The first part of episode 98 brought forth a conflict of morality within the Mighty Nein that had managed to fly under the radar for most of the campaign (with a few memorable exceptions.)
While Caduceus often has strong opinions about what the Mighty Nein should or should not be doing, he lets himself get steamrolled time and time again. Most recently, in the jungle on the way to the Menagerie, the Mighty Nein managed to wear him down to the point where he gave up and told them to do whatever they wanted, resulting in the battle with the pale, bug-like creatures. A conflict that could have been much worse considering where they were.
But what the Mighty Nein is facing this time is much large, much more dangerous, and involves the lives of far too many innocents for Caduceus to sit back and let them run wild.
In the moments following Essek’s confession, Veth immediately calls for some sort of punishment. Something we’ve heard from her before. Beauregard then backs her up, calling for “justice”, which amounts to the same thing.
This is where Caduceus pushes back. He asks, ‘what if in our search for justice we create even more evil?’ or more suffering? He rightly equates their “punishment” and “justice” with vengeance. And no amount of that will undo what’s already been done. He turns to Caleb and calls for him to realize what’s truly important here. ‘You don’t want to punish the people who made you, you want to make sure no one else makes you…remember that’s what you want, you’ll get there faster.’
Caduceus is calling for them to end the violence and the suffering. Seeking any form of punishment risks creating even more suffering by restarting the war or creating more resentment. He says, ‘the best we can do is just stop it, I don’t see the sense in risking more people.’ Putting an end to the violence and making sure those who are hurting people no longer can hurt people is far more important than seeking any kind of “justice”.
But Veth and Beauregard are currently unable to understand the larger patterns and cycles of violence and suffering, each because of a different reason.
Veth has long been the first to call for punishment in these kinds of situation. She sees the world in black and white; the guilty and the innocent, the evil and the good. And, perhaps most importantly, she sees herself as innocent and good, despite everything she’s done.
Veth, for as long as the Mighty Nein has known her, has been willing to kill and put outsiders in danger in order to protect herself and her small circle of loved ones. She’s killed innocents, and been willing to sacrifice new friends like Reani and even the rest of the Mighty Nein when she and Caleb had first joined with them. And when facing the hag, she had offered to continue the war for her own selfish gain, sacrificing perhaps thousands of lives to get her body back and have a chance of keeping the rest of the Mighty Nein safe — despite how heavily involved they already were with the war and efforts for peace.
In regards to her own history and transformation, Veth sees herself as fully innocent. She believes that she did not deserve what happened to her, therefore those that did it must be Evil and deserve Punishment. And because they’re Evil, that’ is Justice. What Veth fails to realize is how she herself is already part of a cycle of violence and retribution. We know that Veth was captured and transformed into a goblin as a form of punishment and vengeance for killing the goblin chief. The chief’s wife being the one to seek punishment. And we can assume that Veth killed the chief either as part of her escape, or also out of vengeance for the kidnapping of her and her family.
There’s no knowing how far back that cycle continues, it’s highly likely that it does. But Veth cannot understand that. She grew up believing goblins to be evil innately. She hated them far before they attacked and kidnapped her family. In her eyes, actions against them cannot be wrong because they deserve punishment implicitly.
This is the framework Veth carries into this complicated political situation.
Beauregard on the other hand, is coming from a slightly different place. She’s also had her share of suffering that was undeserved. And in a twisted way, her low self-esteem helps her acknowledge the way her actions may have exacerbated the problem, although she can’t really be blamed for it because she was a child reacting to her upbringing. Because she’s able to understand that, she seems not to wish punishment on her father. But somehow that same framework doesn’t make it into this grander situation.
Instead, Beauregard is coming at this political situation from an authoritarian angle, and this is the cycle that she’s currently stuck in. The complete lack of validation she received growing up led her to seeking it desperately wherever she could. And while at first the Cobalt Soul seemed to also see her as “too troublesome,” Dairon manages to pull her back in with talk of her “potential”. (Sound familiar?)
Up until very recently, Beauregard has displayed a disdain for any kind of authority — organizations, figures, and anyone attempting to use their power over others. This was not because of any moral or social stance she had, but because in her experience she had always been on the wrong side of authority. She had suffered judgment upon judgment, and punishment for lashing out in pain. And so she hated anything that sought to control her, or others in her field of vision. Hence the aggressive confrontation with Caleb for daring to judge what was best for someone else.
But the moment Beauregard receives the validation she had craved — the moment she becomes an Expositor of the Cobalt Soul, someone with authority, access, and power — her attitude changes completely and she starts talking about things like “justice” which she hadn’t done before.
The fact of the matter is that the Cobalt Soul and the Cerberus Assembly — which the Mighty Nein has all but declared an enemy — are very similar entities. Though they stand opposed at various points, they hold the same values and serve the same purpose: to obtain and collect knowledge, and keep much of it hidden away from the masses “for their own good”. Within the Dwendalian Empire, the monarchy, the Cerberus Assembly, and the Cobalt Soul are all authoritarian organizations fighting each other for the power to influence the masses however they see fit.
Unfortunately, Beauregard’s recent promotion has won her over and the obvious parallels between the two entities seems to escape her. Only time can tell if she and the Mighty Nein will ever consider the Cobalt Soul their enemy as well. In the meantime, Beauregard has taken up the mantle of someone that “weeds out corruption” and apparently, seeks “justice”.
At least for the moment it seems that the Mighty Nein has agreed to take it slow, ‘play the long game’, and avoid causing more trouble. But the Mighty Nein are notoriously bad at doing this. I can only hope that Caduceus is able to get through to them, and keep the others from being swayed, before someone decides to ‘take justice into their own hands’ and continues the cycle of pain and suffering.