King, as a blood god, is not exactly unfamiliar with death. It’s literally in his job description, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it. A necessary evil, if you will.
It doesn’t hurt either that, at least up until Ren, RK has always been the one on the other side of the curtain, completely in control of the situation. He goes back and forth on his attitudes, but in the past he has been the one in control and the bringer of death. His reaction is negative, but not emphatic—the way someone who has plenty of indoor plans might react to a rainstorm.
Ren... now, Ren. Ren has, like I said, the least recorded reaction to the actual, physical bead curtain. But. But. While he normally would call it hideous, “there’s something oddly peaceful about watching light fractals spin off the walls, cutting off into the shadows.” The shadows, it’s worth noticing, are specifically implied to be RK/hiding RK in this moment. Doc’s light and RK’s shadows interacting with the curtain bring peace to Ren. He passes through it easily to find Renbob.
Ren has already accepted his death—he accepted it long before the fic even started—to an extent that he’s actively insisting on it for a large portion of the story. It’s only when he realizes that Doc is in potential danger that he starts fighting RK for control of the situation again. (“Stay away from Doc, you bastard. He wasn’t part of our bargain. Leave him alone.”)
He dislikes the bead curtain, but he doesn’t hate it, and when seen in the (literal) light of Doc’s protective, watching eye—even if he is asleep at the moment, bless—even the shadows of RK’s presence are suddenly beautiful and peaceful to him in a way that, without the “reflecting fractals” of the beads, wouldn’t be possible. Again: this is the chapter where Renbob’s influence is felt, and his peace with life and death directly affects Ren and his reactions. (“It’ll all sort itself out, eventually, and I’ll be here for you while it does.”)
And then Ren rips down the curtain altogether.
The separation is gone. For better or for worse, that divide between control and surrender, between RK and Ren, between life and death... it’s gone. It’s scattered across the floor of the van, glittering in Ren’s hair, and in the carpet. Ren has broken through that barrier, and now we just have to wait to see what the consequences of that are for him.
But... we can already see at least one consequence for Doc. Because now there is no more illusion of control and surrender for him to maintain. That division is no longer there, and we see Doc’s first real surrender in the whole story. Even in his nightmares, he was still in control: he knew it was a nightmare, and he fought against it until he “gave up”—in a way that still put him in control. He chooses to sit in the snow so it’ll kill dream-him faster.
He acts like he doesn’t care, but it’s still not that: he takes control in the only way he knows, aware that everything is only a dream and no matter what how it treats him, he’ll still wake up in the end. He looks at the nightmare and says basically “Do your worst, I dare you, but you won’t get what you want from me.”
But now—now he surrenders to Ren. He gives up. His core truth (“I’ll do anything to protect those I love,” which I talked about in this post) looks like it’s not going to be enough to save them. He can’t save Ren—from RK or from Ren himself—and that means he’s lost in the worst way possible. In this moment, it looks like Ren doesn’t even trust that Doc’s core truth—that he will do anything to save his friends—is true.
This is Doc’s lowest point: that Ren seems to think Doc’s loyalty and love have failed. And to Doc... that’s a fate worse than death.
So he gives up. He tells Ren to kill him, and he fully expects him to do so. Doc doesn’t want to die, but at this point he has completely let go of any control of his own fate. Even when facing down Ren with the Skizz blade, he held tightly to his control of the situation. He literally takes the sword in his own hand and removes it as a threat. But now—now the curtain is gone. The illusion of control is gone.
Ren is the one in control of the situation—for possibly the first time in the fic—and he chooses to remember that Doc is his friend, that he’s missed him. But Doc leaves it all to him. Even when Ren backs off, Doc stays in that surrendered state (“I can’t do anything right, unlike [Martyn.]”). He realizes that he's been in the passenger seat the whole time, and he’s now where Ren was before: no longer even trying to take back the driver’s seat.
The curtain is gone. Now we just have to wait and see who ends up on which side of it at the end.
91 notes · View notes