My Mass Effect 2 Romantic Arc

Or: how I stopped worrying and learned to love aliens.

I just finished Mass Effect 2 a few hours ago, and I finished ME1 for the first time  a few short weeks before that. Everything is incredibly fresh in my mind. I’ve never really cared about a romantic arc in a game before, but sitting here, bereft, at the end of the game, it amazes me how much I had invested, how many actual emotions I experienced. And now I’m justifying my actions, and still having… emotions about them. So I decided to write up a summary of my FemShep’s emotional processes in her narrative arc.

(Warning: I use the terms friend, pal, and bro interchangeably in this essay to indicate platonic friendships. I hope you will forgive me. My use of bro is probably motivated by this wonderful ME2 comic. Also, is there a better word for an intense platonic friendship than “bromance”? I couldn’t think of one, so here we are.)


I came off of Eden Prime already sick of Kaidan Alenko. He kept running straight into enemy gunfire, while Ash was kicking ass and taking names. I had already filed him away as a useless, goody-two-shoes incompetent. Even a paragon doesn’t necessarily have the patience of a saint. Not only did he repeatedly get himself severely wounded, he almost got himself zapped by that pillar and I had to take the hit for him. Ash was competent and sarcastic, and I liked her. I wanted to be friends with her, and took her on most of the human-oriented missions for a while thereafter.

I spent the first part of our journey half-jokingly lamenting the fact that Wrex was not a romantic option, though I eventually decided I just wanted to be his roommate. We could hang out, collect guns, maybe go out at night and pick fights with jerks in bars. Man, that still sounds like a good retirement plan! I didn’t meet Liara until a bit later, but I’d seen some Asari, and they seemed attractive enough. I figured I’d either stay single, have a bromance with Wrex, or pick up the hot blue lady (can you have a bromance if you’re a girl? I contend that you can).

Still, I wasn’t going to be a complete jerk to Kaidan, just because he annoyed the heck out of me and possibly ruined my life. It wasn’t his fault he was fragile and easily killed, so I started to talk with him. And he was… nice. I took him on a lot of the missions when we were dealing with human colonies, mostly because he was a people person – good at calming people down, making them feel like the alliance really cared about them. It offset Ash’s harshness (which I got increasingly tired of) or Wrex’s giant-murder-lizard-ness (which I NEVER got tired of). Also, Kaidan always gave humanity a good name, something I was valiantly struggling to do. I started to soften. I was still talking to everyone; but Wrex, Garrus, and Tali’s dialogue dried up after I did their missions. Kaidan kept talking. He also became competent somewhere along the way. With upgraded shields and armor he wasn’t getting himself killed all the time, and he could hack and quip; everything I needed from a non-Wrex squadmate. I’d been bringing him along on missions as a face man, but now I actually liked having him around. We were starting to flirt and our flirtations were subtle, fun, full of jokes, and went along at just the right pace. We never pressed things, just let it develop naturally. Liara’s affections were simple and childish-seeming in comparison. Plus she wasn’t good at jokes. I require jokes!

As things got more personal, I really started to fall for Kaidan. I started blushing when we talked. He pushed my buttons exactly, embodied a kind of guy I’ve always had a weakness for: he had a messed up past that pains him to this day, but didn’t let his insecurities keep him from being good at his job. He was gently sarcastic, more than a little flirty, admired and respected me. Also, he kept me honest: any time I wanted to stray from the paragon path, he acted as my conscience, helped tip the scales. By the end of Mass Effect 1 I was completely in love with Kaidan. I even took him with me on the final confrontation, choosing him over Garrus or Tali. I thought for sure I’d mated for life.

I went into Mass Effect 2 expecting to stay faithful. I mean who could top Kaidan? I knew Wrex still wasn’t an option, so unless our new human or lizard ended up being the height of humor, charm, and vulnerability (even moreso than Kaidan), I was on course for faithfulness.

I was even more certain of myself after I met Jacob and Miranda. Both were nice, I suppose, but also dull, overly serious, and with questionable allegiances. Then I met Mordin, and immediately plunged headfirst into my new bromance. “Ah, here we go!” I thought. “Just like in the first one, Kaidan’s biggest competition will be the awesome weird alien with no romance option. Good good.”

After Mordin, I moved on to Archangel. Some random merc doing good deeds? Maybe he’d end up being some handsome Robin Hood type, and I’d be in trouble. When I heard he was a Turian sniper I thought… no, it couldn’t be. Garrus wasn’t a mercenary, after all. But it was him. and he was so damn happy to see me. He had gotten his dumb ass into a huge amount of trouble trying to be a leader and a hero… trying to be me.  He would have made his defiant last stand up there, died in a blaze of glory, if his knight in shining armor hadn’t shown up. I’ve always had a thing for people who are extremely competent but keep getting in over their heads, and this made me even more determined to save him. I got legitimately nervous while trying to deal with the tunnels downstairs, and when he took that hit from the gunship, my heart lurched. When he was lying on the floor, that puddle spreading out below him, that horrible gurgling noise – I needed to save him, needed him to be OK. If there was one person in my old crew who hadn’t given up on me, who would come with me on this new adventure… I had to save him. “Don’t leave me out in the galaxy with these creepy Cerberus people, Garrus. I need an old friend. With you and my new bro the doc, we will have an unbeatable sarcasm squad.”

That’s all it was, at first. It was good to have my friend back, with his witty remarks, his glee in battle. My new pal Mordin and my old pal Garrus, ready to take on the world! I chatted with Jacob a bit and really disliked our weird, hyper-flirty mechanic. Made me feel like a creep, so we stopped talking. HE wasn’t going to be replacing my boy Kaidan anytime soon, that was for certain.

Then I learned Kaidan was on a colony that had just come under Collector attack, and my heart didn’t just lurch, it wrenched. You might say “everything pulled hard to port,” (damn you.) I needed to save him. More than Garrus, maybe even more than Wrex, I needed to see Kaidan. It had been two years, I had been dead, Joker saw me spaced, I’m sure they all must have mourned me. I’d have sent him a message earlier if I could, but now it was time for the reunion. I didn’t even necessarily want to take him with me, I didn’t want to risk him on a suicide mission, but I wanted to save him and talk to him, tell him I was OK, and that I still loved him.

I looked for him everywhere while fighting my way through Horizon, to no avail. When the collectors took off, I thought they must have taken him. I thought I was going to have to track that ship down and tear it to pieces to get him back, and then he walks around the corner. I was so relieved I almost fainted. Everything seemed to be going ok at first, but things went south quickly. He was angry, and he wouldn’t listen. Even though I didn’t want to get him killed, didn’t want to take him from his duty, I needed more time to talk, so I asked him to come with me. He didn’t say he wished he could (like good old Wrex would later), he just told me he had moved on, told me I was probably being manipulated, and turned his back on me.

I could tell he was hurt, and his email just confirmed that, but you know what? Not good enough. I died, Kaidan. I saved you, saved Joker, saved everybody, and gave my life for my crew. Now I’m back and everything is f***ed up. I’m dealing with it, I always deal with it, but I could have used a kind word from you. You could have handled it better. You could have said something nice, about how you wanted to come with me, wanted things to be the same. If you had even  said “I love you,” instead of using the past tense. I understand you not coming, not wanting to join Cerberus, but the way you turned your back on me, and that wishy-washy letter? “When things settle down a little… maybe… I don’t know.” f*** you, Kaidan. You think you were the only one who was in love? As far as I was concerned, he had broken up with me, moved on. I still had his picture, and that letter, but there were no promises. If he’d said he’d be waiting when I came back, if he’d said he still knew I was the same woman he loved… hell there were a hundred things he could have said that would have made me feel like we were still together, like he still loved me. That letter reminded me that I still loved him, but it was a Dear Jane letter all the same, even if it did leave a glimmer of hope for a reunion. No guarantees, though, just a lot of guilt and a ‘maybe.’

So now I was angry. I met up with Liara and she seemed interested in me again; I was half tempted there. I had rejected her in favor of Kaidan while chasing Saren, but now here she was, still loyal, still trusting me implicitly, while he wasn’t speaking to me anymore. I was pacing around punching things, wanting to take my pain out on someone, wanting to relieve the tension somehow.

I met Thane, and appreciated his grace, his beautiful green skin, his voice, his deep, dark eyes; but I was turned off by his humorless sadness. His humorless sadness is completely understandable, of course, but it’s not my style. I like some dark humor about the fact that we’re going to die. Still, he was interested, tender, flirty even, and I was grateful for the attention, for the distraction. I thought maybe I’d give him a tumble to cheer him up, but I wasn’t falling in love, not like with Kaidan. In the meantime, I had a job to do. So I pal’d around with Mordin (Lies of omission. Also, other kinds), introduced Grunt to Wrex (I still value that bromance over all others), caught up with Tali, chatted with everyone but Jacob (still creepy). Garrus was always busy with his goddam calibrations, anyway. I took him on missions a lot, enjoyed his little shouts whenever anyone got scoped and dropped, but he was just another dude on my platonic alien bro squad.

Then, one day, he had something to ask of me. He’d caught up with Sidonis, the guy who had gotten his squad killed, right before I picked him up. That was yet another time he failed to live up to his heroic ideal, and I knew it was eating him up inside. He was going to want to kill the guy. I knew it. Garrus had always been sort of the little devil on my shoulder, and I’d been the angel on his. The time I stabbed that Merc in the back with that welder, I did it for him… one of my first real renegade actions. And when he handed me that sniper rifle, I totally pinged that bot; it felt good. Hell, I’d picked up sniper skill on that collector ship because he made it seem like so much fun. So, sure, I’d go with him on his revenge hunt. There’s nothing wrong with revenge… I would totally have let Zaeed murder that guy, if he hadn’t set fire to the complex beforehand, like an idiot. We’ve taken out that many mercs before and we could have again, but I wasn’t going to let innocents die to achieve it. This was a clear case of clean revenge, no collateral damage, no bad press for the alliance; I was all for it.

We tracked his mark, and tracked down the dirty cop who had our next lead. During the interrogation, Garrus was getting pretty dark. There was a moment I could have stepped in and stopped it, but I hesitated, and he shot that guy in the leg. I regretted my inaction instantly, but it’s good that it happened. It opened my eyes… Garrus wanted to be a hero, but he didn’t have the strength. It was up to me to be that strength. He’d listen to me. So when I got the chance to prevent him from killing Sidonis, I did. And he didn’t let me down. He wasn’t angry at me for what I did, either. He understood, was glad even. Because he trusted me.

And now he was more open, more chatty. Not so busy with his calibrations. He told me that story, about hooking up with a female crewmate. The way his voice got soft, and the faraway look in his eyes… I couldn’t resist. I flirted, half jokingly, mostly to get a rise out of him, but once I’d said it I couldn’t take it back… or rather, I could, but didn’t really want to. It was awkward, but he was my most loyal friend, the one person from my original crew who had absolute trust in me, no matter what. I could keep him from getting his revenge, I could activate a Geth on board, and he’d always trust me, always respect me, always be ready with a joke. Thane never had a chance, after that. And Kaidan… well… he broke up with me. He was probably back on the citadel, having drinks with some doctor. Light years away, literally.

And the best part was that Garrus and I were… well… friends. This was a fling, a silly little friends-with-benefits thing, a little fun and relief before we went off to our very likely deaths. I was still… a little in love with Kaidan, but we were at least on a break, if not broken up altogether, and I deserved some comfort before sacrificing myself for the universe. Who better than an old friend, someone I trusted implicitly? And if we were just relieving tension… what was the harm? If Kaidan wanted to hold this against me, that would pretty much prove he wasn’t worth it.

Then, suddenly, one night, it was real. Garrus was there, being all awkward and cheesy and vaguely inappropriate. I was ready to have a laugh, relieve some tension, so I told him to be cool, not to worry. “I just want something to go right…” he said, and it broke my heart. I wanted this to go right too, I wanted him to know I cared about him, trusted him more than anyone else. I wanted him to know he was still attractive, even with those scars. But I thought… I thought we were friends, colleagues, comrades, crewmates. I didn’t think he’d really fall for me. I was… counting on him not falling for me. It seemed like this was a one time thing, an experiment, a bit of tension relief. We hadn’t fallen in love, had we? It hadn’t been romantic, rather it had started with a joke, and it had been jokes and camaraderie and the awkwardness of FWB all the way through. Now things were real. No more jokes. Just comfort, and safety, and real, complete trust. Damn.

And now I’ve totally f***ed everything up. I still have some feelings for Kaidan. The nice things in his letter, his obvious pain, still get to me… but they’re undercut by his statement that he doesn’t know who we are anymore, and his little bull**** “maybe… I don’t know.” But as angry as I was with him, I still love him a little, I was still thinking that maybe… when we met again… he’d apologize, I’d forgive him… I’d apologize, he’d forgive me, and everything COULD be like it was before. If I survive after we save the universe, I might want to have kids someday. Maybe they’ll follow in my footsteps, like I did with my mom. I sort of thought that might be possible with Kaidan, I didn’t think long term was on the table, this time.

But now I’d rather eat a bullet than hurt Garrus. The question is, what does he expect? Nothing we’ve said, nothing we’ve done up to now implied falling in love, or a real future. We had a good time, things went right, we care about and trust each other, but can we go back to being friends again? Will he… fight for me in ME3? Will he be relaxed and jokey if we break it off? Will he go on to have little Garruses with some Turian with a supportive waist, while I have little Sheps with some human?

So that’s where I am right now. Anyone else want to share their narrative arc? Or yell at me about mine?

8 Responses to “My Mass Effect 2 Romantic Arc”

  • jose:

    Nobody would dare to share his or her narrative arc after reading this post. It would undoubtedly sound dull, shallow, and stupid. Hats off, that’s all I can say.

  • Leah:

    having the same name is weird, especially since I don’t have anywhere near your level of eloquence. but I’ve never been able to keep my mouth shot, and you did invite the comments….

    maybe it was why I felt less angry about the letter, the awkwardness, it felt so very familiar, I couldn’t be angry, when I myself couldn’t figure out how to say what I wanted to say.. I liked Kaidan from the start, from the moment he made his sarcastic remarks to Joker, from the gentler way he spoke to the survivors. I chalked up his getting in a line of fire to not wanting to lose yet another soldier, it seems like Jenkins’ death, such pointless loss, hit him hard so he was trying too hard to protect me and Ash. I liked him even more as we kept chatting, his little comments, how incredibly useful he became in a battlefield once he stopped holding back on his biotics and stopped trying to be so protective. I found his flirting and his slip ups endearing, I found his advice valuable. He was such a lovely contrast to Ash’s brashness and almost cruel snippiness. I’ve learned to like Ash as I got to know her, but when the time came to make that choice… I cried, but it really wasn’t a choice. I rationalized to myself later that I saved the superior officer, a more valuable soldier – handpicked by Anderson, a rare stable l2 biotic, but the truth is… I would have saved Kaidan regardless.

    Garrus… he was always my best bud, almost like a younger brother. I tried to help him be more thoughtful, less impulsive, more cautious. He and Kaidan were at my side almost all of the time, and they were both there when we finally faced Saren on a Citadel. I was so happy to have him back, at least one of my boys was with me. I wished he would have sparred with me, I really needed to get all that restless energy out and I was so sad that he seemed to have distanced himself. Trusting me, listening to me, still, but its like he put me on some weird pedestal. I hope I can break through his shell again, maybe my trial will help him see me as just Shepard again a regular person just trying to do some good, and I’m hoping that Kaidan and me can figure it out, and finally find words to express what we need to express. and maybe..some day… I can have both my boys back, just like old times, only better.

    and that’s the emotional arc for my canon Shepard 🙂

  • sidequest:

    Reading that emotional roller coaster ride was almost too intimate. I felt like I shouldn’t be reading those kinds of private thoughts from a girl’s diary blog. It’s as if Garrus and Kaidan were almost… real. Although I can’t say I haven’t felt the same way emotionally, in some sense, to the characters in my game(s). As a guy, whether the romantic interest is Princess Zelda or Yuna or Ashley Williams or Miranda or Jack, the romantic premise underlying the adventure has always led me to questions, and I’ve found that I let my own imagination get swept away in that adventure. Mass Effect really takes the cake though.

    Firstly, let me just say I wasn’t expecting as much from Bioware in the Mass Effect trilogy as I’ve gotten out of it on my first play through of ME2. There aren’t many games that I would sit down and play through more than once and most certainly not play a second time through to “full” completion. Now I’m almost ready to retroactively play Mass Effect, just so I can experience for myself the threat of Saren and understand why Citadel society is now in such a tragic state, having reached a kind of de jure Captain Bailey standard at the beginning of my game.

    Secondly, my reason for discovering this series so late in the game is that I own a Playstation 3 and rarely play games on my computer. But my recent copy of Dragon Age 2 entitled me to a free downloadable PC version of ME2. So, naturally, who could turn down a free full game? I registered my copy and competed it just a day or two ago.

    Dragon Age 2… was a pretty good game. I was completely dispassionate about Dragon Age: Origins however. The reason being? Romantic involvement. The Origins characters fit my personality. Anyway, Dragon Age 2 was quite amazing. I enjoyed wandering around aimlessly and developing my relationship with Merrill. I would keep going back to her hovel in the alienage, and she would say, “By the Dread Wolf! Why is my house so messy!?” And I’d be thinking, “The house looks fine, my love! It’s the same as it was the last time I visited,” and wishing she’d have something more to say to me. So, yeah, even without finding that connection in the exact same way, personally, I can understand. But even Dragon Age 2 didn’t really capture my heart. Merrill and I eventually parted ways. A tormented Dalish elf needs her space, I guess. And although Isabela and I had had our triste, satisfying our own curiosities, we were just friends. Somehow our friendship remained unbroken in the end. It was all very confusing.

    Mass Effect 2… now that was awesome. I too am not saying it was somehow the most perfect game ever, but this game really got to me. Mordin captured my heart. He was the Yoda that Yoda never was. He was my hyperactive Salarian genius buddy. The key word there, I guess, is “buddy.” These characters, these aliens and human biotics and assassins and mercs and whatever — these were all my buddies.

    Honestly, you know who I instantly began to like? Yeoman Kelly Chambers. Her nervous anxiety at talking with me coupled with that hopeful anticipation of something more in her voice, saying, “Maybe we’ll talk later.”

    I didn’t even care if Miranda didn’t like me because I defended Jack. Jack a a good girl deep down. Her mind is just too warped from all that torture and fighting in her childhood. She’s a survivor. I liked that about Jack. But there’s no way either of them could have made me happy. Liara, Ashley, whosawhazzit. Whatever. They were all just side characters in my adventure with Kelly. LoL

    I kept talking to her. Then one night we had dinner together! I was ecstatic. She said she’d feed my fish for me, so I bought every fish in every shop in the galaxy, just so she could feed them for me.

    Then the Collector’s took her away with the rest of the crew. As Joker hobbled through the Combat Information Center, I couldn’t help watching for a moment as the crew defended him, noting that Kelly wasn’t there and wondering if they’d captured her alive…

  • sidequest:

    I apologize on behalf of my typos. I typed that and flew out the door in a tizzy. Other than the minor typo stuff like “competed” instead of “completed” or that I thought of Jack as a kind and charming girl deep down who was denied a decent childhood, for whom I felt compassion, instead of accidentally typing the letter “a” twice — no, what I meant to say in one line up there, rather significantly, was that the Dragon Age: Origins characters did NOT suit me. Dragon Age 2 worked better, in my humble opinion, because the story/romance arc was less topsy turvy and more straight forward without me having to imagine myself as a weird pauper dwarf from a strange underground hovel or a mage doomed to be always haunted by demons and tempted with blood magic about to undergo some mysterious harrowing.

    — Okay, thanks. I was just thinking about what I had said earlier and finally got the chance to sit down to re-read what I hastily and kind of comically diddled over here on your blog… LoL

  • I think it’s worth noting that this is almost exactly what happened with me and my FemShep. Kaiden and Garrus, though I didn’t cart Kaiden around quite as much in ME1. And I think we have a different “character history” as you mentioned Shep’s mom and my Shep’s parents are both dead. I feel sorta bad for hooking up with Garrus but now I’m not sure it was a hook up at all. And what will Kaiden think when he’s back in ME3 and I’m not working with Cerberus anymore so he gives me the ‘Kaiden Stamp of Approval’ again?

  • This is the perfect way to break down this inoframotin.

  • Demi:

    I know you wrote this a long time ago but I’m having fun reading the gaming entries on your blog. I recently discovered Mass Effect myself…I’m a little ashamed actually because I passed it up on more than one occasion because “eww shooters”. Needless to say it’s definite “best franchise ever” material. It’s scary how much I care about these characters. Kaiden, Wrex, Liara, Garrus. I found Kaiden to be so vanilla at first (I like snarky badasses so I preferred Ash and pined for a chance to flirt with Wrex instead), and God knows the community isn’t fond of him but dammit, he won me over big style. No sides to him, no selfishness…I was in there like swimwear as soon as I had a chance. And I was so disappointed with the snub in ME2. I stayed faithful though. I was tempted with Garrus but I broke it off because I was afraid he wouldn’t respect me anymore. Hopefully there will be a satisfying climax (lol) to the Femshep and Kaiden saga in ME3. Anyway, I loved reading about your romantic experiences and I’ll keep watch for more ME stuff….can’t get enough.

  • connie:

    I was wondering did you romance Kaiden in me 3 or did you stay with Garrus? I want Garrus to be happy and I know he ends up with someone in ME 3 I was wondering if he still ends up with her even if I romance him in ME2 and then romance Kaiden in ME3.
    I’m so torn, after everything Cerberus did in ME1 can understand why Kaiden is so hesitant to trust me. I mean I was dead, and Miranda mentioned that she wanted to put a chip in my brain. I can honestly see why Kaiden was so… hurt and confused and why he didn’t join me. But he was mean on horizon. I can’t imagine what it was like for him to hear the rumors of my return and not know for certain. I should have messaged him but it had been two years what right did I have to intrude on any life that he had built while I was dead. To know that he was suffering for two years with my death and now feeling betrayed because I had joined Cerberus. But if he had just listened to me for just a moment he would have seen that the alliance has the collective intelligence of a plankton, he would have realized that Cerberus was the only chance the universe had against the reapers. But he didn’t listen to me. He left me. And Garrus trusted me implicitly. Which might be foolish (I am just a person after all) but his trust and loyalty mean everything to me. How can I be with him knowing that my heart doesn’t completely belong to him. Especially when he has a chance to be happy with someone else.

Leave a Reply