Is Reyes, as a “shitty” yet honest-about-his-shittiness person, a good romance?
A little background into romance…
Part of my response will stem largely from my opinion on how romances function. Bear with me on this long and high-winded explanation. To me, it is highly like… optimistic? to see romance in fiction as a platform for some moral lesson. Like, I find it highly problematic when people use love as an excuse to posit certain ideologies (and often utopic or ethically compelling ones). Mind you, for fictional romances, I just see them functioning differently. Perhaps they instead reveal rather than promise a certain social vision, or maybe they show where social strictures put pressure on two individuals. Or maybe, there is a certain promise that comes with a happy ending which compromises an existing and problematic reality. One of my favorite novels ever is George Elliot’s Middlemarch. The main romance between Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw is one about overcoming social pressure and hierarchies. Both marital and societal boundaries prevent them from pursuing a legitimate relationship, and even after Dorothea is widowed from her aged husband, she couldn’t pursue Will until wealth became out of the question. I think it’s incidental that both characters ended up with a “happily ever after.” What’s more important is that the romance highlights the potential and actual unhappiness of two people under a certain ideological trap (whether it be that one should marry for money or that one should marry above one’s social status). TLDR for this paragraph, romance has a revelatory function, imo, rather than a moralizing one.
[Note the highly complicated meaning of romance - with its different histories and genres and connotations - can really obfuscate what I mean. By “romance” I do not refer to the medieval fantasy epic of a knight doing god-knows-what with faeries. I instead invoke the contemporary usage of a love story.]
And what about Reyes and Ryder?
That said, it makes perfect sense that someone like Reyes - a malcontent figure and Trauerspiel-style courtier [i.e. a “courtier” who is charming yet nonetheless mired in morally ambiguous actions and situations] - is romanceable. When I mention “malcontent,” I am also invoking a character that has a rich and long history in literature. This character is usually the an outsider who’s aware of state corruption and often satirizes people in power. A good example would be Iago from Othello, Bosola from The Duchess of Malfi, or, Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera. Reyes himself would be perfectly aware of the mechanisms of Nexus’s state-like power, of the more underground sallies of criminal organizations (à la Sloane and the Collective), and like most famous Malcontents, he is an outsider who wants to give his identity meaning and power by joining the very system he is critical of.
Given what I said about romance above, he is ripe for both a critical and yet hopeful foray into love in Andromeda. I think most people underestimate just how much the Mass Effect games rely on you not realizing that Commander Shepard/Pathfinder Ryder are figures of the sovereign exception. That is, they are also avatars of some sort of political power, and most of all, this power is part and parcel of the society that created and constituted them. Reyes, being an outsider who essentially wants the power and freedom Ryder has, can reveal via dishonesty just how closely aligned their work is. We can pretend the Pathfinder has the moral ground, but the memes and jokes about Ryder killing people is spot on. They kill people. They loot. Even with permission, they take from the Angara by way of a coincidental kett-invasion. Much of their choices have harmful ramifications, none of which we see because of how the game was designed. Not to mention, the romance of Ryder/Reyes envisions a resolution to the moral contradictions of being a pathfinder. Reyes’s dishonesty and violence - his need to be nobody and somebody all at once - offers Ryder an escape from the delusions and social expectations of the Initiative. Why bother with pretending that Andromeda is some utoptic restart for Milky Way species when you can escape into the frontier with your Pirate King lover? I put that comically, but do you seal the appeal? Reyes offers a frontier as Ryder tries to close them off in establishing outposts and “discovering” already-discovered yet unclaimed territories.
In my first post, I mentioned that Reyes’s appeal is that his definitive trait of being a liar is so refreshingly honest, and it has to be for a Pathfinder who deals with much political pressure. You have to put on a big front for the Initiative with each outpost you find; you have to hide the fact that your suffering lesions to your brain when you lose SAM to the Archon; and you have fill in for daddy’s shoes without ever having the chance to properly grieve. All these pressures derive from Initiative colonist’s need for an illusion of a “better future,” one which Ryder can escape through the unapologetically lawless freedom that Reyes represents. In offering Ryder a more honest and transparent view of the less appealing side of existence, Reyes also in turn accepts more of the “bad” (along with the good) that Ryder carries with them.
I’m sorry for the rant. I hope I made sense? Thanks again!