This scene says so much about politics in the Empire and the conflicting stories Matt wants to tell about people seeing different sides to groups and responding to their perspective. Matt makes characters who are messy, alive, sort of right, and sort of wrong, all existing in this beautiful, hypocritical mess.
It’s so easy to fit people into categories like good and evil. Matt’s ability to show the full range, complexity, and neutrality of people just boggles my mind. Pumat seems like a kind, caring person, he’s just bought into the lies of the Empire and the Cerberus in particular. He’s your uncle on Facebook who you like and know he’ll be there for individual people, but he still thinks the police and border patrol protect people and you don’t know how to have a reasonable discussion about the fact that they really don’t. Matt captured that complexity.
Dealing with people who you just know are good or bad, right or wrong, is much easier. That was the Vox Machina campaign in a lot of ways. The Mighty Nein campaign is about being forced to make decisions when you can’t judge the total morality and work with people who you don’t see eye to eye with. And yet it doesn’t veer into saying hallowed out centrism devoid of convictions. The message is you do your best to care, have convictions, & help people, even knowing you’ll screw it up and get it wrong, too. Because you have to try, you have to. To save yourself and the world.
This campaign is so much more complicated because they write from the heart about the struggles they think are important, & this is their own struggle as they’ve grown: How to do the right thing with the extraordinary power you’ve been given within a system that’s often evil.
So, what do you do with someone like Pumat who means well but nevertheless materially supports an abusive, evil system that will do anything for power, abuses children, murders innocents, & imprisons anyone who doesn’t agree with the government? This question matters.
Vox Machina was a fun heroic story. The Mighty Nein isn’t really heroic, or a much messier and truer heroism, and it’s not really a fun story. It’s constant, grueling work towards a nebulous & possibly not achievable outcome. It’s more like activism than the Hero’s Journey. I can see why people dislike it. But also why they connect. With the world as it is, there’s a certain wish fulfillment to helping deescalate things and bring peace.
Matt’s using a lot of perspective and propaganda in Campaign 2. This was only two episodes after Fjord and Beau attended the “dissident” meeting with the Knights of Requital. It’s after they heard town criers misrepresenting the events in Alfield to erase them and make the Empire look good. So Pumat is someone who’s bought into the propaganda version of the Empire and since the horrible parts don’t directly affect him, he’s dismissing and minimizing them. He doesn’t question whether what the Empire says is true. He trusts them. We know now just how badly misplaced that trust is.
Matt is holding in his head the events as they happened, the events as the Empire reports them, and the events as different factions view them, and somehow keeping it all straight. That’s so impressive. The Mighty Nein are having to navigate who they believe, what version they believe, and how they’re going to act on it, knowing full well they could be wrong.
Most of us know Pumat. Some end up having to cut him off and he doesn’t understand why. Some keep working on him slowly for years in the hope he’ll get it one day. Or they accept they can use the tools he offers us against the system he supports. This is a real, constant battle. it’s mess and complicated and very real. Something we can all work through and practice in fiction before we inevitably apply it in the real world.
The Mighty Nein are using his tools and aid. It wouldn’t surprise me if they eventually try to talk to him about what the Empire is really doing. Or maybe they’ll find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict to take down the Cerberus. One of the quite tragedies of trying to save the world from entrenched systems is all the people who can’t come with you.
Scene runs: (G&S) 0:50:44 to 0:53:10
0:50:44 Fjord: “Pumat, before we go, I wanted to ask you, I know that’s you’re an annex of the Cerberus Assembly, how do you feel about the governing parties here in town? Are you happy with the way things are run?”
Pumat: “Uh, I mean, overall it seems to be as fine as it can be.”
Pumat: “You know, some folks don’t have as much coin as others, but there’s only- what can you really do to help them? You know, we do what we can, but, uh, there’s a lot of dangerous things out there. we got all sorts of baddies coming over from Xhorhas, we’ve got the possible encroaching of foreign powers always looking to peak over the mountain range and try and steal some of our hard earned materials, so I think it’s, um… think it’s good they keep us nice and safe, and, um… I mean, I got myself a fine business, too.”
Fjord: “Yeah. I think it’s great that you support the barracks. Do they come in for regular purchases every week, or every month, or find themselves in your store more often than not?”
Pumat: “In…? Who are you referring to?”
Fjord: “The members of the Cerberus Assembly.”
Pumat: “Oh, no, they don’t come to the store often. They usually send requests. They make orders and I have them sent on over to either Rexxentrum or the Hall if that’s where they’re gonna be utilizing them.”
Fjord: “That’s wonderful. Well thank you. Thank you for your time.”
Pumat: “No worries. They’re a fine bunch. They do a lot of good, they keep the crown in check, they make sure there’s no abuse of power, and they also have been very, very staunch supporters of helping promote learning here in the smaller more middle to lower classes here in Zadash, so…”
Fjord: “Oh really? They’re not as protective of certain knowledges as other parts of the government might be.”
Pumat: “Well, I mean, protective of knowledge in the sense that not everyone can be trusted with knowledge, and, you know, not gonna lie, some of the things even I know can be real dangerous in the wrong hands, so I think it’s important there has to be a certain level of control. I mean, I’ve seen some really nutty people out there that I can’t imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have some sort of law and order.”
Fjord: “But they might be a bit more open minded to people sharing in that knowledge, if they were the right type of person, say.”
Pumat: “Could very well be. They’ve been very kind to me.”
Fjord: “I’m glad to hear that.”
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