Continuing my look at the loyalty missions of Mass Effect 2, this week I write about Zaeed, Jacob, Samara, and Grunt. Next week I’ll finish the remaining squad members and offer some concluding thoughts.
Zaeed’s loyalty mission is given to us the moment that we pick him up. He’s been tasked with liberating a refinery from the Blue Suns mercenary group. Zaeed seems like a typical merc when we first meet him, a man with no concerns other than his missions. But when we actually land at the refinery, the mission quickly becomes far more personal. We learn that Zaeed is actually a co-founder of the Blue Suns but was betrayed by his partner Vido Santiago. Naturally Zaeed wants revenge, but the narrow scope of his revenge and the exact motivations behind it betray subtle details about his character.
Zaeed doesn’t want to take control of the Blue Suns, so he doesn’t want power. He doesn’t care whether or not people know of his role in the group’s founding, so he doesn’t care about his legacy. His revenge isn’t about money, honor, or even really anger, but instead, it is about closure.
Zaeed, as a mercenary, lives a life that thrives on conflict. His room on the Normandy is full of war trophies, and when we talk to him, he only tells stories of surviving impossible odds. These things are important to him because they’re proof of his strength. He measures his worth by his resume, by how many conflicts he’s been able to see to the end. His revenge against Santiago is the one conflict in his life left unresolved and he feels an incomplete mission is a personal failure. He talks of the mission beforehand like it’s just another job; he’d never admit just how personal it really is. He can’t accept death, he can’t focus on Shepard’s mission before seeing this revenge through to its end.
Jacob’s father served on the Hugo Gernsback, a ship that went missing a decade ago, but Jacob recently received an update that the ship has sent out a distress beacon. When we find the beacon, we also find the wreckage of the Hugo Gernsback and the survivors. We learn that they survived all this time by eating poison fruit that inhibits higher level cognitive functions while Jacob’s father horded the normal supplies, eventually making himself monarch of this ragtag colony. When some people began to rebel, he finally activated the distress beacon.
What’s interesting about this loyalty mission is that it’s not actually about Jacob, but his father, and despite this familial connection, the two men are essentially strangers. Unlike Miranda and Tali, Jacob isn’t attached to his family. When clues of wrongdoing begin to appear, Jacob is quick to blame his father. He won’t stand for such crimes against humanity even if the perpetrator is a family member.
Jacob is a soldier through and through. He wants to make the galaxy a safer place, but as an Alliance soldier, he was unable to break through the bureaucracy to make any real difference. From the very beginning, Jacob respects Shepard because he sees this suicide mission as a chance to finally do some good in the galaxy. Because of this instant admiration, you can’t fail his loyalty mission. Whether you kill his father or let him get arrested, you gain Jacob’s loyalty because it was really always yours to begin with. His loyalty is never at stake but rather his attention. Getting rid of this distraction, giving Jacob closure with his father allows him to focus solely on the mission once again. A focus that manifests as increased loyalty.
Our first encounter with Samara shows us how important the code of the justicar is to her. She’s looking for the name of a mercenary ship but the local police detain her because they fear she’ll cause a “cross-species incident.” Her code mandates that she oblige the police for one day, but after that, she must get back to her investigation. If the police try to stop her, there will be a fight. Her code seems to rule her every action.
In the conversations leading to her loyalty mission, we learn why the code is so important. She’s the mother of three daughters, all of whom are ardat-yakshi, asari with a rare genetic disorder that causes them to kill whoever they mate with. Two of them live in seclusion, but the third, Morinth, travels the galaxy, mating with as many people as possible. Samara became a justicar as soon as she realized what Morinth was doing. The decision wasn’t driven by a sudden powerful respect for the law but rather guilt for releasing Morinth on the galaxy. Samara wants to atone, so she’s committed to doing good but also wants to use her increased authority as a justicar to aid her search for Morinth. Her role as justicar is both a means to an end and a final solution.
This contradiction puts her in a tough situation: She can’t turn Shepard away because of her code (if innocent people are dying she must help) but going on the suicide mission ensures that Morinth will never be caught. So Samara’s loyalty mission is optional even though it represents her life’s work. Until Morinth is dealt with, Samara won’t be her best. Only when she’s killed her daughter can she face the prospect of death with no regrets.
When Grunt first asks for help, he’s visibly frustrated. He paces back and forth across his room, filled with anger. Not just recreational anger, the kind that makes violence fun, but an uncontrollable rage. It’s that lack of control that has him confused. “Fury is my choice, not a sickness,” he says. He doesn’t know what to do with these emotions and wants to go to Tuchunka, the Krogan home world, to find answers.
Turns out he’s going through the Krogan equivalent of puberty, which offers us a unique look at the species. We see why they’re so violent. They’re born with rage, it’s their default emotion. Their desire to fight is something innate, not social, so even the “tank born” Grunt feels it. In fact, since he’s supposed to be the pure Krogan, he feels this rage all the more.
Grunt isn’t looking for a home or acceptance or even a sense of community, he’s looking for a reason to fight. He has all this rage building inside of him, and he needs an outlet. Most Krogan find this outlet in their clans, which give them something to fight for and fight over, so to earn Grunt’s loyalty, we have to help him fight his way into the Urdnot clan. In doing so, Grunt learns what it means to be Krogan: For them a reason to fight is a reason to live, they find meaning and worth in battle. The bigger the fight the better, so a suicide mission is something any Krogan would jump at. Grunt becomes loyal to Shepard not because of Shepard’s skill as a leader (though that skill does command Grunt’s respect) but because Shepard’s battles are so epic that to fight them is to live the fullest life that a Krogan could live. Grunt gives his loyalty to Shepard because it’s what any sensible Krogan would do.