Now that about a month has passed since the close of TAZ: Amnesty, it’s time for the post you’ve all been waiting for (at least, I hope): my oh-so-professional PODCAST OPINIONS!
Even if you weren’t waiting for them, though, they’re here all the same, complete with spoilers so I can discuss this campaign in full. For those of you that haven’t finished the arc, I recommend coming back later!
In the wake of TAZ: Balance’s success, I knew from the first episode of Amnesty that it was going to be tough to live up to expectations. After nearly 70 episodes of heartfelt emotion, explosive plotting, and a dash of joyous nonsense, how do you follow up? How do you do something that meets expectations?
Mostly, you do what Amnesty did, and commit to the story you’re telling.
I will admit up front that I don’t think Amnesty was nearly as strong a story as Balance. It didn’t have quite the emotional punch (truthfully, I cried much more in Balance than in Amnesty), and at the same time, it’s about half the length of Balance. The emotional punches it did pack (and yes, there are quite a few) were impressive given that this campaign took place in about half the amount of time Balance did.
And of course, Amnesty had plenty of wit to it, but what else are you expecting from a show run by the McElroys? They have such a delightful, energetic dynamic, and they play off of one another in such wonderful ways, whether sincere or hopelessly goofy.
Of course, beyond the men playing MotW and giving us this story, there are a few parts of this campaign that really steal the show. For one, the music is truly phenomenal. Griffin went above and beyond not only with the theme (which has such an GREAT sound to it; it just screams adventure in the West Virginia woods), but with the music that filled significant scenes. His work in the finale was especially amazing, and I had goosebumps more than once from the music. Back in Balance, the inclusion of music kicked the podcast up a notch, and it absolutely does the same here.
Also fantastic were the characters. I have such strong feelings about ALL OF THEM, so forgive me for the next section. It has to go on at length, or else I might explode.
We’ll start mostly with Aubrey, because she’s proof that Travis McElroy’s characters keep targeting me. The bisexual magician who discovers she has ACTUAL FIRE MAGIC, she’s also the loving owner of Dr. Harris Bonkers, PhD, a rabbit she claims she rescued from a lab (although in a flashback, it sounds like he came from a pet store; I want the lab rescue to be true more than the store explanation). She’s eager and full of so much heart and emotion, and I ADORED the parts of her arc where she had to face her fear of failing the folks around her. The complications that arose from Ned’s death in particular (the last thing she told him was to get the hell out of Kepler and I’M UPSET 😭) really forced her to buckle down and face the threats bearing down on Kepler, and I love her to pieces for the way she powered through it. Plus, the fact that she and Dani got together on National Girlfriends Day? And that she suggested renaming the City of Sylvain to the City of Chicane? And that she chose living in Sylvain with Dani over returning to Earth without knowing if there would ever be a way back?
Hang on, I think I need a moment. And some tissues.
(Also, shout-out to Dr. Harris Bonkers, PhD, for getting the most FANTASTIC late-stage moment in the spotlight when he saved Dani’s life. Still wish he’d spoken only a single word and never spoken again, though. Would have been just aces.)
On that note, though, NED CHICANE. The first of Clint’s characters, and another of what I call his olive branch characters. In Balance, Clint ultimately played Merle as the peacekeeper, the friend-maker. It was Merle making friends with John that gave our heroes an edge against the Hunger when it came down to it, and it was Merle who recognized that even the worst enemy in the universe might be saved with compassion.
And now he’s done it again. Ned Chicane was not exactly the favorite resident of Kepler, not by any means, and multiple people had good reason to think of him as an enemy. But every single time, when it comes down to it, he tries to rebuild bridges. And in the end, he dies trying to save Dani, even though most of the Lodge thinks he was the one who betrayed the existence of Sylvain to the humans of Kepler. For a conman, Ned Chicane kept trying to do the right thing, and it just made me love him so much.
Then you get Clint’s second character, Arlo Thacker. I didn’t expect him to take up an NPC, but it was an incredibly smart move, and Clint played him beautifully. He also finally started rolling SUPREMELY WELL (the amount of 10+ rolls that he had as Thacker was amazing!), and it seemed like he was coming into his own. Best of all, though, in playing Thacker, he got to emphasize Thacker’s friendship with Mama (a friendship I ABSOLUTELY want to see more of), and he came face to face with the horrors of the Quell.
And when all was said and done, when the Quell returned in shame and apology, he put out his hand in friendship.
It probably says a lot about Clint that he keeps choosing to reach out and offer kindness and support before passing judgment. It probably says a lot about me that this keeps making me want to cry big emotional tears.
And then we get Duck Newton, whose nickname is way better than his real name, and who has a talking sword named Beacon. Beacon is a jerk and turned out to be a glorified USB stick with the universe’s most intelligent and stubborn Trojan horse loaded onto it, and I loved that. But I loved Duck even more, because Justin played the trope of the chosen one so well, turning it into a chosen one. Even better, a reluctant chosen one, skeptical of what he can even offer the world and being that’s chosen him, but growing into the hero he was chosen to be.
Duck’s arc is this weird tangle of destiny and what happens when that destiny flickers out, and what you choose to do with yourself when you lose every advantage you had but the danger is still coming. He can’t lie to save his life, and he’s not quite 100% confident with Beacon, but whenever it comes down to it, he leaps into action anyway, trying to protect the people around him from coming to harm. For crying out loud, he once skitches behind a cop car on a skateboard after he’s lost his chosen one powers, when a fall from that skateboard would probably send him to the hospital instead of lightly bruising him.
It’s that unthinking way of jumping into danger to make sure someone else can jump out that’s my favorite part about Duck Newton (even though the inability to lie is funny as hell). Plus, even when he’s an ordinary guy, he still steps up to the plate, because it still feels like his responsibility. I’ll really never stop getting soft over the protector types.
I will say I’m still not thrilled with Duck and Minerva becoming a couple in the epilogue, though. I had trans aro Duck in my head, and while Minewton is hardly a convention relationship by any means, and aro folks can have partners, the last minute date trope is…not my favorite, not when it gets applied to a character who so heavily reads to me as aromantic.
Glancing down at my word count, it’s over 1.3k now, and I’m not even done with the characters. That’s how absolutely fantastic characterization has been in this campaign. Plus, I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t mention the great cast of side characters I fell in love with. Mama and Jake Coolice are near the top of the list, with Minerva close behind. They’re all related to Sylvain in different ways, and the way Griffin wove them into the fabric of Kepler felt so wonderful and organic that I couldn’t help but become attached. Barclay ranks even higher than those three as well, since he seems to be the Lodge’s unofficial stressed out dad figure, in charge of keeping all hell from breaking loose when Mama’s not around to do that herself. He’s another fantastic character.
But the spot of favorite goes to Hollis, the nonbinary stunt biker who ultimately isn’t as big a character compared to those I’ve already listed, but who caught my attention anyway. They’re incredibly protective of their gang, the Hornets, and especially in the wake of the murders at the Hornets’ Nest, they’re angry. They want revenge for what happened to their friends, and they only get angrier when it turns out they’ve been lied to, that there are creatures in Kepler responsible for the attack. Their first impulse to declare war on Sylvain may not be right, but given the high emotions, it’s understandable.
And their ultimate decision to face what could be the end of the world with Sylvain and its residents as an ally makes their character arc even better.
For someone who’s not a major figure in the story, they’ve still captured most of my heart, and I really, really love them. Since I started wading into the murkiness of my own gender, too, having a visible nonbinary character like Hollis meant even more to me. I can’t imagine being indifferent towards them anymore, even if I was skeptical during their first introduction.
Really, all I have left to say now that I’ve gushed about the characters (who really were the main draw of Amnesty for me), is that while the plot was okay (I don’t think the MotW format was as cohesive with Griffin’s method of storytelling as D&D was in Balance), the ending struck the perfect chords. If nothing else, the epilogue of Amnesty was brimming with hope. It was bittersweet, especially given the role Ned and the Cryptonomica played in that final scene, but it was hopeful, and I crave that so much, especially in stories that have a great deal of darkness to them. Life is already stressful enough, hard enough, without putting out more messages about how there’s no point. Sticking instead to an ending that says things will turn out for the better if you fight for it, that things may not be the same but they’ll definitely improve, appeals to me in a way I can’t quite describe. I want to hope it will be better. I want to feel like the fight is worth it. And that was the perfect note for Amnesty to close on.
Maybe Amnesty wasn’t perfect, and maybe it wasn’t the masterpiece that Balance was, but it has a special place in my heart nonetheless. While I can pick out a few places where a different choice would have served the plot better (mostly the finale fight versus Not Jane, which could have punched so much harder versus Not Ned), I find myself by and large delighted by the course of Amnesty, and unwilling to wish change on it.
I’m also eager for the next campaign, which is hinted as TAZ: G. Hopefully, it’s TAZ: Griffin, where everyone is forced to play a different Griffin, but as long as they don’t play the interstellar war card AGAIN (admittedly, this one is getting old, but also? I tend to pick up media that shows no signs of interstellar war until SUDDENLY IT DOES WHAT THE HECK), I’m all in, no reservations.