Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Taste of Lies and Sorrows... Talking with Solas After the Arbor Wilds

In his "You have impressed me" compliments, the idea that Solas is professing that love in response to having his worst impulses confirmed is deeply sad to me. That's why it's a brilliant lead-in to the next moment... that of our last, terrible date.

SOLAS: You honor the past and work to recover what was lost, even if the cost is high. I respect that, and I am indebted to you for the reminder.

So I'm on the home stretch to my analysis of Solas's romance, but before we get to the kisses, tears and regretful butt-grabs of The Last, Worst Date Ever, I want to take a closer look at one of the most pivotal companion conversations in Dragon Age: Inquisition—our talk with Solas after the events of the Arbor Wilds and the vir'abelasan (The Well of Sorrows). (Note: I've updated this slightly from the original post to fix a few typos, and added a reference to the fact that the epilogue scene may take place in the Crossroads, as posited by @LadyInsanity.)

Saying No to a Sip

If we didn't drink from the Well, Solas is calm and even mildly euphoric after the Temple of Mythal. There's something complacent and secretly pleased about his demeanor, and, as with the events of Halamshiral, he's playing his cards close to the vest. He comments that "The Temple of Mythal was extraordinary. In all my journeys, I never dreamed of finding anything like it."

Which, to me, isn't a throwaway comment but an observation that is worth examining. It's Solas writer Patrick Weekes being subtle with us again, giving us something potentially complex and layered within a seemingly innocuous, simple statement by one of their characters.

First and foremost, it's obviously a pretty disingenuous comment by Solas, since he would have to have seen far grander temples to the Evanuris back in the ancient days. Not to mention the fact that, right there at the Well itself, ancient elven sentinel Abelas had just told us that Mythal's Temple was destroyed by the very people who betrayed and murdered Mythal herself.

A Little Deception

Doesn't Abelas's job sound awful, by the way? He and the ancient sentinel elves evidently spend all their time sleeping, basically snoozing their way through millennia, only waking up on alert in time to fight or banish anyone who tries to enter the Temple of Mythal. If they survive after combat, they apparently just go back to bed until the next incursion. It's like the worst on-call fireman's job ever. And with no side benefits like a fireman's pole, dalmatians, communal cooking, riding around in a cool fire truck, or getting the thanks of a grateful community.

So it's another small moment of deception from Solas, if we examine it, because he has likely already been to the Temple of Mythal, even if it was millennia back. Wasn't it likely the site of Mythal's actual murder? Even though it's implied that Solas and Mythal were divided at that point (perhaps over differences on the issues of elven enslavement, the use of the vallaslins, or some other betrayal), we know that there remained deep love between them, to the point that Mythal's death sent Solas spinning into acts of revenge and retribution that would change the entire face of the world.

So it seems likely that Solas would have hastened there himself way back when, either to prevent her death, or to discover it on his own. The other Evanuris beings who killed her may even have hoped to pin the death on Solas himself, for all we know. Either way, I think he's been there before. Ironically, before most of his many journeys to come across both Thedas and the Fade.

And keep in mind that the Temple of Mythal is also strongly implied as the prearranged meeting-place for Solas and Flemeth in the shocking final epilogue scene in Dragon Age: Inquisition. (although there is also a persuasive case by LadyInsanity that it takes place in the Crossroads, as well). But I'd swear on my stuffed Emerald Graves Nug that both of them know the place all too well.

That's all we get if we didn't drink—it's a mild, quiet conversation with no surprises (yet).

However, the situation is, of course, much more fiery and emotional if we did, in fact, drink from the vir'abelasan.

What Inquisition has accomplished beautifully in a big-picture way with Solas's story is to constantly remind us that sometimes the worst fate you can suffer is to be trapped in your own guilt and regret.

The Taste of Sorrow

If we drank from the Well, the encounter is more volatile. Solas confrontational—frustrated, angry and scared at the implications of what the Inquisitor has done. As always, he cannot tell her what he knows about the immortal contract to which she has just agreed. As Inquisition's greatest champion of free will, Solas is predictably devastated that the Inquisitor is now bound to something she does not understand. He cannot tell her Mythal is real, the gods were real (at least, in some capacity), and that he himself walked among them, saving and dooming Thedas as a result.

Solas gets a lot of anger from many fans, and he undoubtedly deserves it. He's walked at our side for over a year now in the timeline of the game story, and he has reserved, omitted, and even obscured essential information from the Inquisitor and the Inquisition at large repeatedly in order to cover his own identity, motives and actions. 

Yet what the game has accomplished beautifully in a big-picture way with Solas's story is to constantly remind us that sometimes the worst fate you can suffer is to be trapped in your own guilt and regret (a fate Abelas understands all too well). It's something Weekes makes painfully acute in almost all of Solas's dialogues with companions, and especially with a beloved Lavellan. He wants so badly to speak. And yet he cannot do so. And because he is a true believer, because he truly thinks he is doing the right thing, his prison is binding. No moment of weakness or regret will salvage him because every moment of pain or loss simply provides him with the chance for further righteous sacrifice or abnegation.

And oh, The Last, Worst Date is looming, and I would argue that here's where we begin to see that fallout... even here.

So I like the scene a lot, because it's one of those moments in which I feel we're watching Solas have to face the bleak reality of his choices... and lose control. And justifiably so. He can't fix things, he can't go back, and he's caught in a cruel stasis in which he alone knows the miseries yet to come for those he has come to care for. Even though Solas seemed to tacitly want for us to drink at the time—or, at least, to do so instead of Morrigan, who he views as grasping carelessly for ancient power she does not understand ("She is right about only one thing: we should take the power which lies in that well")—he's nevertheless deeply, visibly upset.

This scene is instantly presented as intense and dynamic—we walk into the Rotunda with Solas, and he rounds furiously to confront Lavellan for drinking from the Well. Solas is about as emotional and unguarded as we've ever seen him.

SOLAS: I begged you not to drink from the Well! Why could you not have listened?
SOLAS: You gave yourself into the service of an ancient elven god!
INQUISITOR: What does that mean, exactly?
SOLAS: You are Mythal’s creature now. Everything you do, whether you know it or not, will be for her. You have given up a part of yourself.

Solas and Lavellan can have more conversations here, but they're mostly variations in which Solas reinforces the danger of the decision (and her loss of agency) while emphasizing the fickle and potentially twisted nature of the original 'gods.' In one of my favorite moments, Lavellan calls him out on the fact that she knows he doesn't believe in gods, and Solas agrees, but clarifies that he believes that these powerful beings did exist in some fashion, whether gods or something else. Again, I always love these moments in which Solas tosses out an idea like a guess, when he knows the truth beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Regardless, within a few short moments, Solas seems to take a breath, and to accept that what's done is done, and he makes a visible effort to calm down.

SOLAS: And you are bound to one of them now. I suppose it is better you have the power than Corypheus, which leads to the next logical question… 

And... here we go.

Oh, sweet Creators, and oh dear and fluffy Maker, Solas, please do not thank us for this particular revelation. Shit.

The Hidden, Vital Question

This, this, is the big moment for Solas... where, in hindsight, we realize all realities for Solas collide. He asks the question that means more to him than anything in the world, I believe. Right here and right now, Solas must know the answer to a vital question: What will she do with this divine power now? How will she use it to affect the world?

SOLAS: What will you do with the power of the Well once Corypheus is dead?

Lavellan can reply in a variety of options, here. She can respond that she will undo the chaos Corypants caused, she may respond that she trusts her friends, say that she will attempt to stay humble and share her power, or (last but not least) that she will not look back, but try to move the world forward.

It's no surprise that Solas reacts most powerfully to two of these responses—to the Inquisitor's resolution to bring back the past, or to move beyond that past into something wholly new. 

"I am indebted to you for the reminder"

Every one of these options includes an important disclosure from Solas. But, in hindsight, his open happiness if Lavellan responds, "I'll bring back what was," should be a warning bell that clangs across the Frostbacks. Solas is openly euphoric at the idea that Lavellan would put things back "the way they were, because it's the affirmation he so desperately desires—confirmation from someone he has come to love and admire that undoing the past is a good and honorable thing. No matter what the cost:

INQUISITOR: I’ll use whatever power I have to undo the chaos that Corypheus and his allies have caused.
SOLAS: You would put things back the way they were before?
INQUISITOR: Yes. I mean, not exactly…
SOLAS: I know what you mean. Thank you.
SOLAS: You have not been what I expected, Inquisitor. You have… impressed me. You honor the past and work to recover what was lost, even if the cost is high. I respect that, and I am indebted to you for the reminder.

Note how Solas's final moment of appreciation here emphasizes Lavellan's willingness to honor the past and "recover what was lost, even if the cost was high." He's happily grateful for the reminder.

I adore Solas. But his goals scare and worry me, and this, in retrospect, is pretty terrifying.

"I trust my friends"

In response to Lavellan's desire to trust her friends, Solas answers with a differently, yet equally telling, revelation:

INQUISITOR: I trust my friends.
SOLAS: I know that mistake well enough to carve the angles of her face from memory.
INQUISITOR: Why is this so important to you?
SOLAS: You have not been what I expected, Inquisitor. You have… impressed me. You must not let false modesty allow you to pass your power to someone else. There are few regrets sharper than watching fools squander what you sacrificed to achieve.

Which—that's Mythal, isn't it? It has to be about Mythal. Whom he loved and trusted, who may have called him out of the very Fade itself and into flesh all those thousands and thousands of years ago... and yet, at some point, he felt that she betrayed him. Then their friendship was sundered, even if the love remained.

I like the way this version of Solas's "You have not been what I expected" compliment also subtly references the fact that he feels like whatever he achieved in raising the Veil and imprisoning the Evanuris was then squandered by "fools" who came after. Are these the Dalish, perhaps, who became a wandering and lost people unable to remember their own history? Or all of the modern elves, Dalish and city elves alike? Or simply all of Thedas?

Yet it's worth noting that the first thing Solas did upon emerging from the Fade was to go straight to the Dalish and attempt to share his knowledge with them. Knowledge they declined, before forcibly casting him out.

Perhaps it is only then that, to him, bitter in his isolation, they became fools. 

"The Lure of Power's Corruption"

In option three of Lavellan's potential answers here, she attempts to retreat into the safety of abnegating power and ruling by committee, while Solas is instantly skeptical:

SOLAS: You think to share your power, to avoid the temptation to misuse it. A noble sentiment… but, ultimately, a mistake.
SOLAS: Because while one selfless woman may walk away from the lure of power’s corruption, no group has ever done so.

I love the foreshadowing here, as this, of course, is a situation Trespasser directly addresses front and center, and it turns out to be the central question on which the entire Halamshiral hearing hinges: Will the Inquisition remain as an organization or will it be absorbed into the Chantry, to answer to the Divine? Or is now simply the time for the Inquisition as a formal political entity to end? Our choices for our Inquisitors there will surely have massive repercussions in Dragon Age 4.

As a last interesting little detail, this is the only answer to Lavellan's plans where Solas does not give some version of the "You have impressed me" speech.

And here we are again, making a massive mistake, and simply reinforcing Solas's terrible agenda even when we express the actual reverse of his current and determined path. Because all roads lead to the din’anshiral for him at this point.

"I'll help this world move forward"

I find it interesting that the last option in our responses to Solas—the one that is the flip side to the first option (to "restore what was")—is the one that also draws the most emotional response from him. Which makes sense, since both answers, bookends though they are, are intertwined: 

INQUISITOR: The war proved that we can’t go back to the way things were. I’ll try to help this world move forward.
SOLAS: You would risk everything you have in the hope that the future is better? What if it isn’t? What if you wake up to find that the future you shaped is worse than what was?
INQUISITOR: I’ll take a breath, see where things went wrong, and then try again.
SOLAS: Just like that?
INQUISITOR: If we don’t keep trying, we’ll never get it right.
SOLAS: You’re right. Thank you.
SOLAS: You have not been what I expected, Inquisitor. You have… impressed me. You have offered hope that if one keeps trying, even if the consequences are grave… that someday, things will be better.

All Solas takes from this is, "I just have to keep trying, even if the consequences are grave." It's basically the worst and most tragic possible lesson he could take from what the Inquisitor noted. Instead of being freed by the idea that he can and must let go of the past—that he should move on both literally and figuratively from what haunts him—Solas sees this conversation that if he wants to undo the past, he simply needs to keep trying.

All of which makes that final "You have impressed me" compliment he gives to a romanced or high-approval Inquisitor bittersweet, to say the least. Because for me it's a disingenuous end to a disingenuous beginning. And as I always do, I love Gareth David-Lloyd's performance, as he communicates the slightest undercurrent of instability here, of euphoria and excitement beyond the moment. Something is not quite right here. Solas may actually be trembling in the aftermath of revelation and... relief?

It's worth repeating that I believe that Solas does truly love and admire the Inquisitor. Yet here, the idea that he's professing that love in response to having his worst impulses confirmed is deeply sad. That's why I find it a brilliant lead-in to the next moment... that of that last, terrible date. 

Solas tells us he loves us many times, and I believe them all within the story of the game. Yet here, his proclamation of admiration is not only somehow unearned and hollow, it is a subtle harbinger of sadness to come. 

In falling in love with an ancient god, we are already on the path to the din’anshiral. Solas is already far ahead. The greatest tragedy of the situation is that it's a path he walks alone, and love or no love, he will not wait for us.


  1. Absolutely beautiful read (left me shaking). There is so much here.
    It's telling that in the end, he doesn't want her to see what he becomes, and agrees himself it is a terrible answer. I think it's critical how he notes there are no good answers left. I think it goes beyond restoring the past, and ties to saving those of his people who are trapped, as well as restoring a lost state of being. If I understand correctly, it may even be key to preventing an undetectable mega blight.

  2. This reminds me I should put a newer copy of my Solas dialogue transcriptions document up; I've got a little bit of the stuff I had been missing, now.


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