One thing these final three episodes of The Legend of Vox Machina taught me was that I didn’t imagine the queer subtext in Campaign 1 of Critical Role. Everywhere there was queerness in the game, they turned the dial up a little on it in the animated series, and while some of it was definitely understated (for example, unless I missed it, no one actually used non-binary rebel Bryn’s pronouns on the show) some of it was blatant (like Scanlan being openly and fervently queer) and some I still believe we’ll get to in Season 2.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s go over what happened in these last three episodes.
Episode 10, “Depths of Deceit,” opens where Episode 9 left off, with Percy pointing a gun at the prisoner they found in the de Rolo dungeon. But this time, in the space of time between when Dr. Ripley’s name glows on Percy’s gun and Keyleth shouts, “No!’ we see a flash of Percy’s memories, of her hand in the pain Percy and his sister have suffered.
Despite Keyleth’s protests, Percy does shoot his gun, but Cassandra steps in at the last minute to push his arm out of the way; she’s sure Ripley has information they can use, so Percy agrees to let her live…for now. Scanlan and Keyleth are growing more and more concerned about Percy’s smoke situation so hologram Pike decides to take a look. She’s met with a vision of a mess of smoke and fire and realizes there’s something clouding his soul. Percy is decidedly not concerned with this and promises to go see a soul doctor when he’s done killing the Briarwoods.
Ripley tells the team about a ziggurat, and Scanlan remembers that word from Delilah’s magic book they briefly possessed. They know a ritual will happen there, and luckily Ripley knows where: underneath the castle.
As they walk, Ripley tries to bond with Percy since they’re both brilliant inventors; she tried to invent a similar weapon to Percy’s, but she ended up losing a hand trying to combine science and magic. But Percy feels very #NoNewFriends about this situation so despite Ripley telling him about the Briarwoods’ plan to use residuum, and saving him from a trap, Percy is still very (understandably) cold toward Ripley.
Vex notices that Vax looks a little pouty and when she realizes why she reminds him, “I warned you those vines have thorns.”
After another zombie fight, they finally find their way to a room with acid and whitestone where Percy assumed the residuum is being made. As they look around and try to figure out what to do next, Percy notices another name flash onto the barrel of his gun and is surprised to see it’s his sister’s. They turn around and see Cassandra standing by an ominous looking lever, her eyes cold. Vax sprints toward her as she pulls the lever, telling Percy that he abandoned her, he left her for dead, so Sylas and Delilah are her family now. “I am a Brairwood,” she says, sending Percy fully into shock. She said his biggest fear out loud; he failed her.
The Briarwoods glamour Vax and lead Cassandra and him away as Vex pounds on the glass and begs for her brother back. Before he leaves, Vax presses a button that starts filling the room with acid and Vex knows her brother has lost all control of his body.
Everyone looks to Vex for help, but she’s distracted by her brother. Percy is often the brains of the operation, but he’s just staring into space. Ripley chimes in and points out where the acid is coming from so Keyleth uses vines to try to stop it, but that doesn’t hold for long. As the floor is covered in acid, Scanlan makes his magic hand and everyone clambors on, and they have to force the catatonic Percy to join them. Vex slaps him across the face and tells them to snap out of it; he doesn’t see the point but she tells him THEY’RE the point. They’re his family now.
So Percy snaps out of it and they use teamwork to pull some levers and drain the acid and make their way after the Briarwoods.
As Episode 10, “Whispers at the Ziggurat,” begins, so does the Briarwoods’ ritual at the ziggurat. As they walk, Scanlan tries to remember what he read about it in the books, and recalls the name The Whispered One. Pike says that’s an undead creature who wants to return to this plane, and Keyleth puts that info together with the star chart they found, and knows that tonight is the night for this terrible event to take place.
Vex honestly doesn’t care about any of this, she just wants her brother back.
Ripley wants to just give up and run away, and Percy has a better idea of how her story can end. Keyleth reminds him how loud his gun is, so instead they let Ripley run, believe it or not. Keyleth watches Percy fight with the smoke around him and it seems more sentient and out of Percy’s control than ever.
Up in the ziggurat, Cassandra steps forward to let Sylas drink from her, clearly not for the first time, but Percy interrupts and fighting ensues. Vex commits some twin-on-twin violence, Keyleth holds her own against Sylas until she falls, Pike fights tooth and nail until her connection to her astral projection starts to flicker.
Lady Briarwood takes Scanlan’s voice, Percy’s own personal smoke monster starts to get harder for him to control, Cassandra starts to remember why she loved her brother but then Sylas re-glamours her…things are genuinely just chaotic and bad. Bad as in, a stressful situation for our plucky heroes. It’s stunningly animated and a very exciting scene.
When Keyleth regains enough strength to open her eyes again, she sees the fight turning against them, and hears Vex call out for her to do something. She sees the roots of the Sun Tree and begs it for help, and as she reaches out her hand, the Sun Tree’s roots wrap around her hand, around her staff, and she’s able to use enough magic to light the big cavern up with sunlight.
This weakens the vampires enough that Vox Machina is finally able to turn the tides. Vex punches her brother square in the face until he’s her brother again, then she wraps her arms around him and tells him to never make her almost kill him again.
Grog grabs Sylas and turns him toward Keyleth, and Keyleth hears Pike’s voice in her head, telling her she’s their light now, and with her friends’ belief in her filling the spaces where her self-doubt had bored holes, she stands tall and she shines. She shines so bright that Sylas burns right up like a big ol’ marshmallow.
Cassandra is released from the hold he had on her, and Lord Briarwood’s name disappears from Percy’s gun. Delilah screams and storms up to the ziggurat, continuing the ritual come hell or…well, more hell.
By the time Vex shoots her with an arrow, it’s too late. The ritual has begun, and now Delilah is full of rage. She turns on Vex and shoots some magic at her, but Keyleth leaps in the way to protect her. Her antlers fall off and she starts to collapse but when she sees she successfully protected Vex, she gives the ranger a sad little smile and crumples at her feet.
Delilah’s spell finishes, The Whispered One is summoned, and a small spinning orb of death appears.
Vex holds Keyleth and Pike determines she’s alive, but before she can heal her, Pike’s connection severs and Pike disappears. As necrotic energy creeps through Keyleth’s body, tears stream down Vex’s face and she demands they do something to help the druid, and fast.
Episode 12, “Whispers at the Ziggurat,” wastes no time and the twins pour an elixir into Keyleth’s mouth, but nothing happens. Percy’s focus is on the ziggurat and tells the rest of his party to leave Keyleth, because she’s as good as dead, but this infuriates Vex. Scanlan realizes the orb Delilah summoned is blocking their magic, so they carry Keyleth out gently and drag Delilah out by the hair.
On the way out, Grog grabs Sylas’s bleeding sword, which I’m sure is normal and fine.
The twins realize they don’t have any more potions, but Vax remembers watching Keyleth heal Cassandra, and tries to follow the steps she took. As Keyleth comes to, her first concern is for her friend, and points to Percy, where now the smoke monster is just blatantly a demon’s spirit pouring out of their human companion.
Vex goes up to Percy and tries to talk to him, uses her iconic low, “Darling,” on him, asks him to take off his mask. In his desperation to end this torment, Percy points the gun at himself, but the demon won’t let him do that either. The demon tells him that Percy summoned him, whether he meant to or not, when he was so consumed with rage and so desperate for revenge.
His friends and his sister try to talk to Percy, try to give him emotional ammo to fight this inner demon, and he hears Vex say, “Don’t forfeit your own soul.” The demon thinks it has Percy wrapped around its smokey finger, so tells Percy he knows who to trust. And the truth is, he does. Percy isn’t going to listen to the darkness inside him anymore, no matter how familiar he became with it. Instead he’s going to trust his friends, his found family. He trusts Vex.
Percy shoots his own hand and the demon gets sucked out of him.
Delilah starts to give a villain speech about what fools they were and what will come in her wake but Cassandra interrupts her by shoving her rapier into her neck. Cassandra was reminded of what real family looks like, and it sure wasn’t how the Briarwoods treated her all these years.
They throw Delilah’s body into the acid, and Scanlan tosses Percy’s gun there just in case. At first Percy is pissed but then they see the demon squirm and squeal and realize it was the right call.
Now that the battle is done, and they kind of won, they go help Whitestone clean up the mess. Keyleth is uncomfortable with all the attention, but Vex tells her to just smile and nod (and calls her Kiki). After dragging Scanlan away from a half-naked man, Vax approaches Keyleth and reminds her that what he said before stands, about loving her. She shifts awkwardly for a moment and says that they’re heroes now, and between that and her Aramente, she won’t have time for a relationship with him. Seeing the rejection for what it is, Vax references Liam O’Brien’s classic line and walks away.
Keeper Yennen tells them that they have people looking for Ripley, who is MIA, and investigating the spinning orb of death, and that Vox Machina should go back to Emon. As they get ready for the long journey, Keyleth says that now that she’s communicated with the Sun Tree, she thinks she could travel them back to their keep much more quickly.
But as everyone looks at her expectantly, she starts to second-guess herself, stammering about how she can only do it once a day and maybe it’s a bad idea anyway, but Vex steps up to her and puts a hand on her shoulder, calming her. “Darling, you’ve got this,” she says softly. Keyleth takes two entire beats to blush and play with her hair before steeling herself for the spell.
You cannot and will not ever convince me that this was EXPLICIT PERMISSION to ship Keyleth and Vex. If Keyleth and Vex are not A THING on the table for shipping, why would this be happening to me, specifically? Anyway, just like in Campaign 1, however this all shakes out, I’ll be paddling along on this ship with all the gay vigor I can muster. Wisdom, low. Constitution, high.
After a few days of resting up in their keep back in Emon (which in the stream was called Greyskull Keep…I have a feeling they won’t be mentioning that on the show), Scanlan doesn’t even have time to perform the epic song he wrote about their adventures before Jarrett arrives to tell them Uriel has summoned them to the Cloud Top.
The whole city of Emon is gathered when Vox Machina arrives, including Gilmore, who promptly flirts with Vax. If you’re keeping score, that’s two bisexual men and at least one bisexual woman we’ve got in this lil party of ours, all getting their flirt on in this finale. (I’d argue four because, in case you forgot, Keyleth BLUSHED.)
Uriel gives an address, with Lady Kima and Allura by his side. Inspired by Vox Machina’s group dynamics, he has decided to rescind the throne and leave the realm instead in the hands of the Tal’Dorei Council.
During Uriel’s speech, Vex gets a sharp pain in her head like she did at the beginning of the season, and sure enough as she turns around she sees an ominous shape in the distance. Uriel sees it now too, flapping its giant wings and growing ever bigger. But it’s not just one, or two…it’s four. Four dragons, fast approaching.
And that’s where we end the season. It must have been so hard to condense the Briarwood Arc into twelve short episodes of television. To decide what had to be removed or changed. But I think they did a brilliant job. I can’t speak to how it reads if this is your first exposure to these characters or this plot, but as someone with a ton of nostalgia for Vox Machina, and a visceral memory of the first time I saw this final scene, I absolutely loved this series.
I especially loved the #JusticeForKeyleth. I was late to Critical Role, and didn’t start Campaign 1 until it was fully over. I watched a significant amount during the break between Campaigns 1 and 2, and I was instantly obsessed. I wasn’t many episodes in before I messaged my friend Taylor, who had introduced me to Critical Role, and said, “I am obsessed with Keyleth and in love with Marisha.” And her response was, “I know, it makes me so mad that she gets so much hate.” And I was immediately filled with rage. I truly could not comprehend how anyone could dislike this clearly defined, adorkable and accidentally charming druid who was just trying to find her place in this world. To prove she was worthy, to her family, her party, and herself. Her journey and arc is one of my favorites, so I loved seeing this early version of Keyleth again, unsure but emboldened by her friends. More powerful than she knows. (Also I hope those early trolls who called Marisha Ray “the DM’s girlfriend” as if it were a slur ate all of their hats now that she’s a creative director, producer, and all-around fucking BOSS.)
I also feel like I have a better understanding of Percy’s character, seeing it all distilled down into a tight five hours, and have a greater appreciation for him than I did before. I do wish we had more down time with the characters, more time to explore their interpersonal dynamics, and to know each of them individually, but that’s just because I was spoiled by all the RP opportunities TTRPGs provide, and Percy’s arc proves that sometimes the story benefited from it.
All in all I loved this series to the very bottom of my Critter heart and I am thrilled we already know there’s going to be a second season, because if it’s anything like the next arc in Campaign 1, and/or anything like this first season of The Legend of Vox Machina, it’s going to be quite the adventure.