Each of the episodes for the first season of The Legend of Vox Machina can be seen as microcosm of what makes Dungeons and Dragons a fun experience but a disjointed one. Transferring the erratic nature of a game session into a cohesive narrative is a risky proposition, one with the show handles well at times. Other times, the show teeters on the brink of making the main characters thoroughly unlikeable.
Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read if you haven’t watched Episode Four, Five, and Six of The Legend of Vox Machina.
Episode Four “Shadow at the Gates” finds Vox Machina dealing with the repercussions of their fight with the Briarwoods in the courtyard of Emon’s palace. Sovereign Uriel, still under the influence of Sylas Briarwood’s mental manipulation, almost throws the party in the dungeons before Lady Allura’s intervention merely puts them under house arrest. With their weapons confiscated, the party is given time to explore Percy’s backstory further, revealing that the Briarwoods slaughtered his entire family (or so we led to believe). When Delilah Briarwood learns that her grimoire has been stolen by Vax’ildan, she summons a cadre of wraiths to obtain the book, leading to an epic confrontation.
The moments during the fight, particularly the sequences involving the death of Emon’s soldiers, is not for the feint of heart. The animation studio Titmouse did not skimp on the gory details, showcasing just how deadly these kinds of creatures are. Only through the intervention of Keyleth’s druidic magic (summoning a small sun) are Vox Machina able to defeat the wraiths. Watching the group come together and triumph is as satisfying a moment as any shown up to this point, especially given how badly they were beaten in the previous episode
“Fates Journey”, episode five of the series, picks up with Vox Machina on the road after obtaining some much-needed items from Gilmore. I love the inclusion of Gilmore in the series and that he is written in much the same way that Matthew Mercer portrayed him during the early days of the live-stream. Gilmore is one of those memorable characters that Critters have loved since his introduction and to see him flirting shamelessly with Vax’ildan while also astutely negotiating with Vex’ahlia is real treat. The chase sequence during the middle of the episode was also well-done, save for the hentai-esque moment of Scanlan being orally assaulted by a demonic dog’s tongue (yes, it sounds as gross as it was to watch).
Scanlan, as a character, during the live-stream was the stereotypical “horny bard” trope made flesh (so to speak). Sam Reigel played him as one of the most carefree characters and one of the most shamefully perverted ones at that. While I am glad that they kept much of that characterization, the constant reminders that Scanlan is a pervert is not something I find all that enjoyable. I’m hoping the character development that brought much more depth to Scanlan is shown in the following season of the series.
The ending of the episode is a gut-punch moment that was pulled directly from the live-stream. As Vox Machina enter Whitestone, they find their way to the Sun Tree, the center of the city and a monument to the Sun God. Hanging from the tree are a group of people made up to look like Vox Machina (a family we saw earlier in the episode who had been invited by the Briarwoods to “dinner”). Two of the family members were children, which were dressed as the two gnomes in the party (Scanlan and Pike). The casual sadism cements the Briarwoods as ruthless villains who are not above engaging in extreme psychological warfare.
The final episode from the trio, “Spark of Rebellion”, introduces us to another beloved NPC from the live-stream, Keeper Yennen (voiced by the incomparable Gina Torres, aka Zoe Washburne from Firefly). Gina’s contributions to the episode are not large but her vocal performance is spot-on, carrying gravitas even while Grog is screaming vengeance for the lack of ale in the city. The prison break sequence allows for some truly hilarious moments, the most enjoyable of which is watching Vax, Scanlan, and Percy attempt to overcome a door. The running gag begun in the first three episodes continues and as a fan of the first campaign for Critical Role, I loved this moment. For those who have not seen the live-play version, please enjoy this:
We also see more of the demonic side of Percy during his execution of Sir Stonefell. The series is keeping the nature of this under wraps for the moment but those who have watched the live-stream know full well what Percy is connected to. I won’t spoil that particular revelation at this stage but it will be fun for the newcomers when it is finally revealed. Suffice it to say, while under the influence of the entity, Percy’s normally stoic demeanor is transformed into something far more sinister and malevolent.
Despite some of the missteps in the series, I’ve been enjoying The Legend of Vox Machina immensely. It is a testament to the cast and crew of the show that they have been able to accomplish all that they have up to this point. Whether they’ll be able to stick the landing in the final six episodes is a different matter altogether but I anticipate that both fans of Critical Role and the newcomers who are just now discovering this story will be satisfied with the ending.
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