In the twenty-first and final part of Night Watch, Vimes returns home to a few last surprises. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For talk of police brutality
This was STRESSFUL, and then it was joyous, and then it was STRESSFUL all over again.
Of course, I worried that Carcer’s re-appearance in the normal timeline meant that Vimes’s realization could very well be true. Did I expect it to happen? No, not really. I bought it for the moment, but thinking back on this, I don’t think Pratchett would have gone to such a dark, bleak place. Indeed, Night Watch is about finding light in the darkness, and for so much of this book, Vimes was that light. He was the voice of reason, of justice, and of fairness in a version of Ankh-Morpork that had little of it. To reward that light with such a tragedy would have upset the balance of this book, and I do think there really is a delicate sort of balance within Night Watch.
It’s not just the circular narrative, though. By virtue of his experience, Vimes knew the perfect person to help Sybil with her difficult birth; he knew what the men who died on May 25 sacrificed; he knew exactly what to do when he finally incapacitated Carcer. (And Vetinari was right where he needed to be, but more on that in a bit.) Each of the things he did in the past mattered, and that’s a hell of a thing to be able to say about a time travel book. There’s no real reset button here because Vimes was the reset button. he had to assemble all the pieces himself in order to “repair” time, and even then, there are still some changes in what actually happened. Time didn’t just automatically snap back into place, and I adore that this story relies so heavily on Vimes’s existence. You simply don’t have Night Watch without him!
But it’s also a story about generations and how we pass things on to the next one. I view the history sequences as Vimes forcefully shoving the generation of Watch men to the place they needed to be. This wasn’t a gentle passing of a torch; it was a brutal wake-up call about how power can be corrupted and how the Watch exploited the power they had. And people died because of it! I don’t just mean the Watch officers whose graves sit in the cemetery in these final pages. I mean the people who won’t ever be recognized as victims of a system that chewed them up and spit their corpses out. There’s a generation of the dead, too, and so it seems fitting that Pratchett included Reg in these final scenes, too. He’s a man who chose to die for a cause, and he returns again to bear witness to those who died the same day as him, but never rose up for a second (undead) life. Is it sad? Certainly.
But there’s hope. Sam, Jr. is born, and that’s the next generation. (Assuming he wants to be in the Watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had different plans in mind.) Even Reg’s ritual has hope in it. He celebrates their lives because they allowed the city to change, to move away from brutality and hatred and towards something a little bit more loving. Thus, it’s poetic that it is over these graves that Vimes has his final confrontation with Carcer. I haven’t commented much on the Beast metaphor that Vimes uses, and I’m pretty much glad I didn’t. Honestly, I didn’t understand its usage, but I feel like I have a grasp on it now. Carcer’s fight with Vimes is visceral and frightening, but Vimes’s “Beast” hangs over it all. It would have been victorious, in a sense, if Carcer had been cut down in this fight, if he’d been a victim of the kind of violence that he subjected on others. (Of course, it wouldn’t have been the exact kind, given that he acted out of chaotic cruelty and sadism.) But in the end, Vimes ignores the call of the Beast so that he can subject Carcer to the system specifically because that holds more poetic justice. To be ground down and minimized by a fair and just system would be much more upsetting to Carcer.
Now, Night Watch can’t be all things, and this whole argument relies on the assumption that the courts will be fair to Carcer. At least here in the U.S., there are deep disparities in the treatments of various groups by the legal system, and I exist here as someone who has been on the receiving end of the negative manifestations of it. But I want to focus on what Vimes’s choice means here. His life was threatened, and there probably wasn’t a person in Ankh-Morpork who would have opposed Vimes using deadly force. But instead, he willingly makes the choice to subdue Carcer, to disarm him and arrest him as he is supposed to because:
When we break down, it all breaks down. That’s just how it works. You can bend it, and if you make it hot enough you can bend it in a circle, but you can’t break it. When you break it, it all breaks down until there’s nothing unbroken. It all starts here and now.
And that’s the strongest argument in this whole book against agents of the state doing what they want rather than what they should. Pratchett doesn’t skirt around the issue; he has Vimes drop his sword, disarm Carcer, and then cuff him. That’s presented as the moral and ethical thing to do. And shit, y’all, that means so much to me. I live in a nation full of trigger-happy cops who will shoot first and never ask questions later. As of the time I’m writing this, at least a handful of unarmed black men have been executed by cops, and the same bullshit spin is put on every story. We’ve just accepted that some people in our country can commit murder.
Our country is broken, and I fear that it’s broken beyond repair.
In the end, though, Vimes and Vetinari have done their part to keep Ankh-Morpork from breaking. I love that Vetinari put all the pieces together and that he helped ensure that the others bought the “death” of John Keel. And now, decades later, Vetinari gifts Vimes with THE REBUILDING OF THE TREACLE MINE ROAD WATCH HOUSE. I already can’t wait to see it, and I hope that one of the remaining Discworld books features it. I mean, I also want to see Sam, Jr., so there’s that.
Ah, y’all, this was such a different book in this series, and while it’s unfortunately timely, IT WAS SO GOOD!!! Onwards I go to The Wee Free Men, which is the 30th Discworld book and the 31st I’ve covered for this site!!!
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