Critical Role S02 E06: Getting to Know You

DISCLAIMER: I love Critical Role and have nothing but respect and admiration for the producers and performers. Any analysis or opinions here are stated with love, and understanding that a show which is largely improvised cannot and should not be held to the same expectations as a show which is rehearsed and written with certain representations in mind.

Fan art by Lewd Alfred Douglas

Critical Role is a show where a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons. S02 features a new, more colorful cast of characters who seem more like outcasts than the first series party. Though this may be emphasized by their vulnerable state. S01 of Critical Role began with characters at around level 8. Both the players and characters had been adventuring for a quite a while already in undocumented private games, and their relationships reflected this. Though there was talk of some characters having past trauma or not fitting in, they were never guarded or unsure around each other. They had already found their true family, bumpy as the road may be.

S02 is much different. In E06, they delved into their first true dungeon, and still they know very little about each other. It seems everyone has a secret or two to hide, and they don’t trust each other quite enough to become that vulnerable. Let’s recount the as yet unsolved mysteries and guardedness of each character…

Nott, Goblin Rogue: Relatively forthright, but hiding her race under a mask out of necessity. It's been suggested that she left her original clan because she wasn't like the other girls/goblins.

Jester, Tiefling Cleric: Doesn't seem terribly secretive, however signs lately have pointed to her mother possibly coming from a background of sex work. "My mother told me to never give anything away for free." (E01) and asking the GM if she happened to recognize a man who "may have visited…" (E06) She has also been writing to her mother in affectionate terms, asking for money. It would be wonderful if we got a glance at a sex worker having a loving family and a stable life.

Molly, Tiefling Blood Hunter: When asked, he has woven several tales about his background which, according to Jaffe, are written down in case of emergency bullshitting. We got a hint that he may have had a traumatic past of some kind, from one of his former colleagues saying there was a time when he didn’t speak.

Caleb, Human Wizard: A vagrant, accustomed to thieving to survive. He’s been especially guarded about whether or not he trusts the party and leaves gaps in our knowledge of how his powers work.

Fjord, Half-Orc Warlock: Has an intensely personal encounter with his patron, uses a fake accent (confirmed by Travis Willingham on Talks Machina, the post-broadcast talk show) and hasn’t mentioned any details to the group about how he came upon his abilities.

Beauregard, Human Monk: Like Fjord, Beau has had an intensely private scene with just herself and the GM, and hasn't seen fit to fill the other players in on what exactly her background entails. It doesn't seem to be a dark secret—but certainly something too personal to share with the group.

Yasha: It's too early to tell with Yasha since her player has only been able to join two sessions due to Ashey Johnson’s heavy performance work schedule. However, she seems just as guarded as the rest of them.

People who feel vulnerable, ostracized, or have trauma in their past would of course be hesitant to open up to people they have just met, even if they are risking their lives with each other. The slow reveal of backstories and trust is something we never got in S01, which many D&D groups do have to play out.

Now, let's talk about romance.

One of the drawbacks of S01 was that the romances between the characters seemed to come out of nowhere. This is because the audience wasn't privy to these characters when they first got to know each other, and didn't get to see their relationship develop. There's something wonderful about the blank slate of these characters interacting for the first time—being curious about each other, testing boundaries, and flirting. Unlike a scripted show, no one knows how or if any of the characters will develop romantic or sexual relationships. The performers are exploring those possibilities in real time. So what may be construed as a flirtation by the audience is not necessarily planned foreshadowing. Still, this does not stop the fan artists from pairing characters based on subtle and brief interactions. They are naturally accustomed to brief flirtations meaning something down the road.

In the words of Taliesin Jaffe, the characters are "not yet baked," meaning the performers are still settling into their voices, behaviors, and preferences. This is an exciting, amorphous stage in storytelling which only happens in long-term improvisation.