The chapter begins with Peeta saying the word, “Always.” Katniss searches for Peeta—but it’s not revealed when or where. Gradually, it becomes clear that Katniss is hallucinating. She wakes up to find herself in a hospital bed back in District 13. Katniss remembers what happened to her after the wounded man threatened her. A figure in the crowd fired a gun at her, and the pain was so intense that Katniss almost blacked out. She’s been under the influence of morphling for some time now.
Katniss has now regressed to morphling, the same drug that her mother once warned her of becoming addicted to—although her Katniss had no choice in the matter. We’re also reminded of the morphling addicts that Katniss saw at the previous Hunger Games. Most generally, this brief section reminds us that Katniss is still coping with a large amount of pain—not only her physical pain, but also the trauma of the Hunger Games.
Katniss sees the figure of Johanna Mason standing over her. The last time Katniss interacted with Johanna, Johanna was cutting a tracking device out of Katniss’s arm. Johanna now removes the morphling drip from Katniss’s arm—she warns Katniss of turning out to be a morphling addict. As Katniss wakes up, she notices that Johanna looks healthier than the last time she saw her. Johanna informs Katniss that the bullet never hit Katniss’s body—the armor she was wearing protected her, and the bullet only bruised her.
In Katniss can’t help thinking about her last interaction with Johanna in the Hunger Games arena, in which Johanna seemed to be killing her, but in actuality was trying to save her life. Johanna seems unambiguously good and sensitive to Katniss’s condition in this scene, while still retaining her blunt and straightforward personality.
Johanna departs, and Katniss turns to see that Gale is standing near her bed. Gale is glad to see Katniss, but Katniss immediately brings up the attack on District 2, suggesting that it was immoral to endanger so many innocent lives. Gale points out that the rebels have only done the same thing that he and Katniss did in District 8 when they shot helicopters out of the sky. Katniss doesn’t have a good response to this, but she continues to look on the attack with skepticism.
Gale’s defense of the rebels’ brutality in District 2 is the “fight fire with fire” ideology in a nutshell. He seems surprisingly unconcerned with the lives of the people of District 2, even though he himself saved hundreds of people from District 12. In a sense, every tragedy can teach two lessons: one about compassion and forgiveness, and the other about hatred and revenge. Gale seems to have learned the latter lesson.
Over the next few weeks Katniss goes through a slow rehabilitation, in which she’s weaned off morphling and made to walk, slowly, around the hospital. One day, Plutarch visits her and mentions the phrase “panem et circenses,” which means “Bread and circuses” in Latin. Plutarch explains that governments have long tried to control their people by giving them entertainment—in this way, the people are too distracted to rebel. Plutarch also tells Katniss that Finnick and Annie are to be married soon, and Katniss is genuinely happy about this.
Here, we learn where the name “Panem” comes from in the first place. We’re also reminded of how heavily Classical culture influences these books—not only are many characters named after famous Romans and Greeks, but the basic theme of the trilogy, “bread and circuses,” is a Latin phrase. Metaphorically, “circuses” can refer to any number of shallow, escapist entertainments, from the Hunger Games to morphling.
Finnick and Annie are married shortly after Plutarch’s visit. The wedding is small but joyful, and Katniss lends Annie a dress from her Victory Tour. Plutarch privately tells Katniss that the wedding will be useful propaganda, though he prefers Katniss’s style of improvisation and entertainment.
This section contrasts the sincere pleasure of Finnick and Annie’s marriage with the coldness and cynicism of propaganda. Plutarch can’t help but praise the wedding on the grounds that it’s good propaganda, even while it’s an event of real joy for the couple. It’s as if the rebel leaders (like those in the Capitol) are so used to thinking of things as media spectacles that they can’t experience reality normally anymore.
Shortly after the wedding, Katniss visits Peeta in his cell, where he’s being slowly trained to fight his fear of Katniss. When Katniss enters his cell, she sees that he’s been forcibly restrained. Peeta greets Katniss, but she hears an “edge” in it. He tells Katniss that he’s been conditioned to fear the things he loved—and based on his reaction to Katniss, he must have loved her once. He asks if Katniss ever loved him, and Katniss isn’t sure how to answer. Performance was such an integral part of her relationship with Peeta that she’s unsure how much of her affection for him was real. Peeta asks Katniss, a little angrily, if she loves Gale. Again, Katniss doesn’t know how to reply, and she walks out of the room. Peeta sees her for who she really is, Katniss realizes—a distrustful, manipulative woman.
Peeta is making some progress with his conditioning, but he’s still a long way from behaving ”normally” around Katniss, or anyone else, for that matter. Part of the reason that his progress is hindered is that Katniss herself doesn’t have a good answer for all of his arguments—she really does believe that she is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, and she is still conflicted in her feelings for Peeta and Gale. There’s hope, however, in the fact that Peeta recognizes, however abstractly, that he used to love Katniss, and is able to feel jealousy about Gale.