Finding a way to properly articulate the impact of the most recent trilogy arc in RvB14 has been a challenge. The Merc Arc has been an incredible step away from the norm of what RvB has been in the past, and is a strong deviation from the overall feel of the current season, varied as each episode may be in style and medium and tone. In less time than a regular season of television, these three episodes have given us more than we ever could have dreamed: honestly driven character development, high-tension plot, and a jump in animation quality and world-building that blew everything else out of the water by a hundred miles.
“Club” gives the audience a moment of insight with a great hypothetical that hits as hard as the bass beat does, as we get an epic crane shot introducing an art style and animation technique new to the RvB universe. And what an incredible look: the cell-shaded aesthetic and hard angles combine with the psychedelic colour palette in a way that blinds you and makes you see every single facet perfectly. The long mystery of who our main characters were going to be could not have been given a better reveal. That incredible moment of black and white, the ties, and the lasers provides a moment of perfect realization that allows a viewer to be surprised, shocked, and jumping-up-and-down excited all at once. It is immediately evident to a veteran of the series that this is a very different relationship between the Locus and Felix we know and love (to hate) from seasons 11-13, while the banter and sass levels reassure us that they are fully fleshed-out characters, even more so than ever before.
It is beyond inspiring to see such a unique take on the RvB universe in the art/animation style, but the music, choreography, and colour/silhouette fight scenes hit the screen like a blast from Locus’ shotgun. Moments like Felix’s eye rub and his tussle with Locus provide a glimpse into the level of detail animators achieve, while the Electro-Swing dance/fight duet creates the perfect stage for MoCap and animation to shine. It was immediately evident that this first episode and following two would serve not as justifications for their changes into the men we knew them as on Chorus, but as a glimpse into the deeper levels of their minds and lives. (Psychoanalyses for everyone!) Also, giving us the small tease of the character of Siris was both entertaining in his introduction and immediately fear-inducing, as the possibilities of having a soon-to-be-beloved character becoming a soon-to-be-dead character loomed with two more episodes to go.
“Call” gives us a moment of calm after the insanity and action of the previous episode: a simple, quiet, car ride. With a guy in the trunk. And three mercenaries trying to get paid the biggest bounty of their lives. Granted, not the simplest ride in the world, but a start that lets you take a single deep breath before the action comes flying back. With the knowledge that the bounty is gone and their actions are now technically illegal, each character reacts in a way that feels true to their character: Siris is angry, Felix is rational but pissed, and Locus is financially irritated. Felix’s speech and conversion of Siris and Locus to the concept of a ransom call is, in my opinion, one of the best-written scenes in the entirety of RvB. There is completely believable back-and-forth between Siris and Felix, sound arguments from both characters, and a somewhat sickening realization that, as an audience member, you start to agree with Felix of all people. Which sucks, considering what we know he becomes. Felix is able to genuinely pull on Siris’ belief in Locus and himself to pragmatically and honestly create a plan that could solve each character’s dilemmas and let retain them a semblance of moral high ground.
While the audience listens to the phone conversation between Lozano and Felix, we assume a clear end in sight: they make a deal, they get ambushed, they get away, and everyone goes home happy. But the four words Lozano to Felix that makes him look like he’s been slapped in the face makes it clear that this isn’t a normal rodeo. As the tide does not so much turn as it does pivot in a tsunami, we see our three Mercs become different men altogether – they become soldiers. Panicked, identified, and potentially surrounded, but still men who know how to handle a war zone. Until now we have seen them as club-goers, as partners, and as planners: this moment gives us a glimpse of them as tactically organized and synchronized. The in-fighting resumes between Siris and Felix, escalating until it’s brought to a sudden (and loud) halt by the bullet fired from Locus’ gun through Lozano Jr.’s skull. This moment causes both the audience and our characters to remind themselves that, while logical, Locus remains as cold and deadly as anyone in the room. That reminder could not have been given any better. As the episode ends we are left with two pieces of knowledge: it must be true that Locus and Felix survive this event and become the men we know today (still leaving the somber potential for Siris’ demise) but while we might have the benefit of precognition, we have no way of knowing just how scarred, hurt, and changed these men are will be when they come out on the other side.
“Consequences”. It was the title that defined the theme of the episode and arc as a whole and left us absolutely terrified, as we sat not truly knowing just how devastating those consequences might be. The first minute or so gives a sobering tally of the situation at hand, a situation one could sum up in a single word: fucked. Once again, a beautifully written and executed moment of tension between Siris and Felix gives the audience a pounding heart: these men, wherever they may end up in the future, have reasons for fighting. The idea of a family -a wife and children- is a gun pressed against the heart of the audience, a reminder that even Mercs can have souls and lives. Once again, the calm nature of Locus prevails and the natures of the men we have come to know, love, then love-to-hate begins to show more prominently.
As the action sequence we been waiting for (for two episodes and over five and a half minutes!) begins, a feeling not usually associated with the characters of Locus and Felix sets in: encouragement. Suddenly, in a wonderfully horrid moment, the audience wants these characters to succeed. We want them to win, to turn the enemy into red mist, to succeed. And that is truly incredible storytelling, and a story that couldn’t have been told by anyone else. Surprisingly tender interactions; epic strategy; and fantastic explosions come together to form an action scene that tops any other put out by Rooster Teeth Animation. The audience is given an extra moment of suspense when Lozano decided to bring a bat to a gun fight, giving everyone a heart attack as we assume we are seeing the last of a father, a fighter, and a leader. Breathing a sigh of relief as Lozano becomes full of more holes than Swiss cheese, Siris puts into words a fact that has, in many ways, has been a driving factor from the very start:
“You shouldn’t have brought family into it.”
Family. Friends. Partners. From the days of Blood Gulch, it has been about families protecting one another. From The Director, to Church, and Texas; Epsilon and Carolina; the Reds and those dirty Blues. Every fight, every conflict, has been truly kick started by the endangerment of people who (in some pretty funny and/or weird ways) were considered family. And in this world, in this big crazy universe, you do not go after family. From Blood Gulch to Chorus, these beloved characters have shown us that there is nothing that can save you from people protecting what they care about. As foils, Felix and Locus have served to express a lack of that priority. On Chorus they served themselves, moral compasses be damned with money (and for Felix, sadistic satisfaction) the goal. In the best of reversals, the Merc arc has given us the knowledge that there was in fact a time where Felix and Locus weren’t just associates – they were partners. Even two men as abhorred and cursed as the Locus and Felix of Chorus were not born as we knew them: they were made. And this was a tiny moment where we got to see their lives before they were made, and show us a part of their souls.
So much hard work, blood sweat and tears (and if this tweet from Cesar is to believed, other things too https://twitter.com/KaiserGeiser/status/7547302492...) are clear in this trilogy and in this season as a whole. There are far too many of you to thank individually. From writing to concept art and storyboards, from the entire animation pipeline from layout to compositing, the insanely talented MoCap team and of course the music, there is no facet of this project that did not shine brighter than a polished bullet. As an audience, you have provided us with faces to names, layers of personality, and another wonderful display of the sentiment that binds the entire Rooster Teeth community: we are a family, and we will always protect one another. Thank you for so many years of passion and creativity, for all your work and your moments of struggle and celebration. When I joined this family, there was a question I used to ask myself and contemplate often:
“Do you ever wonder why we’re here?”
I don’t ask it anymore. I know the answer. It’s embodied in each and every member of this community and of the company that inspires it, and I don’t need to ask because I will always know why.