Friday, November 3, 2017

Fen'Harel Meets Mythal: Deconstructing DAI's Final, Crucial Scene

The site of the final, fateful meeting between Solas and Flemeth. Note the wolf
statue at left, and the dragon statue, at right. The wolf is triumphant; the
dragon bowed and sad. Also note the incredible size of the eluvian and statues
.
Flemeth: I am sorry too... Old friend.

This week, I'm going to jump around a bit so that we can take a close-up look at perhaps the most important and surprising scene in Dragon Age: Inquisition—the epilogue meetup between Solas and Flemeth.

This one scene and its revelations manages to change everything we thought we knew about the story we just witnessed, and it's a brilliant way to end the game. Perhaps no other game ending has ever, for me, compelled me so immediately or quickly to replay as that one single scene. How could I not? I just found out the quiet elven guy wandering around next to my Inky for the past 130 hours or so (yeah, I'm a slow player) was an actual ancient elven god

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that I had that new playthrough up and running within sixty seconds. (Although, okay, I didn't get going with the new Inquisitor for another 35 minutes or so, but then again, I'm notoriously slow with character creation.)

Is Flemeth hiding away a little piece of herself to live
onward, here? That's my take.
Meanwhile, while I've been progressing through DAI in my analyses here in a pretty linear, roughly sequential manner, the more I thought about this scene, the more I felt it was worthwhile to address it sooner rather than later, since it really offers so much opportunity for analysis and subtext, as well as massively changing forever what we thought we knew about both Solas and Flemeth.

So let's go to that mysterious Temple together, and take another look, shall we?

I'm going to split this analysis into two sections: Facts, and Guesses.

FACTS:

  • There is a wolf statue to the left of the Eluvian, and a dragon statue to the right of the eluvian. The wolf is on the left (as is Solas) and the dragon is to the right (behind Flemeth).

  • Not only do the wolf and dragon symbolically echo Solas and Flemeth's literal situation here, but they also call thematically and directly back to the unfinished mural in Solas's rotunda.

  • Interestingly, note the symbolism of the two statues here in how they appear. The wolf is triumphant and howling, nose to the sky, while (as with the statues at the Temple of Mythal) the dragon's head is bowed, its eyes lowered. The dragon appears either sorrowful, submissive, or defeated, depending on how you interpret its attitude.

  • The bowed head of the dragon is a reversal of the final panel that Solas painted—the wolf with its bowed head, in deference and grief for the slain dragon. Again, this shows that Solas knew or feared the task ahead of him—that Flemeth would in fact have to die (my guess is temporarily) to give him the power-up he needed.

  • The magic or life-force that flows into Solas from Mythal here appears to be of the same essence as what Mythal took from Kieran (if he was present earlier in your playthrough), as well as of what Mythal put into the eluvian. But this power is far greater, to the extent that Flemeth literally turns black (skin, clothing, everything) as Solas gently lays her down upon the ground upon her death. When Solas raises his eyes, there is magical smoke boiling from them—again, this is pretty powerful magic we're seeing.

Solas arrives repentant and sad. The prodigal son returns? Note the carved
'trees' of the Crossroads/eluvians—could this be the Temple of Fen'Harel?
GUESSES:

  • Based on the flooring, surroundings, vegetation, architecture, and eluvian, I'm certain that they're meeting in another temple in the Arbor Wilds. You can see the red jungle flowers, trees, and vegetation as Solas walks up.

  • It's apparent when Solas approaches Flemeth that they are in a temple similar to the Temple of Mythal, however here we have a wolf statue design we haven't seen in a major temple before, as far as I remember. The Temple of Mythal had Fen'Harel statues, but they were not of howling wolves, but rather the more benign "wolf at rest" statue varieties that we've seen standing guard all across previously elven areas of Thedas.

    For this reason, my guess is that we may very well be seeing the Temple of Fen'Harel. It's an exciting possibility, at least!

  • As Solas/Fen'Harel is also the walker of the Fade, here are a few other reasons I think this is his personal, actual temple:

    • The presence of the carved tree-pillar (with the globe-shaped branches) that we also saw in the Crossroads (and associated with various locations in Trespasser)—appropriate given that Solas now controls the eluvians (as I feel he did millennia back)

    • The presence of the massive eluvian with wolf and dragon on guard.

    • We saw in the Temple of Mythal (when Corypants was temporarily destroyed) that these statues can actually be activated to provide tremendous power. My guess is that, here, the key to activating this eluvian was the activation of both wolf and dragon, which Mythal would presumably have done before preparing to meet Solas.)
  • We see several elements here we once saw in the Temple of Mythal: The pale golden tiled floor, the orange flowers along the path.

  • When Solas comes close to Flemeth, we also glimpse the same pattern of overlapping concentric circles along the inside edge of the central mirror that we once saw in the Temple of Mythal. When the view goes wide (as Solas takes Mythal's power), you'll also see, at right, what looks like one of the steps or ledges we saw at the Temple of Mythal

  • Note that the eluvian we see here is shaped exactly like the one we see in the Temple of Mythal (the one by the Well of Sorrows). As there, this one is another three-paneled eluvian, with the  smaller right and left panels shattered, although the central eluvian is whole and obviously functioning. (Question: Where does this eluvian lead?)

  • It's interesting to note that the eluvian is active through the entire scene. It made me wonder if Mythal/Flemeth's soul was there, watching. The central eluvian is also absolutely gigantic (as are the flanking statues)—over 50 feet in height. We haven't seen any eluvians that size thus far in any of Dragon Age, as far as I know. Even in Trespasser, there are no eluvians anywhere near this size.

Next, let's look at the scene step by step.

A Meeting of Old Friends

Here's my rundown of exactly what happens in the scene, step by step:

A loving reunion, and a reluctant (yet accepted) outcome.
Flemeth puts a pale, glowing wisp into the eluvian. Subtle lines show the wisp's power being pulled away from Flemeth and into the eluvian.

Flemeth (without turning around): I knew you would come. You should not have given your Orb to Corypheus... Dread Wolf.


Solas walks up the path slowly, a look of sadness on his face.


Solas: I was too weak to unlock it after my slumber. The failure was mine.


He shows real grief here, and his voice trembles.


Solas: I should pay the price. But the People... they need me.


He lowers his head, and Flemeth reaches out and caresses his face. They lean toward one another, foreheads touching, and his hands encircle her face as well.


Solas (voice breaking): I am so sorry.
Flemeth (gently): I am sorry as well... old friend.

Solas pauses visibly for a moment. Then looks up to meet Flemeth's eyes, and as he does so, the magic begins and he is visibly pulling the same magical essence from Flemeth that Flemeth did (on a far smaller scale) earlier with Kieran (if he was present in your playthrough).

Solas gets a power-up in the worst possible way... from the death of the one
person he once tore apart the world to avenge.
The entire feeling of the scene is intimate, sorrowful and loving. These two people know each other so well that they touch one another with ease and deep affection. Solas is penitent, regretful, and visibly sad. Flemeth seems sorrowful as well, yet accepting.

The voice acting here by Gareth David-Lloyd (Solas) and Kate Mulgrew (Flemeth) is as always superb—the love and sadness between the two is really palpable here. But my favorite aspect of this scene is the physicality of it. I love the way Solas walks in—every line of the way he walks wearily up to Flemeth shows that he is grieving, regretful, guilty and sad (kudos to the Bioware artists and designers, especially those envisioning and handling character movement, because there's so much beautiful work here).

My Interpretations

I've seen so many interpretations of this scene's meanings, so I wanted to clearly set forth mine, as well.

After viewing this video several dozen times, here's what I think:

  • The meeting is prearranged.
  • The meeting is the next step in a series of steps already planned by Solas and Flemeth.
  • Therefore, both are aware that one of them will have to "power up" the other for the next stage of their plan. This is further backed up by Solas's unfinished fresco—he is aware of what he will have to do next.
  • This is why Solas seems so conflicted. Remember:
    • Solas loves Mythal. He once sealed away the Thedosian versions of  heaven and hell and shook the world to its foundations in order to avenge her murder.
    • Now his own mistake, in getting the Orb to Corypants, means that he himself will now have to take her life (or one of her lives—Mythal's like a cat!).
  • As he implies, Solas is willing to be the one to die here, but (I'm guessing) they have no choice, as he is the only one of the two of them with the power to: (1) control the eluvians, (2) walk/manipulate the Fade, and (3) restore the Veil.
  • Flemeth isn't surprised in the least. She does not fight, pull away or show any emotion other than loving regret. She is sorrowful but expected exactly this (hence, her saving a little piece of herself in the wisp in the eluvian). For me, this is yet another variation on her hiding herself in an amulet in the beginning of Dragon Age II.

The deed is done, ending in a moment of tenderness, grief, and respect as
the Dread Wolf bows to the fallen Dragon.
Ultimately, for me, the most important aspects to the scene are the strong implications that this meeting was planned, that Flemeth and Solas both knew what would take place, that Flemeth reacted without malice or anger at what came next (and she may yet survive, thanks to the wisp—and don't forget Solas's comment in "Trespasser:" "The First of my People are not so easy to kill."), and that there is palpable love between the two. 

Notice how this image is a symbolic representation of
Solas's final moments with Flemeth, above.
I also think it's important to note that Solas doesn't treat this as a moment of combat or victory. He embraces Flemeth gently as he takes her power (and there's a gorgeous wide shot where we can see him at the center of the whirlwind between the statues as the transference takes place), then lowers her body gently to the ground afterward. 

Solas then bows over her body in what I see as a clear moment of grief (and perhaps respect)—again, remember the unfinished fresco from the panel in Solas's rotunda, of the wolf bowing in grief over the body of the dead dragon! Here we see that moment (once symbolic) now literal.

Solas contains the new power and magic, even as smoke boils from his eyes.
It's worth remembering that a similar attempt at a power-up (at the Temple
of Mythal) destroyed Corypants and caused him to regenerate
Then Solas raises his head to show that his eyes are blazing with new power, and that's the end of DAI, giving us a whole lot more to think about.

Am I on or off-base here? 

How did you interpret the scene? I'd love your thoughts or comments!

14 comments:

  1. AAAAAH YOU DID IT AGAIN! I had to leave a comment here cuz.. YES I AGREE! I recently saw this again (for like the 9th time) and it floors me every time. The very very first time, I was in shock. It was a few months after the game first came out, I had already dumped 300 hours into the game with 2 separate characters, and I reached *here* with my Solasmancer first. I was in literal shock. Solas? Fen'Harel? SAY WHAT!? Then.. Every time I reached here again, I thought and thought more.. this was NOT a scene of him being cruel or vindictive or even unkind. The more I saw, the less I felt this was an attack, but a.. mournful blessing. And I reached here the last 2 times after discussing it with you, which of course made me watch it with newly re-opened eyeballs, and I have to agree. She knew what was happening. Cmon, she is Mythal. She had her little elfy spirit fingers in all the Solas pies. She was manipulating so many things behind the scenes that there is NO way on Thedas she had no clue what he was doing. She was the "greatest of them all" and I think that even in her quest for revenge against the Evanuris, she wouldn't see the People suffer more than they had to. And I really think she loved the world as it had evolved, even if it was a muted version of her own. She was still immensely powerful there, (I WANNA BE A DRAGON TOOOO) and she went above and beyond to help people she didn't *need* to help. Ima stop blabbering now.
    As always.. thought provoking and beautifully said <3

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    1. Jessi, thank you so much for this fantastic and thoughtful response.

      You make a wonderful point that I totally neglected in this post, which is that Flemeth (Mythal) has always shown herself to act on a greater, grander scale, on behalf of Thedas. She even says this in DA2, and it's awesome. I agree that she loves her people (and, I suspect, all people, not just the elves), which makes her a complex but chaotic agent for good.

      Also, can we all be dragons? I'm with you: Let's ALL be dragons!

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  2. I think that there is a deep love between Solas and Flemeth. Perhaps not a romantic one, be but very deep. I believe the version of the story of Flemeth the wife, Conobar the jealous husband, and Osen the poet that Morrigan tells in Origins closely resembles the dynamic between Mythal, Elgar'nan, and Solas. Perhaps this is what drew Mythal to Flemeth.

    In any case, I think you're right about the meeting being planned, which makes me wonder: what are they trying to do? Pulling down the Veil is what Solas claims to want, but what was Mythal after?

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    1. Tia, thank you for this reply, and for reading!

      I agree with you -- I think the story of Flemeth, Conobar and Osen deliberately mirrors in some ways the betrayal of Mythal herself. I think it actually happened as Flemeth describes (and that Flemeth's rage and betrayal called Mythal's spirit to her across the darkness), but I also think Mythal suffered a similar if not more catastrophic defeat when Elgar'nan and the other Evanuris betrayed her for their own selfish ends.

      I wonder about what Mythal wants too... I think she is consistently a seeker of balance. As she says in DA2, she is willing to "nudge" the world to achieve something beyond happy or sad, right or wrong. I think she is seeking a larger-scale restitution -- which also makes me think Solas either won't succeed or that what he wants won't KILL everyone, just change everything.

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  3. Not bad, not bad at all. The one thing that I see differently is the explanation or description of the statues flanking the Eluvian. I see the sadness and bowed head of the dragon, but I feel that the wolf isn't necessarily triumphant, but rather a mournful and sorrowful howl of having experienced a tremendous loss. Very good interpretation though.

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    1. Thanks very much, Mike! I absolutely agree that the wolf can be interpreted as being mournful here. It's a beautiful image, and wonderfully expressed.

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  4. I think we do see the huge eluvian again in Trespasser - the last one Solas walks through.

    I love how you picked up more than I did with regards to where they might actually have been. Beyond that, it strikes me as spot on, though I heard somewhere that Flemeth/Mythal passed on her godhood through the eluvian (presumably to Morrigan), and perhaps her spirit resides with Solas. I figured this is why he's dressed impeccably and, if I recall correctly, uses much of Flemeth's body language in Trespasser. I personally think he's possessed. As for what Flemeth wants - a vengeance to shake the very heavens? Seems in line with watching this world burn...

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    1. Kinaed, that's a terrific catch about the final eluvian Solas goes through in Trespasser! It does appear to be just as massive as the one at the Temple here (although interestingly, it is not one of the three-pane eluvians, but the more common single-paned eluvian).

      I think the idea that Mythal is possessing Solas is an interesting one, but I don't subscribe to it, myself. I just can't see Solas (who is so fiercely independent) as allowing that (and it's worth noting that he very emphatically refuses to drink from the Well, presumably, for that reason).

      Also, if you rewatch the scene and compare it to Flemeth taking the 'wisp' from Kieran, the soul-transfer thing seems to involve the small glowing 'wisps' (such as what Flemeth took from Kieran or that she puts into the eluvian in the beginning here). Meanwhile, what Solas does takes much older and seems rather to be him simply removing/absorbing her magic and life-force (versus her 'soul'). To me this is also why Flemeth goes completely dark at the end, as well. It's more about her life than her soul.

      So for me, I think Solas is still 100% Solas after this -- and that for good or ill he is following the path he has followed ever since he awakened.

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  5. I literally drop everything to read your blog posts. Your loving analysis and deconstruction just elevate the experience of this game when it was already pretty freaking sublime!!!

    A couple of thoughts struck me while I was reading this:

    If one of Mythal and Fen'harel had to power up the other, why was it Mythal who gave her soul over to Fen'harel? Why was it obvious that he was the more powerful one, or the more appropriate choice? I think it's because they are in essentially different conditions. Mythal's spirit was riding around in Flemeth's body the way Urthemiel was riding around in Kieran's, but Solas IS Fen'harel. He physically resembles his portraits in all the paintings in Trespasser. That is his actual body. Fen'harel never died, and when he woke up, is it possible that he started walking around in his actual, original, egg-headed body?? That's already a pretty big step up from Mythal's possession of various regular mortals (and jewelry).

    Another additional, little thing, is in the analysis of the unfinished mural. I think it's worth recognizing that Solas chose to illustrate the dragon as having been slain by a sword. It's iconographically quite central and significant to the composition of the panel. By shape, I'd say it's specifically referencing the Inquisition longsword. You know, the one the Inquisitor uses to behead people (if s/he chooses to execute people with it after s/he's done teetering on staircases with it aloft)? Pretty heavy associations there. Is it the Inquisition's actions that have brought Fen'harel and Mythal to this position in some way? I don't have an answer!

    Thanks again for your amazing insights. I can't overstate how much I love reading your essays.

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    1. First off, thank you so much -- that's a fantastic compliment, and really made my day.

      You make a great point about the differentials in power between Solas and Flemeth -- it's a fantastic observation because it's so important. Solas is physically an ancient elf and one of the Evanuris. Flemeth is, as you note, physically a powerful and ancient witch, but her body would presumably be far more fragile than his (which is why she has respawned herself over and over again through the ages).

      Also, great point about the sword resembling the sword of the Inquisitor. On this issue -- I'm a bit torn. I think the prominence of the sword in the mural HAS to mean something. But I'm not sure how to interpret it yet... the Inquisition certainly did help Solas get to the next step, even if the Orb was destroyed.

      It's interesting to note that there is another aspect to this scene -- that Solas anticipated it even before the breaking of the Orb in the final battle with Corypants. Which means that even if the Orb had not broken, Solas still foresaw that he would need the power-up from Flemeth to proceed with his plan to remove the Veil.

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  6. Claricia Batty MarieNovember 4, 2017 at 12:47 PM

    Leaving a comment here because Twitter annoys me when I'm typing up storms.

    There's no doubt in my mind that Mythal knew of Solas's plans and is sympathetic to them. I'm sure it was pre-planned.

    I'm grateful for how they handled his villainy. They made him truly complex, and turned him into a Big Bad that you're conflicted over (well, some people aren't.) Evil has a backstory - and that's an interesting thing, because Solas and Mythal (using what knowledge we can gather from this scene) don't view his plans as necessarily evil.

    Some of us have acted out in grief and anger and made mistakes that shook our personal worlds to their cores. We can often long for a way to take it back and restore things to the way they once were. Solas changed the very essence of the entire world and woke up to an alien planet that he did not recognize, that looked to him like it was dying. The difference between us and Solas is that he has the power to restore what he had undone, for better or worse.

    Of course he is aware of the consequences, but they hold very little weight to him. Why shouldn't they? He doesn't know this world. He doesn't know these people. All around him is death and destruction, and people turning a blind eye to a brilliant, complex, magical past - the memories of which have already been twisted and buried. The truth of the world has been too easily forgotten. A friendly or romanced Inquisitor is the only person who seems to cause him to start questioning himself.

    Mythal seems almost motherly in her love for him, which.... Knowing who Mythal is, isn't really very surprising. We see him most vulnerable with her. We do not often see him speak of his failures while also being so visibly moved by them. He has no interest in feigning remorse, sorrow, or regret - Mythal knows him and she'd see right through it, which implies that this scene between them speaks of his true nature around those he loves and trusts.

    The meeting between them makes me think about the mural. The sword in the dragon's back obviously points to betrayal, but Mythal appears not only to be fully aware of what's happening and what's going to happen, but also to give herself willingly to him. Of course, it's possible that while Mythal doesn't appear to view this as a betrayal, Solas may - which would make sense for him, given, you know ... everything. Truth is subjective.

    Another reason I find it interesting is that it can also call back to when Mythal was betrayed. Fen'Harel obviously grieved before (and during) acting out.

    (unrelated, but kind of cool to think about - the sword, Mythal, and sheath [which Mythal serves the purpose of in the painting] share a lot of common symbolism.)

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    1. Claricia, thank you for that thoughtful and eloquent reply.

      This is absolutely beautifully said:

      "Some of us have acted out in grief and anger and made mistakes that shook our personal worlds to their cores. We can often long for a way to take it back and restore things to the way they once were. Solas changed the very essence of the entire world and woke up to an alien planet that he did not recognize, that looked to him like it was dying. The difference between us and Solas is that he has the power to restore what he had undone, for better or worse."

      I think the observation you make here that is most resonant to me is the fact of Solas's curious tunnel-vision. He's absolutely blind to any other options -- all he can see is the task of undoing what he did before, regardless of the cost. And the worst part is, as you note, he has the power to do this (or he understands how to assemble that power). I think the only way we can possibly hope for a good outcome here is that we (I hope) get more chances to talk to Solas, to continue to try to shake his perceptions and to change his mind. We almost did it once before.

      I definitely think Solas sees what he will do to Flemeth to be a betrayal (whether or not Flemeth does).

      On the sword... fascinating point there. And it's interesting -- the Inquisition is symbolized by a sword pretty literally on the second panel of Solas's frescoes.

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  7. I agree with your assessment.Flemeth's human body and reached the end of it's usefulness/life. Morrigan obviously would have refused to take Mythal's/Flemeth's spirit. Her trust in her mother is nil, made worse by the fact that she's unwittingly given herself into Flemeth's hands (if you played it that way). Where was she to go other than become a part of the ancient elf she most trusted? I don't think that she's gone forever, I think she sent a bit of herself and the other Old God into the mirror to somewhere/something. I never saw this scene as Solas "stealing" her life force. I always thought it was a voluntary gift. Thank you for stating the case for this view so well.

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    1. Carmen, thanks for sharing your thoughts here (and apologies on the late reply -- I missed that you had commented).

      I'd never considered that Flemeth might have approached Morrigan to shelter her 'wisp' for safety, because of Morrigan's paranoia and fear about being possessed by Flemeth -- but it would have been an interesting and even tragic conversation to witness between the two.

      I agree with you that Flemeth has saved the 'Mythal' wisp in the eluvian -- I just hope there's something of Flemeth that remains as well. Especially since Flemeth makes a point of stating that she and Mythal are one person now, no more separate than her heart in her chest.

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