The Legend of Vox Machina
“Don’t split the party” is one of the biggest unwritten rules of Dungeons & Dragons. If the players split up, they’re increasing the chance of running into a dangerous monster while not at full strength. And, even worse, it means the poor Dungeon Master needs to run two separate scenarios that are supposed to be happening simultaneously, which is annoying to do. However, The Legend of Vox Machina is just based on a D&D game. As an animated TV show, it has the benefit of being scripted and better suited to telling concurrent, coherent storylines than a harried DM. The party is indeed split for all three of this week’s The Legend of Vox Machina, but the end result is a trio of episodes that feel especially coherent and effective.
We’ll start with Keyleth, Percy, and the twins, who narrowly escape Umbrasyl’s attack and make it to the Fey Realm. However, the dragon’s onslaught interrupted Keyleth’s spell, so Scanlan, Grog, and a grievously injured Pike are MIA. With no other option but to attempt to obtain the Vestige of Divergence that drew them to this beautifully twisted plane of existence, the quartet sets off (led by Percy, who shows a rare enthusiasm for the Fey Realm and an eagerness to show off his childhood book knowledge that may or may not actually be useful).
Their journey is interrupted by two annoyances. The first is that the flora in the Fey Realm — not to mention a giant acidic slime that can make you trip balls — seems to have it out for Vax, presumably because of his connection to the Matron of Ravens. While Keyleth and Vex have a psychedelic journey, Percy can help Vax defeat the ooze, and the two bury the hatchet. Percy apologizes for his role in Vex’s (temporary) death.
“I know I’ve made mistakes,” Percy says. “I also know something about carrying darkness. Whatever happens, I’ll have your back.” It’s a nice gesture and one that Vax seems to be amenable to, even if he ominously worries that Percy “won’t be able to follow” wherever the Matron of Ravens may take him.
The second annoyance is a satyr named Garmelie who has been watching them and drawing some very, uh, creative lewd fanart. (The voice acting in this show, which is stacked top to bottom with veteran professional voice actors, is always great but let’s give a special shoutout to Taliesin Jaffe’s delivery of “Why do I have three penii?”) Garmelie, entertained by their exploits, decides to show the group where the Vestige — a powerful bow named Fenthras — is located. Unfortunately, there’s an elven city in their path that wasn’t there before, as the elves can move the city in times of danger, which the Chroma Conclave certainly counts as. It’s where Vex and Vax grew up with their emotionally abusive father.
The family reunion has its moments. The twins’ stepmother Devana is a little surprised but pleasant, and they actually have a very sweet interaction with their half-sister, Velora. Syldor is still an absolute dick, and although Percy is able to marginally impress him as a fellow noble, it’s not a great vibe. Tired of being put down even as she tries to win her dad’s affection, Vax resolves to come back with Fenthras. Percy sticks up for Vex by giving her a noble title and calling Syldor out for omitting it, leading to a heartfelt moment between Percy and Vex. He gives her a special arrowhead of sorts that he made, and it comes in handy later when the gang needs to fight an archfey named Saundor to get the bow.
Episode eight is a total Vex showcase. Sure, she does succumb to Saundor’s thrall, but she breaks free and takes him down one on one, stabbing him in the heart with Percy’s gift. (And she has an emotional breakthrough herself, realizing she shouldn’t torture herself trying to get dad’s approval.) It’s a typically slick and awesome-looking action scene, as is Keyleth’s transformation into a fire elemental to roast some tree monsters Saundor summoned to take care of her, Percy, and Vax. They’ve acquired another Vestige, and Garmelie — who is much more powerful than he let on — opens a portal home for them that apparently leads straight to episode ten, because the four are not in episode nine at all. It’s Grog time.
Of all the members of Vox Machina, Grog and Scanlan are the most comic relief. Grog’s a big childish idiot (who will brutally disembowel his enemies if given the chance), and Scanlan is a potty-mouthed playboy bard. They can be, well, a lot, especially when their antics feel degrees sillier than whatever sad emo boy thing Vax or Percy are doing. I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but the improvised, actual-play format of Critical Role supports these jarring moments of comedy better than the TV show, and there have been times when Scanlan’s dick jokes take me out of the high fantasy world for a moment. But, when the two are on their own — plus Pike, whose character greatly benefits in the show because her player, Ashley Johnson, was frequently absent from a lot of the first campaign due to her role in Blindspot and thus left Pike less developed than the other members — it makes for a very effective story. It’s all a little sillier but in a tonally consistent way, and being on their own forces the comic relief characters to step up and mature a little bit while still having the ability to pull off a pretty great suppository joke.
The trio’s storyline begins in episode seven then they’re dumped somewhere after Keyleth’s botched spell. Pike is seriously hurt but manages to stabilize herself using magic. Grog feels awful about impaling his best friend. His sword, Craven Edge? Not so much, as it slurps up Pike’s blood and makes itself bigger. Grog briefly falls prey to the sword’s compulsion to kill, but he snaps out of it and resolves to destroy the sword, driving into a stone and snapping it in half in a move we’ll call “a reverse King Arthur.” The result is an Overlook Hotel-like geyser of blood, and when the sanguine dust has cleared, Grog has been sapped of all his strength. (“I’m as puny as Vax!”)
It’s hardly the first time, but The Legend of Vox Machina is deviating pretty substantially from what happened in Critical Role, where Grog actually died (and was revived) because Craven Edge sapped his strength. It’s a smart adaptational choice, one that both gives some underserved characters like Pike more to do, and it avoids making death seem cheap in this universe. It also means we get a montage of Pike and Scanland trying to get Grog’s weak-ass body down a mountain. I know I have taken issue with how and when TLOVM decides to deploy humor in past recaps, but this sequence is a hoot and a holler. I’m a simple man. Show me a wolf going to town on a guy’s nuts, and I will laugh.
Scanlan shows off a surprisingly nurturing side while attending to Grog’s needs, and Pike is into it. Like Percy and Vax in the Fey Realm, these two are having a sweet moment that could be the start of a romance. That is until Scanlan ruins the moment by making a crude joke. (See! I’m not the only one who dislikes a joke at the wrong time!)
They make it down the mountain in one piece (more or less) and arrive at the home of Pike’s great-great-grandfather Wilhand. He’s able to make a cure that rids Grog of Craven Edge’s corruption (once Scanlan shoves it up where the sun don’t shine), but Grog is still weak. That’s an issue because the other Vestige that Scanlan saw — a massive set of gauntlets known as the Titanstone Knuckles — belongs to a figure from Grog and Wilhand’s past. Episode nine opens with a flashback, and we see that before he became a lovable idiot with a gift for violence, Grog just had a gift for violence. Fighting for his uncle, Kevdak, who leads a marauding pack of half-giants known as the Herd of Storms, Grog coldly slaughtered anybody who crossed his path when they raided a village. It wasn’t until he saw Wilhand that Grog discovered empathy. Kevdak had no place for such kindness in his ranks, though, and he beats Grog nearly to death and banishes him for the act. Wilhand returned the favor by getting his great-great-granddaughter to heal Grog, marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Is Grog suddenly gaining empathy because he sees one old man after brutally massacring other innocents a little simple? Well, yes, but Grog is very, very simple, so I’ll allow it.
Even with Grog being a weakling, the three decide to go to the city of Westrunn, where Scanlan has seen Kevdak and his gauntlets laying waste to the city. There are too many members of the Herd for any sort of head-on assault, so Scanlan polymorphs into a dragonfly to do some reconnaissance (but not before flirting with Pike). The spell drops at an inopportune time, but a group of survivors whisk him into the building where they’ve been hiding for weeks and out of sight of the half-giants. The leader of the group — a gnomish bard named Kaylie who seems to know an awful lot about Scanlan… — explains that the Herd arrived after Umbrasyl first attacked Westrunn.
We learn more about the Herd’s relationship with Umbrasyl when the dragon, Mythcarver in tail, arrives to collect tribute. As we learned in episode seven, Umbrasyl has Thordak’s tacit approval to collect Vestiges, just so long as they don’t interfere with the Chroma Conclave’s primary goal. So why isn’t he just taking Kevdak’s Titanstone Knuckles? Because they have an arrangement. Kevdak keeps his arms, and the Herd gets a city to rule in exchange for a steady supply of riches and gold. This offering was a little light, and Umbrasyl makes it clear the Conclave will expect much more next time. After he flies off, Kevdak’s son, Zanror, argues that the Herd should not be errand boys for the dragons and should instead fight them. Kevdak does not take this challenge to his authority lightly, and he beats Zanror half to death.
Meanwhile, alarmed that Scanlan isn’t back yet, Pike and Grog concoct a plan to rescue the bard. (“We’ll sneak in, we’ll get our boy, we’ll sneak out,” as Pike puts it.) Grog covers Pike in pig blood and pretends to have killed her, giving him cover to walk freely among his half-giant former kin. Scanlan — who maybe should be a little less flirtatious with Kaylie, just a hunch — makes a break for it at the same time. When they all reunite in the streets, the sensible move seems to be to cut, run, and regroup. Grog, though, has other ideas. Perhaps answering the question that Earthbreaker Groom posed several episodes ago, Grog states that what makes him strong is standing up for the little folk.
The episode ends with Grog — still thin and puny but feeling stronger than ever — issuing a challenge to Kevdak. It’s a killer ending that feels especially epic and earned because the episode had space to fully focus on Grog, with only Scanlan and Pike as supporting players. Presumably (and hopefully,) Vex, Vax, Percy, and Keyleth will come popping out of a portal and joining the fight in next week’s season-ending trio of episodes. I’ll be glad to see ‘em, but Vox Machina sure is an effective team (and TV show!) when they’re split up, too.
How Do You Want to Do This
• Garmelie asking why Vex and Vax’s ears aren’t as pointy as their dad’s is a nod to the fact that they have a human mother, part of the reason why Syldor has so much disdain for them. Unless I’m missing something or forgetting from season one, TLOVM hasn’t really been explicit about their half-human, half-elven heritage.
• Keyleth correcting herself to avoid contractions while speaking with Syldor was a nice detail.
• Keyleth and Vex’s acid trip is arguably the goofiest thing this show has done so far, but it works because the Fey Realm is, by its nature, a goofy place. A scary, strange place. But a goofy one.
• Big The Northman (2022) vibes from episode nine’s opening sequence.
• Spoilers for Campaign Two/Mighty Nein: Pretty fun Easter egg in how “Garmelie” referred to himself as a “traveler…”