djkaktus (De)Construction #1: The Pestilence of SCP-049

  SCP-049: Misunderstood legend, or smoldering pile of refuse unworthy of a landfill?

SCP-049: Misunderstood legend, or smoldering pile of refuse unworthy of a landfill?

SCP-049, written by SCP author Gabriel Jade in December of 2009 (making it nearly 8 years old today!) is one of a group of early SCP articles that has garnered a significant amount of attention since its introduction. For early fans of the wiki, there was a lot to love here: a creepy humanoid with a mysterious past that treats the normal human condition like some form of pestilence. Indeed, SCP-049 seems determined to rid the world of that pestilence utilizing his own archaic and destructive means, and in his own words, “Good doctor, my cure is most effective.”

  A character model from an actual video game.

A character model from an actual video game.

SCP-049 also received attention due to its inclusion in the niche horror indie game "SCP Containment Breach", where the character antagonizes the player character and, as SCP-049 is want to do, administers its cure, much to the protagonists detriment. 049's part in the game, as well as its growing popularity on the wiki, has sparked a wave of young fans who laud its creep factor and often present it as a shining example of what makes the Foundationverse great. This has lifted SCP-049 even above many of its contemporaries (including those in the often maligned Heritage Collection) to the lofty position of more than nine-hundred net upvotes.

But does SCP-049 deserve the praise it gets from the fans? Should SCP-049 be shown to new authors as an example of the best the wiki has to offer? Is SCP-049 a literary achievement? All of these questions and more will be answered on this, a djkaktus Deconstruction.

Part One: Item #, Object Class, and Special Containment Procedures

The opening of the article is honest enough. The item number and object class are all in line, though that's not exactly anything to write home about. Then we get to the Special Containment Procedures.

SCP-049 is to be contained in a secure holding cell in Research Sector-██.

Alright, good so far. Site designation is showing some age, but nothing out of the ordinary here.

SCP-049 is not to be removed from its cell unless approved by a Level Two or higher personnel, before which SCP-049 must be heavily sedated.

Since most researchers are typically considered Level 2, this isn't exactly a limitation. Notably, this line says "a... personnel", and personnel is a plural noun, but whatever. Nobody's thought to make that edit in eight years and I certainly won't be the first. In the next bit they say "SCP-049 must be heavily sedated" and while we're given no indication as to how this is done (especially since we're also told they can't remove the mask and his skin is like leather), again, all fairly harmless here.

Even so, at such times SCP-049 is to be accompanied by two (2) armed guards and guided by an iron collar, secured to two (2) iron poles 2 m in length, and held firmly by two (2) Level One or higher personnel while in transit. 

The first thing worth noting here is the parenthetical notation (or the "two (2)" you see in here a few times) which is wildly out of date and wholly unnecessary. I've worked in professional environments for years and haven't ever once seen anyone use parenthetical notation. If you're going to use the numeral, why not just use the numeral by itself? Using the numeral and the word just breaks up the flow of the piece, and that's exactly what this does to this section (and others later!). Reading it feels choppy, because every so often you're forced to stop and read the same word twice for no reason. A relic of a bygone age, no doubt, but one that wasn't present in other, better, old articles.

It's worth noting that these security protocols are laughably inadequate. As we'll later find out, this is an entity that can kill things by touching them, and the Foundation's answer to transportation is to have two lackies push it around by an iron collar while two guys hold guns behind it? Alright, cool. If it works, I guess.

The last bit is pretty pointless. Perform experiments on it in special experimentation rooms (and it mentions a document that doesn't exist) and keep a camera on it all the time. Oh, and if anything weird happens call Dr. ████. You know, the one married to Dr. ████? Whose daughter is Researcher ████? The ones who live on ████ Street? Those ████s.

Part Two: The Description

The description opens with a basic height and weight, which is fine. This, though,

however, the Foundation is currently incapable of studying its face and body more fully, as it is covered in what appears to be the garb of the traditional “Plague Doctor” from 15-16th century Europe.

is weird, because the description then says,

This material is actually a part of SCP-049’s body, as microscopic and genetic testing show it to be similar in structure to muscle, although it feels much like rough leather, and the mask much like ceramic.

So are the robes and mask not part of its body? If they are, then why were they able to determine that, because we've already heard the Foundation can't study its face and body. If the mask and robes are part of the body then they've already studied the body, right? Or do they think there's more body underneath the part of the body they've already studied? How would they know about that inner-body if they hadn't studied the outer-body, which they already admit to have studied, but also said they couldn't study?

more fully

But fully enough to determine that the robes are leathery muscle and the mask is ceramic though, right? Is the mask attached to the face? Is the mask also part of the face? If you've looked at this thing enough to know that the robes are part of the body then would you not also have taken a look at the mask to figure that out too? Seems a little half-assed to say "well these robes are genetically similar to muscle and are part of its body, but we're not even going to start yanking on that mask because who knows what could be under there, am I right?"

Whatever. The next line isn't great either, where it says: 

  ██████, England

██████, England

It was originally discovered in ██████, England, by local police. Mobile task force [REDACTED] responded to a suspected outbreak of [DATA EXPUNGED]. All civilians within a .5km radius were given class A amnestics as part of the initial containment procedure.

Ah, of course. Good ole ██████, England. A lovely place to visit on holiday. It's weird that they would redact the task force name and the town name, especially when you consider redactions for a moment. In fact, let's take a brief intermission to take about redactions.

Part Two.5: Redactions and Expungements

re·dact

rəˈdakt/

verb

past tense: redacted; past participle: redacted

  1. edit (text) for publication.

    • censor or obscure (part of a text) for legal or security purposes.

ex·punge

ikˈspənj/

verb

  1. erase or remove completely (something unwanted or unpleasant).

With these in mind, let's consider why an organization would want to redact or expunge something. 

Imagine, if you will, a document describing an attack on a group of civilians by some sort of monster. It was bloody and vicious and horrible to describe, but for an official report the writer does so. However, someone up the chain decides that the description is needlessly descriptive, and that detailing how people were torn asunder does nothing to benefit the article. So they expunge the details, let people draw their own conclusions, and move on. People might wonder what was there at some point, but the decision has been made to remove it from the record, and it's gone.

A redaction is different in that a redaction is an obfuscation designed to hide something from somebody for, as mentioned above, legal or security reasons. The data isn't gone completely, like in an expungement. The information remains, only hidden in some way. You'd use a redaction if you were going to show someone a sensitive internal memo that contains information you don't want them to see. You'd give them the redacted version, but the unredacted version would be kept somewhere secure. Easy.

The point here is that redactions and expungements both have their uses, but they both require a reason for their use. So what purpose then, I ask, would the Foundation have for redacting the name of a mobile task force and the name of a town that 049 was found in. Is it a security reason? For the mobile task force I could actually buy it, since there's no reason to believe there aren't secretive MTFs out there performing secret work, and you wouldn't want their name laying around. But the name of the town? What is the security reason for blanking the name of a town?

I should be clear here: this isn't a deal-breaker. Plenty of authors with plenty of articles have and continue to do this sort of thing, myself included. I've tried to get out of the habit of it, but it still doesn't have an excuse. These examples are fairly harmless, too, but I want you to keep this lesson in mind because we're going to be coming back to it shortly.

Part Three: The Rest of the Description

Oooh boy. 

The first half of the first line is already a mess. It reads:

--SCP-049 does not speak-- (See addendum A-1), although it seems to understand English perfectly well...

Just a note here that I've marked in the strikethrough because apparently Squarespace doesn't support it. Regardless, imagine the strikethrough in there as it appears on the 049 page. This line now reads:

(See addendum A-1), although it seems to understand English perfectly well...

And that's the first line of the paragraph. Notice the issue? Anyway,

...and is completely docile until it tries to perform surgery. SCP-049’s touch is invariably lethal to humans.

Almost makes you wonder whether or not they should do more to contain this guy than just drag him around on a leash, if his hands are invariably lethal to humans. It actually gets worse, check out the next bit.

After contact with SCP-049’s hand(s), the victim (hereafter referred to as SCP-049-2) suffers [DATA EXPUNGED] and dies within moments. SCP-049 will then attempt to kill all humans it can see in a similar manner, supposedly to avoid interruption, before returning to SCP-049-2.

So it kills somebody by touching them, and then suffers...

Oh.

Well, I mean, it must be so awful that none of the higher ups in the Foundation would want anyone to know about it, ever. Right? After all, it's been expunged. 

So 049 kills everyone it can see so nobody will be interrupted, and then goes back to the first guy he... did something to. And then:

 It produces a bag made of [DATA EXPUNGED] containing scalpels, needle, thread, and several vials of an as-yet-unidentified substance, from somewhere within its body (research has been unable to locate these tools when inside of SCP-049 through X-ray and similar techniques) and begins dissecting SCP-049-2, as well as inserting various chemicals into the body.

Lord help me. What in the world could this bag be made of that nobody in the Foundation would ever want anyone to know about it ever. Then we've got an "as-yet-unidentified substance" which is honest enough, which it pulls from somewhere within its body, but the Foundation hasn't been able to find out where they're from even after using X-rays and-

the Foundation is currently incapable of studying its face and body more fully
  Pictured: What an X-ray looks like

Pictured: What an X-ray looks like

...what? Have you seen what an X-ray looks like? If there was a doctors bag in there, you would know. What the author meant to say here was either that their X-rays can't see inside of SCP-049, or that the bag of unidentified material doesn't exist within SCP-049. Why not just say either of those things?

And moreover, if you're looking at this guy with X-rays then how are you going to sit here and tell me you're not able to more fully see what's going on inside this guy? You mean to tell me you can put him through an X-ray but you can't stick him in an MRI? Even if for some reason you're only able to do X-rays of him, that would still give you enough information to be able to tell what is going on with his face. 

But I'm getting too caught up on this. Let's keep going.

  Pictured: another X-ray

Pictured: another X-ray

After a period of a few minutes, SCP-049-2 will resume vital signs and appears to reanimate. However, SCP-049-2 seems completely without higher brain functions, and will wander aimlessly until it encounters another living human. At that point, SCP-049-2's adrenaline and endorphin levels increase to approximately three-hundred (300) percent as it attempts to kill and ██████ any human beings it can find, before returning to its mindless state and wandering until it comes across more humans. At this stage, termination with extreme prejudice is allowed. Failure to enforce this protocol outside of testing scenarios (see addendum T-049-12) is punishable by termination.

He's making pseudozombies, is what he's doing. Puts some weird stuff in them, they wake up, they go on killin'. I don't know how a three hundred percent increase in endorphins would be beneficial to a creature with no higher brain functions, but whatever. It's going to kill and ██████ any humans it comes across. When it gets to that point, shoot it. If you don't shoot it, somebody will shoot you. You know the old Foundation motto, "Shoot, Shoot, Shoot."

Regardless, none of this thus far as been terrible. It's been bad, but there are plenty of bad articles on the wiki that are probably fine. The next line is pretty rough too-

Detailed autopsies of SCP-049-2 have found several unusual substances (along with usual substances in large amounts) within the bodies, including [DATA EXPUNGED]. However, several have yet to be identified (researchers with level 3 or higher authorization, refer to Addendum C-1).

-but it's more of the same. Pointless or bad expungement, unusual substances, whatever. None of this would be uncommon for a newbie coldpost.

+908

Yeah, I know. We're getting to that. But before we do, we need to talk about the next section.

Part Four: A Trainwreck (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Shit All Over Dialogue)

The first addendum, titled "Addendum A-1" is where SCP-049 slips from boring to "clusterfuck of horrible". It starts out honestly enough; SCP-049 starts speaking for the first time since it's containment. That's cool. Let's see how this plays out.

SCP-049: “What is this place?”

A fair question.

Dr. ████: “What? It’s a labo…” [There is a loud crash here, from Doctor ████ dropping the recording device in shock.]

Ole butterfingers here just can't hold onto that recording device, poor guy. This line actually got me thinking, why was this guy carrying a recording device at all? According to the foreward, they were moving 049 between containment sites when he started talking. It also mentions that the doctor was recording some notes at the time on his handheld recorder when 049 started talking. Who records their notes while transporting a dangerous anomalous entity?

SCP-049: “A laboratory? It is quite marvelous. I now find it no wonder I’ve seen so few victims of the disease in here.”

Mmmmmm. "Quite". Every high school freshman's one-way ticket to Sophisticatedsville. This actually gets better later on, but we'll get to that. "I now find it no wonder", though, is a sterling example of how not to get that thought across. Maybe "it's no wonder" wasn't sophisticated enough for this medieval plague doctor.

Dr. ████: “Y…eah. You see, I'd thought you incapable of speech. I’m somewhat startled you, um, can.”

Jesus skinnydipping Christ this might be the worst line in the entire article. It's like it's been pulled straight out of one of my old G-Gundam fan fics, where every protagonist was some shivering idiot who couldn't string three words together without saying "um" or "uh" and every woman struggled to keep from throwing herself at me. 

Also, "I'd thought you incapable of speech"? This isn't how normal people talk. If he had just said "I didn't think you could talk" or even "I didn't think you were capable of talking" it would be fine, but "I'd thought you incapable of speech" isn't just grammatically incorrect (it should be "I'd thought you were incapable..." or "I thought you incapable"), it's also the kind of thing you'd expect somebody who has never heard another person speak outside of a video game would think people say. 

SCP-049: “Oh, my, yes, good sir. I simply prefer not to. Most victims of the disease are quite melancholy and do not react at all well to conversation. I have seen you several times now, and have not detected the disease in you, therefore I assume you are also a doctor?”

"Good sir", basically the VIP ticket to Sophisticatedsville. And there's our old buddy "quite" again. The gang's all here.

Dr. ████: “Yes, actually. Call me [REDACTED]… but, what ‘disease’ are you talking about?”

Because there's clearly a security or legal reason for why this doctor's name isn't included in this report. I can let this pass, but you won't be able to convince me this is better than just making up a name to add in there. The redaction isn't justified anywhere else in the article.

SCP-049: “Why, good doctor, the Great Pestilence. What else?”

"Good _______", a variation of "good sir". Not the same as the VIP ticket but we're getting pretty close.

Dr. ████: “Great pesti… Oh, the Plague. Should have seen that coming. But, no one here is infected, I can assure you.”

This line actually had promise, if you can believe it. I don't understand the need for the comma after "but", but maybe I'm just picking nits.

  mrrrr curr ers merst erfurkturv .

mrrrr curr ers merst erfurkturv.

SCP-049: “Oh, good doctor, I can assure you, the Pestilence is here, and I can sense it. It is my duty in life to rid the world of it. My cure is most effective.”

Good doctor again. The middle of this is fine, but then we reach the end, and the line that launched a thousand memes. "My cure is most effective". But we're not done just yet.

Dr. ████: “Your cure? Your cure has cost us hundreds of lives! Your cure is faulty!"
SCP-049: “Good doctor, my cure is most effective.”

It's probably worth noting here that this entire interview is single line spaced, and is an absolute nightmare to try and read through, especially on small screens. The space bar is your friend, kids.

I'm curious too how the doctor knew what 049 was talking about when he said "the cure". He doesn't question it, he doesn't say "oh, you mean that thing you do where you kill people by touching them and then sew them back up and they're zombies?" It's not the greatest leap ever made, but the fall might make your ankles sore. 

[SCP-049 lapsed once again into silence, and no further attempts to make it speak were effective.]

Of course. Snooty bitch.

Closing Statement: “We managed to get our tests done for that day, trying to figure out what causes it to perform surgery, or, more accurately, what it detects as the 'Pestilence’. So far, research has shown us no correlation between any of the D-class personnel it has performed surgery on. We’re still working on it."
Dr. ████

Fine, that's whatever. It's fluff that just tells us they have no idea what's going on. 

Then we skip an addendum (going straight from A-1 to C-1) that isn't there and dive straight into the final part of the article. To summarize, SCP-049 is left unsupervised for five minutes (AN ENTITY THAT CAN KILL THINGS BY TOUCHING THEM), during which time it breaches containment and goes for a stroll. It runs into SCP-███ and they have a chat. That SCP-███, by the way, is SCP-035, the only other talking mask in the first series. They talk for a while somewhere there aren't any cameras, and then 049 is all skippy-doo afterwards.

A few things about this bit.

First off, why even blackbox the object number? You go on to say "that damned mask" so we all know you're talking about 035, so what's the point of this? Is it an in-universe thing? What purpose does it serve to not tell a researcher reading this article that 049 and 035 are buddies? At least it's not as bad as an unnecessary redaction, but-

...finding out what the hell he and [REDACTED] talked about during their little chat.

Jesus take the wheel.

Alright, fine. So where did they meet up and talk that they weren't being recorded? Did they plan this out ahead of time? The writing doesn't imply that, since it says that 049 just "came into contact" with 035 and then they talked. 035 is a mask, remember. It isn't animate, not unless it's possessing someone. Did 035 also breach containment? If not, was it in its own containment cell? Did 049 break into 035's containment cell? If not, why? If so, how? We're not led to believe 049 is super strong or intelligent (remember, he can be dragged around by a collar and some poles), so did he just find 035 laying around outside on the ground and they talked there? 

If somehow 049 broke into 035's containment cell where they sat down and had a chat, how was this not recorded? They go on at the end of the article about trying to find out what the two talked about, but where would they have ever been in a situation where they were outside of the range of recording devices to have their talk? Did 049 break into 035's containment cell, grab it, run down the hall to the bathroom and talk to it then?

Whatever. It doesn't matter. What matters is that this is just another example of "series 1 entity breaches containment, runs into another entity, they chat, something is different afterwards". See 682 and 079, or 076 and half of the canon at this point. It was a trope, it's not done so much anymore, and the world is better for it.

Part Five: Here Comes the Devil's Advocate

"But djkaktus," you might be saying, "people like different things for different reasons. Maybe some people just like 049? Maybe there's a reason it's rated so highly!"

That's fair. But I really want you, reader, to think about that for a moment. I want you to think about why you like 049. In case you weren't ready for that kind of introspective request, I've provided a list of some things I often hear used as reasons why people like and vote for SCP-049.

It's old and part of the site's foundations.

Mmhmm. But so is SCP-011, which predates 049 by a year and a half and sits at +275 at the time of this writing. In fact, 049 is the fourth highest rated article in the first 100 slots, after 055, 093, and 096. It is predated by a number of articles within that same block, and yet is an anomaly as far as reception is concerned.

Well it's a spooky humanoid with a mysterious past, I kind of like that.

There are plenty of spooky humanoids with mysterious pasts, and none of them have been as generously voted upon as 049. 

It's really easy to cosplay.

A cursory Google search of "scp-049 cosplay" has informed me that 049 is much harder to cosplay than you all think it is.

You're an asshole.

Not really the point, I don't think.

Fine. Maybe I just like zombies.

Cool, then you've all upvoted 008, right? It's surely probably right around there if it's just-

+397

Huh. Well, I won't complain about that, I don't think 008 is particularly good either. But you can't tell me it's "a zombie thing" and then turn around and not give the same fan fascination to 008. Come on now.

It's really highly rated, so that must mean it's good.

Trust me, that doesn't mean anything.

Some of the best authors on the site have upvoted 049.

No I haven't.

But TheVolgun did a great impression of him.

TheVolgun does plenty of great impressions, but that doesn't make 049 good.

He's great in Containment Breach!

That doesn't make the article good. And still, really?

I don't know what you want me to say.

You've actually already said it, which is why we're heading to-

Part Six: A Conclusion

SCP-049 is a relic of a time when the wiki just didn't care as much about quality pieces of writing. It is generally poorly written, with little-to-no narrative interest and a character that reads like a bad knockoff of better articles on wikis created by users who were angry that they were banned for being too young. It has gained all of its popularity because of a very young userbase who is fixated on creepy humanoid spookies that they can easily "cosplay" (like I said, a generous definition of what's going on there) and show up in their favorite scary video games so Markiplier can shout about them and everyone can get a good kick out of the whole thing.

For a more discerning audience, and indeed one that cares about whether something is "good" or not, SCP-049 is sort of a festering wound on the first block of 100. There are worse articles than 049 certainly, but none of them are as proud of it as 049 is. None of them flaunt their inadequacies as openly as 049 does. None of them are so eagerly upvoted for their shittitude. 

In a series full of great articles like 093, 914, 231, 096, 085 and 140, SCP-049 is an aberration. Something that struck the fanboy jackpot and is now riding its self-perpetuating cycle of success towards +1000 and above. It is bad, and people who defend it as being good are either not talking about the writing or don't know what they're talking about. Everyone is allowed to like what they like and vote on what they want to vote on, but this becomes a problem when 049 is the example that gets paraded around young authors who attempt to mimic it and are disappointed when their attempts end in failure. For this reason, SCP-049 is bad for this community.

However...

SCP-049 as a concept isn't inherently bad. There have been plenty of attempts by better authors to improve upon it in tales and other formats by making minor changes to the original. But what about a broader stroke? Is there a way to salvage 049 while keeping all of the things people like? Is there a way to turn this heap into something worth keeping around?

Find out in the next edition of djkaktus (De)Construction!