‘Dragon Age: Absolution’ Is an Absolute Love Letter to Fans
Longtime fans of the Dragon Age series, including myself, weren’t sure what to expect from the newest TV spinoff, Dragon Age: Absolution. For one thing, prior spinoffs of the series were … okay, at best. For another, video game spinoffs in general tend to be hit or miss, with the hits hitting supremely hard, and the misses missing the mark on every notable aspect.
Absolution, I’m happy to say, is a hit. I was delightfully surprised by how good it was.
Mild spoilers for Dragon Age: Absolution ahead.
Not only is the animation fun and punchy (reminding me of The Legend of Korra), but the story is pretty succinct and never gets too lost in the fantasy-setting sauce. And while it may not be as newcomer-friendly as titles like Arcane and Castlevania (Netflix), I honestly don’t think that’s a bad thing. This show was ultimately made for fans and crafted with unabashed, earnest love for the world we’ve come to love ourselves.
How does Absolution accomplish this? It acts in accordance with the world’s current setting, and then brings it to life. By focusing on a particular corner of Thedas—and a contained group of people within it—the show was able to create magic with a plethora of other plot beats (big and small) that make Thedas feel more compelling than ever before. We’ve only ever experienced this world through the lens of heroes with big destinies, and seldom through the other fascinating individuals who make it turn around us.
And god, are they fascinating in Absolution. Most obviously, Miriam is the sort of elven protagonist many of us have been wanting to see for a while: someone who’s unapologetic and unrelenting in her fight for freedom, even when faced with horrible odds. Miriam is tough without being overly edgy or obnoxious, and I found it easy to root for her and cheer her on. By contrast, the antagonist is revealed to be her previous slaver’s son, Rezaren, who the series tricks you into liking with his attractive appearance and charming personality. Over the course of just six episodes, we see a pretty brilliant unraveling of Rezaren’s manipulative mechanisms—where it’s clear that he’s yet another privileged Tevinter magister—and a surprisingly realistic portrayal of what an abuser looks like. Rezaren isn’t this comically evil villain; he genuinely believes he is in the right and that his love for his “siblings” is pure and real. Watching Miriam continually break this façade down was incredibly satisfying, especially since most abuser-survivor portrayals in media end in some slapdash attempt to “redeem” the abuser. Nah, man, he was straight-up a slave owner who wanted to keep being a slave owner, there’s nothing to redeem there! Forget his cool hair, you can find any guy who looks like that in DTLA.
Absolution really successfully leads you astray in terms of character motivations. You go into it thinking everyone in the heist team is on Miriam’s side, but the show executes such wild subversions that you’ll find yourself surprised during every episode. And it’s not unintentional: Upon rewatch, you’ll see carefully placed hints which reveal these characters’ true motivations. I’ll leave it at that, in case you have yet to watch the series.
As far as the side characters themselves: What can I say? They’re delightful. The main complaint many people have regarding this cast is that we don’t have enough time with them (the series is only six episodes, with another season in the works), but I think that’s a pretty good complaint to have, and it implies that the characters are worthy of our time in the first place. In particular, the qunari mage Qwydion is a consistent delight who steals the spotlight, thanks in no small part to Ashly Burch’s virtuosic VA talents. And, not to sound thirsty on main, but Matt Mercer really makes Fairbanks—a character we only briefly met in Inquisition—a sexier silver fox than he was in the game.
But speaking of Inquisition, the callbacks and references to the series are done just right. We get to see and hear Cassandra speak, which is obviously fantastic, but references to the Inquisition and our Inquisitor made fans understandably giddy. Other easter eggs are well-placed, and I’m happy to say that while this series is made for fans, it doesn’t devolve into needless fan service.
… unless, of course, you count the ending.
MAJOR spoilers ahead
While being interrogated, we hear Hira—Miriam’s on-and-off love interest—mention someone called the “Crimson Knight,” written in a way that’s meant to make you think this person will have bigger implications beyond the show. Then, at the very end, this Crimson Knight is revealed to be none other than Meredith Stannard, the final antagonist in Dragon Age 2, whom everyone assumed was killed by Hawke.
All I can say is: Holy shit. Meredith was a nut. A compelling nut, and one who would really alter the narrative drastically if included in Dragon Age: Absolution. And also, poor Hawke: Not only did they fail to kill Corypheus, the main villain in Inquisition, they also failed to kill the biggest baddie in their own game. Rest in pizza.
This is such a solid reveal though, and it really amplifies the hype this show generated naturally over the course of all six episodes. Whether Meredith will be confined to the show, or she’ll make an appearance in the next game, I’ll certainly be tuned in 100%.
END of major spoilers
The last thing I wanted to say about this show is that, in true Dragon Age fashion, the queer rep comes out swinging. We have both an MLM and WLW couple who are visibly affectionate, and frequently so. The first time I saw Roland and Lacklon interact, I was so not expecting blatant MLM affection in a cartoon that I didn’t even realize it was flirting. I just thought, Huh, what a random throwaway line about him not having a girlfriend and being upset about the implication that he would have a girlfriend. Wonder what that was all about.
Now, many fans were upset that the WLW couple ended on a note of betrayal, which is a theme in the series (we have Marjolaine betraying Leliana, Celene betraying Briala, etc.). And I totally understand this frustration, as sapphic fans deserve to not have to feel suspicious about every WLW relationship in the series. But as a sapphic fan myself, I did enjoy what I saw of Miriam and Hira, and I think that their dynamic was well-written overall. The kissing scenes in particular were incredibly tender and activated the part of my brain that yearns with reckless abandon.
To wrap it all up: If you’re a fan of Dragon Age in the slightest, then I must heartily recommend Absolution. It’s an easy watch that can be binged in a little under 2 hours, and it’s full of rewatch value, too.
Have you already watched Absolution? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
(featured image: Netflix)
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