The Bard’s Departure; A Psychologist’s Reaction to Episode 85 of Critical Role
“I don’t have anything that cares about me.”
“That’s a lie!”
“You think you care about me?…You don’t really know me…”
“How many times have we asked you if you’re alright and you just laugh and joke? We can’t help you if you don’t tell us what’s going on!”
“Nobody knew that any of this was going on!”
“Come on let’s be honest, you don’t really give a shit about me…”
Strong words for a strong reaction the the departure of one Scanlan Shorthalt on Geek and Sundery’s Twitch show Critical Role. Scanlan, played by Sam Riegel, was the party’s happy go lucky bard, always quick with a joke and was often seen as the glue that was holding the party of dysfunctional misfits together. In the story Scanlan has been on a self-destructive downward spiral for some time and everything he was going through came to a head after he woke from falling in battle.
Those not familiar with Critical Role it is a weekly live game of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) shown on Twitch.tv, and later uploaded onto YouTube. Twitch.tv is a live streaming webpage where people play different games, or do creative projects. Typically Critical Role will have a viewership of 30,000 live viewers. All the players on Critical Role are voice actors and the show has been aired weekly for over two years. In the two years the show has been running they have produced almost 360 hours of content (for comparison the Simpsons has created 202 hours of content). Recently Critical Role was written about by CBS news. The show is dynamic with an active online community that call themselves Critters.
Scanlan is a Robin Williams like character, ensuring those around him were smiling and having a good time, even if he was not. Scanlan’s character had some rather life changing revelations, to include learning he had a daughter. Following that information he started becoming more reserved and withdrawn. His friends did not notice, even when his behaviors escalated into self-destructive actions.
When he finally revealed to his friends how angry, hurt and upset he was their reaction mirrored what we often see in real life. His friends did not understand at all. Rather than being supportive of him they were angry, accusing and defensive. To see the emotional exchange for yourself start watching at 2:01:00 at (the exchange last about 10 minuets in total).
The reaction from the fan base was no less emotionally wrought. One of the most poignant responses came from Gary Wilson, Reddit user name SpikedGronktini. His heartfelt open letter to Sam Riegel demonstrated how this performance captured for him the isolation and pain of depression. Many in the community felt empowered by the show to share their own struggles with depression and the frustrations and fears they had about talking about it.
As Critical Role is a live unscripted show, none of the other actors knew what was going to happen. During the exchange in the show when Scanlan relieved his true feelings the audience and other performers learned that Scanlan’s happy go lucky exterior was hiding a dark depression. He showed anger, sadness and a self-loathing that he had hidden from his friends. As none of the other actors on the show knew what was going to happen the reactions their characters to Scanlan showing his darker side captured a very authentic process of learning something so shocking. Sam Riegel’s performance brilliantly showed how a happy exterior does not mean that someone is feeling the same inside.
The shock, anger and loss his friends experienced in that moment was very true to life. When we learn of our happy friends suffering we can often react in anger. We might have been asking if they were okay and they might have been lying. It’s difficult to be accused of not caring when you do. On our better days we get it, we understand, emotional pain does not abide by logic, hurting people lash out because they hurt.
The pain of depression itself is isolating. The depressed brain tells you no one cares, that people are not really your friends, and it does not matter how much your friends do care, sometimes through the fog of depression we cannot believe it. One of the gifts that Critical Role gives to it’s viewers is a forum to talk about difficult topics, such as depression. It is refreshing to see a show be willing to address some very real life emotional experiences even in the midsts of a fantasy roll playing experience such as D&D.
For now Scanlan Shorthault is gone from Critical Role. Sam Riegel is now playing a new character but I hold out hope that the story of this bard is not yet finished.