What about Thane, people?
[Spoilercut for the two people I know who read this and haven’t yet played ME2 and intend to. You’re welcome.]
Granted, the previous Mass Effect fandom I’ve been exposed to (and that to which I will limit myself until finishing ME3 and catching up) has been processed through Dragon Age filters: pursuing no ME content myself, I see only what DA fans who are also ME fans share via channels they devote to both fandoms. This necessarily means that most of what I see is slash, and most of that having to do with Garrus or Kaidan.
But, guys. Guys. What about Thane?
I did ME2 quests in a less-than-ideal order, as always happens when you put me in front of a not-strictly-linear game. If there is a “best” way to do it, I will screw it up. So I didn’t get Thane until practically the very end of the game — I just never followed up on those dossier assignments until I was almost at the endgame. (An aside: WHAT AN ENDGAME.) So I’d already tried, and failed, to feel things for a great many earlier characters–so many of whom had father issues. Jacob’s quest had the blueprints to move me, but he had already resigned himself to disgust for his father and so the revelations regarding his abominable actions didn’t particularly strike him. So he was out. Garrus was…just a space bro. A well-meaning space bro but still. Just another elite agent grumbling about bureaucracy, espousing vigilantism, etc. etc. Too American, honestly.
Tali, though, was the first one whose personal quest shook me up.* Specifically when she chokes out a furious “Dammit!” upon encountering her would-be war criminal father’s corpse. That is how I react to pain, and I reacted to it immediately in her. And her willingness to be exiled forever from her people and everything she loved–her willingness to take a crime on her head which she didn’t commit, in order to preserve her father’s good name, and keep intact the good he did for the world by concealing the evil he tried and failed to commit — slew me. I had saved the other two members of her people at different, earlier points in the game, not because I knew this was coming (I knew and know blessedly little about plot points, even so late in the franchise’s history) but because it seemed like the right thing to do. And because I’d saved them, I had the option to try and rally the crowd, and call on them to embrace this innocent whom the court was waging war on, and the two I’d saved with Tali spoke up for her too. That was a moment. I may have fist-pumped the air when my defense of her succeeded.
But that was justice. Tali herself is too timid, too young-seeming (for all her bravery!) to be worth a tiresome romance, to me.
Enter Thane. Goddammit, Thane. I can actually, pathetically point to the moment I started paying attention to him. He’s at the top of the skyscraper, and you’ve just met him fulfilling his final contract kill, and he tells you, or rather tells the sky with his hands clasped loosely behind his back, that he is dying.
Aaaaand I am back on board.
As later discussions with him progress you learn that he has an incurable disease, but also that he had intended to die right there in the skyscraper. His last job done, his son unwilling to talk to him, terminally ill, he was going to jump. Or employ his firearm. Either way, that was it. And then you show up with this offer of a ship and a worthy cause and he pauses.
One of the options you have, when you are first getting to know him, is “I can’t love a dying man.” I swore when I saw that. Of all the brutal things to say to someone. I may be a sap for tragedy (a similiar moment is, after all, how I ended up throwing myself at Cullen in my first DA:I playthrough), but not cruelty. That is bottom-of-the-barrel mean, folks. Even if it’s a truth you recognize in yourself, telling someone that is goddamn awful. Don’t do it. Not out loud. Not in writing. Say anything besides that.
But anyway, Thane’s got everything everyone else was lacking. Depth. Perspective. He already had to figure everything out because his time is short. So your conversations with him aren’t about trying to find meaning. He already found it. It’s everywhere for him, because it has to be. He chose to prolong his existence for it.
Given conversations colored like this, then — not to mention his people’s ability to recall nearly every life memory in extreme sensory detail, which is tragic in its own way, and in a fashion I very much respond to — to see him lose it right before the endgame is just. Just. I hate guys who slam tables, okay? But when he does it crying, mad at himself for caring enough to be scared again…oh, man. Thane. Thaaaaane!
And again, I hadn’t played ME2 before, so I didn’t know the likelihoods of survival for anyone. Everyone, because I’d done their personal quests, was classified as “loyal” save Miranda and Zaeed, so I thought that would help. But when I chose Thane to be the biotic shield-producer as we made our way through the swarms, seeing him suffer more and more from the effort it costs — from one hand up to both, to staggering, to begging to reach the exit soon…ow ow ow. And after your last battle, as everything implodes and the whole party falls down, down, bodies bouncing off slabs of concrete and fingers scrabbling, almost touching, but not quite…that was some suspense. I actually sat there with my hands clutching my collar, whimpering “just catch him, dammit, catch him!” And when he’s lying so still under the rubble, just. Just.
I suspect this happens no matter who your love interest is. It’s a heart-poundingly put-together series of cuts. I’m not arguing that it means more if you do it with one character over another. But I don’t understand how fandom, even the little bit of it I’ve been exposed to, forgets about this guy. Where is the love, people? Thane is unquestionably the most emotionally mature of all the characters. Mature, but not bitter, or hardened into numbness. He maintains the ability to feel while recognizing the limits to those feelings — or at least, the limits past which those feelings no longer have the power to change anything. He’s fantastic. He’s fragile — not because of his illness, but in spite of it. He could have thrown himself off the top of the skyscraper and embraced his end as the tool he’d been fashioned into when he was six, briefly emerged from when he met and married his wife, and back into which he regressed when she was killed. But he doesn’t. He remains. For all the unsuspecting galactic denizens, the demented and the dazzling, who do not deserve to be harvested by the Reapers. Who don’t even give credence to such a threat, yet.
And for you. He remains for you.
I don’t understand how that doesn’t move people.
*I am unabashedly affected by father-daughter stories. Things hers reminded me of: defending my dad as a kid, to churchgoers who told me I should be ashamed of him. Defending him to myself, as my trigger-happy SIL coaxes him into his new role as bitter Watch The World Burn Gun-Rights Zealot, since Loving Husband was no longer taking auditions. Defending him to my extended family, who never bothered to see past the bluster, and who thus haven’t noticed that the shell has hardened into a permanent fixture, like that of a turtle. If he played games, he’d know what happens when you turtle. You can win, but by the time you do, it doesn’t even feel like winning anymore.
Mom could have told him that.