***This post talks about a major event in Critical Role’s Campaign 2. Spoilers.***
I suppose it was bound to happen. No matter your best efforts, characters die, but this is is, at best, cold comfort. For many and most fans watching Lost & Found: Chapter 26 of Critical Role‘s second campaign, the closing battle was crushing. Mollymauk Tealeaf, Taliesin Jaffe’s character, faced off against Lorenzo, the leader of the Iron Shepherds, and fell.
The Iron Shepherds were the group of highwaymen, slavers, who had kidnapped Yasha, Jester, and Fjord at the end of Divergent Paths: Chapter 25. This was designed by Dungeon Master Matt Mercer as a narrative means to explain the absence of Travis Willingham and Laura Bailey due to their recent childbirth and Ashley Johnson as she returns to shooting the NBC show Blindspot. Although a dramatic exit, it worked well to cover the loss of nearly half the party while giving the remaining members a compelling motivation. Upon waking, the remaining members of The Might Nein (Beau, Molly, Nott, and Caleb) set out to find what had become of their companions. Rescue becomes the impetus.
It was a necessary narrative shift as The Mighty Nein have been sort of floating through the world merely picking up jobs here and there while not really working towards any meaningful end. That is not to say they haven’t been doing good, but there hasn’t felt like there’s been a compelling arc to the group. Each member still have their personal quests and these lines aren’t intersecting but just moving parallel with each other. But maybe the party was simply not there yet, psychologically and pragmatically.
However, at this point in the campaign, serious relationships have been established. Quietly, Mollymauk has acted as a sort of glue for the party. His casual impatience expressing itself as decisive action has made several minor debates, hesitancies, and introductions has given the party clear direction. His reasonable playfulness has allowed other party members to at various moments be free to be silly themselves or more serious. But perhaps his greatest feature was his joie de vivre, and that love of life springs from the fact that Mollymauk Tealeaf began as a tabula rasa or blank slate.
The notion of the mind being complete but empty at birth is a rough idea of what we mean by tabula rasa. As a ‘blank slate,’ the mind is inherently receptive looking for experience to spark knowledge and understand to thus create the person. The easiest gesture to understand this is to look to the philosopher John Locke whose empiricism denies we are creatures imbued with intuition from innate concepts. It’s a reasonable perspective. In fact, it informs much of how we educate ourselves and others. We come to understand the world filtered through our experiences. Thus experiences of the world around us forms the self.
When we learned of Mollymauk’s backstory–a roguish individual who partook in some mysterious ritual to be killed so as to rise again anew–we discovered that Molly is and has been actively creating himself from his new rebirth just two years prior. In fact, Molly was perhaps at his most vehement that who he was was no longer himself and that who he is now is his real self. It’s slightly confusing but if we think of it in terms of an adult experiencing a magical ritual that reverted him back to a blank slate state, then it rather makes compelling sense.
Whatever Lucien/Nonagon did or whatever kind of person that version of Molly’s body was, it was all wiped away by the ritual. Coming back to consciousness and diggin his way out of the shallow grave where he found himself, the body what would become Molly was a fresh being. This made Molly a uniquely person. An endearing quality of Molly is his disinterest in revenge or how insults have no effect on him. With a new life, Molly seems to have decided such things are petty. Likewise, visceral experiences are deeply coveted because Molly has no pre-existing ethical hang-ups. He is an endearing hedonist.
If one’s self is a perpetual story, then Molly was the most authorial of The Mighty Nein. Seeing how this character grew and built his relationships was one of the myriad of wonderful things about Critical Role. With Molly now dead, the loss in story to the other characters is deep and harrowing to many fans. The hurt of losing Molly, I believe, springs from the admiration and interest the character generated because of his initial tabula rasa state.
Death has stolen the blossoming of the begrudging mutual affection developed between Molly and Caleb. The guilt-ridden hobo wizard was brought out of his shell in no small part due to Molly’s attention and playful patience with him.
It perhaps hurts the most that this relationship has been cut short. A good portion of the Critical Role fandom is shipping Molly and Caleb as well as Yasha and Beau, and it’s hardly a stretch. Caleb was in need of total acceptance (other than the kind Nott gives), and Molly was the one who could give it to him. And while Molly lacked any ethical hang-ups, he needed a person like Caleb to reinforce good habits.
Similarly, Molly’s willingness to embrace another without judgment made him a great friend to Beau, whose psychological damage and needs aren’t too far off from Caleb’s. I would like to believe Molly will return, that this is merely the second death of the Peacock Prince. But I suspect even if he were to resurrect he’d be a wholly different person.
The Mighty Nein, Caleb and Beau especially, are about to undergo a seriously difficult time. With Fjord’s disappearance, Caleb begrudgingly took on the mantle of leadership and the death of his friend on his watch may undue all of the progress made to alleviate Caleb’s sense of self-loathing. Beau is guided by her emotions and will likely have a deep internal battle in keeping herself from flying off the handle due to witnessing the murder of friend in front of her. She will likely lash out at the others in the party, make irrational decisions, and feel helpless (a crippling and infuriating emotion for Beau, who prizes strength and control).
The loss of Mollymauk Tealeaf will reverberate through the party. It could leave a scar that will ultimately bring them all closer or wound that will never heal. The story now has a true villain and real stakes. A raw sorrow is in the hearts of fans of Critical Role…