The Mass Effect universe is full of incredible women. Tali, Liara, Jack, Miranda, Samara, Ashley, Aria, Kasumi, Nyreen… the list of motivated, intelligent ass-kickers goes on and on. And, of course, FemShep herself—has there ever been a more beloved video game protagonist? Even at her most Renegade, FemShep makes me want to be a better person. I could talk about the women of Mass Effect until the next Reaper invasion begins, but today I want to focus on one particularly fantastic character whom I feel doesn’t often get the due she deserves: Chief Medical Officer Dr. Karin Chakwas.
Dr. Chakwas’ silver hair is just cool as hell. In a medium in which women are often fridged early on in order to provide narrative development for male characters, in a real world where a distressingly large segment of the population seems to consider women obsolete once we pass mid-life, it’s refreshing to encounter an older woman upon first boarding the Normandy.
Chakwas is a caretaker, per her profession, but she’s no stereotypical grandma. Married to her career, Chakwas never had children and never expresses the slightest regret about her romantic or reproductive choices. Following her own dreams led the doctor through an incredible path in life, and (assuming you took some care of your crew in Mass Effect 2), she’s not even close to finished with her journey by the close of events in Mass Effect 3. After working in the thick of the occupation and liberation of Shanxi, the Skyllian Blitz, and all of the nutty stuff Shepard gets up to, Dr. Chakwas doesn’t seem at all interested in retiring. I suppose work stays interesting when you have a multi-species crew of soldiers to treat, a maniac starship pilot to keep mobile, and a stiff drink to relax with at the end of a long deployment. The Turians get a lot of credit for tenacity, but Dr. Chakwas’ career has outstripped the lifespan of an average Salarian, and she’s not slowing down yet!
Chakwas may have devoted her life to serving the Alliance, but she’s no stodgy bureaucrat, and she’s not too hung up on rules, if she feels they’re wrong. She supported Shepard’s theft of the Normandy in order to meet Sovereign’s threat in 2183, and—unlike Engineer Adams—she unhesitatingly allies herself with Cerberus in order to work under Shepard and fight the Collectors two years after the Battle of the Citadel. But get this: Dr. Chakwas is such a badass that, when she abandons the Alliance, she doesn’t sneak off in the night or run away without leaving word. No, Chakwas goes through the proper channels and files for a leave of absence from her military duty so she can go join her resurrected former Commander on a freakin’ Cerberus vessel to perform a suicide mission in a likely futile attempt to hinder the Reapers in their destruction of all sentient organic life. Karin Chakwas: not one to leave her i’s undotted and t’s uncrossed when she takes off with a mob of terrorists, outlaws, and assassins on a quest that will most likely end in her death. Hell, fighting the Collectors in a desperate attempt to save the galaxy from certain doom is a vacation to her!
Dr. Chakwas, as a krogan might say, has got SOME KIND OF QUAD ON HER. When she gives Shep the run-down on her post-Collector base activities after being invited back aboard the Normandy in Mass Effect 3, she’s cool as a cucumber about the whole situation, just casually mentioning that, oh well, she supposed she could have been tried as an accessory if Shepard had been judged to be a war criminal for blowing up the Batarian Relay. When you’ve seen some of the things Dr. Chakwas has seen, I guess the possibility of an inglorious career-ending court martial just doesn’t seem all that scary. Or maybe Chakwas is just a stone cold badass. And so gracious, too; she never blames Adams for his refusal to join Shepard’s mission against the Collectors, and, in fact, comforts him when he berates himself for his reluctance. Does Dr. Chakwas feel guilty about working with Cerberus? Hell no. If anything, in spite of her disgust for the organization, she feels a little bad for helping to use the Illusive Man’s own resources against him.
You never hear anybody call Chakwas by her first name. It is just Not Done, because everyone respects the living hell out of her. She does Shepard the same courtesy, explaining that—although sharing the occasional Serrice Ice Brandy is kosher—she just feels like it’s weird to call Shep by his or her first name, given all Shepard has accomplished. The esteem in which Chakwas holds Shepard is, in my opinion, one of the highest honors the Savior of Galaxy manages to earn over the course of the trilogy. Shepard obviously feels similarly about Chakwas, and, depending on the player, maybe even a little more. Practically everybody else stationed on the Normandy wants to bone Shepard, given half a chance, but Chakwas? Naw, that lady don’t play. She sees Shep in a purely platonic light. I am 100% certain that Dr. Chakwas has gotten a ludicrous amount of sexy soldier ass in her day, or, if not, definitely could have had it if she’d wanted, regardless of what she says about the military doctor lifestyle not being as romantic as she’d initially imagined.
Dr. Chakwas is brave. Dr. Chakwas is smart. Dr. Chakwas is engaged, curious, and determined to help others and make the galaxy a better place. Dr. Chakwas may be a fictional character, but she’s a damn fine role model nonetheless.
Dr. Karin Chakwas, ladies and gentlemen: truly a badass broad.