Character Development: Jack – the Guttermouth

A while ago someone asked me what I thought about Mass Effect’s lovely and dangerous biotic, Jack. That’s right folks, I got an actual request to write something here. Of course, being me, I thought “man, I should totally do that,” and ended up getting distracted by a series of increasingly shinier and deadlier objects. Still, I’m here now. Let’s do this. Just a warning: Oh My God, it’s full of ME2 spoilers!

Jack represents the classic archetype of the bad-girl superhero who is an abuse survivor¹, with the “tortured lab experiment” version of that particular origin story. She spouts obscenities, calls everyone pussies, and brags about her past exploits in crime and vandalism. Her first instinct upon boarding a enemy ship full of crazy aliens is to try to talk the captain into going pirate. She’s deliberately aggressive almost to the point of unfriendliness, which stands out among a crew mostly filled with relatively laid-back people.

Jack also clearly has PTSD, or some fictional equivalent. She sets up housekeeping in a quiet, out-of-the way space where she can watch all the exits and there isn’t much foot traffic. She obsesses over escape routes. You learn later that she’s been classically conditioned to enjoy violence. While I was intrigued and invested in her, I didn’t really want to take with me into combat situations. I didn’t use her a lot in my first playthrough, for this reason. From my white knight paragon Shepard’s perspective, she doens’t need any more exposure to combat, she needs to heal. Jack’s not crazy enough for me to say “well, this isn’t going to get any better, might as well use it.²” but she’s also not stable enough for me to be confident that putting her in combat situations isn’t going to do any further damage.

I eventually realized that my particular version of Shepard was making it hard for me to really “get” Jack. I finally grokked her as a squadmate when I saw Jack from the perspective of a Shepard who was also a troubled kid. A shared history makes it easy to dismiss concerns about Jack’s stability as unwarranted, and enjoy her attitude for what it is: a valid and entertaining response to all the shit she’s had to put up with. Also, this song helped³.

As did this fanart, which features Jack hanging out with Shepard and Garrus. Badass squad: GO

(By Adre-es on Deviantart.)

Ok, now that I’m all psyched about Jack, let’s talk about her romance, and her interactions with the crew in general. Uniquely, she has two possible romance paths – a renegade option where you hook up and she refuses to talk to you after, and a paragon option where you get to know her better. During the paragon romance she shows a softer side, letting you see how her past has scarred her, eventually giving you her trust and crying on your shoulder.  This development makes sense if you’re looking at Jack from the paragon perspective I mentioned earlier – when dealing with someone who has suffered abuse, it’s good to be unflinchingly supportive and show that you’re not going anywhere; hopefully that will allow them to open up. But this sudden sappiness might feel very out-of-character for her renegade buddies. They already accept her as she is, and they trust that she can function and love without needing to be coddled, without losing her edge. I can see how her abrupt about-face might seem out-of-character, almost a betrayal of the fellow feeling they’ve established with her.

That said, I’m all right with how the main romance shakes out. We’ve got to give the writers some leeway, since Bioware can’t go all out and make this a full-on dating sim (at least, not yet). They have to pick one story and tell it, and I actually find Jack’s romance more moving than any of the other relationships that involve a male Shepard. Shepard’s voice performance is almost comically laid back and affable. While this can make him seem relatively uninterested in whoever he’s pursuing, with Jack this stability and calm actually enhance the emotional impact of their relationship.

I do, however, wish that there were more opportunities in game to support Jack outside of a romance. The paucity of non-love-interest character development dialogue is a common complaint for Mass Effect 2, but it only really bothered me with Jack, because she was the one situation where I felt I should be doing something about… things!

All in all, Jack was a likable take on a character type I normally avoid. My initial hesitation about her was largely due to the fact that her interactions with the world felt somewhat unfinished; I got to learn about her problems but then there was little I could do to solve them, which was frustrating for a hero type like me. I would have preferred to meet her in a game with a smaller cast, where they might have been able to flesh out her development a bit more. Still, there’s quite a lot to this girl, especially if you make a nice renegade earthborn Shepard for her to pal around with. After writing all this, I’m tempted to do just that.

 

 

¹ She’s a particularly well done version of this. Normally I have a very negative default reaction to this particular origin story – I stopped reading Young Avengers because of it, but Bioware has earned some credit with their female characters, so I’m not going to go on a rant about it here.

² Which is my attitude towards characters like Deadpool and Dexter. No therapy’s gonna fix that, so might as well use the gifts an angry god gave you.

³ Link point to a Resident Evil Fanvid for Bree Sharp’s Guttermouth. The video isn’t related, but the song is incredible. Here’s the Amazon link, if you like it. Support independent artists!

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