Analysis, LGBTQA, RPGs

A Greater Good: Mordin, Solas, & The Price of Redemption

MEDA

Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.”

“The failure was mine. I should pay the price—but the people … they need me.”

I’ve been fascinated with the way redemption plays out in Dragon Age for quite a while now. What makes Blackwall and Cullen worthy of it, while people like Loghain and Samson aren’t? Does the addition of Justice strip Anders of his right to such an arc? Better yet, why is it always the men who get the chance to change their ways? There are a lot of questions here, and I believe Mass Effect holds a few of the answers we’re looking for.

When I first met the resident apostate Fade nerd in Inquisition, I was immediately struck by his resemblance to another hairless beloved character. Even his name was reminiscent of a certain scientist Salarian. That had to be intentional, right? The more I played, the more I found the similarities shared by Mordin Solus and Solas to be almost perfect mirror images of one another. Where this gets interesting is the point at which their storylines ultimately converge, and what sort of statement this makes in terms of redemption.

Be warned! I intend to cover quite a few spoilers for the “Trespasser” DLC here, so if you haven’t played it but still managed to avoid reading about it, tell me your secret skip to the end of this post.

Dragon Age

“You have shown me that there is value in this world, Inquisitor. I take no joy in what I must do.”

Let’s get the basics out of the way first, shall we? When considering Mordin and Solas as characters, many of their most basic characteristics and story progression parallel one another quite well. Here are the most obvious ones:

  1. They are your resident nerd experts.
  2. They speak in unusual speech patterns unique to their characters.
  3. They share a similar color scheme—primarily all white, which presents a perceived veneer of innocence and even god-like purity.
  4. They assert many negative views regarding other races. They present this as evidence gleaned from logical conclusions.
  5. They are extremely powerful despite their appearance. Many characters comment on this.
  6. They show little interest in romantic endeavors. While Solas is technically romanceable, he strongly asserts that he “would not” have consummated any relationship. (Your flirting scenes involve discussing Corypheus. Hot.)
  7. Their personal quests involve rescuing a former colleague who knew them before the game begins. Both end up as collateral damage.
  8. They are almost solely responsible for the near eradication of an entire race, an act performed for the ‘greater good.’
  9. Their worldview is challenged by the playable character. They are faced with the possibility that what they did was morally reprehensible.
  10. Both make preparations to right these wrongs, and neither inform the playable character of their plans until it’s already in motion.

It’s important to note that both Mordin and Solas seem to express the most contempt for the very people they wronged. To me, this is partly because facing any other reality would send their previous assertions scattering like a house of cards, and partly because I’m sure they have to sleep at night. This isn’t merely about accepting the fact that they were wrong, though—because for Mordin and Solas to have been wrong means that they, themselves, are the very monsters they dedicated their livelihood to protect others from. Funnily enough, Solas has thoughts on this, too:

“[…] I am not a monster. If they must die, I would rather they die in comfort.”

Yikes.

To their credit, we all do what we feel is right. As two incredibly smart people with a great deal of power among their race, Mordin and Solas used their respective platforms to help shape a new future, though at the expense of something else. The genophage severely reduced viable pregnancies in krogan, and the Veil diminished magic in the world, all but severing ties with the once mighty elves. Mordin saw his work as a means of potentially ending a long-standing war, while Solas intended to free his people from enslavement to the Evanuris.

Did they have good intentions? Sure. Did they try their best? Probably.

However, it doesn’t matter what either character intended when they put their plans into motion. Both decisions came with similar consequences, as these things usually do when one plays at being a god: innocent lives. The ramifications of their actions can be seen throughout both Mass Effect and Dragon Age, the damage of which you, the playable character, are eventually called upon to help fix.

Mass Effect

“My project. My work. My cure. My responsibility.”

In the end, Mordin ultimately gives up his life, while Solas gains one. It’s the final straw, and the point of no return: with Mordin’s sacrifice, he is redeemed, and with Mythal’s life, Solas is not. This is why I find it highly unlikely—if not morally reprehensible—for Solas to have any chance at a redemption arc in the fourth Dragon Age game, because we played through that arc with him already. Like Mordin, Solas asserted his views, saw them challenged by a close confidant, and ultimately chose to move forward with the same ideology he held before. If he learned anything, it appears to be how best to strategically achieve what he originally intended.

Redemption is a conscious decision that we must make for ourselves. No one can choose redemption for us, and Mordin is the best example of that. When Shepard offers him a way out—whether by a desperate word or at the barrel of a gun—he outright refuses. Granted, you can, of course, prevent this from happening if your approval rating is high enough and your Shepard wants the Salarian alliance to hold, but this directly goes against everything Mordin is feeling in this moment. He all but explodes if you push the matter, and the scene offers up a truly spectacular moment, a rare glimpse into the mind of so nuanced a character.

“I made a MISTAKE! … I made a mistake. Focused on big picture. Big picture made of little pictures. Too many variables! Can’t hide behind statistics. Can’t ignore new data. My responsibility.”

I can’t say with absolute certainty that Bioware intended for the storylines of these two characters to align quite so well. All the same, Mordin and Solas offer up a truly interesting opportunity for us to discuss what it means to be redeemed in even the worst of circumstances. Personally, I think Mass Effect handled this complex concept extremely well, whereas Dragon Age seems to resemble Game of Thrones more and more in recent years.

That said! There are plenty of other characters in both of these games that resemble one another, too. Assuming I end up making a series out of this, my next installment will almost certainly feature these two dorks:

Mass Effect, Dragon Age

What do you think? Who else would make for good subjects to analyze when paired together? What characters were cheated out of a redemption arc at the expense of curly noodles? Drop it in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “A Greater Good: Mordin, Solas, & The Price of Redemption”

  1. Oh but if it were clear-cut morally reprehensible for Solas to be redeemed it would be too easy! No one wants a cut-and-dried bad guy. And I think there is still time for him to make a choice akin to Mordin’s. Yes, okay, he took the soul Mythal gave him but she died on him right there; I don’t know that there was a lot else he could do there on her deathbed. But he could still do The Right Thing with it, even if at the very end, or only with a tiny percent chance of The Right Thing being an option. He is, we know, not terribly great at predicting outcomes or seeing the long game. He tried, and he got it wrong. But he might still get it right, late. Late enough that he still perishes, but not without realizing what he did was wrong, and regretting it, walking it back, or in some way receiving some benediction as he kicks the bucket. I don’t think it’s too late for him on that. He could engender saving the very people he, at present, seeks to destroy, however much “comfort” he wishes them to experience prior to destruction. He still probably has to die, but he might yet not do it in disgrace.

    Re: the redemption of Cullen and Blackwall, hrm. At first I wanted to point to romanceability as an opening (however much we may regret it) for compassion or its possibility (which, I, er, go on and on about here: http://tinyurl.com/jou2ymr ) but honestly I think that’s too easy, too. Scale, surely, comes into play. Neither Cullen nor Blackwall harmed as many as Solas did. Neither are particularly possessed of a superiority complex re: those they harmed as Solas does re: those he harmed, either. Loghain was, sure. But Loghain _does_ have a chance at redemption, does he not? You can leave him in the Fade, fighting the nightmare. Of course that only happens if you made a bunch of decisions that kept him alive and brought him there in the first place, but…are you then asking not so much why some get a chance at redemption and others don’t, whereas others get redemption handed to them, and others don’t?

    You get to choose whether to redeem Blackwall and Loghain, then. Cullen has learned the error of his ways off-screen (even if the fear that accompanied those ways occasionally creeps back up on him). But I don’t know that being a newly-palatable person, or possessing regret for what he did, counts as redemption. He never stops feeling bad about it. Whatever else anyone who works with him my say about him, he doesn’t really feel redeemed, ever. He keeps working for it but it seems likely he’d never pause and go “yup! all fixed now! I’ve righted my wrongs.” No way. The best you get out of him is a baffled realization that he has found happiness nor contentment again, after thinking he either a.) didn’t deserve it or b.) would never find it. But I don’t know that that admission equates to redemption, either. Ideally, sure, a healthy relationship would spawn self-love or at least self-tolerance but…Cullen is not a healthy guy when you meet him, and it takes a lot of work for him to get there. If he does.

    But this question interests me most because it pits narrative symmetry or justice, or the turns we think an arc should take, vs. the bald fact that IRL, many life-arcs suck. Jerkfaces rise to the top, and those most deserving of feeling like decent people never do. And I know that this is such dicey ground, and I in _no way_ mean to say “yep, well, real life SNAFUs mean we should take in-game SNAFUs as ‘realism’!” No no no. But I’m reading a book now, for example, my Mark Helprin, that I read 3/4 of a decade ago and never finished. I put it down because despite every fiber of my being screaming that a character should not have died, she was dead. And I was done. And then I picked it up to reread it and read past the point I quite before, and it turns out she’s alive after all. And I don’t know how to feel about that. Here I was congratulating myself on Being An Adult and Accepting That Shit Happens and that Things Don’t Always Work Out and then, poof, there she is, narrative balance restored, harmony acquired. But that was a bit of a let-down. It shouldn’t happen. Harmony should still be accessible down a different path. That was what I kept telling myself after picking the book up again. So that fact that, after all, everything really _is_ balanced doesn’t seem…right. It’s too perfect; everyone gets what they want. It’s too symmetrical.

    I know that doesn’t map entirely onto the redemption question but I guess, if everyone got redeemed, not only would it “seem fake” (again, I wince at claiming realism as justification for anything) but more importantly it would be too neat, and would lack the pathos of imbalance. Happily Ever After doesn’t tear at my heartstrings the way Happily Ever After Except That One Guy does.

    Which I know reeks of hypocrisy when compared to my hope that Solas might get redeemed prior to his narratively-just demise. I guess when I consider that, I only regard the redemption on a personal level. Maybe what I mean then is regret, then–I want him to regret what he did for the right reasons (how wrong it was) and not the wrong ones (he didn’t get what he wanted out of it). No one should make statues to him and tell him he’s a great guy. No matter how he dies it can’t make up to what he did to everyone before (or what he is willing to do to everyone at the end of Trespasser). But…like Xena’s death at the very end of the series, you could weight it. She never considers herself redeemed, but she dies the way she does–doomed never to see Gabrielle in the afterlife or anywhere else–because it will free up thousands of souls. Which doesn’t add up to the many thousands of people she killed in life, but still. It’s something.

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  2. “(Your flirting scenes involve discussing Corypheus. Hot.)” ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

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  3. Saying that Solas doesn’t seem particularly inclined toward romantic endeavors? This is the man who, if you choose to kiss him, pulls you close, dips you onto his thigh, and then pulls you close before going back for another kiss. The flirts don’t hinge on discussing Corypheus. Also, with a line like “I am grim and fatalistic. Getting you into bed is just an enjoyable side benefit” (based upon player dialogue choice), it’s no wonder that plenty of people read Solas as very much sexual. And things between the characters as pretty hot. However, based on choices you make and some fan reads as possibly ace, then deliberate ambiguity in Trespasser, leaving it up to the player to interpret.

    For me, the line in Trespasser means ‘no, our love is/was real and there were no false pretenses to our getting physical”. But it *can* deliberately be interpreted as above.

    As for redemption, Solas clearly, to me, wants you to stop him. He simply feels his course is inevitable, that he must “pay the price”, that he must fix things and restore what was. But the track he feels compelled to be on, it seems a course he wants to be redeemed from, but he feels like he has no choice. If you have high approval or are his love, he’ll hint at this. He’ll acknowledge his experiences with you and The Inquisition have changed his views, that he recognizes people have value.

    As for Mythal, it’s unknown what happened to her. As he gives the reason for the Evanuris going too far as “they killed Mythal” as a power play, then I don’t see him as having also killed her. Mythal’s spirit has proven to be an enduring one, and it’s likely that Mythal will go to live on in Morrigan, in my opinion. Also, early datamined files and codexes in Trespasser point at a partnership of sorts between Solas and Mythal, and Mythal’s vengeance has never been demonstrated. Flemeth speaks of Mythal’s vengeance, of a reckoning. I doubt we’ve seen the last of Mythal, and some things hint at the possibility of her giving Solas her power (notice how she sends something through the eluvian before he comes).

    I want to see him redeemed, because he already has doubts about what he’s doing, regrets, preemptive guilt, a heavy heart in it all. And his remorse is obvious if you are friends or love him. I really hope we get to play our Inquisitors again in a direct continuation. Mine loves him, and wants him to get a peaceful end, to stop kicking himself over everything, and to accept the past as the past and live in the now.

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    1. I know its not something a lot of players want to hear or deal with, but it seems all but certain that the Inquisitor’s days as the player character are over. Trespasser sure felt alot like Citadel, i.e. a way to close the chapter on a character while doing some fan service. And losing your arm- and perhaps more importantly the Anchor, the thing that made the Inquisitor distinguished or relevant in the first place- is a pretty obvious symbolic, and practical, way or putting her out to pasture.

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  4. How have I managed to still not see Tresspasser? Well I drop Twitch like a hot potato and my little one keeps me very busy. LOL So I just have to accept that some day, some day. I will play DAI all the way through. I mean i seriously haven’t even completed the game to be honest.

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