From beginning to end, the first season of The Legends of Vox Machina has been an enjoyable, pulpy romp. As a long-time fan of Critical Role, seeing the original cast return to their most beloved characters and the story arc from Campaign One that defined what the format of live-streaming Dungeons and Dragons could do. With that said, the final three episodes of the first season of The Legend of Vox Machina did not disappoint.
Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episodes.
“Depths of Deceit” picks up where the last episode ended, with the group confronting a one-armed woman kept in the dungeons of Castle Whitestone. Fans of Critical Role know exactly who this is and what she means for the story. Anna Ripley is one of the names on Percy’s gun and as the flashbacks reveal, she was responsible with torturing the young Percy and Cassandra De Rolo. Against the advice of Percy, the group decides to free Anna Ripley, bringing her with them as they venture further into the castle. The interplay between Ripley and Percy is fraught with tension, largely because Ripley (voiced magnificently by Kelly Hu, famous from The Scorpion King and Lady Deathstrike in X2) is a thoroughly amoral person. Ripley is a direct foil for Percival De Rolo, someone with the same level of intellect as Percy but none of the decency and nobility, flawed though it may be in Percy.
The closing moments of the episode are tense, to say the least. We learn that Cassandra has been under the mind-controlling sway of Sylas Briarwood this entire time and Vax’ildan soon joins the Briarwoods, succumbing to the vampiric mind-control of Sylas. Left in a room that is rapidly filling with acid, the group works together after several missteps and manage to save themselves from a terrible fate. Watching Percy break as his sister, the last remaining member of his family, turns on him is heartbreaking and deservedly so. It also adds greater motivation to the upcoming fight between the Briarwoods and Vox Machina.
The next episode, “Whispers at the Ziggurat”, features the brawl we’ve been waiting for since the end of the third episode in the season. Anna Ripley makes her escape, which forces Percy to make a decision that doesn’t allow him to exact his revenge. The black smoke that envelops the young man during each of his kills becomes more overt now, showing the demonic entity that is connected to Percy taking control of the young man to feed on his vengeance. The audience is treated to a frenzied battle, featuring the twins Vex and Vax squaring off, Pike in her astral form doing battle with Silas and Delilah, with the rest trying to offer support as best they can.
The ultimate moment for me was Keyleth tapping in to the latent energy of the Sun Tree, long believed to be a blessing of the Dawnfather (one of the Prime deities of Exandria). One of the main story arcs of this season has been Keyleth stepping into the role of leader and the power she can potentially wield as a druid. Seeing Keyleth finally accept the mantle of power that she will inherit and destroy Sylas Briarwood with a concentrated beam of sunlight was deeply satisfying to me. I’ve always been a fan of Keyleth, largely because Marisha’s performance of her on Critical Role was endearing and fallible, despite the incredible power at her character’s disposal. It also makes Keyleth’s sacrifice to protect Vex’ahalia more poignant, given that Vex has not always been a fan of Keyleth due to Vax’s growing attraction to her.
The finale of season one, “The Darkness Within”, is a reference to both Percy’s dark pact with the demon Orthax and the price Delilah Briarwood has paid to bring The Whispered One to this plane of existence. While Delilah’s attempt to bring The Whispered One failed, leaving only a mysterious orb that affects all magic within its immediate vicinity, the price she paid and the lives she took to get to that point reveal that whatever she was before making the deal with The Whispered One, she is now as much of a monster as her husband.
With the change in format from the table-top game to animation, The Legend of Vox Machina is able to play the encounter with Orthax very differently from Critical Role, which I felt was a wise choice. The connection between Orthax and Percy is always an internal battle for Percy’s soul, which is difficult to depict in a table-top game. Here, we’re treated to Orthax possessing Percy, causing him to turn his gun The List on his friends. In the end, it is both Vex and Cassandra (now free from the mind-control with the death of Sylas) that manage to appeal to Percy’s humanity, reminding him that he is more than his desire for vengeance. With the destruction of The List, Orthax loses his hold on Percy but given that it is a demon, the threat the creature represents will never go away fully.
While Percy chooses to forego his vengeance against Delilah, Cassandra holds no such compunction, stabbing the necromancer through the neck with her sword. This cold, clinical moment reveals that the De Rolo siblings are not so different at the end of the day.
The closing sequences of the episode hit home that what started as a loose-knit group of mercenaries is slowly becoming a found family. Keyleth’s rejection of Vax’s affections is not the turn of events I expected, given how things played out between them in Critical Role, but it’s a good decision by the writers. Cassandra and Percy have a heart-to-heart, with Percy ceding the control of Whitestone to her sister so he can return to Emon with Vox Machina. Upon their return to Emon, they are summoned to a meeting of the Tal’Dorei Council and the Sovereign. With the death of Sylas Briarwood, Sovereign Uriel Tal’Dorei is no longer under the vampire’s mind-control. But the Sovereign (who is portrayed with great gravitas thanks to Khary Payton’s voicework) decides that recent events have shown him the need to not centralize power in one individual. As his final act as Sovereign, he cedes control of the Tal’Dorei Empire to his Council.
But as Uriel finishes his statement, Vex’alhia grips her head in pain, similar to what she felt during the first two episodes in the presence of General Krieg, aka Brimscythe the dragon. The bells around Emon begin to toll ominously.
And as everyone looks out from the palace, they see four large, winged dragons begin to descend upon the city.
I have been waiting for this moment since the start of The Legends of Vox Machina. Brimscythe was an advanced scout for a cadre of ancient dragons known as the Chroma Conclave and these legendary beasts are about to make their presence known. To say that I am looking forward to The Legend of Vox Machina adapting the best-known story arc from Campaign One of Critical Role would be an understatement. There will no doubt be changes in the adaptation but I am firmly onboard with this development.
While there were hits and misses during the first season, which I largely attribute to both growing pains and the production delays caused by the pandemic, the first season of The Legend of Vox Machina is a testament to the talents of both the Critical Role cast, the creative staff of Titmouse, and the writing staff for the show. I’m excited to see how they choose to adapt the Chroma Conclave arc, considering how long that arc took in Critical Role to complete. For frame of reference, counting breaks for the holidays, the arc took nearly three years to complete on Critical Role. Obviously, The Legend of Vox Machina will streamline this story arc considerably. To say that this arc is the spine of the series is not an understatement. It’ll be intriguing to see how the creators handle it.
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