Confession time: when I was younger, I wrote some Mass Effect fanfiction where Thane Krios was a private detective working out of Omega, which despite being an entirely encased space station, frequently endured noirish downpours from dusty, neon speckled skies. I was, as you might imagine, an extremely normal child. As much as I love Thane, subsequent replays were always tinged with a bit of embarrassment. “Can you remember when you wrote that shit fanfiction about Thane? Bit shit wasn’t it.”
It didn’t stop me from talking to Thane, earning his loyalty, and connecting with him as a character, but there was something of a wall up between us. Like that girl who once threw up on you in primary school – you’re never going to be best mates, the history between you is just too cringe. Having recently met Thane again in Mass Effect Legendary Edition, I’ve quickly gotten over my embarrassment – because I’ve decided I was right all along.
Thane’s story is gloriously pulpy. He’s an assassin living on borrowed time due to a terminal disease, he’s an outsider everywhere he goes, he abhors unnecessary violence but wields it ferociously upon the deserving, and all he really wants to do is reconcile with his son. BioWare was practically begging for somebody to turn Thane into a noir antihero.
For the record, I no longer have the fanfiction, nor can I remember its name or where it was hosted, so sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t share it here. I likely went something like this: Thane sat at the bar, sipping on his sad drink with sadness in his eyes. He was feeling… upset. He had a case to solve. But the one case he could never solve was how to cure his disease. Also the case of how to make his son love him again. And the case of that intoxicatingly beautiful Jane Shepard. Alright, there were a few cases he could never solve. Maybe he wasn’t that good of a detective.
Presumably BioWare never saw it, otherwise I have no doubt I would have been hired on the spot. Thane is such an atypical character, both in the video game space and even within the Mass Effect universe, that I have always found him fascinating. When I was younger, I channeled that fascination into completely shit hardboiled detective fiction, having just discovered Raymond Chandler. These days, I get to channel it into hopefully-less-shit features on how his character clashes perfectly with the rest of the Mass Effect squad, and on how his tragedy is a core part of what makes him so enduring.
A few months ago, we spoke to several developers from BioWare as part of our Mass Effect week, which included discussions on Thane’s narrative arc. They told us that they considered curing Thane, but the codex entry for his disease underlined how terminal his condition was so deeply that for him to overcome it would take a miracle. In the end, Thane actually dies taking a bullet for you, although his terminal illness does play a part in his inability to recover from the wound and in his willingness to put himself on the line.
As much as I love Thane and part of me wishes he could have been alive to see the end of the war, there’s a Chandler-esque irony to the whole thing. He reconciles with his son, and he’s ready to make the most of his final days – then he dies not from the terminal disease that shapes his narrative and is the first thing we learn of him, but from injuries sustained in battle. Chekhov’s Gun was just a distraction, but it doesn’t feel cheap, because death still comes.
He also comes with the most layered recruitment mission, which suits his position as a deep, unknowable well. The recruitment missions often get overlooked in favour of the loyalty missions, but each of them offer an incredible experience. Grunt has the best intro of any character, anywhere, while everyone else tells you exactly who they are in their recruitment mission. Since the loyalty missions build on these foundations, they get the headlines, but picking the characters up is an underrated piece of Mass Effect 2’s worldbuilding – nowhere is that more apparent than Thane’s introduction.
Thane is an assassin, and the only way to talk to him is to catch him on the job. Of course, he’s going after part of the criminal underbelly, so we’re not too interested in stopping him – we just want a chat before he leaves. That means slowly making our way up the building in pursuit of Thane, constantly hearing him take down guards in a muffled silence, or crawl through vents, while we go in and make a bang. We see him be deadly, but also kind – he locks away innocent civilians to avoid them getting caught in the crossfire. When he reaches his target, he’s merciless, executing her instantly, without waiting for a reprieve. Then, once the job is done, his mercy returns, and he prays over her soul.
Thane is a complex being, laced in intrigue and tragedy. He’s Mass Effect’s black sheep, and one of its most fascinating creations. He deserved every word of that fanfiction I wrote.
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