Critical Role S02E16 "A Favor in Kind"

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.

As a transgender man, I have spent a good portion of my life ruminating on what it means to be male, masculine, and a man. Sometimes this has been enforced through repeated societal interrogation, and sometimes it is simply required by nature of existing in a society where masculine culture is both virtuous and toxic. So it is always fascinating to me to see how other men and masculine people go through that journey of confronting their sense of self. The wonderful thing about it is: everyone's journey is different.

Let's talk about two characters in Critical Role, specifically: Beauregard and Fjord. Both are debatably masculine-of-center*, and are being improvised by actors who take great care to let the characters develop through their experiences, not through premeditated goals of development.

Beauregard, a monk with a traditionally male name, tomboyish demeanor, and she/her pronouns, has been flirting with the largest and most intimidating member of the party since the first episode. Back then, upon first meeting the statuesque barbarian, she asked Yasha to hold her during the carnival performance. Then, upon meeting Yasha again in a public bath house, waited for everyone to leave to that she could watch Yasha leave the bath first. Finally, in E16, used Yasha as a springboard to get up close to a fight, announcing "Sorry, Boo." And then, of course, there was this tweet (GIF by Crit Role Superfan, @Arsequeef).

During the weekly CritRole talk show, Talks Machina, Marisha Ray was asked if Beau is aware of her flirtations with Yasha. She replied that yes, she is, and likened the behavior to establishing Beau's dominance. It’s interesting that Ray would put this spin on it, because it implies that Beau's sexuality is tied to her need to feel powerful. Does this make Beau someone who flags butch? Or a masculine person who treats come-ons to other women as a way to show dominance over them? Would she be doing the same thing if the strongest and largest member of the party was a man instead of a woman? As always, time will, but her flirtations certainly come off as genuine, whether they are tied to a struggle for dominance or not.

We learned a great deal about Fjord, the party’s half-orc Warlock in E16. There are no clear flirtations coming from him, but he has had some sweet interactions with Jester, who is played by Willingham's IRL wife. He also shares a room and a passion for magical blades with the genderfluid Bood Hunter, Molly. But possible romances are not what make Fjord fascinating in this episode—it's his relationship with his own body, identity, and masculinity.

Fjord is formulating his identity before our eyes, in private, in response to societal pressure, with the encouragement of his colleagues. This is not just an actor exploring a character, it is how we all explore and define ourselves in life.

Fjord has been chipping his tusks away since he was a child because it was impressed upon him that his orcish heritage was something to be ashamed of. A survival instinct led him to modify his body in a way he sometimes regrets.

When he revealed this to his colleagues, they asked if he'd want to let them grow back, and that no matter what he decides, they support him. His friends are giving him the opportunity to break that habit, if he wants to. He decided he would make the effort to let his tusks grow back. Tusks are, at least according to Jester who is reading a romance novel starring an orcish hero, a symbol of male virility. According to Fjord himself, they exemplify the “rougher side of his race.” He has just taken the first step to embracing that side of him again.

Speaking of male virility symbols, Fjord had a dream featuring his Warlock's patron again, a massive ocean entity, who urged him to turn his sword on himself. In a breathtakingly graphic dream sequence shared only between player and DM, Fjord forced his jagged, curved sword down his own throat, consuming it entirely and making it part of himself. Penetrating yourself violently with a symbol of your own power is massively and delightfully symbolic and I can only thank everyone involved for the powerful imagery.

When Fjord's actor, Travis Willingham, gets these private scenes he seems to regress to excited childhood, unable to contain himself as he hangs on DM Mercer’s every word. It’s an absolute joy to watch.

*To clarify, I’m using "masculine of center" to describe their demeanor, which would be considered masculine by our standards. Since they exist in a world where gender roles aren’t so clear yet, it may not be contextually accurate.