Spoilers for Campaign 1 through episode 85 and Campaign 2 through episode 76
One thing I really love about Critical Role from both campaigns is the way they show that the seemingly happy, jokey, funny, delightful people are really using that as a mask for a lot of pain and insecurity that they’re either hiding or repressing and that can’t last forever.
Scanlan was hurt and angry that no one asked about his issues seriously or asked what he needed, but he also buried everything and deflected when they did ask about him. He wanted to be seen and understood, but all he gave them was a facade of being fine. Until he broke.
Jester’s playing with the same idea in a different way. She learned being seen is bad and her purpose is making other people happy. Her own desires aren’t really important. She’s afraid she’ll disappoint everyone if she admits she’s not okay (even to herself), so she buries it.
Both The Mighty Nein and a lot of the audience are kind of infantilizing her, largely ignoring her pain and complexity. Laura does not get enough credit for her roleplaying because I think that’s the impression Jester is intentionally cultivating out of deep insecurity.
Misogyny is also a factor. She leans into a lot of ditzy, simple, girly tropes that are largely written off by men and many women as shallow. Laura is really playing with them to show there actually is a lot of depth there. But you have to be willing to deconstruct her to see it.
Jester wants to actively bring joy to people’s lives because she’s afraid that she won’t be wanted if she doesn’t. So, she’s cultivated this happy, mischievous mask to hide behind and she’s trapped herself behind it. She doesn’t even want to see herself without it.
Just as much as Fjord trapped himself behind the faux-Vandran mask until he had a breakdown. Or Beau trapped herself behind the no-fucks-given mask she’s been working really hard to set aside. Or Caleb trapped himself behind his bandages and bum disguise until his cover was blown.
But Jester’s mask is harder to see around. She seems open and carefree and happy. Almost everyone in the Mighty Nein wants to feel that way and they’re invested in the aspirational illusion. They really want one of them to be okay because maybe then they could learn, too.
WP: Full scene from Campaign 1 Episode 45
2:30:57 Vax: “How do you do it? You’re risking your life as much as anyone in this group. You’re almost dying every day. You’re fucking smiling all the time. How do you do it?”
Liam: “I’m kind of asking as Liam to Sam, as well. But mostly as Vax to Scanlan.”
Vax: “How do you do it? You almost died yesterday, as well. Or two days ago, fuck. Why do you do it?”
Scanlan, as if it’s obvious: “Vax, I… I don’t know. I mean, I just… I like you people okay. Everything before this was not as good. This is better, that’s why. It’s very simple. You had a shitty childhood, didn’t you?”
Scanlan: “You and the sister.”
Scanlan: “I think Grog had some troubles. We’ve all had our share of shit, before we all met. Now we’re together. We’re a family. This is better, that’s how I smile. It’s better than it was before. That’s it.”
Vax: “We’re probably going to die in the next month.”
Scanlan: “Yes, but it’s fun while it lasts.”
Vax looks at him in disbelief and bewilderment.
Scanlan gives a contented sigh.
Vax, dubiously: “Alright. I thought I might…”
Scanlan: “Glean some wisdom?”
Vax: “Yeah, but I’m just as confused as before.”
Scanlan: “Listen, I’m older than you.”
Vax: “How much older?”
Scanlan: “A bit. I’ve seen more than you have, and… it’s all shitty, so it just depends on how you look at it. You can dwell on the shit, or you can just leave it behind in people’s beds and keep going.”
But of course, Scanlan couldn’t do it forever. He couldn’t actually just leave all that shit behind him. He couldn’t laugh all of it off. He reached the tipping point where he was too scared and hurt and angry to keep going.
Beau’s started to see Jester’s cracks and say something, most notably in episode 45 (4:55:48) and 46 (1:25:15), but she doesn’t seem know how to address it without Jester pushing the concern away and deflecting, and I think she’s scared Jester will pull away from her if she presses the matter. Beau might have the best chance, though.
Caleb tried to talk to her In episode 42 (1:08:49), but the conversation derailed almost instantly. She did express her fear she would never see her mother again, and that she was unsure about her feelings towards Fjord or his towards her, but again the conversation turned to other things fairly quickly. Still, it was more than she’d really shared before.
Jester actually showed her vulnerability and insecurity to Fjord in episode 72. but he was too up his own butt focused on his own rapidly spiraling break down to really notice or address it. Hopefully he keeps it in mind and circles back now that he’s pulled through it.
Campaign 2 Episode 72
2:49:51 Fjord: “I just feel like there’s more out there. It’s always more. Even Port Demali and before that, my world just got bigger and bigger and bigger, and more time goes on the more you realize there is and the more that we affect and the more we can be affected. And there’s a part of me that wants to leave it all behind…”
Jester: “And just somewhere quiet and disappear, and hope that it never bothers you again?”
Jester: “yeah, I understand that.”
Fjord: “I just don’t think it will let me.”
Caduceus might be able to help if he understood, but Jester is baffling to him.
Talks Machina for Campaign 2 Episode 50
0:51:24 Taliesin: “[Caduceus] hasn’t figured out that Jester is an adult yet. He doesn’t regard her as an adult. I mean, which is, he kind of, his whole thing with her is very childish and playful and is not really… […] He hasn’t figured out that she’s probably got– I mean, he’s aware that there’s other stuff going on, but he hasn’t really gone looking for it yet, so… He’s like, ‘Aw, she’s happy and fine. Good. Thank god somebody is.’ And obviously that’s not true. And he should know better, but he hasn’t gone looking for it.”
Dani: “He has bigger fish to fry at the moment.”
Taliesin: “I mean, the angsty boys are very angsty, and they currently have one emo girl to deal with as well.”
It appears from the last episode that Caduceus has finally figured out there’s more going on with Jester and is trying to make up for what he didn’t see before. He let her know he saw through her sadness. Maybe he’ll be able to be someone she can come to when she’s ready to talk.
Campaign 2 Episode 76
4:44:05 Caduceus: “You okay?”
Caduceus: “Yeah you.”
Jester: “Oh yeah. I’m fine. I’m always fine.”
Jester: “That’s a lie.”
Caduceus: “Nobody’s always fine.”
Jester: “That’s a lie, Caduceus.”
Caduceus: “You do a lot.”
Caduceus: “And I don’t think you necessarily get as much credit as you deserve, as often as you should. You deserve… more pastries.”
Jester, laughing: “Everybody deserves more pastries.”
Caduceus: “Yeah, but you do.”
Jester smiles sadly: “Thanks, Caduceus.”
Caduceus: “Well, we’ll be figuring out your Traveler Con soon enough, I’m sure.”
Jester: “Yeah. We’re gonna work- that’s gonna be really cool, right?”
Caduceus: “You got a good crew for it, so…”
Caduceus: “We’re here for you.”
Jester: “Thank you.”
Caduceus: “Thank you. You’ve done… I don’t even know how to tell you what this has meant.”
Jester has been ignored in part because she seemed… not fine, but less of an immediate and impending disaster than the others. Now that things are settling down with everyone else, I think they’re trying to do right by her and support her better. Time will tell if she lets them in.
No one in Campaign 2 is playing an easy character. No one is playing someone who’s well adjusted and fine. No one has their shit figured out. At best they’ve learned pieces or ways of learning how to be more okay with the tumult. Jester is far come complex than she tries to appear.
Her arc is coming up soon and whatever happens will come with big growth and change for her. The big difference (or similarities) in how the stories of these two characters will play out will come down to how well their friends see behind the mask. Vox Machina didn’t until it was too late. The Might Nein might be beginning to, and if they keep at it, that will make all the difference.
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