on Feb 7, 2013
I made fun of the whole exchange between Kenny and Ben, but it was actually a much-needed resolution to the tension that had been building up. A lot had happened since Ben’s confession at the end of Episode 4, and it was about time their animosity was updated to reflect current events.
Since I brought it up in this episode, let’s talk about the converging choice at the end…
I lost my train of thought in the middle of the fatalism rant. (Perhaps this is why I shouldn’t try to talk about one part of the game while watching Josh play another.) I dislike the whole, “It’s about fatalism” argument because it feels like the “it’s about cycles” excuse for Mass Effect 3. I could claim that the stupid, tedious tutorial of Homefront is actually all about the lack of autonomy that soldiers face in war. Or whatever. You can literally make that excuse about any dang thing by ascribing authorial intent to brokenness, but it doesn’t make it any less broken.
In the past I’ve praised this game for being clever about how it hides your lack of choice. Before now you were making small choices and it was difficult to see how they converged. But here in Episode 5 the game suddenly becomes clumsy and heavy-handed about it. This was one of the big frustrations with Mass Effect 3 as well: Don’t trumpet a decision as incredibly important and then flagrantly negate that decision. It turns out that the big, important choice at the end of Episode 4 doesn’t matter. One way or another, you’re quickly reunited with everyone. Omid and Christa are always with you, and they always survive. Kenny is always with you, and he always dies. The only variation is if Ben is with you, and that’s tying up a decision you made last episode. Either way, he’s dead by the end.
But I refuse to believe that [Vernon’s group] would then rob (either at gun-point or when they’re not around) the people who helped get them medical supplies. Vernon would not tell Lee that the boat is a dumb idea, and offer to protect Clem, and then steal that same boat while also dooming that same little girl.
That. Is. Stupid. That is a convoluted excuse to make the entire team go to the Marsh House. It completely betrays the established character of Vernon. It was a cheap “solution” to the fact that Telltale Games wanted to bottleneck this game at the last minute, either due to a deadline or recklessness.
Vernon’s group was supposed to be the anti-Crawford. Now here in Episode 5 they run directly against everything we’ve been told about their characters. It feels implausible and arbitrary. It’s not that I believe it’s impossible for the group to make this decision, but the story never properly set up this “twist”. You can’t just have a random betrayal in a story and expect the audience to swallow it. If Princess Leia tried to kill Luke in Return of the Jedi, claiming she’s been with the Empire the whole time, it would feel like stupid nonsense because the writer hadn’t laid the groundwork for that outcome. We gave Mass Effect 3 a ton of crap for this sort of thing, and it was painful to see Telltale making these same mistakes.
The game bent characters (Vern’s group) to act against their established values, and contrived a lot of really random events (the breaking ladder, breaking iron balcony, breaking sign) to shove the story where the author wanted it to go. The writers had a much subtler touch earlier in the series, and I really appreciated it. It’s not that this final chapter ruins the story, but it would have been that much better if the writer hadn’t been cutting so many corners or had planned ahead a bit better.
The next episode of Spoiler Warning will bring the game to an end and we’ll all give our final thoughts.
EDIT: Just after I posted this, I read this comment by Steve C, where he makes a pretty good case that Vernon’s group is actually pretty evil. I’m not ready to claim this was a great twist. I STILL think it was off-message and heavy-handed, but the betrayal isn’t quite the ass-pull I took it for.