We all know the Alpha Bitch. It’s a well-worn archetype and firm fixture in most, if not all forms of media, functioning as one of the many glaring signposts audiences can (apparently) gleam all relevant plot information from. When we see the Alpha Bitch, we know where our sympathies shouldn’t lie, and more importantly, who we should suspect the moment shit inevitably goes down. In popular culture, there is no greater example of this trope than the illustrious Regina George of Mean Girls fame. And while she was, in fact, ultimately redeemed (… sort of), the last scene made sure you weren’t suckered into thinking these age-old hierarchies were ever going away. Like a well-worn Gucci bag, the Alpha Bitch is specifically created to lack sufficient depth that would suggest they’re even the slightest bit comparable to their far more common counterpart, the protagonist.
While I was an immediate Chloe fan early on in Life Is Strange, I sensed the gradual progression of Victoria’s budding relationship with Max, and it’s still a delight to play through. In a world so often coopted by the whims of adult men, we’re conditioned to pit women against each other from our earliest state of awareness. It makes sense that internalized misogyny would make an appearance in-game, as we’re playing a young women and Blackwell Academy is a high school. What’s interesting about all this is how our resident Alpha Bitch might be framed in such a way to seem as though she’s sitting atop the flimsy social stepladder when, in actuality, she’s the one desperately trying to outrun it.
You’ll find my take on Victoria Chase’s redemption arc beyond this point, or otherwise, the result of a lot of hours playing through Life Is Strange that began to shift my focus away from our two leading ladies. Like Draco is to Harry, Victoria brings some much-needed perspective to the supernatural table, one that’s already starting to spin out of control for Max. The further we progress in this story, the more apparent their similarities become. When the glossy veneer of internalized misogyny begins to wash off, Victoria educates us, the player, on something every girl comes to realize in her life: that women are stronger together, united against the world.
“Just when I think Victoria can’t get any more evil.”
Like any good mystery game, we’re presented with our line of suspects from very early on in “Chrysalis.” Although Victoria doesn’t appear directly involved in Rachel Amber’s disappearance and, further, isn’t mentioned by Chloe or Max when they fashion themselves self-made detectives, she is guilty for her association with Nathan Prescott. It’s important to note here that Victoria is one of the few people in Life Is Strange who bothers to defend Nathan’s erratic behavior, expressing concern when his “outbursts” are brought up in conversation. She says, “I’m the only person who cares what Nathan is going through.” It’s our first indication that there’s more to Victoria than simply the cookie-cutter image she constructs as a means to distance herself from others. She does care, but she’s careful about who she reveals that to.
The further down the rabbit hole we go, the progressively more “evil” acts Victoria appears to orchestrate. She uploads an embarrassing photo of Max on social media, fabricates a story about Dana sexting Juliet’s boyfriend, and most damningly, leads the charge in bullying Kate after the Vortex Club party video goes viral. By the close of “Chaos Theory,” Victoria is at the height of her Alpha Bitch powers with no signs of slowing down. Let’s not mince words, here: Victoria Chase does some pretty shitty things, but that doesn’t make her a mustache-twirling villain. It gives her character depth and complexity—especially when Max uncovers the secretly geeky side of her, the one she rarely shows to anyone. And don’t forget: Max only finds out about Victoria’s ‘double life’ by snooping through her room. (This will be important later!)
If you choose to play this way in Life Is Strange, Max can proceed to prank Victoria in the same way Victoria pranks Max. They’re all fairly innocuous, but it’s important to note that these actions form a two-way street. You could even say that the two young women are playing something of a cat and mouse game with each other, given the fact that Victoria can steal Max’s cookies of all things. (Seriously. It’s adorable.) While Victoria can be cruel in general, the game provides you with ample opportunity to retaliate—and I believe that’s the uncomfortable moment you’re meant to consider that Max is just as culpable, if not maybe even a little similar to Victoria in their methods of survival. Because being a teenager is a state of surviving in this world, particularly at Blackwell where students go missing. Teen angst is an all-consuming, narcissistic thing for everyone—even the so-called “good guys.”
When you start to consider these things, it becomes clear that Max and Victoria are two sides of the same coin: talented, artistic young women who each feel very deeply, which sometimes reveals their vulnerability to others. They’re handling their respective situations differently alongside the usual stresses put upon teenagers, but to be fair, Victoria doesn’t have the luxury of rewinding time to undo a mistake. Max gets to escape taking responsibility more often than not, while Victoria has to live with the consequences of her missteps.
I know you hate me and you should, but I only want to see you smile again. Please let me know if you need anything.
Our fun little schoolyard rivalry gets real when Max stumbles upon this scene in “Chaos Theory,” which speaks to a wider epidemic that has begun to enter into mainstream consciousness: rape culture. Max overhears Victoria speaking to Mr. Jefferson while they’re alone together after hours, and the scene itself is deliberately framed in such a way as to suggest that Victoria is to blame for it. Clearly, her adult teacher is merely an innocent bystander, politely demurring her advances probably because it’s morally wrong and his career would fall apart. Max’s assumption that Mr. Jefferson is innocent in this scenario isn’t an uncommon one, but it is like a slap in the face by the time the episode “Dark Room” concludes. Victoria puts off that she’s a predator—and she may even believe some of that false bravado—but this scenario proves she’s just as susceptible to being used as anyone else.
This brings us to her relationship with Kate, her polar opposite in every sense of the word, and the balance to Victoria’s often self-destructive behavior. What I really love about Kate (among countless other aspects) is that she functions as a mirror for every person she interacts with. By finding the good in everyone, the people who have wronged her are forced to evaluate their actions and judgments, and Victoria isn’t immune to being vetted. Honestly, I think this plays more in favor of Victoria’s character development than it does with Max. While in the hospital, Kate says, “I might be naive, but I feel her struggle.” This is in reference to a postcard Victoria sent her (above), which was, in my view, heartfelt for someone pushing through a gargantuan amount of insecurity. For the first time, someone actually sympathizes with Victoria’s plight, just as she sympathizes with Nathan, another character propped up as pure evil by so many.
But all of this comes to a screeching halt at the Vortex Club party where, under the glare of the disco lights and heat of the base, Max has a raw conversation with Victoria that was seriously the highlight of my playing experience. There was a true sense of urgency after discovering Rachel Amber’s fate and realizing the next binder was marked with the name of Max’s self-made rival. Despite Chloe’s continued insistence that Nathan was the one they were after that night, Max continued to express her concern for Victoria’s well-being. It’s true that you had the choice to avoid warning her about the very real danger, but Life Is Strange certainly provided ample opportunity for you to do it. When Max reaches out to touch Victoria’s arm so that she draws her attention, it’s the first time either of them have touched throughout the game—and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The physical was the last barrier to crumble between them.
When people bully others, it’s a specific tactic engineered to redirect attention away from the person bullying. It’s a defensive mechanism meant to protect the fragility of the one hurling insults, and at the end of “Dark Room,” we see Victoria for who she is: flawed, just like the rest of us, and that’s okay. It’s okay to be worried or unsure about your future. It’s okay to want something for yourself that’s yours and yours alone, to make a name for yourself on your own merits and no one else’s. And it’s especially okay to acknowledge when you’ve royally fucked up and might be in need of a serious reality check from someone you respect.
For the official record, I want Victoria to kick the door down and sweep Max away from danger in her super fancy car with equally cool alt-tunes. Give it to me in “Polarized” please, Life Is Strange.