Silent Hill 2 Retrospective, Part 2: The Characters and Otherworld

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(Content warning: This game deals very, very heavily with physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as suicide and mental/physical illness. If these are things you may find triggering, I would probably recommend sitting this one out.

And, as I should probably mention, there will be spoilers ahead as well, though probably not so much if you’ve read the previous post where I basically summarized the whole plot.)

So, if you’ll recall, several months ago I posted a synopsis of Silent Hill 2 as a prelude to a larger discussion about the game’s plot and themes. To that end, today I’m going to be talking about the version of the “otherworld” that exists in this game, as well as the characters.

So, this game doesn’t have as many switches between the fog world and the otherworld as the previous entry did. Or, at least, if there are, the switches aren’t as pronounced. There are actually only about three times that this switch is made clear: Brookhaven hospital switching, the switch back to the fog world after the player clears the Labyrinth, and again at the end of the game after James watches the video in the hotel. Also, the main differences between the two are far less dramatic, for the most part, since most everything in the fog world already looks pretty dilapidated.

It should be noted that, unlike in the first game, the town also seems to be generally calling out to people dealing with overwhelming guilt and bringing them to the town, rather than a specific person.

Unlike Silent Hill’s otherworld, which was metallic and rusted, Silent Hill 2’s otherworld is damp, with locations seeming to go through some pretty advanced stages of decay. This makes sense, since the tone of this game is quite different from its predecessor. Rather than pants-shitting terrifying, Silent Hill 2 is more melancholy and morose.

Except for the Labyrinth level, which is, in fact, pants-shitting terrifying.

Here, we also get a small glimpse at what the otherworld looks like for characters other than James. Speaking of which, let’s get started with him.

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So, one of the first things you may notice about our good friend James is that he comes across as kind of weird. One of the first things we see him do in the game is make a strange gesture in front of his face in the mirror, and he tends to come across as extremely awkward when engaging in conversation with other characters. His behavior makes more sense, however, when you realize that this is a man in the midst of a psychotic break.

Basically, the combination of intense grief over his wife’s death and the guilt over his role in it has brought about a fairly strong delusion: that his wife died far before she actually did, with the contradictory belief that she might still be alive. And, like many people who suffer from delusional thinking, he lashes out when someone challenges that delusion. This is best seen in the hospital, when Laura tells him he met Mary the year before and he angrily calls her a liar.

It’s clear, given Laura’s statement that she turned eight the week before combined with information from Mary’s letter to her, that Mary had died within the past few days. However, James believes that she’d died three years prior. So, where is he getting this figure? The answer lies in the recording that you can play in the otherworld hotel library: Mary had been diagnosed with her condition three years prior. James clearly thinks of this as the day she actually died.

The game doesn’t really put James in the best light, considering the fact that he murdered his terminally ill wife and gets into shouting matches with eight-year-olds. However, he’s also not presented as being completely irredeemable, either: twice he tries to talk Angela down from committing suicide, and he expresses genuine remorse over killing Eddie in self-defense. One of the endings, the Leave Ending, is actually all about James coming to terms with what happened and moving on with his life.

Basically what I’m saying is that James is an extremely flawed protagonist, and that’s what makes him probably the most compelling one in the series.

Now, as for James’s otherworld, that’s basically the one that we see the most of in the game, since we’re experiencing things from his perspective. This is the run-down, dilapidated version of the world that seems to be overrun with decaying plant matter. This is fitting, as James is also in a deep depression, which makes sense seeing as how he’s in a state of deep mourning.

There’s also the fact that, unlike most of the other games in the series, there isn’t really a clear-cut antagonist. Most people would say that role is filled by Maria or Pyramid Head, but they’re as much creations of the town as the monsters. Therefore, I posit that the real antagonist is James himself.

Next up, let’s talk about Mary.

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For a character that we mostly only see or hear in flashbacks, and see James interact with in two endings, Mary’s presence is felt throughout the game. This is not only seen with Maria, but also in other aspects as well. James’s inventory includes both a picture of Mary, as well as the letter he sent her. There’s also the mannequin in the apartment building wearing Mary’s clothes, which James clearly notices.

We do get some snippets of Mary’s personality throughout the game, though. When she was alive, she used to dress very conservatively, and tended to come off as kind of shy. She also fell in love with Silent Hill during the couple’s visit there, and geeks out over the town’s history in the video James finds towards the end.

However, her personality began to change as her condition deteriorated. Towards the end of her life, she began to suffer from vicious mood swings, and often became verbally and emotionally abusive to James. This can be heard in the conversation in the hotel hallway leading to the final boss fight, where Mary bitterly talks about the hospital making a ton of money from her, yelling at James to leave, then tearfully begging him to come back and tell her she’ll be all right.

Like James, the game doesn’t really excuse her for her actions, but it doesn’t demonize her for them as well. Instead, she is presented as someone who’s facing her own mortality long before she should have to, and is terrified by it.

The final conversation with Mary in the three standard endings changes depending on which one you get. In the Maria ending, Mary is angry with James for having killed her and then finding someone new, transforming into the final boss and trying to kill him. In the other two, she’s much more forgiving, though in the In Water ending James basically has to relive her death. The only ending where he gets real closure is the Leave ending, where Mary is actually able to finish her conversation with him.

With Mary out of the way, now’s probably a good time to talk about Maria.

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Maria appears to be Mary’s opposite in almost every way: she dresses in a provocative fashion, is extroverted and vivacious, but is also often viscous and mocking. As I noted above, Maria is not a real person, but is actually a creation of the town, born from James’s own desires but twisted into something cruel.

However, while the game doesn’t present Maria as a particularly good person, most versions of the game come with a sub-scenario called “Born From A Wish” that paints her in a bit of a better light. This scenario starts with Maria in front of a mirror in the Heaven’t Night strip club, wondering to herself what to do. Eventually, she decides that going out and facing the monsters is better than staying there, and ventures forth.

Here, she comes across an old mansion and meets its reclusive owner, Ernest Baldwin. Through exploring the mansion and talking to Ernest, she learns that he had a young daughter who’d died 10 years prior, falling out of the attic window. One of the last things she does is get a vial of white chrism (which plays a part in the Rebirth ending of the main game) and give it to him. One of the last things he does is warn her about James, who she seems to know about at this point despite not having met him. She opens the door that Ernest has holed himself in, only to find that he’s gone.

We then cut to Mary walking to Rosewater Park. She stops, and briefly considers shooting herself before throwing her gun over a wall, and continuing on.

What’s interesting is that her expression, after throwing the gun away, is absolutely resigned, like she doesn’t want any of this, but realizes that she can’t escape her fate.

Another interesting thing is how Mary often seems to bleed into Maria. One example of this is how protective she seems to be of Laura. Most adults would probably be concerned by a young child by herself in such a dangerous place, but Maria is almost beside herself with worry about her, as if she actually knows Laura. Another example is in her cell in the Labyrinth, where she starts talking about the video that James took of Mary in the hotel, which is not something that she should know about.

Speaking of Laura, let’s talk about her now.

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Laura is an orphan that was in the same hospital as Mary for a time. During their time together, the two became extremely close, to the point where Mary says she would’ve adopted her if she could. The two of them talked about Mary and James’s vacation to Silent Hill a lot, to the point where Laura assumed the “quiet, beautiful place” she mentions in her final letter is Silent Hill. This is what prompts her to go there, catching a ride with Eddie.

Laura comes off as kind of snotty, and really, really doesn’t like James, thinking that he was mean to Mary towards the end of her life. This is supported by the fact that she stomps on his hand when he’s trying to grab a key, and tries to play a prank on him in the hospital. This is really the worst she gets up to; even though her prank on him turns out to be deadly, she wouldn’t really have any way of knowing that.

In fact, it seems that Laura is unable to see the monsters that James has to contend with at all, as seen when she’s confused that James is surprised she’s unharmed. She also seems to have paths open to her that are closed to James, as evidenced by the fact that she beats him to the hotel. The reason for this seems to be that, because she’s a child and therefore innocent, there isn’t really anything the town can torment her with.

In fact, Laura seems largely to have been called to the town in order to put James on the path to the truth. Its through his conversations with Laura that James starts to realize that his own memory of events can’t really be trusted.

There is a theory that some people have that Laura, like Maria, is a creation of the town and represents another part of Mary’s soul. I really don’t believe that’s the case. For one thing, we learn a hell of a whole lot more about Laura than we do Maria. The game’s intro also makes a point of showing Laura coming into town with Eddie, and interacting with him, while we only see Maria interact with James.

I realize that we also only see Angela interact with James as well, but we also learn quite a bit about her as well, while Maria remains an almost total mystery.

I think now’s a good time to talk about Eddie.

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Eddie is angry. Eddie has very good reasons to be angry. Eddie also expresses his anger in ways that aren’t super healthy. Basically by killing everything that he meets.

As for the reasons that Eddie is angry, it comes from basically a lifetime of abuse from the people around him, largely regarding his weight and general appearance. Eddie also appears to be neurodivergent in some fashion, which also lead to widespread mockery from his peers. This leads to Eddie snapping one day, grabbing his dad’s gun, and shooting and killing a local dog.

So, fun fact: killing and torturing animals is one of the signs of a nascent serial killer.

Anyway, this leads to him eventually shooting one of his tormentors in the knee, maiming but not actually killing him. Eddie, realizing what he’s done and the consequences, freaks out and skips town, eventually making it to Silent Hill.

We do get some snippets here and there of Eddie’s otherworld. It’s largely littered with corpses, which Eddie is adamant about having nothing to do with at first. Later conversations imply that the town is recreating the people who made his life hell, all laughing at him. Eventually, he admits that he did, in fact, kill all the corpses that James has been seeing.

There’s also the room where the boss fight against Eddie takes place: a large walk-in freezer, with rather suspicious-looking meat hanging on hooks. The meat may represent a skewed relationship with food, which may be the cause of his weight issues.

Eddie is the only character in the game, besides Mary and possibly Maria, who meets his end at James’s hands. After James tries and fails to get him to see reason about what’s he’s doing, Eddie attacks him, and is killed in self-defense. This is a moment, much like his conversation with Laura, where he starts to question what he’s doing here.

And last, but certainly not least, we come to Angela.

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Angela has what is quite possibly the most horrific backstory of the game, and yes, I’m including a seven year old being set on fire in that. It’s never flat out stated in the game what happened to her, but it is very heavily hinted at. And what happened to her is something that’s a very unfortunate reality for a lot of people: constant, pernicious sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her father, and later (in the novelization, anyway), her brother. Also, her mother not only didn’t intervene, but flat out told her that she deserved it.

This eventually led to Angela stabbing her father several times with a butcher’s knife while he slept, before fleeing to Silent Hill. It’s not really clear what happened to her mother and brother, but the fact that she’s looking for them all in a graveyard at first points to it not being good.

When the player first meets Angela, she seems anxious, almost scared. She apologizes constantly, which actually isn’t that uncommon in abuse victims trying to smooth things over to avoid further abuse. However, she also frequently lashes out at James, taking a mocking tone when he tries to help her. This is because she honestly believes that she’s not worth helping. She actually flat-out tells James this in the final conversation with her.

There are two moments in the game where her otherworld intersects with James’s. The first is in the Labyrinth, when James rescues her from the abstract daddy monster. This room is covered in a flesh-like substance, with pistons churning in holes high on the walls.

Yeah, it really doesn’t take a lot of thought to see what that represents.

The second is in the otherworld hotel, just before the final Pyramid Head battle. Here, James encounters Angela on a burning staircase, flanked by two figures hanging on the wall, covered in a cloth with what appears to be blood in their genital area. This represents, again, the abuse Angela suffered and the utter hell she’s gone through because of it.

Unlike Eddie, Angela opts to take her own life. She asks James to give her the knife she gave him earlier, which he refused. She then heads up the staircase, where it’s implied that she found a way to do it without the knife.

Seriously, Angela is probably the most sympathetic character in the game, all because of that backstory.

Well, those are the characters from Silent Hill 2, warts and all. Join me in a couple of weeks, when I’m going to take a look at the various monsters and what they represent.

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