Tamriel Infinium: The problem with Elder Scrolls Online’s Morrowind plot is the twist
Now that we have all had a couple of months to get through the Morrowind content, I believe that it’s safe to talk about some of the spoilers, especially since the thing that bothered me the most about Morrowind was the main story twist.
This is your warning: Beyond this point, I will probably spoil everything for you. Turn back now and finish the main story for Morrowind or risk being spoiled!
Yet another Daedric Prince
Before I get into the details of why the twist in Morrowind bothered me, there are a couple of characters that I need to introduce you to. As is often the case, one character is a Daedric Prince, and the other is his companion.
Most often, Clavicus Vile is portraited as a child-like imp. Sometimes he carries a horned mask; other times the mask is part of his face. Regardless, more often than not his hound sits at his at his side. The hound’s name is Barbas. If Sheogorath is the Prince of Madness, then Clavicus Vile is the Prince of a Couple of Screws Loose. If Molag Bal is the Prince of Domination, Clavicus Vile is the Prince of Being Bossy. I feel that Clavicus Vile is a Daedric Prince only because he stands next to some of the other Daedric Princes.
Of course, that’s not how it works.
Clavicus Vile is more like the terrible genie from the lamp. Sure, he grants wishes, but those wishes are never exactly what you’re looking for. There is always a catch to every wish that you make with him. And Barbas is a very loyal dog. In fact, given what I’ve seen of the character, I would think that Barbas actually was a dog at one point that Clavicus Vile granted the ability to shape-shift. When Barbas made an appearance in ESO Morrowind, it didn’t click with me who it was until I saw him as a dog, despite his name being mentioned multiple times before then.
A great twist is one that you can actually see coming if you are paying attention, but it blindsides you anyway. At one time, M. Night Shyamalan was the master at this with Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Most of the time, you don’t see the twist coming, but it makes complete sense when you view the movie again. And the twist in Morrowind is kind of the opposite of that. You see it coming not because there are clues dropped but because you can feel that the story isn’t finished when it appears to be coming to a resolution. And because of the classic good-guy-is-a-bad-guy trope, you know that it’s Archcanon Tarvus who is the bad guy. But for some weird reason, Archcanon Tarvus is actually Barbas… yes, Clavicus Vile’s shape-shifting dog.
The final act of the main story has you chasing down Barbas. And it’s fun! I really enjoyed the chase. I also really enjoyed the story up to that point; it was a wonderful trip down lore and nostalgia for Vvardenfell. The characters were wonderful and all of them had a unique and understandable perspective on what was happening. And the world falling apart as Vivec continued to get sick was wonderful. It was just that single instance that was supposed to be this giant reveal that fell apart for me.
Why didn’t it work?
The number one reason that Barbas didn’t work as the twist was that there was no setup. The twist itself must be a payoff to a setup, or it’s confusing or has no emotional weight to the story.
Storytelling, according to Anton Chekov, should be told efficiently; one of his tropes was Chekov’s Gun. Chekov was quoted as saying, “If in Act One you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.” In classic storytelling — whether film or video games — this scenario will follow a three-fold series of events. You will see the pistol in the first act, then somewhere closer to the last act you will be reminded of the pistol, then in the last act, the pistol will be fired. Sometimes, there can be multiple reminders.
In the Sixth Sense, we see that Bruce Willis’ character was shot, then we are reminded of it when he talks about his past patients, and then there was the ultimate payoff when the ring rolls across the floor. We also heard the symptoms of Haley Joel Osment’s character seeing dead people. We hear it when he talks about it getting cold and then another time when he does the famous I-see-dead-people scene. This was also paid off with the ring rolling over the floor.
In the Morrowind story, the first time we hear about Barbas or Clavicus Vile is when the twist is revealed. I don’t know if we were supposed to go, “Oh my goodness! Tarvus is really a Daedra!” or if we were supposed to have a relationship with Barbas in another Elder Scrolls game, but ultimately, it didn’t work because there was a payoff without a setup. Folding Ideas explains it much better using Suicide Squad, of all movies, to explain the meaning.
Personally, I think the twist would have worked better if perhaps someone spoke about Clavicus Vile negatively and Tarvus attempted to downplay it or if there were at least two other connections to the Daedric Prince that were more than obvious. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t and the twist wasn’t really a twist at all.