So in light of what happened on Critical Role last night, I want to talk about a couple of things trope wise. Spoilers ahead so if you aren’t caught up, be wary!!
For this, I want to focus more specifically on the NPCs. Throughout the show, there have been several NPCs that have been LGBT+ in some way or another. Kima, Allura, J”mon, Gilmore, Artagan, all amazing characters who are all not straight or not cis in canon. It’s not a fan-bait play-and-switch, it is real, undeniable canon. They are all very powerful and very visible characters who have had major impact on the story and the PCs throughout the course of the game.
Now in any aired television show, we might get one of these characters and they very much would not have gotten half of the character development that these NPCs have gotten on Critical Role. Very likely, they also would’ve died in some tragic way very quickly. The ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope is more alive than any LGBT+ character in mainstream media.
A lot of people complain about any criticism of BYG because they say that it is only realistic for LGBT+ characters to be in the same amount of danger as anyone else and that it should be expected for them to die from time to time. Which, if that were how things actually played out, would not be such a bad thing. HOWEVER. LGBT+ characters are not in the same amount of danger as straight or cis characters. They are in far greater danger.
Writers will claim that if they can’t kill off LGBT+ characters, then there’s never any real danger to them being in a situation and you won’t ever be drawn into it. Not to mention, many writers will put a LGBT+ character into a show to get a pat on the back for being so inclusive, and then promptly kill that character off. They want the brownie points having an LGBT+ character gets them, but they don’t actually want that character in their show.
And then you have Matthew Mercer. Glorious, glorious, Matthew Mercer.
Since the beginning of the stream, there have been LGBT+ characters on the show. And the fantastic thing is, and one of the many reasons I continued to watch the show, is that you know all of these characters. You know something about their backstory and where they came from and the struggles they’ve faced. Even though they aren’t main characters, they are fleshed out and very much a part of the story, critical in many cases even.
Mercer has also, in my opinion, gone to great pains to avoid “Bury Your Gays’. The characters are in very real danger where they could die, but they are never put in inescapable situations and then killed off to further the emotional development of the PCs. Some of them have come very close to dying and might have died if VM had taken a slightly different path, but it was never a shoehorned ‘you could’ve never prevented it’ situation.
What Matt does, and what every writer everywhere should take note of, is that he doesn’t make any situation unsolvable or impossible. Different courses of action have different consequences. Because VM stayed in the Feywild longer than planned, Vecna was able to get to the people they cared about the most. Gilmore, Kaylie, and Cassandra could have all permanently died (I’ve never been more grateful for a nat1 by the way lol) but they didn’t because they players and the characters have that free agency to be able to react as things happen and to be smart and clever. Matt has never made the life/death choice for a character, it has always been the players and their actions/decisions. He lets them be clever and reactionary and he lets them solve problems as they are presented.
As a trans, pansexual person, I cannot begin to express the amount of relief I have felt when my favorite NPCs have continued to live. Because in practically any other show, Kima might have died in the Underdark or drowned with Allura after fighting Raishan. Allura would’ve been the victim of a political power grab on the Tal’dorei council or would’ve died when the Conclave knocked down her tower. Gilmore would’ve died in the first Chroma Conclave attack or in the final battle with Thordak or killed by Hotis. J’mon would’ve died in a heroic, but ultimately meaningless, self sacrifice fighting Thordak or fighting the dracolich over Thar Ampala.
With television and movies, you learn not to get your hopes up. That lesbian character might be a main character and be around for a little while, but you’re just waiting for that stray bullet to the chest. That gay character might be confident and strong, but he’s going to be broken down, outed against his will, and then get blown up because he got caught in a revenge plot he didn’t know existed. That woman has a good relationship with her friends and girlfriend despite living in a zombie infested world? She’s going to get an arrow through the head that was meant for the fan-favorite straight guy.
I will never be over the fact that such a beautiful show as Critical Role has given me so many characters that I can see myself in. I will be forever grateful to Matt for giving those characters real agency and playing them the way he has. Seeing so many long-lived LGBT+ characters shouldn’t be as new or as refreshing of a thing as it is, but that is what mainstream media has conditioned us to. If more people wrote stories/characters the way Matt Mercer does, the world would be a better place.
TL:DR: Critical Role is a beautiful show and Matt Mercer is a writing/acting genius who has helped to restore my hope in humanity and who has worked very hard to give his characters the stories and respect they deserve and for a closeted kid from the deep south, that will never not mean the world to me.