The FemShep Experiment: Garrus Vakarian (ME2)

Posted: December 5, 2012 in Gaming
Tags: , , , , ,

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I love Garrus. If you’ve played the games then you love Garrus too. Show me a Mass Effect fan who doesn’t love Garrus and I will show you a goddamn LIAR. Where do I even start? That guy is cool, clever, funny and utterly loyal – the best friend and comrade Shepard could possibly ask for.

So if he’s so damn great, why don’t I just marry him? Obviously Shep’s too busy saving the galaxy to make wedding arrangements, however it is still possible to strike up a romance. Two of the original squad were written as love interests for ME2 (Garrus for the girls, Tali for the boys – one of the few reasons I’d ever consider doing a HimShep run) in response to fan requests. To think that BioWare were once concerned that players wouldn’t warm to the aliens!

It might sound surprising, but I didn’t even try to romance Mr Vakarian. Why? It wasn’t about staying true to my first love as I thought Liara had probably moved on, me being dead and whatnot. Neither was I put off by the fact that Garrus is a sort of man/bird/insect hybrid. Doesn’t bother me; BioWare do a fantastic job of making gamers love characters for their personalities (well, girl gamers at least. I swear I saw more of Miranda’s arse than I did her face.) Take my first ME1 game for example, where I chose a blue lover with a tentacle head over a bloke who looked like a catalogue model – it’s really not about the looks. So what really stopped Shep and Garrus sitting-in-a-tree? It may sound like the world’s most clichéd fob-off but honestly it was because Garrus was such a great friend. I didn’t want to ruin that. For some reason, pursuing him just felt… wrong. Kinda sleazy. And not in a good way.

Still I wonder how things would work out between those two. Time for another playthrough!

Garrus is back and he’s Batman!

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Garrus’ comeback in ME2 was, for me, one of the highlights of the entire game. I’m not one of those fans who automatically rejects every new character but I can’t help it if I felt all warm and fuzzy talking to Joker and Tali but failed to bond with Captain Smugitude and The Incredible Generic Man (A.K.A. Miranda and Jacob. Sounds harsh but I honestly couldn’t take to them in the beginning.) When I was sent to recruit “Archangel” I got an inkling who it was. The more I heard, the surer I became, especially when one of the mercs mentioned that Archangel was a Turian. How did I feel when Garrus was finally revealed? Full of glee and dying just to give the big guy a massive hug. The way he and Shep greet each other? Priceless – those Cerberus newbies better hope that someday I’ll care half as much for them! Shortly after, in an almost vulgar display of balls-out awesomeness, Garrus takes a missile blast to the head only to shrug it off like it ain’t no thang. Welcome back buddy!

He was my first pick for Squad Selection every time because 1. he always had something witty to say and 2. we were both so handy with sniper rifles that our enemies never even got close. Whenever I braved a fire storm I felt safer knowing Garrus had my back. Yeah, I know that squadmate AI is designed to do that regardless, but every time a sniper bullet caused a charging foe to drop dead at my feet it gave me a little smile. It had nothing to do with the programming; my Turian BFF was looking out for me. SHUT UP! – you probably thought it too!

You can argue that their relationship is perfect the way it is and it’s not worth risking the complications of romantic love. Yes, by all means keep Garrus as a friend. He’ll be the best friend Shepard ever had. But if you want to let that bond grow into something more, then the option is there for you.

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Reach vs Flexibility

It all starts when Garrus tells Shepard how Turian crewmates resolve their interpersonal tension before high-risk assignments – by having a right good punch-up. Is it wrong that I would gladly implement this in my own workplace? Anyway, Garrus recalls a certain female officer with whom he’d had the beef. After calling it a draw in the ring, they held a tiebreaker in her quarters and made good use of his “reach” and her “flexibility”. Sadly there’s no Renegade option to high-five him after hearing this story. At this point Shepard can suggest that they also “ease stress”, which Garrus first interprets as an invitation to a fight. Aw bless!

The first time I played, I dropped the subject there. I didn’t like the idea of my Shepard propositioning one of her best friends in such a glib manner. Now that I’ve watched this scene play out, it’s not as bad as I thought. Shep stays coy with the “just throwin’ it out there” approach. This might have seemed out of character in ME1 but given the playful banter they’ve shared in the sequel up to this point it’s not so jarring. We know they’re close enough as friends that Shepard could get away with a spot of flirting; if Garrus wasn’t keen then I’m sure they’d both laugh it off. I can’t exactly see him taking offence or filing a complaint for sexual harassment. But no – if you’re bold enough to ask if a roll in the hay is on the cards, he’ll be interested. Surprised, but interested. Then you strut your nasty stuff away from the ship’s battery, leaving Garrus too hot and bothered to finish his work. Hope those calibrations weren’t too important!

This sets the mood for the rest of the paramour dialogue; Garrus says something, realises how bad it sounds (did the word “intercourse” even sound sexy in your head?) and then they share a chuckle. In a game leading up to a suicide mission it provides some welcome comic relief. Start a conversation with him and he’ll nervously look around before closing the battery doors behind you. Sometimes he’ll try to use a euphemism or metaphor that sounds far more graphic than intended – “popping the heat sink” stands out as one of the worst. His incurable fuddy-duddiness is nonetheless sweet and it lends a sense of innocence to their dirty little plan. It’s especially funny as Garrus generally has a cool demeanor (increasingly so in ME2) despite the Turian reputation for being stuffy and conservative. Turns out this all goes to shit when he’s alone with a girl.

For your health

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Thought that was weird? Just wait till you talk to Mordin! Having got wind of the Normandy’s blossoming romance, the good Doctor Solus takes it upon himself to give the Commander some “personal advice”. This involves the offer of position guides, warnings against “chafing” and (I kid you not) the recommendation that Shepard does not “ingest”. Good lordy, ME2 just dropped a blow job reference! To be fair, it’s probably good advice for anyone about to indulge in some interspecies hanky panky (especially ones with incompatible proteins) but I still had to pick my jaw off the floor. Could have been worse – he could have sung about it!

There was always the risk of reducing Garrus and Shepard’s relationship to a joke. Between the nervous talks and the mind-boggling mechanics of it all, this might have ended up more of a funny easter egg than a romance subplot. It’s a matter of opinion but the Goofy Garrus bits didn’t spoil the character for me, anyway Shepard usually steps in before it goes too far. Personally, I think the whole think might have died on its arse if it weren’t for Brandon Keener’s voice acting. His ability to flip the tone between silly and serious (often in the same line) seems effortless. Every single intonation fits perfectly and creates a believable mood from a scenario that, on the surface, looks kind of ridiculous. That’s no easy task and I doubt the audience would be half as invested in the character without Keener’s work.

Through the awkwardness there’s a very tender connection between the two. True, the idea of sex is treated as more of a curiosity than burning passion but it’s still quite revealing when the two friends begin opening up to one another. The bond they share is unique, which leaves them uncertain over how to handle it. They come from two species that were once at war and still harbour a mutual resentment. If that weren’t complicated enough then consider that one’s turned vigilante, one’s been dead for two years and both are heading to their doom for the sake of the galaxy. What holds them together? In a word, “trust” and over the course of ME2 they discover how special this is and how deep it runs. From this trust grows affection, which develops into an urge to be close to one another. For a romance that starts as just two friends “blowing off steam”, it’s actually one of the most emotionally driven love stories I’ve seen in a game.

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“I want something to go right. Just once. Just…”

In the final scene Garrus breaks down under the weight of his personal failures, bringing up his past career in C-Sec and the deaths of his followers on Omega. Shepard comforts him and gently touches the damaged side of his face. No words are spoken but I imagine it’s a crystallising moment. She remembers how she felt when the blast wounded Garrus and he lay there bleeding. She thought she’d lost him forever. She hopes he’ll never be hurt like that again, knowing it’s futile as they approach the suicide mission. This night alone together may very well be their last. She’s reminded of her own scars caused by Project Lazarus and how lucky they both are simply to be alive. She thinks of all the times he’s put himself on the line for her and how he’ll continue to fight by her side till the very end. Most of all, she’s saying she loves Garrus for who he is, scars and all.

The scene ends here as the two move in close, thankfully sparing us any graphic details. If you feel you’ve missed out then a simple Google Images search will remedy that and give literal meaning to the term “deviant art”. Remind me in future to turn the Safe Search ON while researching this thing… my eyes!

I had my reservations but the FemShep/Garrus relationship was pleasantly surprising. Actually the more I think about it, the more I realise that the set-up is near perfect. See how she smiles when she sees him again? Hear the joy in his voice when he’s talking to his old friend? And how can you not be charmed by the way they playfully rib each other? You know you’ve got a special friendship when you can slag a guy for having his face blown off. Even my yeoman was saying that we’d make a cute couple and who am I to argue with her? Especially after what happened in my last game when I took too long to get to the Collector Base (once again Kelly, I am so sorry!)

I do wonder how things will work out for them in ME3. I get the feeling I’ll need to have a tissue ready.

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Comments
  1. simpleek says:

    I agree. I haven’t encountered one fan of the ME series who doesn’t love Garrus. He is the perfect BFF to have. My first playthrough of the entire series, my go-to team was always Kaidan and Garrus. Now that I’m doing a second run as a male Shepard, it’s hard to leave Garrus behind on missions just so I can spend time with the other squadmates.

    I haven’t done a romance with Garrus yet, but I already assumed it would be a cute and sweet one. Based on your own experience, it truly is. I can’t wait to be swept off by Garrus in a future playthrough. That, and I like Brandon Keener’s voice.

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