on Jun 29, 2012
Leviathan is an unreleased, unannounced DLC for Mass Effect 3. Apparently a few loose assets for it were mixed in with the recently released Extended Cut DLC. Specifically, the subtitle text files were discovered by a few curious fans who went nosing around in the data files. By reading the subtitles, they were able to piece together the plot of this DLC. Spoilers below:
Shepard’s mission is to rescue Ann Brynson, a scientist trapped in a mining colony that has been indoctrinated by Leviathan. Depending on Shepard’s actions, the traitorous Reaper may end up as an ally in the final battle for Earth.
Ugh. I don’t know that we can complain too much about Mass Effect 3 lore at this point. If you still see the Mass Effect universe as a coherent work of fiction, then this probably isn’t going to push you over the edge into hater-ville. But when I read this I still felt like I was reading Mass Effect fanfiction. It’s just wrong. Setting aside whatever lore gymnastics or retcons they employ to justify this, it’s just the wrong tone. They can’t be the big scary other if they’re also familiar and relatable.
This is actually a pretty common thing in a long-running series that has the fingerprints of many writers on it. At first the show introduces some new force that is really fresh, interesting, and completely alien. It will breathe life into the show and fans will eat it up. Then another writer gets their hands on it and they don’t know what to do with this crazy alien. But the fans love it, so they “expand” the alien to have some new dimension. If they started as an implacable hive-mind, the writer will show they actually have disagreements or factions. If they’re emotionless, the writer will reveal that… they actually do have emotions! DUN DUN DUN! If they’re heartless and cruel, the writer will show us a couple who are gentle and kind. What seemed like a great mystery is, over time, revealed to be something mundane that just made a really strange first impression.
In the end, the Aliens are diminished. Each new “reveal” makes them more like regular boring homo sapiens. By adding to them the writers are paradoxically taking away from them, by eroding the very attributes that made them interesting to begin with. The Borg began as a hive mind, and ended as another mustache-twirling bad guy with a big army and easily understood human-type goals. (The entire borg race is just an entension of one queen, who is trying to get laid? We’re a long way from the guys that cut up the Enterprise like a birthday cake all those years ago.) Klingons began as petty nationalists in the original series. The movies sort of reconned them into fierce space barbarians, and then subsequent shows eroded them into Grumpy Humans With Lumpy Foreheads. (We forgive them for it because this came mostly from Worf, and he was a pretty good character, except for when the writers used him as a punching bag to establish this week’s Big Bad.) Data got an emotion chip, thus collapsing his entire character arc and character drive into an on/off switch.
I’m sure there are examples in Dr. Who, but I’m not really up on my Who lore.
I didn’t watch anything past the pilot of the new Battlestar Galactica. This was partly because I couldn’t stand a couple of the characters. (Hey writers, we already have dangerous MONSTERS to hate, so why are you making me hate the protagonists? See also: Walking Dead.) But the other major reason was that the machines were just too dang much like people for my taste. They started out feeling a bit alien, but by the end they seemed pretty human in their motivation.
I will say that Firefly’s Reavers seemed to work pretty well. Joss Whedon managed to reveal their origin and nature without diminishing them. You can just imagine what Star Trek would have done with the Reavers. Eventually they would have an agenda. Then they would have factions. Then there would be a “cure”. Then you’d have a Reaver Crewmate that could “relapse” into cannibal-mode and be re-cured, over and over, as required by the plot.
Reavers aside, what other long-running* aliens retained their initial tone and weight, even as the writers revealed and explained them?
* By “long running” I mean multiple movies, seasons of a show, or books. One really long book doesn’t count.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.