My reference to The Coasters aside, today’s strip shows Cherry making her nighttime rendezvous with brother Dirk and his hogs, for purposes yet unknown. The way Cherry sways back back in panel 4 seems an overreaction to watching Dirk feed junk food to the hogs. Perhaps she thought the hogs would reach out and sniff her or try for quick Cherry Smash.
Speaking of bad jokes, I’m thinking Rivera engaged here in some Comedy Club humor of her own. Today’s strip breaks with adventure strip pacing and instead follows gag strips in that the first three panels sets up the punch line delivered in the last panel. The text box in panel 4 serves as the Comedy Club drummer delivering the clichéd “Ba-Dum-Tsh!” to ensure we don’t miss the joke. After all, Trailheads who take their adventure strips seriously might misunderstand the point.
In a standard “adventure strip” sequence, we might have moved from Cherry’s arrival in panel 1 right on to the other panels showing Cherry and Dirk going over the plans for the night. That is, we wouldn’t necessarily get three extra panels that effectively do nothing to move the story along. On the other hand, padding the story was a common complaint by Trailheads before, especially in James Allen’s stories. Or need we bring up the cave adventure once again?
I don’t think Rivera is trying to make a subtle reference to any of this pseudo-analytical nonsense. Instead, I think she just had a light bulb moment, saw some humor, and decided to indulge a bit. Yeah, I know. There are a lot of followers (or ex-followers) who believe that all of this stuff we’ve been seeing since Rivera took over is indulgent, but will soon be revealed to be an extended nightmare sequence that the real Mark Trail is having. Mark will wake up in his bedroom, all now drawn in the traditional and approved Mark Trail style, turn to the figure sleeping beside him, and exclaim “Honey, you wouldn’t believe what I’ve been dreaming!”. He’ll then discover that the person in his bed is not Chery, but actually Bill Ellis. The end panel shows Mark letting out a piercing scream, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”
Okay, that might be a bridge too far.