Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Reunion of Flemeth and Morrigan: Witches, Mothers and Daughters

 But Mom! It was just one pizza party and season 1 of "Girls!"
FLEMETH: "I nudge history, when it's required. Other times, a shove is needed."

SPOILERS FOR ALL OF DRAGON AGE!


One of my favorite scenes across all of the Dragon Age trilogy must be the moment when Morrigan meets up again with her terrifying yet wonderful mother, Flemeth... and has an unexpected and richly ironic close encounter with one of those very elven gods who have fascinated her for so long. Not only is it a fun scene (in all variations), but it offers some of the best and most concrete clues we'll get about Flemeth across the entire trilogy, so is therefore that much more worth exploring.

Besides, come on. It's Flemeth.

FLEMETH. 

But first, let's hearken back to set the stage.

By the end of Dragon Age: Origins, Morrigan, while still operating alongside Flemeth's agenda to gain the Archdemon Urthemiel's old god soul through the Dark Ritual, had nevertheless become certain that her mother meant to overpower her and then take over her body. She then sent the Hero of Ferelden to kill her mother and take her invaluable, ages-old Grimoire. The Hero then either fought and apparently killed Flemeth (in her dragon form) or simply talked to Flemeth and asked for the Grimoire outright, leaving Flemeth alive. 

And even here, of course, the plot's a complicated thing, depending on our choices, since in the "Witch Hunt" DLC, if we find Morrigan (or the new Warden does, if our own Hero died defeating the Archdemon), she will show a surprising awareness that Flemeth still lives. If we lied, without showing animosity for the deception, she simply warns us against what Flemeth may be capable of in the future. And even if we didn't lie, and did appear to defeat Flemeth in her dragon-form, Morrigan repeats the same warning—that Flemeth somehow may yet live, and to be cautious.

Then, of course, Flemeth shows up just in time to save Hawke in Dragon Age II, and to offer some potent words of wisdom there before literally flying off into the air. Sometimes Flemeth's awesomeness is so great that I cross fictional streams in spite of myself mentally, because I'd pay so much money to see Flemeth and Galadriel or Alice (of Lev Grossman's underrated The Magicians) talk about the price of magic on love and family.

Either way, let's flash forward a decade, to 9:41 Dragon and the events of Dragon Age: Inquisition, as Morrigan joins us after the events of "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts" and becomes part of the Inquisition gang. After the passage of years, Morrigan's noticeably quieter now, softer around the edges, less arrogant and brittle. She seems both lonely and vulnerable, and has spent the recent years gathering input and insight into the ancient elves on her own, while also protecting herself and/or her child (depending on your DAO choices) as DAI continued.

The story at this point can diverge depending on the following variables:
  • Morrigan has the child Kieran, product of the Dark Ritual, and who carries Urthemiel's soul inside him
  • Morrigan has the child Kieran, who is simply the human son of the Hero of Ferelden
  • Morrigan is childless
The other major factors here are whether or not Morrigan or the Inquisitor chose to drink from the Well of Sorrows.

Either way, we've reached the point where history needs a little help, a divine nudge... or the good guys do... so it's time to call on Mythal.

"Hi, Mom."

And so here we are. Morrigan's eager and delighted, confident in her research and thrumming with excitement at meeting Mythal.

I always feel a little sorry for Morrigan here. She's just so darned excited. And so absolutely wrong about everything she thought she knew.

Then, oh dear, things go somewhat haywire... and Morrigan's horrified and scared and suddenly very, very vulnerable. We actually see and hear her subtly regress into childhood at several moments, which are beautifully envisioned by the artists and developers, and as acted by the always superb Claudia Black.

I'm always interested in this moment because it's been a very long time—over a decade, after all—since Morrigan saw her mother, and there are very few scenarios in which Morrigan came out looking all that great (although, granted, she truly seemed to think she was trying to protect herself). Either way, I'd say that Flemeth was very much aware of the fear and rage of her beautiful daughter, and their reunion was bound to be a dramatic one.

When Flemeth reappears, she's still as cool and queenly as ever, wearing her gorgeous DA2 apparel and the Hair Horns of Fabulousness (a hairstyle I am definitely a fan of making popular any minute now... the only downside I can see is the massive budget outlay on hair gel and hairspray... AND IT WOULD BE WORTH IT). 

Flemeth loves Mythal and shields her but they are not a single individual.
They are shared; each with her own failings, foibles, preconceptions, losses...
and needs for vengeance. There is both tragedy and wisdom to that realization.
Flemeth is one of the most beautifully envisioned characters across the trilogy, and her fantastic DA2 makeover was designed by the talented artist Matt Rhodes. Where once she was a crone in homespun in DAO, she arrives here in all her DA2 power, along with that little extra bit of mystery she seems to carry with her now. She's both witch and warrior, maiden and crone, goddess and vengeful woman. I think one of my favorite subtle aspects to her appearance here is that, while they were a darker greenish-brown hazel in DAO, since DA2 Flemeth's eyes are every bit as yellow-golden as Morrigan's now.

And now she's here just in time, yet again.

The Meeting at the Shrine

No matter which scenario we play here (Kieran or no Kieran), Flemeth is amused and Morrigan is as shocked as it is possible for her to be. But the two scenarios are intriguingly different, both visually and tonally.

First off, if there was no Dark Ritual in DAO and Kieran does not exist, then the Inquisitor, Morrigan and their party approach the Altar of Mythal in the Arbor Wilds at the appointed time and place. It's a location that is implied to be close to the Temple of Mythal itself (although it's interesting that Varric comments openly that there aren't any ruins nearby). It's a lovely area, and there are landmarks here that have actually made me reevaluate it as either the setting for the final Flemeth/Solas meeting or as being very close to it (we even see the howling wolf statues that we see nowhere else in the game but here and in that final scene).

Meanwhile, here we all are, waiting for Mythal at the altar. In this version of the meeting, there's no Fade, just this lovely green and sunny enclosure in the Arbor Wilds, birds singing overhead. 

We approach the Altar of Mythal along with the companions, and see the holy place before us. Central upon it is a female statue like those we saw at the Temple, a woman's body (very reminiscent of the Nike of Samothrace), armless, regal and beautiful, with wings outstretched and the elegant yet alien, symbolic head of a dragon. The statue is encircled with pale white blossoms in a diagonal pattern like a sash around its torso, and these same flowers also encircle the crown of its head. It's interesting to point out that flowers (bright red this time) also adorn the dragon statues that flank Mythal on either side in patterns that mimic those on the Mythal figure—crowning and enveloping them peacefully.
Morrigan: 'Tis all that remains of the Great Altar.
She reads the inscription there.
Morrigan: We few who travel far, call to me, and I will come—without mercy, without fear.
Solas (if present): Cry havoc in the moonlight, let the fire of vengeance burn. The cause is clear. (pause) A very old invocation, perfectly translated.
Morrigan: Thank you.

The Companions depart at Morrigan's insistence, and Morrigan calls upon Mythal.

Morrigan: You know who I am. From high priest to high priest, I am the last to drink of sorrows. Come to us, Mythal, whatever you are, whatever remains, I invoke your name and your power.
First off, if Patrick Weekes wrote this dialogue for Solas, his love of Shakespeare is showing once again, delightfully, as this echoes the immortal line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar"Cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war!" I also love that Solas compliments Morrigan's translation; it's a sly moment of actual respect for her efforts in elven scholarship and is, alas, a moment that shall not come again.

After Morrigan's invocation, there's a gorgeous shot of the sunlight through the leaves above, and then, through a lovely rush of smoke and whispers, Flemeth appears, looking fabulous as always with her hair horns.

Morrigan: Mother.
Inquisitor (hilariously): Mother?
To which Flemeth merely says, in Kate Mulgrew's rich and unmistakable purr, "Now, isn't this a surprise?"


A formula for tragedy: Morrigan watches in curiosity and almost longing, as
Flemeth's face is smiling and almost kind here, alert and interested
in how the Inquisitor will respond
.
"Once, I was but a woman..."

Hi, Mom! Yep, much to Morrigan's dismay, Flemeth's back, and with, well, a surprising lack of vengeance. And look... all kidding aside, Flemeth by Morrigan's own account made her childhood a hell, she raised her in a wilderness of unlove, fear, and virulent magic (with men openly used and sacrificed visibly before her), and then set her on a mission to rather brutally auction up her own body in order to gain the power her mother insisted upon. And that's before she began to fear that her mother's ultimate goal was possession of her own body as a new vessel.

In other words, I give Morrigan a lot of slack here, as well as back in DAO. While I love Flemeth, there's no question that Flemeth was, at worst, abusive, and, at best, staggeringly callous and tone-deaf with her lovely dark-haired daughter.

The Inquisitor has a variety of options for response here but in answer to most, Morrigan loses her temper, and Flemeth restrains her effortlessly (or, if the Inquisitor drank from the Well, the Inquisitor does so on her behalf).
Morrigan: She is a deceiving witch!
Flemeth: Now, now, that's quite enough of that.
Morrigan: What have you done to me?
Flemeth: I have done nothing. You drank from the well of your own volition.
Morrigan: Then you... are Mythal?
The Inquisitor simply looks more curious than angry, and while Morrigan stews, can be either boastful and antagonistic or respectful. I always choose 'respectful' because I am a Flemeth fangirl but to each our own.
Flemeth: You see, girl? Those are manners, as you require a demonstration.
Morrigan: I do not understand. How can you be Mythal?
And here we are, at the monologue that, for me, is the core of who Flemeth is... and of who Mythal was, gloriously delivered by Mulgrew as if its poetry is what she has been waiting to declaim since Thedas was born: 
Flemeth: Once I was but a woman... crying out in the lonely darkness for justice. And she came to me, a wisp of an ancient being, and she granted me all I wanted and more. I have carried Mythal through the ages ever since, seeking the justice denied to her.
The Goddess and the Witch

This is, irrevocably, part of why I love Flemeth. She dies yet lives. She smiles yet burns with vengeance. She is capable of both kindness and cruelty. She does not always keep heroes from falling, but instead reminds them that sometimes, a brutal fall, whether literal or figurative, is all that reminds us of the great things of which we are capable. Only by falling, as she notes in DA2, do we truly learn whether we can fly. It moved me then; it moves me still.

Most of all, as here, Flemeth acknowledges the wrongful imbalance of the world, right here and now: Once, I was but a woman... and then we find out how it all went down. But I'm still stuck on the idea that, gloriously... a woman wronged cried out... and the spirit of a wronged woman answered. Call me a feminist or a social justice warrior and I will simply smile and wear both labels with pride.

Because those aspects cannot be ignored or cast aside. This, this, this is the heart of who Flemeth is. This is the heart of who Mythal was. Their combination should scare anyone, man or woman, who seeks injustice against the weak.

The Goddess Speaks

Flemeth continues, so I'll quote that conversation going forward here. And please note—for expediency, I'll explore most main conversational choices as if taken, and will also include as much of the most important dialogue as I can. I know that doing so lengthens these blog posts, but I look at each of these as chapters, in many ways, and I also know how frustrating it is, firsthand, not to be able to reference and quote important dialogue from the games. While the Wiki and its value and importance cannot be overstated, it doesn't include much beyond the companion banters, so I feel like transcribing these moments is also a useful service to do for fans wherever I can, as well.

So here we go!
Flemeth: She is a part of me. No more separate than your heart from your chest. You hear the voices of the Well, girl. What do they say?
Morrigan: They... say you speak the truth.
Flemeth: But what was Mythal? A legend given name and called a god, or something more? Truth is not the end but a beginning.
She approaches the two of them, Morrigan watching in curiosity and almost longing. Flemeth's face is smiling and almost kind here, alert and interested in how they'll respond.
Flemeth: A herald, indeed. Shouting to the heavens, harbinger of a new age. As for me, I have had many names. But you... may call me Flemeth.
Inquisitor: Then you're Mythal as well as Morrigan's mother?
Morrigan: As well as a witch who prolongs her unnatural life by possessing the bodies of her daughters.
Flemeth: That's what you believe, is it?
Morrigan: I found your Grimoire, and I am no fool, old woman.
Flemeth: (chuckling) If only that were so. (to Inquisitor) My daughter ran from me long ago. I've let her be... until now, it seems.
Inquisitor: If Mythal is within you, why not reveal yourself?
Flemeth: And to whom should I reveal myself?
Inquisitor: To the elves, to everyone.
Flemeth: I knew the hearts of men even before Mythal came to me. It is why she came to me. They do not want the truth, and I... I am but a shadow, lingering in the sun.
Inquisitor: Why did Mythal come to you?
Flemeth: For a reckoning that will shake the very heavens.
Morrigan: And you follow her whims? Do you even know what she truly is?
Flemeth: You seek to preserve the powers that were, but to what end? It is because I taught you, girl, because things happened that were never meant to happen. She was betrayed, as I was betrayed—as the world was betrayed! 
There's a beautiful and very cinematic moment here (and kudos to director Mike Laidlaw) as the camera pans up above and pulls back slightly from Flemeth in her rage and fury.
Flemeth: Mythal clawed and crawled her way through the ages to me, and I will see her avenged!
We zoom in close on the Mythal statue's dragon head, crowned softly with flowers that tremble in the breeze, and Flemeth looks intently at it, then grows sorrowful again. 
Flemeth: Alas. So long as the music plays, we dance.
Inquisitor: I know the name Flemeth. It belongs to an ancient Fereldan legend. It says, long ago, you left your husband for a lover. Your husband then tricked you, killed your lover, and imprisoned you. Then a spirit came to offer you vengeance—Mythal—that's what you spoke of.
Flemeth: One day, someone will summarize the terrible events of your life so quickly. Hm. But yes, I was that woman. That is how my tale began.
Inquisitor: Flemeth appears in other legends, helping heroes for reasons of her own.
Flemeth: I nudge history, when it's required. Other times, a shove is needed. (she chuckles.)
Inquisitor (Varying responses, but basically): We need your help.
Flemeth: Against the magister who grasps beyond his reach. Yes, I know. The voices did not lie. I can help you.
Holding out a hand glowing with magic, Flemeth communicates the knowledge, which is (depending on choices) either of how Morrigan can shapeshift or of how the Inquisitor can master the dragon and it will come to them for the final battle. 
Morrigan (alternatively, if she drank): The voices came from you?
Flemeth: The price of the well seemed no dire thing when you saw so much gain, hmm?The voices did not lie, Morrigan. I can help you fight Corypheus.
She reaches her hand to Morrigan's head, and the magic glows golden. It is not aggressive, however, but almost gentle, and Morrigan stands still, then slowly opens her eyes. 
Flemeth: Do you understand, child?
Morrigan: Yes... I think I do.
Flemeth turn and walks away, back down the steps and into the wild grasses. Morrigan calls after her. 
Morrigan: Wait!
Flemeth (smiling):I wished to see who drank from the Well of sorrows. It has been a very long time.  (If Inquisitor) And now I have, and he is free to go. (If Morrigan) Imagine my surprise to discover... it was you.
Morrigan (If she drank from the Well): And that is all? Or (Non-Well): But what of us? (sadly)
Flemeth (after a significant pause and smile): A soul is not forced upon the unwilling, Morrigan. You were never in danger from me.
She walks back off into the billow of magical smoke and vanishes.

Variations on a Scene

What's interesting about this variation on the scene is that the psychology of Morrigan is visibly and beautifully different from that of Morrigan the mother willing to protect Kieran at all costs (which I'll be exploring separately, later). Here, she is quieter, more openly vulnerable and emotional. Claudia Black plays many of Morrigan's reactions here as almost hesitant, truly cowed by the realizations she has come to.

Flemeth, meanwhile, is kinder and quieter, too. There's less of that feeling that she's toying with Morrigan (as she very openly does in the Fade, seeming just a little to enjoy the fear Morrigan has for Kieran). Instead, she's more centered, more smiling, and is almost gentle with Morrigan.

It's interesting that there are a few key differences here. Morrigan calls the Inquisitor a "harbinger" rather than a messenger of a new age, but this may be due to Inquisitor choices relating to their belief in the Maker. If there's no Kieran, she's gentler, quieter, less sure. And interestingly enough, if she didn't drink from the Well, the confrontation is actually more angry and antagonistic, less gentle. In my interpretation, there's a chance at communion that is lost in that scenario, and it's kind of tragic—Flemeth cannot instantly translate understanding to Morrigan through benign magic, so instead, Morrigan is angry, still vengeful, and Flemeth is still wary and betrayed.

It's interesting that, here, we find that the best and sweetest story scenario is actually the one in which Morrigan drank from the Well. Not because she loses empowerment, but simply because she is given a sense of communion with her mother that she will not gain in any other way. It is, in many ways, an unexpected gift. Morrigan is linked to the woman she feared, the woman she knows, and instead of terror finds... gentleness. Assurance. Perhaps even love. And the quiet she'd perhaps wanted between them both.

It's a new and creative ending to the fairytale of the orphan in the forest, the fable of the daughter of the Witch of the Wilds. A moment... well, of grace.

Of all the possible scenarios with Morrigan in DAI, I admit that I prefer the ones with Kieran... they're richer, darker, and more moving. But I also loved discovering the childlike side of Morrigan here, and the more open portrayal of her potential for connection and understanding with her long-estranged mother. Every child seeks understanding; Flemeth's willingness to provide it here is an unexpected gift, and one I feel that Morrigan both deserves and which will profit her in the days to come.

Meanwhile, I'll explore the moment with Mythal, Morrigan and Kieran in a separate post, Part 2, to come!



2 comments:

  1. I want, so badly, for those two to be reunited and get a chance (however briefly) at reconciling and showing love for one another.

    Here's hoping they don't do a full reboot of Dragon Age and we actually get a conclusion to this magnificent story.

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    Replies
    1. Ashley, I do too! Despite that final scene with Solas, I really, really want Flemeth to return in DA4 (fingers crossed) and am hoping she manages to resurrect herself again! Just so she and Morrigan can reconnect.

      I know there was an early version of that final scene in which Morrigan actually witnessed Solas taking Flemeth's life essence (and the dialogue was even recorded by Claudia Black), but that was then cut out of the game. Which gives me hope that we'll get a better or more satisfying scene or resolution in DA4!

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