I think, too, that part of the reason why this episode and this arc is hitting so hard is because it wound up being a really intensely honest portrayal of depression and substance abuse in a livestreamed D&D game. That’s… not something you necessarily expect to be signing up for when you start watching, especially since that particular character arc started off as purely comedic.
Sam has talked about how the whole cast has played the same characters for so many years that they feel a real responsibility to be honest and genuine with their choices, and he’s also said that he feels he owes it to the people he knows who’ve been through this not to take it lightly and to portray it as accurately as he can.
And the thing about that kind of honesty? It really hurts to watch, especially if you’re not sure whether resolution and catharsis are coming anytime soon. I had a rough time getting through 85, because both Scanlan’s lashing-out and understandable-but-unfair attacks on his friends and VM’s well-meaning but just-the-wrong-thing-to-say responses were deeply, personally familiar as the things you hear both from folks who have never been through it and from folks who know exactly where you’re at but whose depression manifested in a different way that happened to catch fewer people in the crossfire (Vax in particular comes to mind there—he was saying the things he needed to hear from a friend back then, which were not the things Scanlan needed to hear in the moment). It hurt because it was raw, because there’s no easy way to put somebody at fault for the conflict, and because the other players were reacting so genuinely with such a familiar combination of betrayal, defensiveness, anger, frustration, and above all hurt and concern.
For me, personally, the episode was cathartic in a strange sort of way, because Scanlan was able to remove himself from the part of his life that was the epicenter of his misery, and he was able to recognize that the only thing that had a chance in hell of pushing him toward recovery was getting to know his daughter as a person rather than as a symbol he couldn’t disappoint (sound familiar to his relationship with Pike?). Sam’s talked and hinted for a while now about how Scanlan’s been putting more and more pressure on himself to be something different since he met Kaylie, and you just know that a lot of Scanlan’s “how could you not recognize there was something wrong with me?” comments were directed toward himself as well as the group.
And to me, the thing that kept the episode from descending into a horrible morass of hurt feelings was the moment when everyone in the argument sort of took a step back and had that realization of “okay, this is a fight, this is a serious fight we’re having, and it’s because we’re family”. Because this show’s always, always emphasized the validity and importance of the family you make, and despite some very serious conflicts that come up between them, the love’s always there and no conflict is flat-out insurmountable. Some conflicts can’t be resolved with constant painstaking conversation, some wounds can’t keep getting exposed to the air if you want them to heal properly, and Scanlan recognized that things were just going to get worse if he didn’t have some time to himself for a while.
So… it’s rough, but one of the biggest strengths of this show is its ability to evoke pathos without wallowing, to find hope and humor and fun even in the worst places imaginable, and this whole mess with Taryon felt like the best possible way to keep that narrative going while still giving the characters agency and treating this thing with the gravity it deserves. It’s going to be challenging, and everyone’s gonna be raw and grieving for a while, but I honestly think the end result’s going to be worlds more positive and hopeful than what would’ve happened had Scanlan stayed on and continued to spiral. If nothing else, I have a whole lotta trust in these players’ devotion to giving their characters development that isn’t just pain for pain’s sake, so I have no doubt that Scanlan will return at some point.
I joked about how great it is that the group can now band together through their dislike for Taryon, but that’s actually really true—the worst part of 85 was the moment when it looked like the rest of the party might fracture over this loss. But in the end, they all sought each other out in ones and twos throughout the night and came back together in the morning. I’m honestly very excited to get to know the new Vox Machina that survives this (and also kind of wants to kick Taryon’s ass).
Change sucks. No question. But this, to me, felt like a change that was necessary but also hopeful. It felt like the only way forward that didn’t end with a body, and that’s something this show and these characters have always put in the effort to find.