Punishment has been a recent topic of contention within the Mighty Nein, with Veth and Beauregard calling for punishment against Essek for his crimes (NOT war crimes), and Caduceus and Caleb attempting to stop them from causing further harm.
Personally, I am on Caduceus’ side in this argument. Punishment is the attempt to take “payment” for crimes committed and wrongs done, but the wrongs cannot be undone, it’s all in the past already. All punishment does is create more pain.
But then, what does it say about me when I wish for certain characters to face consequences for their actions in order to realize their mistakes? What makes the idea of “consequences” different from “punishment”?
It’s Fjord, y’all, I’m talking about Fjord.
I’m sure there’s something to be said about the difference between a character wishing for either consequences or revenge within their own world (in their real life) versus a reader or member of the audience wishing for the same thing on a fictional character. But that’s not where I’m going today.
Instead, let’s talk about the difference between punishment and consequences.
Punishment, payment, vengeance, retribution, justice. What Beau and Veth are talking about is retributive justice which requires that criminals suffer punishment equal to their crime (Wikipedia). Punishment involves deliberately causing pain to the criminal without taking into account what might have led them to act as they did. Punishment only creates more suffering. It doesn’t undo the crime that’s been committed, it doesn’t console those who have suffered, and there’s no guarantee that the guilty person will learn or reform as a result.
On the other hand, consequences need not be punishment. The desire for someone to “suffer consequences” can be rooted in the desire for someone to learn a certain lesson, to understand some wrong they’ve committed and correct their course. It comes with the understanding that words don’t always work, that sometimes people have to experience the effects to understand.
I think this is what is at the root of Caduceus patiently waiting for Fjord to come around instead of telling him outright that what he’s doing is wrong. Caduceus waits for Fjord to realize on his own that Uk’otoa is bad news and come to him for help. Fjord realizes that because Uk’otoa attempts to punish him — as a result of Fjord’s actions of nearly setting him free then turning around and ignoring a powerful and seemingly vengeful being.
And after Fjord embraces the Wildmother as his goddess, Caduceus once again sits back and waits. And given the little that Matthew Mercer has mentioned about the Wildmother’s opinions, it seems she’s also waiting to see what Fjord will do.
Leading us of course, back onto the ocean with Fjord completely unaware of the fact that he has a huge target on his back. Both Caduceus and the Wildmother attempted to warn him, they told him this wasn’t over, they told him he still had a seed of evil inside of him, and he would have to work to get rid of it. And they meant it both literally and figuratively. Fjord is just the kind that learns through experience and not through words. Caduceus and the Wildmother were right to not use words to attempt an explanation.
Watching him even now, it seems so obvious he still has many lessons to learn. Near-death experiences only seem to make him bolder. Perhaps he’s in denial. Perhaps he’s testing new boundaries. Perhaps he just really hasn’t found where he went wrong. But the longer he goes on like this the more I want something to happen. I want consequences that will wake him up, before his actions, his mistakes, add up to something far worse.
That’s where consequences differ for me. Because a person must still “suffer” consequences, but the hope is that if they suffer those, they can correct their path before it causes them and the people around them far more suffering.