One of my favorite narrative devices is the slow reveal of underlying layers of story and the way that throws a spanner into the more linear progression of Character-Does-Thing-And-People-React or People-Do-Thing-And-Character-Reacts. It becomes Someone-Did-Thing-A-Long-Time-Ago-And-When-It’s-Revealed-Suddenly-A-Lot-Becomes-Clear, and it’s incredibly satisfying when done right because it lets you play with the audience’s expectations and then drop them into the middle of something completely different and tie up a dozen loose plot threads while you’re at it.
It is, oddly enough, a very common trope in YA and children’s literature, and it’s often done very well there: the kids/teens who headline the story will eventually realize they’re embroiled in something their parents or older siblings or teachers set in motion ages ago. It makes stories feel that much richer and fleshed-out while providing writers with a wonderful way to throw their characters into in-media-res situations without having to justify an extended buildup. It’s a pre-set tripwire of a wham moment, just waiting for someone to stumble through. It’s a plot twist that relies on richness of backstory rather than a less-satisfying bolt from the blue.
And oh, Critical Role is perfect for that kind of setup, because Matt’s manipulating the players’ expectations every bit as much as he’s manipulating the audience’s, and because the improvisational nature of the show makes the twists that much harder to anticipate. For instance, a lot of the first few dozen episodes of Critical Role boil down to the slow realization that Vox Machina are basically playing out the sequel to Allura’s adventuring party’s campaign. What starts as someone giving them a quest takes a sharp left turn into the reveal that a whole lot of what’s happened to them over the years is the direct consequence of the actions of that quest-giver fifteen years ago. And that reveal is stunning, when it happens, because it ties so much together and shifts everybody’s perceptions of the world and the NPCs all at once.
Which is all to say that I’m pretty sure we’re just on the cusp of pushing through to a reveal of another underlying layer of the story. Thordak’s first fall and the existence of Glintshore Island don’t quite add up with his return. Emon is built on the subterranean bones of a long-abandoned city. Temples of Ioun are being repurposed for dark, secret rituals. A magical siphon has been spinning under the city of Whitestone for months. And on two occasions the party’s come across massive chambers filled with bones and glass. Nearly all the pieces are in place, and I honestly have zero friggin’ idea what they mean. Waiting for someone (be it VM or whoever comes next) to stumble over that one underlying thread that yanks everything together is like being just at the apex of a long, long drop on a rollercoaster.
This show is so much fun. I can’t wait for Thursday.
Jeremy January, Day 17: With the lovely Audrey Hepburn. Jeremy said in this interview that it was easy playing a man in love with her in My Fair Lady but it was
hard playing her brother (in War and Peace).
anyone who has spent five seconds around him ever:
yes, you love Trina, we know, you love Trina so much, she's the light of your life, you love her so much, you just love Trina, we KNOW , you love Trina you fucking love Trina ok we know, we get it, YOU LOVE TRINA. WE GET IT.
Claire is the passionate-lipsyncing-into-a-hair-brush-while-dancing-around-the-room type (particularly to Fall Out Boy). Jim’s dancing hasn’t gotten any less dorky, except when slow-dancing (which he’s alright at).
The humans and trolls are still trying to find a quick way to communicate. They’ve tried cell phones (touchscreens don’t pick up rock, and no one sells anything with large enough buttons) and magical crystals (Claire’s started flashing during a test and she nearly got a fail for cheating).
Toby picked up sudoku from helping his Nana fill out the puzzles section in the paper. Blinky is thrilled to learn about sudoku, and Jim gets him a book of them and he nearly cried (he copies the grids down on separate paper so he can solve them without writing in the book).
Barbara Lake, when introduced to the trolls the second time, screams loud enough to wake the dead. Once she’s tried calming down, she nearly burns down the kitchen trying to make tea. Claire tries to explain but isn’t a huge help, because she gets distracted explaining things that sound incredibly dangerous (the hero forge). Weirdly, Barbara listens to Blinky the most. (She is also relieved to know where Jim’s moped came from).
Claire is objectively the worst at giving gifts, even more so than Blinky (who only gives informative things, but at least stays with areas of interest).
Claire is bad at judging when things are dangerous. She thinks having a staff that can teleport her means she can run directly into the middle of the fray. Jim is getting gray hairs.
Someone has to pick up a ranged weapon. Three melee fighters? Someone needs to be support.
Everyone expects Claire and Barbara to get along, being the only two girls in the group, but Barbara thinks Claire is reckless and impulsive, and Claire thinks Barbara is overprotective and doesn’t have any confidence in their fighting abilities. Obviously they still downplay their fights to keep Barbara from having a heart attack, but being underestimated is irritating.
Telling Barbara that Strickler was a changeling goes about as well as anyone could expect. She isolates herself in her room for a few hours and emerges with red eyes. Strickler is mentioned only as an absolute necessity for a while, before she tells them to stop coddling her, that’s not their job.
Barbara is initially unhappy with Jim fixing so many meals (he has a job that’s even more stressful than hers, and more physically demanding), but Jim finds it relaxing to tune everything else out and just cook.
Claire isn’t actually a great cook when it comes to the oven (which she and Toby agree is evil and hates her). As long as no heating is required, though, she rivals Jim. Cookoffs are deliberately kept to a minimum because Claire is competitive and Jim will willingly fail to make her happy (which she hates)
Toby likes crafting things with his hands. He’s tried several hobbies, including crocheting (his Nana taught him), knitting, sewing, and bracelet weaving. Everyone has at least one thing he’s made them.