In the twenty-fifth chapter of Catching Fire, Collins takes a momentary narrative break from the persistent intensity to set up the pieces of what will surely be an unbearable and painful finale. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Catching Fire.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to describe the growing sense of dread building inside of me, beyond just saying SHIT IS ABOUT TO GET REAL. After this, Collins has just two chapters to end this. Not only can I not figure out this book’s endgame, I am consistently confused as to what the hell is going on right now. If the end of the Hunger Games in the first book was unpredictable (and NO ONE predicted Cato or the muttations of previous tributes), I’m utterly clueless when it comes to Catching Fire. I feel like the first third of this book was one giant misdirect. With so much talk about the Victory Tour, uprisings, and District Thirteen, I thought I had a healthy sense of what this book would be about. Here we are, sixteen chapters later, and all that seems like chump change. WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED WHERE WE ARE NOW? I suppose the idea briefly crossed my mind once during the first chapter or so of Catching Fire, but it’s such a ludicrous concept. SURELY SHE COULDN’T FIGURE OUT A WAY TO RETURN TO THE HUNGER GAMES, RIGHT?
I think Collins is relying on us to be so utterly unprepared and uses chapter twenty-five to build up the anticipation to an inane level. The pieces are in place and I’m wondering what details and Chekov’s guns I missed in the story, but I’m avoiding reading old reviews or past chapters so that the surprise can punch me in the face.
When I wake, I have a brief, delicious feeling of happiness that is somehow connected with Peeta. Happiness, of course, is a complete absurdity at this point, since at the rate things are going, I’ll be dead in a day. And that’s the best-case scenario, if I’m able to eliminate the rest of the field, including myself, and get Peeta crowned as the winner of the Quarter Quell. Still, the sensations so unexpected and sweet I cling to it, if only for a few moments. Before the gritty sand, the hot sun, and my itching skin demand a return to reality.
It seems coded into the pages: It’s time to finish this. It’s time to stop delaying the inevitable. These Games have to end one way or another. I can’t imagine Collins starting off Mockingjay in the arena, only because it would feel just a bit too incomplete. I get the sensation that she’s building to something besides that, but it’s just a feeling. I suppose I don’t have anything to back that up. But the message is there: Katniss, you are unprepared. Readers, shit is about to get real.
Katniss, in a way, realizes this too, as she prepares to deal with a particularly difficult reality: eventually, she can’t ally with Finnick and Johanna, especially if they’re the only ones left. It has to come down to someone. So when is the best time to separate from them?
After receiving yet another identical set of rolls as the night before, Katniss suggest teaching Peeta how to swim while they have the chance, taking the opportunity to also discuss with him how they can leave the others.
“Look, the pool is down to eight. I think it’s time we took off,” I say under my breath, although I doubt any of the tributes can hear me.
Peeta nods, and I can see him considering my proposition. Weighing if the odds will be in our favor. “Tell you what,” he says. “Let’s stick around until Brutus and Enobaria are dead. I think Beetee’s trying to pull together some kind of trap for them now. Then, I promise, we’ll go.”
It’s not a bad plan, really, just unfortunate and depressing. But it also made me think that this explained the wire that Beetee needed so badly: he had been planning on a trap this entire time.
Beetee proves to be incredibly resourceful and I’m going to credit Katniss with initially showing interest in him and Haymitch with following through to make sure Beetee got to her through Johanna. He’s incredibly astute to the frank nature of their future: Brutus and Enobaria are clearly the best choice for their next job. When Katniss asks if they’ll have figured out the clock design of the arena, Beetee is way ahead of her:
“If they haven’t, they’ll figure it out soon enough. Perhaps not as specifically as we have. But they must know that at least some of the zones are wired for attacks and that they’re reoccurring in a circular fashion. Also, the fact that our last fight was cut off by Gamemaker intervention will not have gone unnoticed by them. We know it was an attempt to disorient us, but they must be asking themselves why it was done, and this, too, may lead them to the realization that the arena’s a clock,” says Beetee. “So I think our best bet will be setting our own trap.”
Well, now I’m curious. Clearly, the Gamemakers could see and hear the group discussing that the arena was a clock, but why choose a moment of battle? Don’t they want to see them fight? Or was it more entertaining for them to do this right then?
I find it strange no one lingers on this, but I’m ultimately ok with it because we get to witness how Beetee is the best ally in the entire history of everything.
He swiftly draws a circle and divides it into twelve wedges. It’s the arena, not rendered in Peeta’s precise strokes but in the rough lines of a man whose mind is occupied by other, far more complex things. “If you were Brutus and Enobaria, knowing what you do now about the jungle, where would you feel safest?” Beetee asks. There’s nothing patronizing in his voice, and yet I can’t help thinking he reminds me of a schoolteacher about to ease children into a lesson. Perhaps it’s the age difference, or simply that Beetee is probably about a million times smarter than the rest of us.
What we see is how Beetee lays out one of the more brilliant plans to attack their opponents. He leads the group towards realizing that the safest place in the arena is the beach, where they are, and that any sensible person would certainly try to avoid the deeper parts of the jungle, so they have to be watching them from the edge.
“Now here’s what I propose: a twelve o’clock strike. What happens at exactly at noon and midnight?”
“The lightning bolt hits the tree,” I say.
“Yes. So what I’m suggesting is that after the bolt hits at noon, but before it hits at midnight, we run my wire from that tree all the way down into the saltwater, which is, of course, highly conductive. When the bolt strikes, the electrcitiy will travel down the wire and into not only the water but also the surrounding beach, which will still be damp from the ten o’clock wave. Anyone in contact with those surfaces at that moment will be electrocuted,” says Beetee.
I hope Beetee is high fiving himself right now. Holy shit you are a genius sir.
“It will act something like a fuse, in fact. Except the electricity will travel along it,” says Beetee.
“How do you know?” asks Johanna, clearly not convinced.
“Because I invented it,” says Beetee as if slightly surprised.
I CAN’T. I CAN’T EVEN. HE INVENTED HIS OWN CHEKOV’S GUN askldfjas;lkasdf a;j as;fklj;lkasdf asd;lkfjsadfkl; I want to hug you, Suzanne Collins.
They all agree (Finnick and Johanna reluctantly) that this is the best plan they have. (I love that Johanna says that there’s no way the Careers can figure out this plan if they barely understand it themselves.) And so they trek off into the jungle for what feels like one of the last times. It’s a eerie moment, as the muggy environment begins to sit so heavily on all of them, trekking out deeper into the jungle to the tree that gets struck by lightning every twelve hours. Once they arrive there, they quietly settle into their duties as Beetee begins to examine the tree. I can picture this scene happening in the movie without dialogue, just the score, and it’s another one of Collins’s fine mental images she provides us.
At one point he snaps off a sliver of bark, joins us, and throws it against the force field. It bounces back and lands on the ground, glowing. In a few moments it returns to its original color. “Well, that explains a lot,” says Beetee. I look at Peeta and can’t help biting my lip to keep from laughing since it explains absolutely nothing to anyone but Beetee.
Here was my reaction to Beetee’s statement:
I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT AT ALL.
About this time we hear the sound of clicks rising from the sector adjacent to us. That means it’s eleven o’clock. It’s far louder in the jungle than it was on the beach last night. We all listen intently.
“It’s not mechanical,” Beetee says decidedly.
“I’d guess insects,” I say. “Maybe beetles.”
“Something with pincers,” adds Finnick.
The sound swells, as if alerted by our quiet words to the proximity of live flesh. Whatever is making that clicking, I bet it could strip us to the bone in seconds.
I am going to be entirely honest: I am 100% ok if Collins never shows us what this is. 100% ok.
So far, she hasn’t. And we don’t learn much more about the arena for the remainder of the chapter. The five of our allies spend the next few hours testing out Beetee’s hypothesis by watching the tall tree get struck by lightning (which sheds absolutely NO light onto how this is going to work, but Beetee is pleased and I pretty much accept his judgment), and then essentially taking the afternoon off while he works on the wiring. There’s some napping, food catching, shellfish eating, and another picnic of sorts on the beach.
Peeta’s just pried open an oyster when I hear him give a laugh. “Hey, look at this!” He holds up a glistening, perfect pearl about the size of a pea. “You know, if you put enough pressure on coal it turns to pearls,” he says earnestly to Finnick.
“No, it doesn’t,” says Finnick dismissively.
OH PEETA. U R SUCH A JOKESTER LOL
Peeta rinses the pearl off in the water and hands it to me. “For you.” I hold it out on my palm and examine its iridescent surface in the sunlight. Yes, I will keep it. For the few remaining hours of my life I will keep it close. This last gift from Peeta. The only one I can really accept. Perhaps it will give me strength in the final moments.
If that pearl is seriously a Chekov’s Gun and it saves Katniss and she falls in love with Peeta because of it, I will seriously throw this book in the trash. That would be one of the most foolish and inane storylines of all time.
I’m sticking to that.
A third shipment of twenty-four rolls arrives with a pot of sauce and they all quietly gorge on as much food as possible, fully expecting that there may not be a need to save any food for the next day, as their plan comes to fruition at midnight.
I have the pearl, though, secured in a parachute with the spile and the medicine at my waist. I hope it makes it back to District 12.
Surely my mother and Prim will know to return it to Peeta before they bury my body.
Oh, Katniss. You’ve got another book to get through! Don’t fret! YOU’LL MAKE IT.