Thane’d (Spoilers: Mass Effect 2 & 3)
I love Mass Effect. I’ve met amazing, hilarious people through the Mass Effect community. I am a fan to the point where I creep myself out.
And I am getting so goddamn tired of writing about Mass Effect Fandrama. (That’s my new word for “fandom drama”. It doesn’t sound as awesome as I thought it would when I came up with it, but I’m using it anyway.)
Our drama of the day is provided by this guy:
Thane Krios is an assassin that joins your team during the events of Mass Effect 2. He is incredibly skilled and deadly; he is also deeply spiritual. His wife was murdered by his enemies years before you meet him, and he had left his son to avenge her death; now, his last wish is to reconcile with his lost son. You see, Thane is dying of a disease called Kepral’s Syndrome. It’s kind of like Space Cystic Fibrosis.
During Mass Effect 2, the player is given the opportunity to romance Thane, and it’s one of my favorite romances in the game. Thane is a wonderful character; he’s loyal, loving, and supportive without ever being possessive. He accepts Shepard’s decisions without anger or recrimination, even if they hurt him. He is selfless without being a martyr, and I love him for it.
When you meet him again, early in Mass Effect 3, he’s in a hospital with no expectations of ever leaving it. He’s too sick to help you fight, he says; he’s in the last stages of his disease, and is facing a painful and undignified end. He’s accepted his fate. When he says goodbye at the end of that scene, you know he’s really saying “Goodbye”.
“WTF”, you may be saying. “There was that dossier in “Lair of the Shadow Broker” that said he was a good candidate for a lung transplant! We could save him!”
Well, yeah. There was. The dossier also said that he turned it down. It didn’t say why; I’m assuming he didn’t want to die, so I have to trust he had a good reason. My personal suspicion is that a transplant would have violated his religious beliefs, but I have no basis for that and I’m too lazy to research it, so take it for what it’s worth.
Now, because Thane is a motherfucking badass, he doesn’t waste away in a bed. Fuck no. That is not Thane Krios’ style. Instead, he appears during a major confrontation with Cerberus assassin Kai Leng, who is about to kill the Salarian council member when Thane intervenes.
I loved this scene because it demonstrated, one last time, how skilled Thane really is. He is weak and starved for oxygen and he still holds his own against a younger, healthier, and cybernetically enhanced super-assassin. Had he been healthy, I have no doubt that he would have destroyed Kai Leng, and it would have been a joy to watch. He’s not healthy, though, so instead of feeding Kai Leng his own asshole, Thane gets stabbed through the gut. He doesn’t die immediately, but he does die, and there isn’t a single thing you can do in any of the games that will see him alive at the end of Mass Effect 3.
That’s where the drama comes from. People are furious that Thane can’t be saved. There are tons of threads on different message boards, a plethora of blog posts, and even online petitions complaining that it’s unfair that Thane is the only companion in all three games that you can’t take to the end of the story, no matter what you do. People who romanced Thane feel cheated out of a satisfying conclusion to that romance (apparently the uncomfortably suggestive scene in the hospital lobby isn’t enough for them) (seriously though what the fuck are they doing right there?!). BioWare has even been accused of ableism.
“Mass Effect is about choice!” they’re saying. “You can save everyone else!” “Thane deserved better!”
Now, I’m trying (admittedly not very hard) to be respectful here, but it’s all a load of bullshit.
The first thing that Thane tells you in Mass Effect 2 (after he tells you to shut up so he can pray) is that he is dying. He has a terminal illness.
You know what “terminal illness means”? It means “an illness that will goddamn kill you”. No matter how much you love someone, how much you want them to live, or what you’re willing to sacrifice to make that happen, some things just can’t be fixed. There is no magic wand, no “make everything ok” button. There is no such thing as a happy ending. It fucking sucks, but it’s part of life.
It is not “ableist” to write a terminally ill character that dies, because people with terminal illnesses die. It is not “ableist” to make Thane weak or tired; people in advanced stages of cancer or cystic fibrosis ARE tired and weak. This wasn’t bad writing, it wasn’t dismissive writing, it was realistic writing. Not giving the player the option to cure Thane isn’t somehow taking something away from the player, because Shepard isn’t a doctor, she’s not Thane’s mother, and despite how powerful she is, she is not a god.
One part of the problem is that players are spoiled in Mass Effect 1 and 2. You can feel like a god playing those games, because every decision you make has a profound impact on the story. If you don’t want a character to die, you can almost always make choices that will result in that character surviving. The player feels like the architect of Shepard’s world, deciding what shape it will become.
My favorite thing about Mass Effect 3 was that, for the first time, I felt like Shepard wasn’t the most important thing in the galaxy. The people around her had lives and choices to make on their own. There are things she can’t fix and sacrifices she has to make that she wishes she didn’t, and sometimes there is no “right” decision.
In the world we live in, people get sick and die, and there isn’t a petition or protest in the world that can fix it. As fantastic as the Mass Effect universe is, the reason it’s so compelling is because it echoes the world we live in now. We can relate to it. Mass Effect, like life, is not a fairy tale where suffering is rewarded with a happy ending.
That’s what fanfic is for.