Hey, friends (we’re friends, right?). I suppose I should offer an explanation as to why you are seeing this now as opposed to, say, over a year ago. As you may recall, I wrote my most recent missive in this series back in fall 2016 shortly after the release of Act V, which was more of a pause and reflect with a few updates and corrections to things I had written and decided I was probably wrong about. At the time I had every intention of getting this series up to date, but for a multitude of reasons I have not. A lot of it is personal. 2017 was a year marked largely by some very high moments (getting married, whoa!) and a lot of lower moments, mostly amounting to dealing with depression from personal life issues and from the world around me. I’ve been burnt out for a long time, honestly, and my output of longer-form writing for this site has been a major casualty of that.
Adding to all of that though has been the sense that this series isn’t actually as “necessary” (necessary being a loaded word as I’m not self-deluded to think anything of this sort I do is actually necessary) as it once was. Prior to Acts IV and V coming out there was a much greater shroud of mystery and speculation placed over the entire series as Casey largely preferred to not clarify or spell out his intentions with the story and details within. Since Act V especially though, between the many fan interaction events from their most recent tours, the podcast series detailing the process of creating each of those albums, the first graphic novel finally coming out (with the second one likely not far behind), and more, there’s been an increasing transparency from Casey about what exactly he’s been looking to communicate with these albums and the story of The Dear Hunter. So between all of that, the strong web communities on Reddit, Lake And The River, and other platforms for dissecting lyrics like Genius, there isn’t really the same sense of a “hole” that I felt I could fill with my analysis now as there was a few years ago when I started all of this.
All of that being said, I’m not here for the glory or out of necessity, and even if the overall story arc of the series is pretty well laid-out for most fans at this point, there is still plenty that can be done to pull apart the meaning within each track, the connections, themes, symbolism, etc. So, if you’re still with me, let’s talk about Act V, shall we?
*prognotes: The Dear Hunter’s Acts
Just as a quick recap from where we left off in Act IV, “The Boy,” who I will here on out be referring to as Hunter as that name has been officially confirmed by Casey as the titular character’s namesake, began the album riding high and thinking he had a fresh start at a new life, and by the end he found himself caught in an impossible situation of his own making, somehow trapped by both of his identities. After the war, Hunter returned to The City under the assumed identity of his half-brother, making a couple of pitstops along the way to check in on his old home by The Lake, as well as a somewhat sick and twisted look at the family he could technically call his own now (The Mother referred to at the end of Act III). Once back in The City, he took on said half-brother’s devoted fiancée, fell into a period of alcohol and PTSD-fueled existentialist fugue, got his shit together again after witnessing his nemesis The Pimp/Priest fleece parishioners out of their hard-earned cash in the name of attaining salvation, decided to leverage his fiancée’s family connections to run for mayor of The City as a virtuous anti-corruption war hero, won said election, promptly lost himself in his new-found power and made many enemies quickly, lost his fiancée (if not legally than at least in any sense of emotional/personal connection), set his sights on TP/P, and (deep breath) finally, realized that TP/P had been playing him all along, knew who he really was, and intended to leverage that knowledge through the constant pressure of blackmail in return for political favors.
Act IV managed to fit more plot and action in its runtime than really anything that came before it save the crazier parts of Act III, which leaves Act V with a lot of work to do to carry that momentum and resolve several narrative threads, all of which it does in the grimmest way. By the end of Act IV and “Ouroboros,” Hunter is left at his lowest point in the series thus far despite having attained so much. He fully realizes that he is now everything he hates, has betrayed everything and everyone who placed faith in him, and, for the first time, might finally be out of options. He cannot simply run away from his problems this time.
A couple of things I want to note before I dive head-first into the track-by-track analysis. First, as I mentioned in my review of the album around its release, Act V is very intentionally set up as a darker reflection of Act IV, both formally in terms of structure, as well as in tone and theme. There is a lot mentioned in Act IV that retroactively serves as either symbolic or literal foreshadowing for what occurs in Act V, and I will try to draw those connections out where I can. More so than any of the other albums in the series though, Act V is focused on reactions and repercussions of actions Hunter has taken previously. His sudden futility and inability to skirt conflict and avoid consequences for his life choices has been a long time coming, and it all comes to a head throughout this album.
Second, Act V is symbolically very focused on classical tragedy and lore ranging from Greek mythology to Biblical figures. These elements have been strewn throughout the entire series (from The Oracles of Delphi acting both as narrators and supernatural forces sent to earth seemingly to warn Hunter of his fate, to the comparisons of a young Hunter to Icarus in “The Lake And The River”), but Act V really doubles down on the allusions, which is fitting (and surely intentional) as the plot of the album moves swiftly in the direction of exposing and punishing Hunter’s hubris and refusal to change his behavior. As someone whose knowledge about this subject is about as extensive as any person who had a Greek mythology/literature section of a high school-level English course, I will basically be relying on Google and Wikipedia to help me explain these instances and allusions. I greatly welcome anyone with more intimate knowledge of this subject to help fill in the blanks or correct errors I will almost certainly make in my guesswork.
And with all of that as an intro (really, I know, but you should be used to it by now), let’s get cracking on Act V: Hymns With The Devil In Confessional!
Regress; in spells of unconciousness
Slave to the seeds you’ve sown
Lost in the leaves
So we’ll depart
Goodbye to your stubborn heart
Now you’re alone
Find relief that the end comes swiftly for you
We start off, as we’ve done since the beginning of Act III, with a brief introduction from The Oracles. After multiple pleas from them to listen to their initial warning to turn back and not fulfill his immediate desires and instincts for vengeance, love, a new life, etc., they have finally given up. Or rather, the die has been cast, the pieces put into motion for their premonitions to come true, and Hunter has officially gone too far to prevent the worst of what they warned him against from happening.
To break this down line-by-line, we get an allusion to Hunter’s current mental and physical state, in which he is frequently blitzed out on opium (we find him in an opium den both in “The Moon” and “Gloria”) and self-medicating to keep the reality of his current situation under the thumb of TP/P at bay. We then get a callback to “Rebirth” from Act IV (“Regress” in itself is, of course, its own callback and reflection of that track) in which The Oracles refer to Hunter becoming trapped in the seeds he planted in Act IV. Unlike in “Rebirth,” in which The Oracles warned that Hunter’s attempt to start a new life would be futile as the “roots” of his previous life “had run too deep, left to dig in the weeds, and climb up the vine,” the implication seems to be that Hunter’s current life has become a weed in itself, overtaking everything around it and completely trapping him in the process.
With that, they offer a curt farewell and The Oracle equivalent of gl;hf. He has alienated just about everyone around him in his life, and now even his so-called guardians are ditching him. Their final words to him are simply to take relief in the fact that “the end” is coming for him very soon. If you are reading this column you surely know what “the end” refers to, but for the sake of not spoiling my own interpretation of the narrative I won’t state what that end exactly is until the actual end. Instead let’s jump right back into Hunter’s POV and see what this sad sack of crap is up to!
2. The Moon/Awake
This soul’s a stowaway
At the heels of a gaze
Their eyes betrayed in the arcade
And my image fades of you
(Where are you)
If Hunter thought he had put all existential identity drama behind him with “Is There Anybody There?” and his subsequent reinvention as a gutsy and righteous politician, well, so much for that. Once again, however, we find ourselves with a mirrored reflection of a conflict from Act IV. Whereas Hunter found himself too weighed down by his past and former identity in order to forge ahead with his new life throughout most of the previous album, he now finds himself struggling to even remember who he once was and who he really is now. Because the Hunter of now (supposedly under the name of his dead half-brother) is a lonely, corrupt politician serving at the will of a man he once swore to take down. This Hunter truly sucks, but it is no longer an option to return to his previous self and identity. All anyone knows of him is this person, and the longer they require him to be that person, the less he feels like he’s anyone.
Drilling down into the lyrics, Hunter describes the assumed identity of his half-brother that has morphed into the City’s mayor as a soul who has squatted inside of his own self, creating a distorted vision of himself that he describes as akin to looking at someone far away through an arcade (in the traditional, series of arches in a long row sense). He strains to see this figure of his true self in the distance, and it fades before him.
Could we return to the hymn of the lake?
Grave refrains of impossible love?
Not believing what they’d say
Haunting heralds whose words were lost on you
(Where are you?)
As he’s done previously (and physically in “The Old Haunt”), he returns to thoughts of his childhood at The Lake and subsequently the events that transpired after. Specifically, he thinks back to his initial encounter with The Oracles, in which they warned him of everything that would transpire, including an “impossible love,” presumably referring to Ms. Leading. He recognizes that he was a fool for not listening to them, which could have been useful quite a while ago but at this point does little but add onto his grief and self-pitying.
I’d bare you my heart, if I knew that it still was there
I’m too nervous to look
Too afraid to close the book
So take all the wind from my lungs, if you’re out of air
Just deliver me truth
Just deliver me you
The chorus is a cry to either his former or “true” (whatever that honestly means at this point) self, claiming that he would give both his heart and the wind from his lungs to breathe life into this separate and fading part of himself. The problem is that he is too afraid of both the consequences of giving up his current identity and of what actually remains of himself outside of who he is now to even seriously explore it, but he is also too grief-struck and miserable with his current situation to totally shut his former self out. He is caught in this kind of existential purgatory and lacks the fortitude to move himself out of it in either direction.
How’d we lose our place?
Who decided our fate
Decay until we we’re erased?
Idly wasting away
Well, the nightmare’s ending soon
(Where are you?)
From here we get some idle musings on how Hunter got into the mess he’s in now, how fates are determined, and what he can possibly even do in the face of his own known fate. For now he is choosing to do as little as possible, spend as much time high on opium as he can, and seemingly just sit and wait to decay. There’s a very morbid and dark sentiment behind the last line of the verse, and it’s not clear whether Hunter understands or was even “visited” by The Oracles in one of his drug-fueled binges, essentially responding directly to their statement that the end is coming for him soon. His reaction is essentially, “Oh good, at least the pain will be gone soon as well.”
If the younger me just could have seen the trouble I’d create
He’d never have agreed to carry on
When sins of sons to fathers come, too heavy is the weight
The spirit split in two
In the bridge we get another Act IV reflection taken directly from “The Old Haunt.” In that song, as Hunter revisits his childhood home by The Lake, he imagines himself speaking to the child he was and essentially giving him a pep talk. He tells himself, “Take a tip from me, I swear I’ve seen it all before; The fear of what could be, will keep you from wanting more.” He encourages the young Hunter to not be afraid of what’s in front of him and what he doesn’t understand, and later he exclaims that he couldn’t prevent any of the bad things that happened in his life from occurring, so it’s best to not dwell on them too much and simply move on. Now, in retrospect, Hunter realizes just how utterly foolish that attitude truly was and all of the damage he’s caused because of it. Now he cries that if his younger self had known exactly what would transpire he wouldn’t have done everything he did. He would have listened to The Oracles and turned back home like they told him to.
We then get this line about “sins of sons to fathers,” which has a bit of double meaning going on there. First, given Hunter’s current state of mind, he is imagining himself as two distinct people, one of whom is the child he once was. He views this child as a father would a son and wants to advise him to make good decisions. Second, there is likely a bit of groundwork laid here for what will happen later in the album when Hunter actually does become a father, and the responsibility he feels towards preserving the innocence of his infant son and leaving a world behind that won’t break him like it did Hunter becomes a turning point in Hunter’s attitude and subsequent actions.
Dear apparition, in this fleeting flash
Must I burn the earth, before you turn to ash?
Would such extremes repair our broken past?
The silver lining seldom lies in sight too plain to see
But trust our story’s end can bring redemption for the pain endured
In the song’s incredibly emotional climax, Hunter screams to the skies and asks what he must do to redeem himself and make things right before he dies. In some obvious foreshadowing, he asks if he must burn the earth, which metaphorically means if he must destroy both his assumed identity and everything it has created, including the work of TP/P, and of which will become literal by the album’s conclusion.
Now, I actually have a bit of a bone to pick with the official lyrics for this track at the end here. Though in the liner notes the lyrics are written as “Must I burn the earth before you turn to ash?”, if you listen to the actual track it pretty distinctly sounds like Casey is singing “Must I burn the head before you turn to ash?” In one sense this might not make a huge difference if you view the “head” as TP/P, thus implying that Hunter must take out his nemesis once and for all before he can be redeemed. Given all of the Greek mythology about in this series though, my mind automatically jumps to Medusa, whose stare would turn its victims into stone and who could only be truly defeated by cutting off her head and then destroying it completely, such as through burning it. I could be way off-base here, but it’s conceivable to read the lyric as Hunter comparing his situation to having to face Medusa and burning her head before he and everyone around him is turned to stone (and eventually “ash” or at least dust).
Regardless, the track ends with Hunter pleading with the heavens for some redemption for the mess he’s made of everything. As horrible as he feels now and unable to see the good or “silver lining” in anything at the moment, he still believes that he can make things right before his time ends. Thus we have the impetus for the rest of this Act as Hunter attempts (largely in vain) to set his numerous mistakes right. Casey has described the outro to the song (technically the “Awake” part) as the equivalent of a title sequence, in which we see Hunter get up and leave the opium den as the opening credits roll.
I heard a call in my sleep again
I brought my body to the altar
But a good man said that I raised the dead
I’m seeing forgotten forms from a different age
Half-hearted truths hanging in the air with the Holy Ghost
I’m singing hymns with the devil in confessional
After departing the opium den, Hunter stumbles his way on over to The Church and basically continues his miserable musings on his current situation. He imagines bringing himself up to the altar to give himself over to God or any other omniscient being but being rejected for not being who he says he is. He then looks around The Church and thinks about all of the deception and manipulation that has been wrought inside of these walls by TP/P in the name of piety and salvation, but quickly notes that he and TP/P are really no better than the other at this point. TP/P may be “the devil,” but Hunter is the one singing alongside him to prop up this institution that is sucking the citizens of The City dry.
I’ve been running through the night again
Trying to find where the wild things wouldn’t go
But I’m keeping it in
Hate the sinner; never hate the sin!
In a rather impressively pathetic bit of self-loathing, Hunter sings that he’s been doing all he can to run away from his problems and responsibilities to The City, The Church’s parishioners, his family, to himself, and everyone. His frequent opium use is his way of avoiding having to face these problems and his impotence head-on. He can’t let it show just how broken he is though since he is still mayor and has to fulfill basic duties to keep the entire charade afloat. He inverts the old religious adage of “Hate the sin, never the sinner” in a particularly self-immolating tongue-in-cheek fashion, signaling that he takes full responsibility for how much he has fucked everything up in his life and others around him and not to blame any of the bad things he’s done on anything else.
I keep waking in the strangest states
And drawing lines around my body to recall my place
I feel the heat of a thousand breaths upon my neck
And the gaze of a thousand eyes burning holes into my back
And now I’m stuck between alive and after
The disconnect and total conflict he feels within himself that defined the previous track comes back here in a more religious and spiritual context. He finds himself in a strange kind of purgatory in which he feels the tug of death at his heels and describes needing to draw chalk lines around his body (like that of a dead man at a crime scene) just to affirm that he is still technically alive. He also expresses a kind of heightened paranoia and is convinced that everyone is constantly staring at him and breathing down his neck. All of this is unsurprising given his frequent opium use, and it’s easy to see how he is allowing himself to spiral further and further downward towards his own destruction.
I keep looking for a quicker fix
But I’m afraid of finding what it is
I know that I just need a quicker fix
Hate the sinner, not the sin!
I keep looking for a quicker fix
But I wouldn’t know just what to do with it
Hate the sinner, not the sin!
Moving past the tag on the second chorus (which is really just a recapitulation of the first half of the chorus), the bridge uses Hunter’s opium addiction to create a clever double meaning in his futile search to fix himself. He shouts that he needs to find a quicker fix, which is both a reference to his need to dive further and further down into drugs to fuel his body’s addicted cravings, as well as his desire to find a magic bullet solution to fix his predicament with TP/P. He ultimately concedes though that even if he were to find a quick solution to the problem that he isn’t even sure he would be capable of doing it. This is important in that the most obvious “quick fix” to his problem right now would be to kill (or covertly contract someone to kill) TP/P, but Hunter does not seem to be at such a threshold of broken humanity that he can bring himself to do it – which, if I’m being perfectly honest, is a bit odd given how easily he seemed to be fine with poisoning his father not so long ago. Regardless, in the context of where he is now, he has not reached that breaking point yet even though all signs indicate that he is pretty damn broken.
4. The Most Cursed Of Hands/Who Am I
It’s parable time! The whole story within a story device is so common in serial narratives like this that I’m honestly surprised it took this long for Casey to make use of it. He does finally here though in a particularly clever and illustrative way. With Hunter having passed out in the pews of The Church after his opium-induced evening of inner turmoil, he wakes up to find the pews filling up and the man he had just labeled as the Devil himself up at the podium, ready to give a sermon. TP/P, taking notice of his special guest, launches into a story that on surface level seems like a pretty normal allegory for how dabbling in sin and thinking one can outsmart the Devil will only find themselves trapped in his clutches. Hunter very quickly recognizes though that TP/P is speaking directly to him in very thinly-veiled threats should he get any ideas about going back on their “mutual” agreements for political favors.
Quick thing to note here before diving into lyric analysis. Anyone with a physical copy of Act V is aware that this song is also represented in the form of a short story written by Alex Dandino (of the Acts graphic novels). While I will be only referring to the lyrics for my analysis here, I will also use the short story for the occasional bit of extra context, likely without specifically quoting or calling to it. If for some reason you don’t have the booklet for the album, I am sure you can find scans of the short story somewhere on the internet.
The devil went down to the river
And he came to fall; to lose it all;
To fool the fool too quick to call
While the gambler’s stacks grew bigger;
He had lost his sights through narrowed eyes;
Too tempted by his wry desires
TP/P sets up the story by placing the Devil on earth to trick a human into giving him his soul (as the Devil is wont to do). He spots a group of men gambling and quickly fixates on one man who is pretty much sweeping the table. Quickly identifying a certain hubris and lust for winning in one man in particular (the Gambler), he decides he has found his mark and descends upon him. Immediately it’s pretty obvious that the Gambler in this story is intended to be a stand-in for Hunter. In the last third of Act IV Hunter finds himself in a position of power he never expected to gain as mayor of the City but quickly finds himself addicted to the influence he has in it. As he takes down more and more corrupt factions within the City his confidence builds more and more until he feels he is practically untouchable. Like the Gambler, Hunter becomes obsessed and laser-focused on “winning” and ultimately taking down TP/P without remembering just how precarious his own position is due to his personal baggage. It is perhaps a bit odd that TP/P, a man of the clergy, would be essentially casting himself as the Devil in the context of this needling at Hunter, but then again I don’t think he has many illusions that he’s anything but a money-hungry power broker who views the people around him as little more than instruments to be played.
Damned across fated paths
The time to fold had come to pass
As it’s been noted frequently, this showdown between Hunter and TP/P had been fated and foretold by The Oracles for some time, and each time Hunter has ignored it, believing that he was smart enough and determined enough to come out on top. There’s also a little callback here to the idea of “folding,” which was employed multiple times throughout Act II, first in “The Church and the Dime” in the chorus and then in “Where the Road Parts.” In the former it appears to be TP/P who is gleefully shouting “Let them all fold” in reference to the people who frequent both The Church and The Dime, encouraging them to give into their desires and reveal their weaknesses to TP/P to prey on. In the latter song the folding is in relation to Hunter’s deteriorating relationship with Ms. Leading, as Hunter initially believes that he will hold firm and not reveal his emotional vulnerability to Ms. Leading in the process of their breakup, but ultimately he cries and has an emotional breakdown as a last-ditch effort to gain control of the situation and keep her around. In the end Ms. Leading is the one who doesn’t fold as she refuses to change to maintain their relationship. In this particular case the folding in the story is literal as it’s a game of cards, as well as still symbolic of Hunter’s refusal to listen to The Oracles and turn back from the doomed path he was hurtling down.
With gambler’s glory delivered
He had thirst for more; a bigger score;
A trophy no one could ignore
And the devil’s wealth had withered
So with cunning class he offered fast his soul;
The wager had been cast
The gambler called, the river fell
And now the hand from out of hell
The devil smiled, looked in his eyes;
He knew the loss was glorified
Pretty basic parable meat and potatoes. Character is overly cocky and full of hubris, seeking more power/wealth/acclaim/whatever. Antagonist identifies character’s weakness and exploits it for own gain. The gambler is riding high, and finding all human competition to be lacking, wishes to pull off something even greater. In comes the Devil with a challenge, and the Gambler, hungry for a feat that would make him truly legendary, happily welcomes it. Of course the Gambler starts winning and taking the Devil’s money. Just when it looks like the Devil will be down and out, he throws one final piece of collateral into the pot. He offers his soul, to which the Gambler initially balks at, doubting that the Devil has a soul, but eventually gives in due to his desire to win something no one else could attain. Here we have another reference to Hunter believing himself to be powerful and cunning enough to take down TP/P when no other person before him has been successful. TP/P let Hunter get cocky enough just long enough to make him reckless, at which point he swooped in and crushed him. Similarly, the Devil allows the Gambler to take all of his money in order to make him confident enough to make a wager on something as stupid as the Devil’s soul. Predictably, the Gambler wins the hand, and the Devil can barely contain his glee, though the Gambler is too concerned with celebrating his victory to notice.
The devil said “Revel in your victory;
You’ve earned your damning
Pack your things, and leave.”
But, the gambler only stood and stuttered
Stammering on words in disbelief
“Now you’ve won a new vocation
Pray to me that you can stand the heat!”
And that, the gambler saw
Meant he had gone and finally set the devil free
Damned across fated paths
The hand he played would be his last
This story is a pretty small step from one of the most classic episodes of The Twilight Zone, “A Game of Pool,” in which a man who believes he is the greatest billiards player in the world challenges the spirit of the most legendary billiards player, only to win and learn that doing so released the other man’s spirit and bound his own to having to play pool against every schmo who thinks he’s the greatest for eternity. Likewise, the Devil lets the Gambler know that by winning his “soul,” he is now bound to serve hell for all eternity, and the Devil is unbound by his responsibilities to roam freely. There appears to be an implication here from TP/P to Hunter that 1) Hunter cannot outsmart him and will always be several steps ahead of him because Hunter is too guided and motivated by his own hubris, and 2) even if Hunter thinks he’s taken TP/P down, it will be Hunter who ultimately suffers for it. In the end, the Gambler would never play cards again for he had the weight and responsibility of everyone’s sins on his shoulders. In that sense TP/P seems to be telling Hunter that their fates are entwined, and he will not be able to remove TP/P without bringing about his own doom in the process.
Who am I? Who am I?
Just a gambler, holding aces in the devil’s eyes?
What is wrong? What’s the sin?
Where’s the answer? Where the hell do I fit in?
Or could it be, there’s just a little demon lost in the debris
And I, should idly bide my time
Until a wager releases me?
It can’t remain unknown
In the end we snap back to Hunter’s perspective and get his reaction to TP/P’s sermon. He wonders how he fits into all of this exactly, whether he’s just the Gambler falling prey to the Devil’s schemes, or if, in fact, he’s already crossed that point. If he has already succumbed to TP/P’s machinations and is now serving his bidding, what course of action does he even have from here? He muses whether it might not be best to bide his time and wait to pawn off his problems on someone else, i.e. “until a wager releases me.” He closes with the statement that he cannot keep all of his many secrets unknown forever (against the backdrop of the theme from “Ouroboros”). He has so much baggage at this point from identity theft to murder to political corruption and more that this situation cannot be tenable long-term. Something is bound to break, and it seems Hunter is merely hoping to not be too far past redemption when it finally does.
5. The Revival
The Dime’s back, y’all! This is something I didn’t really get into at all in my Act IV analysis because it never came up directly, but it makes sense that The Dime – the brothel operated by TP/P and mentioned multiple times through Acts II and III – would have been shut down in the period between Hunter leaving The City to fight in WWI and returning in the Prohibition Era. It seems not even TP/P’s grip on local politics could save his primary money-making venture and source of juicy blackmail and extortion material from the laws of the time. With his full control of Hunter as mayor of The City now though comes huge perks and favors, and it appears that TP/P being allowed to re-open and operate The Dime without fear of law or political interference is one of the major chips TP/P decided to cash in. This makes perfect sense and serves as a great device to further demonstrate just how utterly powerless Hunter is at this point. He may be in charge of The City in name, but he can’t even stop TP/P from re-opening and operating the source of so much pain and abuse from his mother, the place of origin that launched Hunter on this long and twisted path from the start. It is surely both a humongous insult and defeat for him, and TP/P almost certainly is fully aware of this. All of which leads us to this grand spectacle of a re-opening, of which Hunter is present to stew in his own self-loathing and misery.
It took a little longer than we hoped
But it was worth it
You know, it takes a village to raise a scheme;
To patch the holes of a mausoleum
TP/P is giving a speech in front of his many patrons before officially opening up the venue to their carnal desires. He mentions that The Dime has been shut down far longer than he thought it would. Without knowing exactly why or when The Dime was closed, it’s difficult to guess just how long of a period it had been, but if it was after Prohibition went into effect in 1920, we can surmise that it had likely been at least a couple of years (placing the events of Acts IV and V roughly in the mid-1920s). He thanks his “community” of patrons for their continued support and efforts in re-opening The Dime, implying perhaps that TP/P wasn’t the only person involved in lobbying Hunter to allow the place to re-open and turn a blind eye to it. The last line is a bit tricky in that I’m not sure what is being symbolized here in using a mausoleum as a metaphor for The Dime. Perhaps TP/P means that he sees this place as a type of monument to himself and the true mark of his legacy. Perhaps there’s some sly double meaning here pointed towards Hunter in that it’s also where Hunter’s own legacy goes to die. It is here that it will be buried and enshrined.
Well, we’re packing in the patronage
Like it’s a lotto (and everybody wins)
Now take a seat so the show can start
And will you welcome these works of art…
Isn’t she beautiful? No?
Maybe another one here could entertain…Yes?
We swear that every minute’s worth the wait
And with that TP/P trots out his “works of art,” the women who work for The Dime. Not much subtext to read here, though all of this does serve as a fitting reflection of the spectacle-like setup of “The Bitter Suite IV and V,” once again proving that TP/P sees himself as much of an entertainer as a businessman (and I guess clergyman, though really that part seems to fall to the bottom of his priority list).
Hey! It’s a cry you can’t contain;
A release you couldn’t estimate
And the secret’s safe as long as you pay
It’s so good to be so bad
You can leave it when you walk away
And pretend you’ve washed your hands of it
More double meanings! On the first level we have TP/P speaking to the patrons of The Dime in language similar to our first real introductions to the place in “The Church and The Dime” and “The Bitter Suite II.” Basically, give in to your base desires. It’s fine, it’s good, and you don’t have to worry about retribution for infidelity or more as long as you pay to keep this place profitable. You can leave here pretending nothing happened and continue leading your own double lives. And on the second level, there is, of course, TP/P speaking directly to Hunter and rapturously twisting the knife he has in him. He’s reminding Hunter that he has a secret that he cannot share but surely wishes he could, and that he is safe as long as he continues to be a dutiful servant to TP/P and provide patronage and favors such as this. Furthermore, he tells him to embrace his dark side and simply compartmentalize it like he does. Just leave this place and put it out of your mind.
Last call for the Sunday squaws
And there’s no room left for the hem and haw
We’ll give a gift long overdue
And make a sultan out of you
That’s right; any troglodyte
Can have a life in the party as a socialite
Or if you’re looking to efface
You can retire without a trace…
Don’t you bother with doubt
Not much to pick apart here either. TP/P references the people who come to him for confession on Sundays after sermons as “squaws,” pretty much handwaves them away as simply prattling on about things that bother them when he knows they’re going to come right back to The Dime anyway because he can provide them with what they really want there, be it sexual fulfillment or a sense of male power over the women who work there. He views The Dime as some kind of great equalizer where men of all rank and status can come be part of this special social club and rub elbows. Of course, the implication here is that it is all built upon the subjugation of women’s bodies, but to even dip our toes into the ethics of prostitution and economic politics of female sexuality and bodies would take us down an extremely complex path that I am not at all qualified to take you down, nor is it likely why you are here.
Another candidate for giving her bruises
Another night that she’ll dissociate
Another man who thinks the rules don’t apply to him
During this interlude we switch back to Hunter’s perspective as the choruses of glee around him turn into a hellish nightmare. He sees the men around him and imagines the horrible things they’ll do to the women here and the traumatic effects it will have on them. He is certainly drawing on the experiences he imagines his mother suffered by the likes of men like his father (see “He Said He Had A Story”), not to mention his own somewhat dubious past and history with women (though there is never anything suggesting that Hunter physically abused Ms. Leading or any other woman, he has certainly engaged in emotional manipulation and warped power dynamics). So he is here carrying the burden of the pain that women of his past and present are suffering, not only due to the actions of other men now, but because of him and his inability to stop it.
Long was this road I’ve wandered
But short did my temperance live
Here I’ve helped him build a temple
To deify this czar of sin
Hunter reflects on the path and many decisions he made to get to this point, but comments that the period of time he was actually in any position to do what he had set himself out to do in taking down TP/P was brief. The temperance line is also a more literal comment on the seeming fact that there was only a brief period of time between giving up drowning himself in alcohol to run for mayor and being heavily addicted to opioids and more. He has trouble coming to terms with the fact that he has directly played a hand in creating this new version of The Dime, this supposed “mausoleum” to the king of sin.
Now who to blame, but I for tying
These knots so well at my wrists
The noose would surely find me
If I’m too wily… but what of the life I’d live?
Once again Hunter recognizes that he put himself in this position, and ultimately the blame for it falls squarely on his decisions and hubris. There is a continued resignation and hopelessness here as he says that to do anything to try to outwit or undermine TP/P at this point would lead to his own demise, echoing the message from TP/P himself just in “The Most Cursed Of Hands.” Hunter feels there are no acceptable options here and that the only reasonable course of action is to continue to play this game and live this farce of a life, even if it’s not much of a life to live at all.
The sale of a soul that falls
As foolish as young Esau…
It’s better if I withdraw
Don’t know who Esau is? Me neither. To the Wikipedia machine!
According to the Hebrew Bible, Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites and the elder twin brother of Jacob, the patriarch of the Israelites. Esau and Jacob were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah, and the grandsons of Abraham and Sarah. Of the twins, Esau was the first to be born with Jacob following, holding his heel. Isaac was sixty years old when the boys were born. Esau, a “man of the field,” became a hunter who had “rough” qualities that distinguished him from his twin brother. Among these distinguishing qualities were his red hair and noticeable hairiness. Jacob was a shy or simple man, depending on the translation of the Hebrew word “Tam” (which also means “relatively perfect man”). Throughout Genesis, Esau is frequently shown as being supplanted by his younger twin Jacob (Israel).
Without simply repeating the entirety of the article, the basic gist is that Esau, as the firstborn of Isaac, has a birthright and inheritance that Jacob desires. With the help of their mother, Rebekah, Jacob tricks Esau into trading away his birthright during a time of need. After realizing what he’s done and how much of a mistake it was, Esau goes to his father and asks him to reverse it, but Isaac pretty much tells him he fucked up and made his own bed that he has to lie in. So we have a pretty easy parallel here to this story, in which Hunter feels he has been tricked and deceived by TP/P to give up his power and ownership of his identity. The fact that Esau is also referred to as a “hunter” surely was also not lost upon Casey as he wrote this.
Back to the song, Hunter is claiming that to think he could possibly reverse the situation and get out from under the clutches of TP/P is about as futile as Esau regaining his birthright from Jacob. He “sold his soul” to TP/P, and there is very little he can do about it. In his mind it would be better to heed the words of TP/P from the chorus, to walk away and wash his hands of it. Of course, we know that it is not that simple and will not play out as such.
If you made it this far, you are truly committed, and I applaud you. The good news is that you will be rewarded for your commitment very soon, as I decided this time to write out the entirety of this Act V series over three posts at once and release them on consecutive days rather than start one and force you all to wait another however many months before I finish the other parts. So come back tomorrow when we talk about love of the romantic and paternal kind, a new character who is a destabilizing force for everyone involved, and Hunter finally putting his opioid visions to good use!
UPDATE: Read Part II here!