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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Check out our episode here! The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Coriolanus Snow lives in the penthouse of the Capitol’s most opulent apartment building but they are as poor as district scum living on cabbage and Lima beans. It is the day of the reaping and he has nothing fashionable to wear but an old, torn and discolored shirt. Maybe his cousin Tigris can work a miracle? Hopefully. He thinks of this as his grandmother sings “Gem of Panem” in her off-key soprano, her delusional reminder of the Snow's former grandeur. He needs to leave soon to the Academy’s Heavensbee Hall. The communications professor, Satyria Click has campaigned for him to have one of the 24 sought after mentorships in the Hunger Games. Coriolanus desperately needs one of the Academy prizes to afford university.

Fortunately for Coriolanus, Tigris does a magnificent job. Snow lands on top! And he heads to the Academy through the streets still showing evidence of the wars 10 years earlier. As laid down in the Treaty of Treason, the reaping would gather 24 tributes, one boy and one girl, from each district drawn by lottery. They would then fight to the death in the dilapidated Capitol Arena. In these early days of the Hunger Games, many avoided watching. This was the challenge of the 24 students being assigned as mentors, how to make the games popular. Coriolanus is standing next to his mentor Satyria who is well into her drink, and can’t help but compare himself to Sejanus Plinth’s new stylish outfit and sober mentor professor Agrippina Sickle, gymnasium mistress. The Plinths have bought their way into the Capitol, profiting from munitions while they lived in District 2. They are everything Coriolanus sees as a threat to what he holds dear.

The student mentors are being assigned tributes and Coriolanus is left to last, being assigned the girl from District 12. This feels like a cut given his family’s history and his own academic excellence, tributes from Districts 1 and 2 were the best, 3 or 4 at a push, but 12! It’s an insult that Sejanus has been assigned the boy from District 2 and he resents this assignment! Now it’s the time of the reaping and to find out who they will be mentoring. The screen cuts to District 12, Mayor Lipp pulls a piece of paper from a bag and announces Lucy Gray Baird barely glancing at it. As Lucy makes her way to the stage she passes a smirking girl, drops something green down her dress and carries on. Behind her, the girl is screaming and pawing at her clothes. On the stage the Mayor strikes Lucy who then begins to sing. The crowds of District 12 and those surrounding Coriolanus are entranced… he might not have drawn the weak tribute. Finally the District 12 boy is called, Jessup Diggs, and they cut to other districts.

Coriolanus is the only mentor at the train station waiting for tributes to arrive, the rose he brings a welcome gift is drooping showing the hours he has waited. When the train arrives, it is a cargo train. The tributes are left for easily 20 minutes before a Peacekeeper lets them out and they pile into a cattle truck. Coriolanus is able to meet Lucy and offer his gift, but she wary. In a split second decision he joins them in the truck and finds they are being kept in the old monkey enclosure at the zoo.

If you didn’t see it here, it didn’t happen” the slogan of the Capitol News rings through Coriolanus’ mind as the cameras pointed at him. Lucy Grey whispers, “own it” and he does. Together they put on a show of meeting the crowd. When the buzz dies down, Coriolanus is escorted by the Peacekeepers to the Academy and the labs. Dean Highbottom is there tripped out on his usual drug cocktail, as is creepy Dr Gaul, the Head Gamemaker and mastermind behind the Capitol’s experimental weapons division. While Dr. Gaul likes Coriolanus’s initiative the Dean sees it as showboating and awards him a demerit.

Coriolanus heads to the Monkey House and to his chagrin Sejanus is there trying to give the tributes food but they won’t take it. Sejanus sees himself in the tributes, he could easily have been one. He recruits Coriolanus and Lucy Grey to demonstrate it’s ok to take the food, and they put on a show of having a picnic together. They decide that if they can win people over, those people may bring them food. Meanwhile back at the Academy Professor Crispus Demigloss poses the question of how to get more people to watch? Make it illegal not to? Have people place wages on the outcome? Dr. Gaul has them make a proposal of what they can do to improve the popularity and engagement with the games. Coriolanus heads back to the Monkey House after classes where fellow mentor Arachne is there teasing her tribute with a sandwich. In a split second the tribute reaches through the bars, takes the knife Arachne was holding and slices her neck.

Coriolanus’s reaction was to shrink from the melee but Lucy Grey whispered “help her” has him heading to Arachne's side though it would do no good. Covered in blood Coriolanus leaves the zoo with some of his fellow mentors. The others are particularly shaken but Coriolanus keeps remembering Dr. Gaul’s proposal deadline the next day, she isn’t the type to let type to let death get in the way of an assignment so Coriolanus writes the whole thing himself dropping it off anonymously the following morning. And to top off these horrific events, Coriolanus is to lead Arachne’s funeral and sing the anthem. Ugh.

But wait! There’s more! Coriolanus and fellow mentor Clemensia are called to Dr. Gaul’s laboratory of horrors where the Gamesmaker has placed the copy of the proposal into a terrarium with hundreds of brightly colored snakes. Snakes which remember scent. So if they aren’t lying about each having a literal hand in the making of the proposal, getting the copy from the tank will be no problem. Clemensia reaches in and it doesn’t end well for her. Half a dozen neon snakes attack, their fangs sinking in deep. So Clemensia is off to the hospital, but Dr. Gaul likes the proposal, so yay?! And then there is Arachne’s funeral which was gauche, awkward and painful for everyone, a hero she was not. At least Coriolanus managed to sneak food from the gathering for Lucy Grey. But then, while giving her the chicken and biscuits the bombs begin to drop.

After the bombs stop Coriolanus wakes up in hospital but he is fortunate as the explosions took the lives of some of his classmates. He also meets Clemensia again, she’s disfigured and seems paranoid about Dr. Gaul. Kinda understandable. Especially the pink scales that are spreading over her body. Once Coriolanus comes out of hospital he goes to speak to Lucy Grey, she survived the explosions though her throat is damaged from the smoke. Together they decide to win the Games, and they will get the crowd in their side in order to do so.

To help Lucy Grey in her televised interview, Coriolanus borrows a very fine guitar from Pluribis Bell who once owned a nightclub his father frequented as it turns it with none other than Dean Highbottom (let’s put a pin in this piece of information). Pluribus is also the one who sold a lot of Lima beans to Coriolanus’s grandma’am which probably saved their lives during the war. The interview is being hosted by Capitol TV weatherman, Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman and Lucy Grey performs beyond everyone's expectations, she has everyone enthralled.

It’s the night before the Hunger Games and Coriolanus brings Lucy Grey a last meal, as she picks at it, they discuss strategy. Coriolanus tells her to hide, find a spot and hide, he’ll try his best to make sure she survives. He also gives her his mother's compact that used to contain rose powder which he has taken out for Lucy Grey to add her own *wink*, she also hands him back the handkerchief he gave her during one of his visits. The number of competitors has reduced to 13 with starvation, the explosions and an escape reducing the numbers. As the tributes enter the arena, Marcus who is the escapee from District 2, the one Sejanus was to mentor, is shown manacled between two poles, bloody and beaten. The tributes in the arena scatter after the gong sounds.

The Hunger Games are brutal, with tributes killing each other or dying of starvation. It’s not the spectacle we are used to yet, remember folks, these are early days. The betting and sponsorship does add something different to the previous games and the crowd seem to enjoy it. Unexpectedly Sejanus has sneaked into the arena and Coriolanus is charged with getting him out quietly because apparently, he is Sejanus’s best friend. Sejanus is doing this as a form of protest, Coriolanus points out that it will never be shown so is pointless and if he truly wants to make change he should take all the money he has and do something with it since his father throws it around to get what he wants. Getting out though isn’t as easy. Some of the other tributes have found them, and frankly they aren’t happy. They are chased through the labyrinth until Peacekeepers provide covering fire. Coriolanus finds the whole incident terrifying, Dr. Gaul says it’s a learning opportunity. Meanwhile Lucy Grey has been holed up with Jessup until one morning she comes running out of cover shortly followed by her fellow District tribute who looks sickly and mad with Rabies running after her.

Working with Lysistrata, Jessup's mentor, Coriolanus send bottles of water towards Jessup. Hydrophobia is an effect of Rabies and Lyssie reasons that it’s what Jessup would want and if he can’t win, Lucy Grey should. It works and he trips himself over the arena wall in his flailing, landing with a snapping of bones. Tributes make alliances, sponsors send meager food and water. In the twisted play of the Hunger Games we expected, Coriolanus happens to see a tank of the vicious snakes who bit Clemensia being taken to the arena. With a flash decision he drops the handkerchief he still has that Lucy Grey used into the tank. Hopefully this will help, but if he is caught… DUM DUM DUM!!

Thankfully when the snakes are released they go after the other tributes leaving Lucy Grey alone to sing. The audience watches in rapt horror as the snakes attack so only Lucy Gray can be clearly heard. The snakes swarm her, but in an embrace and not in attack. Sadly this does not win her the Game, other tributes managed to survive. The next day the snakes all look to be dead from the cold outside the lab, Lucy Grey emerges from hiding and drinks from one of the water puddles, and goes to fill a bottle hidden in her skirts when one of the tributes attacks her with an axe but she release one of the snakes to bite into his neck killing him, she had it hidden in the folds of her skirt. This leaves only her and one other. Lucy Grey darts around the arena keeping the other tribute occupied and tiring him out. He goes to drink from the same puddle but then vomits the liquid back up and starts to move unsteadily until he falls over and doesn’t move. Lucy Grey must have poisoned the water… she has won the 10th Hunger Games. Coriolanus has won!

When Coriolanus goes to the lab to meet the Dean and Dr. Gaul, arranged on the table are three items: a napkin, his mother's compact and a handkerchief. The meeting doesn’t last long. Coriolanus heads from the lab to the Peacekeeper Recruitment Center, requesting that he be posted in District 12. He can return to Lucy Gray. And we all sigh.

Coriolanus is nicknamed Gent by his fellow bunk mates because of his manners and he welcomes the anonymity. The others seem nice enough even though they are District born. Coriolanus goes through his assigned duties with thoughts of Lucy Grey tormenting him, what his cousin and Grandma’am are going through back at the Capitol with the shame and money problems, with the terrible sticky heat of the District. One evening, alone in the bunks deep in despair he hears a familiar voice asking if a bunk is free… it’s Sejanus Plinth. And Coriolanus is glad to see him! Sejanus is there because he broke multiple rules and his father threw money at the whole thing, he agreed to sign up as a Peacekeeper to let things quieten down if he and Coriolanus both graduate. Deal is done and done, thank you very much for the money Mr. Plinth.

With the entrance of Sejanus comes the prospect of his mother's cooking being sent, the potential wealth of his family to make life a little easier, notice of his graduation and the news that a band will be playing at the Hob headlined by a Lucy Grey who is apparently very pretty. In the meantime Coriolanus and Sejanus must attend a hanging in the square of a “malcontent” with minimal weapons training. This in itself doesn’t bother Coriolanus, it’s the eerie repetition of the dying man's last words by the Mockingjays.

On the night of the band playing at the Hob, all the recruits are excited and eager to partake of the white liquor which is basically moonshine. Everyone is enjoying the entertainment of Maude Ivory, Lucy Gray’s cousin but it’s Lucy Grey that steals the show. Coriolanus goes to see Lucy Grey after the show but sees a dark-haired man around his age approach her instead, it’s the boy from her songs, the one who hurt her. Maude Ivory and the other Covey encircle Lucy Grey, protecting her and they turn him away but not without a fight breaking out at the bar scuppering his chances of reuniting with Lucy Grey and the recruits are barred from leaving base for now. Loophole however, Coriolanus and Sejanus go during the day, and take a bag of ice as a gift.

Their reuniting is thankfully not too awkward though they seem a little shy and both want to rekindle what they had in the Capitol though minus the battling for your life in an arena of death. Sejanus on the other hand seems to be up to something like looking at a map of the base in the dirt with Billy Taupe, ex member of the Covey, that same ex guy from earlier. Let's keep an eye on that… in other news, Coriolanus sends a general correspondence to Dr. Gaul, kind of finishing of work assignments she gave him (Dude, you’ve graduated?!), is looking to take the Officers test and his suggestion of target practice on the mockingjays after the disturbing encounter at the gallows has been approved, but only after they trap a hundred or so and send them back to the Capitol for testing. Sejanus’s behavior keeps bugging Coriolanus and he is viewing his actions with suspicion. Sejanus has always been vocal about his ideas of the Capitol, the Districts and the Games. After the Officers test back at the barracks and on impulse, Coriolanus looks in Sejanus locker to find a lot of cash. But why? What does Sejanus need it for?

Coriolanus is working with Dr. Kay who headed the jabberjay project during the war to round up some of them and the mockingjays. Dr Kay tells him a bit about the jabberjay genetic makeup, the breeding habits and how to control them for surveillance purposes, how they breed with mockingbirds to produce the mockingjays which mimic song rather than record speech. Later Coriolanus and Sejanus head to the Hob to see Lucy Grey, Coriolanus gets into a fight with Lucy Grey when he mentions the birds and they discuss freedom of speech, they are coming from very different ends of the spectrum and get mad at the others lack of empathy but make plans to spend the day at a lake with Maude Ivory, Sejanus and a few others. During the evening as the Covey perform, Coriolanus notices Sejanus has disappeared having never touched his white liquor. When he finds him, Sejanus brushes this off.

The trip to the lake the next day is hot and long, they all have a good time. Coriolanus finds out that though Lucy Grey’s ex, Billy Taupe is with Mayfair the Mayor’s daughter he still wants to get back with Lucy Grey. He wants to meet her at the hanging tree and for them to take off up North to find freedom. Lucy Grey doesn’t want this, she doesn’t want Billy as she could never trust him again yet Coriolanus is still very jealous. Lucy Grey also warns Coriolanus to keep Billy away from Sejanus as Billy feeds on sweet. Coriolanus is going to keep a closer eye on him.

Work brings more bird duty and surprisingly Coriolanus starts to warm to the jabberjays. As he is loading the birds up and playing with their recording facility, Sejanus comes up to him and starts to tell Coriolanus some lovely details. Unbeknownst to Sejanus, Coriolanus has pressed record on the jabberjay. And oh how sweet, innocent Sejanus reveals a goodly if not fully formed plan, from drugging prison guards, to where they are going with whom and at last saying how he will make sure his Ma and Pa will know the Plinth name will live on, if only in obscurity. Dumbass. Coriolanus has a small debate, but in the end marks the bird to go to Dr Gaul.

Nothing happens the rest of the week, at Hobs and Saturday night Coriolanus pretty much sits on Sejanus’s lap and when he leaves Lucy Grey’s performance, he follows and puts him in a worse mood. He missed time with Lucy Grey before the show, is missing her set now, but then it sounds like she is singing another song about Billy. When Coriolanus catches Sejanus with Billy looking at a duffle bag of weapons, Lucy Grey comes up to him and isn’t quiet in her greeting and they are caught by the rebels. Sejanus vouches for Coriolanus and Billy Taupe says Lucy Grey is his girl and coming North with him, Lucy Grey agrees and says Coriolanus is actually with her cousin - situation diffusion or really awkward? And then Mayfair happens in and starts taunting them. As Mayfair is backing out the shed, Billy Taupe tries to keep her safe but Coriolanus raises his gun and shoots in the direction of her voice shouting at Lucy Grey to get back on the stage as her alibi. Billy Taupe won’t have that. If he is going to swing, so will she. Another member of the rebels shoots Billy Taupe and Lucy Grey flees.

The next morning, Coriolanus and Sejanus plead hangovers the same as their bunkmates. Over breakfast they hear of the murders but District residents are being blamed using an old Peacekeeper gun leftover from the war and an illegal shotgun. Maude Ivory found the body but none of the Covey are under suspicion. Coriolanus is relieved, Sejanus is jittery. The days pass, Spruce the rebel guy who shot Billy is badly beaten and arrested, suspicion over the murders falling on him. Not long after that Sejanus is arrested but not about the murders. A few days later Coriolanus is assigned to perform security at another hanging. It’s Sejanus and a couple of others. Sejanus’s last word is “Ma” which the jabberjays pick up and echo.

Back at the barracks Coriolanus has a bit of a breakdown but sorts himself out rather quickly, even going so far as to take the leftover gun money from Sejanus’s locker and send it to Tigris. Coriolanus is summoned to the Commander's office, thinking he is going to be arrested, Coriolanus is surprised it is to acknowledge his sacrifice of informing Dr. Gaul of Sejanus's treason. Both the Commander and Dr. Gaul offer their lets-keep-this-between-us thanks. Phew! Oh, and it’s the Commanders birthday so party time, and guess who the entertainment is!

During a break Coriolanus rendezvous with Lucy Grey. The mayor blames her for the murders and is harassing her and Covey, spending hours sitting in his car watching their house. She can’t take it anymore and is going to run North, Coriolanus wants to go with her. At dawn the next day he gets ready to meet her when he is taken to the Commander's office and congratulated, his Officer training starts the following day. The youngest to do so and he’ll be sent to District 2 for Elite Officers training. Leaving the Commander's office, Coriolanus goes and meets Lucy Grey and the head out, stopping at the lake where they spent the day a few weeks ago. Deciding to spend the night in the old lake house there they are surprised to find the weapons bought with Sejanus’s money, including the old Peacekeeper gun which killed Mayfair. While Lucy Grey goes out to fetch some Katniss, Coriolanus studies the weapons.

He could get rid of it, wipe away the murders and go to Officers training. He wants to, he hated this wildness life only a few hours in. But then there was Lucy Grey. She knows. Would she tell? She was a survivor, no, she is a victor! And where was she? With the gun in hand, Coriolanus goes in search of her. He finds the orange scarf he gifted her the previous night, hidden in the folds however is a snake and it sinks it’s fangs into his forearm. They are hunting each other, she must know his responsibility in Sejanus’s death. Coriolanus sprays the forest with gunfire, heads back to the lake house, takes all the munitions and sinks them into the lake then heads South back to the District. All the while the mockingjays have picked up on Lucy Grey’s song.

The next day Coriolanus leaves for District 2 but the train stops in the Capitol with orders he is to get off. He is taken to the lab and to Dr Gaul. She received the jabberjay he sent, and they discuss his world view after his summer vacation in the District. Has it changed since their last conversation? Dr Gaul seems happy with what she hears, ready to take in his suggestion that the Games be mandatory viewing for everyone, a mandatory reminder of the Capitols superiority. Though that is for future Games, she has erased all copies of the 10th bar one for her personal amusement, it was wrong to have the Capitol students involved, it demonstrated weakness. His experiences however will prove useful at University which he will be starting on Thursday.

It’s the Fall, Snow is succeeding at University, being listened to and his ideas for the Games being implemented such as the Victor’s Village and good reward for the District - people need to be engaged in the Games. The Plinths have all but adopted Snow, naming him their heir. Now his life, Tigris and that of his Grandma’am is secure. Snow walks to the Academy to visit Dean Highbottom with the intention of giving him Sejanus’s diploma back, it wouldn't do to have the certificate of a convicted traitor floating about. Pouring out the box from Sejanus’s locker, pulling pill bottles and other trinkets out to find it, Snow hands it over throwing the pills bottles into the trash, nothing negative should further mar his memory. Snow and the Dean have an interesting conversation, the fate of Lucy Grey is still unknown and the Games it turns out we’re not entirely the Dean’s idea. Yes, he conceived most of it as an assignment in Dr. Gaul’s class but it was Snow’s father, the Dean’s best friend who gave the project to Dr. Gaul. The Dean was dragged into it kicking and screaming, and when the games started he began to imbibe drugs to help him get through the day and not face reality. The Dean sees the Games' as vicious. Snow sees them as a necessity. Leaving the Dean, he walks home, they are to celebrate what would have been Sejanus’s 19th birthday that night. The Dean meanwhile will put those trashed drugs to use, he doesn’t know Snow has added some rat poison. Snow lands on top.

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