behavior mapping

Transcript Ep84 1:11:11 Hallway drinking party + analysis of Percy’s current mental health

NOTE: Making conjectures about anyone’s mental health from purely observational information is inherently flawed. I emphatically suggest you don’t do so for real people. It can cause us to make incorrect assumptions about them, misinterpret their intentions, incorrectly assess their abilities, or invite bias against them. I’m also very wary of psychological assessments for fictional characters. But sometimes a character’s actions only make sense when you understand their psychology, and it is for that reason that I’m sharing my assessment of Percy.

Many people have enough direct or indirect experience with depression and anxiety to empathize with them. They may influence who a person is, but in a mostly reliable way. You expect Vax to be mostly gloomy. You expect Keyleth to over-analyze everything. It’s very hard for most people to empathize with bipolar disorder precisely because it can put a person’s behavior all over the map. It’s harder to spot the signs of since it keeps the person in so much flux. If you start to get a read on someone, and then they do something totally opposite of what you’d expect, it’s easy to doubt that your analysis. That said, this is only a well educated guess, I believe it’s a useful guess, but it could be incorrect.

In Talks Machina Ep3 0:56:56, Taliesin says death left Percy, “feeling very committed to his current manic phase that he’s going through. There will probably be a, you know, a depressive phase at the end of this.“ Those two sentences use psychiatric language implying bipolar disorder, which Percy’s behavior is consistent with (painfully so, at times). He started out the broadcast fairly stable, but rapidly deteriorated into a mixed state (plus PTSD) when the Briarwoods were reintroduced. Mixed affective state is the most unpredictable and dangerous; consider the worst thoughts attached to depression with an abundance of nervous energy and lack of impulse control. He started stabilizing again after Whitestone was restored. But his role in killing Vex in Ep44 sent him into depression. He bottomed out in Ep57. Looking for help from the Raven Queen at all was a sure sign of desperation from a guy that’s largely ignored the gods. But more significant is the walk home. Casting hex on himself is the only deliberate act of self half from any of the characters so far, and he did it directly after talking to death herself. His mood markedly improved after that.

Ep84 is the first time we’ve seen Percy depressed since Ep64, while showing Vax the Raven Queen’s Temple. In those 16 days, Vax has started coming out of his gloom. But that’s not what we see in Percy’s behavior. In Talks Machina Ep3 (0:56:45, post-Ep76), a fan said Percy "seems in better humors”, and Taliesin explicitly referred to it as Percy’s “current manic phase” (0:56:56). I think Percy can feel the edges of it in Ep64, anxious distress pushing him to very earnestly ask Vax not to trust him (1:56:32). It starts really showing itself when Ripley came back into the picture (Ep66). His expression of distress, through Ep68, shows classic signs of mania (compounded with PTSD): racing thoughts, rapid talking in Ep67, agitation, trouble focusing on required tasks, and obsessive focus. The way he handles Raishan in Ep70 shows a marked increase in self-esteem and reïnforces the hyper-focus. The way he kissed Vex in Ep72 showed even more marked self-esteem, increase in goal-oriented behavior, and, given his insecurity, increased risk-taking. The most dangerous manifestation was in Ep73 when he asked if they should protect Whitestone (1:37:28), was told no, and then stabed Raishan (1:45:44). That is squarely in the ranks of a sense of grandiosity, racing thoughts, being overly goal-oriented, and “excessive involvement in activates with a high potential for painful consequences.” (DSM-5). Which is also why he came up short explaining his actions. It seemed like a good idea in the high of the moment, but it’s obviously a bad idea in hindsight. The mania backed off a bit after that, but it’s the restless energy that pervaded his actions under pressure up until now.

But in this scene, we see that mood starting to crash. He’s still showing manic signs. He says he’s very tired in both Ep83 and Ep84 (0:50:11), but still stays up until 3 am. He’s aware that his ideas for pranking Scanlan might be impulsive and poor judgement, so he asks Pike to check him. But we see increasingly more signs of depression. His inflated self-esteem starts crumbling back to self-recrimination. The guilt and hopelessness start crashing in again. His agitation changes from a restlessness to do things into bitterness. We see him struggling to concentrate and be articulate (1:15:24). His preoccupation with death turns back towards his personal relationship with it (rather than outward towards Ripley, Raishan, and Thordak). This is the only episode where it was stated that he drank so heavily he can’t entirely remember the night before. Which could be a worrying symptom, but could also just be the release of that night.

Mania can be exacerbated by intense pressure. The need to react quickly and decisively tends to push the mind that way and keep it there. But once that pressure is gone, one tends to crash. If you think of mood like a wave, shorter cycles and higher amplitudes are both more dangerous and positively reinforce each other. So, if this was a fast and bad cycle up, there’s a good chance that his mood will crash down quickly and badly (it might not, and further pressure could influence it). It’s also possible that the sheer size of the stakes they’ve been playing for made Percy’s manic cycle look worse than it really was. Any unnecessary risk taking could so easily end in such a huge disaster for them, or pay huge dividends. I do believe Taliesin in Talks Machina Ep3 (0:57:35), when he says that Percy’s healthier than he was, but also, and importantly, that he isn’t healthy.

Layered on top of his fluctuating mood are important changes in his outlook: he’s become more emotionally open with his friends, he’s increasingly feeling like he doesn’t have control of or choice in the direction of his life, and he’s become increasingly mistrustful of things like magic if he can’t see how they work.

He was so closed off through the Whitestone arc that his friends could barely help him, even though he was in tremendous distress. Vex was the only one who got through to him at all. In his quiet conversations with Vax (Ep32 2:42:42, Ep44 1:15:21, and Ep64 1:51:03) he held a lot back, though a lot less in Ep64. There’s a marked difference in how earnest he was in Ep67 1:36:46 when he tells Vex and Vax his fears about Ripley and himself. His conversation with Vex in the woods in Ep72 is similarly open. But we’ve never seen him as desperately frank as he is in this hallway (that openness leading to his tirade in Ep85).

Percy has a lot of interesting control issues. He’s generally fine letting things, people, or situations be. He doesn’t mind things being a mess around him and he has no constant need to bring order to things. But in high-stakes situations, combat, negotiations, and other things that scare him, he “is very much about the idea of creating bubbles of control” (Talks Machina Ep8 Twitch 0:54:58, bottom of the article). Magic has had a huge influence in controlling his life lately, but he has no basis to understand how it works, his way of trusting things, and he has no way to assert control over it. So, his reaction is to push it away entirely.

Rule of Whitestone is weighing more and more heavily on him. In Ep24 (0:20:09), while telling Vox Machina about Whitestone and the coup, he says, “I had nothing in my life other than my family. I was never really going to inherit anything. I wasn’t going to run anything. I was idle.” Julius and Vesper handled matters of court. Everything he’s said about his early history suggest he had no interest in rule and probably not much specific training. His mental disorders make him inherently unreliable. He might learn to manage that better, but he’ll never be free of it. Part of Percy’s ego is a constant need to prove that he’s more clever and capable than other people. So, to find himself in a role he’s ill-prepared for would be a tremendous source of anxiety. When Cassandra asks him to commit to helping her run Whitestone (Ep73 52:36), he deflects, and his anxiety is palpable. In Talks Machina Ep5 (Alpha 1:05:55 for Ep78), Taliesin was asked how he felt about Percy and Cassandra’s relationship. He says, “[Cassandra] is a representation of everything he’s been ignoring while he’s been out finding himself. He has been out finding himself, and he has discovered that he really likes that person, and is horrified that he may have to go back. He does not want to go back. He will go back. Probably-Maybe. Probably. Possibly. Who knows? But he’s- yeah. She is a stunning example of his guilt, and everything that he has done wrong in his life, and every time he looks at her he is painfully aware of his own weakness, and is so guilty, so guilt ridden. He’s not over that at all.”

He’s thankful to have his home back, but it’s also an external reminder of the coup that may be causing him a lot of unspoken pain because of his PTSD (Cassandra as well, and I think he knows that). We don’t actually know a lot about the events of that night, so we can’t be sure how much of his guilt is appropriate, disproportionate, or delusional. We do know that a component of what he’s feeling is survivor’s guilt, given that he says, “I just… miss an awful lot of people, that’s all. And I don’t understand how we get to choose.” (1:16:27) Staying in Whitestone, however much he loves the place, means resigning himself to a pained life he has little temperament or experience to do well in. So, it’s significant that he sits in this hallway, this night, and says, “I know my life isn’t my own. My life is all of yours. My life is my sister’s. My life is, this castle’s. My life ended.” Vox Machina has been an escape from all of this, a chance to live his life on his terms for the first time. Now he’s looking down the road and seeing, intellectually, that he’ll have to give up that freedom. He’s resigned to it, but he hasn’t accepted it in any healthy way or he wouldn’t say, “My life ended.” Not that he’ll have to restructure or make accommodations in his life, but that his role in his life is over.

This isn’t that that different from Vax first resigning himself to being in the control of the Raven Queen as her champion. Vax was placed in that position by fate rather than will. Vax has been able to learn that that he’s quite competent in that mantle, however much trepidation he still holds for his future. But Percy knows enough about what will be required of him to also know that it will never come naturally to him. All he bleakly sees is another mask to put on, to live for years as someone he’s not, and never could be. The pain of this resignation is largely why Percy lashes out at Scanlan in Ep85.

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Transcript method notes:

Scene runs: 1:11:12 to 1:31:03

[Everyone starts out understandably upset, through the resurrection ritual. When it succeeds, most of their moods lift with relief. Percy’s doesn’t. He looks more introspective. His words drag, trying to resolve the last details needed to let Scanlan rest and recover.]

0:50:11 Percy: “I am going to go back to the castle, sit down, take this off, and, I think, sleep for a long while.”

0:50:20 Marisha: “Yeah, what time of day is it?”

0:50:22 Matt: “At this time… the arrival here… it’s pushing past sunset, I’m pretty sure. Or if not, it’s probably early night, with the hour it took for the ritual.”

[Kerrek and Grog started drinking in the hallway outside Scanlan’s room, Ker trying to press Grog for information about resurrection rituals. Pike just joined them in the hallway. Ker went to get more alcohol.]

1:11:12 Matt, indicating Taliesin: “So, you wander in.”

1:11:13 Taliesin: “Yes.”

1:11:14 Matt: “Kerrek wandered away.”

1:11:15 Taliesin: “I’m going to wander into the room,”

Percy salutes Grog and Pike sitting in the hallway outside Scanlan’s room, drinking.

1:11:16 Taliesin: “with a nod, and just sit for a moment.”

1:11:20 Grog, suspiciously pointing at Percy: “Wait! Prove that you’re you.”

1:11:23 Percy, studies Grog, scrutinizing the idea.

1:11:25 Percy, slowly, wistfully: “No…”

1:11:27 Grog, nodding, satisfied, “It’s you.”

1:11:27 Percy, slightly relieved: “Thank you.”

Percy takes a drink and sighs.

(1:11:39 Taliesin, laughing: “I love you so much.”)

1:11:41 Matt: “Alright, so you sit for a bit. Ker eventually returns with a second bottle of matching alcohol. Unopened though. The same-”

1:11:48 Pat, mimicking holding up two bottles: “Two! Two! Two hands!”

1:11:51 Matt: “Oh! So you go for a third bottle as well.”

1:11:54 Pat: “Yes.”

1:11:54 Matt: “Two unopened bottles of the same brackish liquor.”

1:12:00 Percy sighs, clearly reflecting on something.

1:12:01 Pat: “And I’ll pass one to both of the people that I was not drinking with before. I’ll pass them off.”

1:12:11 Matt: “Okay, so, Pike and Percival, you have a fresh bottle jammed into your hand.”

1:12:14 Pike, singsong: “One for me!”

1:12:17 Percy: “I’ll be passing this around a bit.” He takes a drink, and salutes them with the bottle. “Mmm.”

1:12:24 Pike, excitedly sitting up and smiling: “Should we all sit on the bed around Scanlan like a slumber party?”

1:12:28 Grog, deliberating in a high voice: “Is that creepy?”

1:12:30 Percy, dispirited: “Honestly, I’m thinking about going through his things. So, no, I don’t think it is.”

Pike and Grog laugh.

1:12:33 Grog, satisfied: “Well. Okay.”

1:12:36 Matt: Makes a fart noise. “Scanlan is definitely alive.

They laugh, most heartily. But Percy falls back to a low mood far before the others stop laughing.

1:12:49 Pike, warmly: "What were you guys talking about, out there? If I can be so rude to ask?”

1:12:53 Grog: “Oh, us?”

1:12:54 Ker: “Uh… The liquor… is has, uh, fabulous brackish notes.”

1:12:58 Grog, in his high dishonest voice: “Yep. Notes of brack.”

1:13:03 Pike, laughing, seeing through him: “Great. Great.”

1:13:05 Percy, without real pride: “Thank you. We make it here.”

1:13:07 Grog, excitedly to Pike: “We were, um- I was also- talking about what a great job you do. Apparently, you’re really rare.”

1:13:16 Pike: “What do you mean?”

1:13:17 Grog, with admiration: “Apparently, you and your resurrections, they don’t always work. Which is amazing.”

1:13:25 Pike, matter of fact: “They don’t always work.”

Percy subtly flinches.

1:13:27 Grog, impressed: “I didn’t know that!”

1:13:28 Pike: “They don’t. We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve been very fortunate… What did you- why do you ask, Ker?”

1:13:39 Ker: “I’ve never actually seen anything like that before. It was quite an experience. Am I still wearing my armor?”

1:13:50 Pat: “I might actually ask that out loud.”

1:13:53 Matt: “And he is! He’s still wearing his armor, unwashed. A few of you have gotten washed,” Taliesin nods, indicating himself, Travis shakes his head “A few or you are still going over the events of the day. Grog is not washed.”

1:14:04 Ashley: “Not yet.”

1:14:05 Laura: “Grog never washes!”

1:14:06 Matt: “Yeah.”

1:14:06 Travis: “Parfum du Grog.”

1:14:07 Laura pretends to gag.

1:14:08 Matt: “So yeah, he is still wearing his armor.”

1:14:09 Pat: “You get the marvelous spectacle of a slightly older, slightly portly man shrugging out of a full suit of chain mail. It’s entertaining. And then just dumps it on the floor, and then the padding underneath.”

Kerrek sighs in relief.

1:14:39 Grog: “That’s a lot of shit you wear, man.”

1:14:42 Ker, deadpan: “You know, what I forgot over all these years? Like, the sweat gathers in your ass.”

The others laugh in agreement. Percy barely manages a laugh in contrast. His fidgeting suggests increasing agitation.

1:14:51 Grog: “Right. Yeah.”

1:14:53 Pike: “Swamp ass.”

1:14:54 Marisha, laughing hard: “Swamp ass.”

1:14:55 Pike: “Swamp ass.”

1:14:55 Marisha, laughing hard: “Butt crack. Yeah…”

1:14:56 Pike: “It’s a thing.”

1:14:57 Marisha: “It sucks.”

1:14:57 Ker: “You’d think that I would remember, but, no. I had forgotten that.”

1:15:04 Pike: “It just drips right in.”

1:15:05 Percy, deadpan: “I forget, and then suddenly I remember, that I met you all in a prison cell.”

1:15:15 Pike, fondly: “I remember very well.

1:15:16 Percy: laughs mirthlessly.

1:15:19 Percy, sadly, "It’s not fair, is it?”

1:15:21 Grog asks, “What?”

1:15:24 Percy, increasingly downcast, struggling for words: “Well, just one day… You lose so many people, and then just one day you just stop. And at what point in your life, it just…? You decide that suddenly, for no reasons, it just… You’re just not allowed to die yet. You’re just- Your life isn’t your own anymore. Suddenly, you’ve done what you were supposed to do, and now you’re back, and… it’s just not yours anymore, is it? And what of everybody else? It’s not fair. Any of it. … I don’t know.” He takes another drink, and starts drinking more often.

1:16:04 Grog, puzzled and inquisitive: “What? You don’t think your life is your own?”

1:16:07 Percy, emphatically, tinged with distress: “I know my life isn’t my own. My life is all of yours. My life is my sister’s. My life is, "he looks around like he’s feeling trapped, "this castle’s.” He takes a long drink. “My life ended.”

1:16:24 Pike, concerned: “Do you feel-”

1:16:27 Percy, with a pained smile: “I am very glad to be here.” He laughs grimly, then continues sadly. “I just… miss an awful lot of people, that’s all. And I don’t understand how we get to choose.”

1:16:42 Grog, with dawning understanding: “Oh…”

1:16:47 Pike, consolingly: “I understand.”

1:16:48 Percy: “I know.”

1:16:50 Grog, whispering to Pike: “I just got it, too.”

1:16:52 Pike, whispering to Grog: “Yeah.”

1:16:52 Percy: “I know you don’t, Grog. I’m so grateful that you don’t.”

1:16:57 Percy sighs, staring at the bottle in thought a few moments. Then raises it in a toast.

1:17:00 Percy: “To the unyielding unfairness of the universe.”

1:17:03 Grog: “Yep! Raising drinks.”

They all raise their drinks.

1:17:04 Liam: “I’m not even here, and I’m raising it.”

1:17:06 Marisha: “Yeah, I’ll- cheers to that.”

1:17:07 Liam: “Fuckin’ a.”

1:17:08 Ker: “I’ll drink.”

1:17:12 Percy, taking a long pull: “And that it decided that we get to keep this bastard.” With a wry, rueful smile, “Hardly fair.”

[Percy instigates pranking Scanlan, his tone one of affection.]

1:18:09 Taliesin: “I don’t know if Percy is that… has that much of a lack of propriety. I’m really debating, though. How much have we had to drink?”

1:18:18 Matt: “Well, that’s up to you. Other members of this room have gotten quite drunk.”

[They prank Scanlan, dressing him in one of Pike’s nightgowns and smearing pudding on him.]

1:21:48 Taliesin: “I’m going to smear some of [the pudding] on his forehead so he can read it in the mirror, backwards, it’s just going to say, ‘No. Never.’”

[Kerrek helps them tie Scanlan up.]

1:23:23 Matt: “Yeah. Alright. And with the presentation complete, your… diorama con Scanlan, the evening draws late. Now probably a good two thirty, three o'clock in the morning on completion.”

1:23:40 Percy: “It is time for sleep.”

[The next morning.]

1:30:29 Matt: “Kerrek now wanders in, very hungover.”

1:30:32 Percy: “Good morning.”

1:30:34 Pat: “Yeah… Very… Yeah… I look every bit as old as I am.”

1:30:42 Grog: “Yeah! Swamp ass!”

1:30:46 Pike, cheerily: “Hey!”

1:30:48 Grog: “Are we not…?

1:30:52 Keyleth: "Swamp ass?”

1:30:52 Pike: “I remember!”

1:30:52 Percy, looking confused: “I don’t remember, what?”

1:30:54 Pike: “He was talking about his butt getting sweaty.”

1:30:57 Percy, hazily recalling it: “Oh. That got weird, didn’t it?”

1:31:00 Pike: “It happens.”

1:31:01 Percy grimaces like he’s still trying to come to terms with the morning, and probably hung over.


“Thanks for helping me and my friends, Damian.”

Damian hisses his signature, “-tt-,” and says, “You aren’t welcome.  Do not anticipate me coming to your aid like this again.  And put a leash on those rabid dogs you keep calling friends.”  He points severely at her.

Maps snorts.  “No way, I live for this stuff!”

“This isn’t a game!” Damian says.  “You’ll die for this stuff if you don’t -,” he rummages around in his apparently bottomless sweatshirt pouch, “-cease this reckless behavior!” Before Maps knows what’s happened Damian has pulled the grapple gun from his sweatshirt and is thrusting it at her.  “Take this!”

Maps chokes on air and cradles the grapple gun like it’s a small child, staring at it with wide, wondering eyes.

“If you insist on gambling with your life at least learn how to play the game.”  Damian revs the engine of the R-Cycle.  “I have to go.  Bat… Father is waiting.”

“Bat-Father?” Maps says.

“I have to go!  Do not contact me again!” Damian does a really, frickin’ sweet donut in front of the gate, kicking up mud and leaves in all directions, and then tears off down the narrow path leading back to the city.

“Wow,” Maps breathes, and gazes lovingly at the grapple gun in her arms.

She attacked? How wonderful! You had a firsthand view of her behavior! Did you take any notes on her aggressive posturing?

Frederic, The Dragonologist (Dragon Age Inquisition)

NPC or no; one must understand a scientist’s need for comprehensive field notes.