Summary and Analysis
Part 3: “The Assassin”: Chapter 20
In an instant, the propo’s artificially crafted world of smoke and explosions turns into real destruction and chaos. Katniss reaches Boggs, his face growing ashen. He orders her to get the Holo. She retrieves it, and Boggs transfers command of the Holo over to Katniss. Just as Katniss is trying to figure out what Boggs has done and why, an oily-looking black liquid spouts from the street, engulfing the road and moving toward them.
Peeta, who has lost control and gone mad amidst the chaos, tries to crush Katniss’ skull with the butt of his gun. She evades him, and unit member Mitchell tackles Peeta; but Peeta kicks him away, sending Mitchell into a net made of barbed wire. By the time others have restrained Peeta, it’s too late for Mitchell, who dies. The group moves on, outrunning the toxic oil that suffocates them and finding refuge in an apartment.
While they regroup, the unit locks a handcuffed Peeta in the closet. Boggs forces the Holo into Katniss’ hand and tells her, “Don’t trust them. Don’t go back. Kill Peeta. Do what you came to do,” and then he dies.
The Capitol’s Peacekeepers come to find them because of the pods they set off and the commotion in the streets. Unit member Jackson reaches for the Holo, but Katniss says it belongs to her. Katniss claims she is on a special mission for President Coin to assassinate President Snow.
Jackson doesn’t believe Katniss and orders her to transfer command to him. When Katniss refuses, the unit members draw guns on one another until Cressida speaks up and supports Katniss’ claim with more details about how Plutarch wanted the assassination televised.
Gale says that he is following Katniss; others agree as well. Katniss isn’t sure how she should lead the group forward. She gets Jackson to help her read the Holo map, and then tells the squad they are going out the same way they came in. People object, but Katniss explains that the oil wave might have cleared a safe route for them, triggering and absorbing pods in its path as well as coating the security camera lenses.
The squad moves forward, carrying a now-unconscious Peeta, and Katniss sees that she is right about the oil: It has cleared a way for them to escape. Once the crew reaches the end of the oil wave, Katniss decides it’s time to take cover in another apartment. While Katniss tries to make sense of everything that has happened, especially Boggs’ final orders, an emergency broadcast comes on the television.
The broadcast shows Katniss’ unit just after Boggs triggered the bomb. A reporter who identifies the key members of Katniss’ unit pronounces them dead. At first, this seems lucky because then the Capitol won’t be hunting for them anymore. On the other hand, Katniss considers her loved ones back in District 13 and what they must be going through.
Gale asks what their next move should be. Peeta, who has now regained consciousness, says it’s obvious: The unit must kill him.
The theme of manufactured reality versus actual reality is strong in this chapter, both in the propo crew’s actions and in Peeta’s struggle to hold onto reality. In an instant, the staged environment that the camera crew created turns into a nightmarish reality with real bombs, real smoke, and real death. This is the moment that propels the “Star Squad” into the heat of real battle, forcing them to move deeper into the heart of the Capitol.
Peeta, unfortunately, begins to unravel during the chaos, with the external stressors of the battle triggering his hijacked memories so that he attacks Katniss. Peeta’s breakdown is exactly what Katniss was afraid of, believing that Coin had sent Peeta to assassinate her. Recall that the novel’s third part is titled “The Assassin.”
When Boggs transfers power of the Holo to Katniss and tells her to do what she came to do, he could be saying this because he’s known from the start what Katniss’ intentions were — to kill Snow — and he’s encouraging her to move forward with that plan. Additionally, he’s indicating that he trusts her and believes in her, in much the same way that Cinna used to say he was betting on Katniss to win in the Games. Such encouragement is what Katniss needs as she continues her development as the Mockingjay. When Boggs tells her not to trust “them,” he is possibly referring to Coin, who Boggs has already said is afraid of Katniss because Katniss hasn’t given Coin a full-hearted endorsement. Still, even as he’s dying, Boggs continues to think of Katniss’ well-being, trying to give her the advice she needs to remain safe and complete her mission, even if it means killing Peeta.
As Katniss tries to make sense of what Boggs has told her, she decides to trust him and move forward with her plan, fabricating a mission so that the other unit members will join her if they choose to do so. She names herself “the assassin”; again, recall this part’s title. Just as Peeta presumably was sent to assassinate Katniss, Katniss is in the Capitol to assassinate Snow. Cressida, for reasons unknown to Katniss, helps Katniss in her fabrication, claiming that the mission is real and adding other details to support its plausibility. Together, they are creating a cover to get their desired outcome, which emphasizes the theme of truth versus disguise.