“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.
“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:
- They are your resident nerd experts.
- They speak in unusual speech patterns unique to their characters.
- They share a similar color scheme—primarily all white, which presents a perceived veneer of innocence and even god-like purity.
- They assert many negative views regarding other races. They present this as evidence gleaned from logical conclusions.
- They are extremely powerful despite their appearance. Many characters comment on this.
- 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.)
- Their personal quests involve rescuing a former colleague who knew them before the game begins. Both end up as collateral damage.
- They are almost solely responsible for the near eradication of an entire race, an act performed for the ‘greater good.’
- Their worldview is challenged by the playable character. They are faced with the possibility that what they did was morally reprehensible.
- 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.”
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.
“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:
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!