The Legend Of Vox Machina Spoiler Review: Finding Strength In Faith And Friendship

It's hard not to find the Titmouse-animated "The Legend of Vox Machina" refreshing right from its launch. Based on Critical Role, it was one of the few U.S. adult high fantasy animated shows that lets itself be a little drunker on comedy than most. Shed "The Legend of Vox Machina" of its comedy — groupie quips, slapstick, a lockpicking gag that opens a door into a climatic boss location — and it would not flourish as well. But the further I got into the series, I could not help but to imagine a more synergized final product. Though dressed in its humor, there remains a lingering feeling that "Vox Machina" deserved more within its four-week run on Prime Video. It's a compliment.

I said before in the non-spoiler review that our Vox Machina mercenary septet are most comfortable, comedically, when they are laid-back or partaking in non-battle frivolity. By the time we plunge into the season-long Briarwood arc and face the evil Briarwoods (Matthew Mercer and Grey Griffin), our profane mercancies have little downtime other the occasional bit of relationship drama. Not to say the show discards the comedy nor that it needs to double down when it heads down the darker road in an already gruesome story, but it noticeably starts to become increasingly sluggish. 

I have to wonder if the debut season of "Vox Machina" would have been more fruitful if it was willing to produce stand-alone adventures to tune out the psychological journeys that happen as the Briarwood arc kicks off in episode 3. Glancing at the Kickstarter profile that funded the show, which promised the structure as mapped out, the 12-episode outline was inevitable. But I couldn't help but imagine a "Vox Machina" that provided more.

Character arcs

What the show lacks in immersive mythology it makes up for with characterization, even when it's not always hitting the mark. By virtue of centering the plot around his homecoming, Percy (a great Taliesin Jaffe) receives the most justice in his emotional arc. The compromising of his morals (mixed with demonic possession) represent the greatest stakes of the season. His road can be charted from a sullen and consummate gunslinger to a more active agent who has to pry himself out of a dark place. He reckons deeply with his trauma as his friends, especially Vex (Laura Bailey), witness his temperamental low points with trepidation. In the series' poignant finale fight, his monstrous impulses metastasize into a maelstrom of mind control dragging him between reality and a fever dream of violent trauma and regrets.

Faith, in oneself and in others, is a running theme. Having loved ones who believe in her, the arc of insecure plant druid Keyleth (Marisha Ray) unlocking her inner lifesaving light is the strongest next to Percy's arc. However, the pious cleric Pike Trickfoot (a heartfelt Ashley Johnson) exists as an emotionally-loaded character, underserved by the plot's impulse to get the ball rolling with her split from her team. Her epiphany that she's afraid that hanging with her debauched, drunken, and profane friends has compromised her faith to the Everlight is one of the most sobering confessions — leading to a reunion in astral projection — yet remains underdeveloped because we didn't spend enough time with her doubts with integrating Vox Machina before her temporary split. Grog (Travis Willingham) and (Travis Willingham) are more-or-less dutiful contributors to the action, the latter involved in a mind-control fight with his sister, Vex.

Other characters outside of the main party lay wasted as unattended concepts, such as Whitestone's religious leader (Gina Torres), who preaches the arc theme of faith; and rebel leader Archibald Desnay (Dominic Monaghan), whose death is a tool to drag Percy into a darker place rather than live and die as a fully realized soul. In one case, the fault is the developing animation. Percy's sister Cassandra (Esmé Creed-Miles) holds weight, especially with the script's attention and care to illustrate her trauma and her final action (her shooting the final Briarwood is a compelling unspoken message about unforgiveness as necessary to find inner peace), though her facial performance is often stuck with an unreadable plasticity, rather than intended trauma-infused stoicism, that conveys little information.

Where its potential lies

The animation might struggle with heftier action sequences. The elements are on the table for "Vox Machina" to play with. For example, in "Scanbo" (the weakest episode that forgoes the power of the ensemble and instead focuses on a rather hit-or-miss comedy relief), Scanlan (Sam Riegel) experiments with a roulette of potions with unpredictable powers — shrinking to dodge the blade, teleportation, and sudden fire breath. The idea is fun in outlines, but only amusing in execution when the animation can't be as shifty and dynamic as justified.

The fight choreography finds its groove in the final three episodes. A lot will be discussed about the duel between the astrally projected Pike Trickfoot and Briarwood to the rapid swirl of the "camera." Rightfully so. But this fight doesn't demonstrate the show's potential as much as the climatic escapade in episode 10, "Depth of Deceit." Several instances of character-driven humor and heart-pounding suspense co-mingle: Scanlan's ripping on his magical strings like an electric guitar, Percy's problem solving, Keyleth's insecurities, our barbarian Grog recklessly plunging into corrosive acid, and Pike's simultaneously healing Grog from disintegration as he's submerged. It's a spectacular and ludicrous sequence that stirs up someone else's smartness with another's on-the-fly recklessness, squeezing all these character multitudes like a muscled fist closing an orange.

Something that is sorely missing in the world-building of "Vox Machina" is a rich immersion. Its map so far consists of perfunctory kingdom authority and plot-relevant set pieces, such as the Whitestone tree and the temple that houses the mysterious dark orb. There is barely any historic and emotional context given to the fantasy world template. But, character-wise, I suspect it would be crowd-pleasing enough for fans of the Critical Role source material. The highs are still there — even as the season ends in a cliffhanger of conspicuous CGI dragons swooping to ruin the visages of temporary peace. Keep the faith.

"Vox Machina" is streaming on Prime Video.