Not Falling Off Ledges, Power and Wisdom (eclective) wrote,
Not Falling Off Ledges, Power and Wisdom

On traitors, and why sometimes I love them.

So I think this is a realisation that may have hit me before, and I may even have put into words before now, but regardless, in the moment it felt really quite revelatory. (Apparently Neil Gaiman has this happen all the time. Suddenly hits on the idea for THE BEST ENDING EVAR... then looks through his old notes and finds he'd thought it was THE BEST ENDING EVAR in his rough drafts several months ago, too. At least I'm in prestigious company.)

Anyway, talking to bossgoji just now, I think I've hit on a personal weakness I have when it comes to fictional characters. I was beginning to suspect this after Sialeeds, but I wondered if it wasn't just my long-standing attachment to Celes that was making me fond of the archetype, not really anything about the idea behind it so much as "oh, this reminds me of her"-squee; amongst other things, I am the kind of person who will get ridiculously squeeful over words and concepts that I associate with characters I'm fond of, no matter how generic. (For example, for a long time after playing FF6, words like "general" [in the military sense] and "ice" would make me turn my head, and I'd pay just that little bit more attention to anything that featured, say, discussions of military ranks, even if it was in a context that would have otherwise bored me to death, just because it reminded me a little bit of her.) But I've actually realised that there's something that really gets me about this specific character archetype, or at least the way it's treated in both FF6 and Suikoden V.

Traitors can be divided into two categories (actually, they can be divided a few ways, but this is one of them): those who betray something they never had attachment to (i.e. people who go into a cause fully intending to betray it, or who don't care either way as long as they get what they want out of it), and those who betray something they really had emotional investment in, something they had once been really committed to. The former doesn't take any moral scruples to enact (and in fact is frequently associated with the lack of them, though it doesn't always have to be the case), but the latter, in my opinion, often takes a very strong devotion to one's own moral code. Someone who betrays a country or group they love, because they feel that country or group is doing something they cannot support, is someone who has chosen their principles over their love for their country and people - and that's a difficult thing to do. Betraying your country or group often means abandoning all the relationships you've forged up until now, all the ideals you had for yourself when you were young and naïve, all your happy fantasies about how you were doing right by supporting your country. It means facing up to the fact that you made a poor choice, that your life path up until now has been in aid of something you no loger agree with. Admitting you were wrong is always a hard decision, and it's one that becomes even harder when it's compounded with the inevitable loss of friends, colleagues/fellows-in-arms, and the security of your former life. You're throwing everything you knew away for what you believe in. That takes a strong will, and a strong devotion to one's ideals.

Moreover, personally and emotionally, it's not as simple as discarding your old bonds and forging new ones on the other side. One of the things that FF6's story emphasizes is that nobody trusts a traitor, not without a long period of proving, even if you're the side they betrayed their former cause to help. Celes is viewed with mistrust and unease by many of the Returners, and they turn on her at the slightest indication that that suspicion may be justified. The problem seems to be that it's easy to mistake the kind of traitor who betrays because of their principles with the kind who's just unscrupulous and unreliable; you broke your contract, therefore you are the Contract-Breaking Type, and not to be trusted.

But this ignores the important fact that while one should certainly be cautious in the first instance about what contracts they make, it's easy to get caught up in contracts, especially when you're young and idealistic, that you realise you don't agree with once you actually get to see the situation from the inside. And here's the thing: I have so much more respect for someone who has the courage to admit they're wrong and break off a contract they've discovered they disagree with than for someone who clings to a system they disagree with because they're afraid of striking out on their own. Not that I can't understand and sympathise with the latter character type, too; like I said, it takes a lot of guts to turn your back on everything you've been raised into and everything you've poured your hopes and dreams into, and I'd have understanding for someone who just couldn't do it. But I have respect for people who are brave enough to admit their wrongs. I have respect for people who don't stay with an idea just because it's what they've always done. I have respect for people who value what they feel is right above the fear of change and loss. And I think that allied to a cause they believe in, someone like that, someone who's thoughtful enough to examine their principles and mature enough to admit their mistakes, is a superior ally to someone who's just with the cause because it's what they've always done.

So basically, here's where the trope gets me: traitors are often good people, doing what they think is right despite immense personal cost, but they often lose everything in the process. They lose their old friends, and their new ones may never trust them fully. (Or, if they've sort-of betrayed their cause but only because they felt this way would better aid the cause, they just lose their old friends. See also Lucia from Lunar: EB, who I think became a favourite for just this reason; she wasn't quite a traitor, but she wasn't afraid to stand her ground over what she thought was right even when it was the less popular option, and she was hated on by all the other characters because of it. I think it really is the archetype of the character who stands up for what they believe in and is shunned because of it that gets to me; her story did move me so much that I wrote an entire alternate ending for it.) It pulls on my heartstrings because it's tragic for all concerned: the person loses the support of their loved ones, and the people who they were trying to help lose their faith in them, despite the fact that the person is often trying to do the very best they can and would have been a more dishonest individual if they'd kept on doing something they didn't believe in.

Suikoden V's plot doesn't play out quite the same, in that Sialeeds' betrayal is more complicated; she's a traitor in both respects and in both directions, sort of, in that she betrays the Prince by going against his wishes but is ultimately on his side, and she betrays the Godwins who she has no intention of ever siding with in the first place. (Though I think Gizel knows deep down he can't trust her; he's definitely worked it out by the end, anyway. I don't think he cares; he loves her, and he probably thinks having someone he can't entirely trust around makes things that much more interesting. I mean, come on, this is the guy who employed Childerich as a Queen's Knight. He's not exactly primarily concerned with the reliability of his comrades. That's not to say her intentions weren't to betray, though, and thus not to absolve her of any guilt on that front.) She does definitely play the "I'm going to join your side even though I don't support it one jot, just to undo you from the inside" game, which does place her somewhat in the camp of unscrupulous, but ultimately she's doing it because of something she deeply cares for - something she was willing to sacrifice all her ties to, something she was willing to betray, in order to keep it alive.

And ultimately, with her, for me it kind of comes down to the same thing that gets me about Lucia; she's doing it for a cause she believes in, she's doing it for the people she cares about, but the people she cares about think she's cruel for it, feel... well, betrayed, and they're disappointed in her, angry at her. It doesn't mean I think she was right (I think Lucia was right: the world versus one person is a no-brainer. I could see Sialeeds' methodology, and I think she did it out of love towards her family and country, but I wouldn't agree with her methodology), but just because I don't agree with her doesn't mean I can't feel sympathy for her, and I feel torn up that she died not knowing whether her family hated her or not.

She's also complicated because, in the beginning, I honestly felt betrayed by her. On both a game level and a meta-level; I felt the impact of her betrayal in story terms (and I was not expecting it, and was gutted when it happened), and I also felt it as someone who loved her character and didn't want her to turn out to be unscrupulous and cruel. (I also thought, quite frankly, that her characterisation during her I Am On The Godwins' Side No Rly Srsly moments was over-the-top, which made me feel like one of my favourite characters was being ruined, though once I understood that she was really not on their side I kind of put that down to the idea that she fails at acting, and is probably going oh god I'm sorry Lym I so do not want to hurt you please understand inside the whole time. Although the Barows thing was... yeah, that was all her, pretty much. No acting there, just her worst side. Sialeeds, I like you, I just don't like what you do sometimes, as my mother used to say.*) So I had to get over my own feelings about that. I went through my own little period of betrayal angst, and had to get to a point where I was reconciled with the idea that what she did was, while not in and of itself good, done with good intentions. I'm not sure exactly how that's affected my feelings about her, though I think it might have made me slightly more attached in the "you hurt me and I have to put energy in to restore that bond" way. I'll have to think about that more.

But yeah, in any case... traitors. They are interesting, often. (And sometimes they just make me go AAAAAAAAAAARGH NO ;_____;, but I won't say any more so's to avoid having to put yet another spoiler warning in the cut tag.)

*Except not exactly like that, because that would have involved her calling me by the name of a fictional character who hadn't been thought up yet, and that would have just been weird.
Tags: deep thoughts, ff6, lunar, ramble, suikoden, videogames
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