The Legend of Vox Machina
Week 4 (The Killbox / Belly of the Beast / The Hope Devourer)
Photo: Vulture; Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video
The first Critical Role campaign that The Legend of Vox Machina is based on is 115 episodes long and has a total run time of almost 450 hours. Granted, part of that is intros and ad reads, and a hefty chunk of the run time can be chalked up to how much longer it takes to play out combat in Dungeons & Dragons (a lot of time-consuming adding and rolling of dice) compared with TLOVM’s slick animated fight sequences. Still, that’s a lot of D&D content, and the TV series naturally trims and compresses it to fit what would have been dozens and dozens of hours’ worth of stories into a tight 12-episode season. Sometimes it works — the trips to Vasselheim and the Fey Realm took a lot longer in Critical Role but felt complete in the show — but other times, as in the final three episodes of season two, you can sense how rushed the plot developments are. The TV show didn’t need to devote hundreds of hours to Vax’s acceptance of the Matron of Ravens, but a little more would’ve gone a long way. So Legend of Vox Machina ends its sophomore season on a somewhat unsatisfactory note despite some remarkable highlights and a trip into a dragon’s rectum.
If at the end of episode nine, you thought Grog had a plan when his puny self challenged Kevdak for leadership of the Herd of Storms … you were mistaken. Grog didn’t have a weapon but gamely stepped up to face his uncle in unarmed combat to the death. It does not go well. This whole season, TLOVM has been really good at depicting one-sided battles (the Chroma Conclave’s first assault, Earthbreaker Groon beating Grog, Umbrasyl’s surprise attack on Kamaljiori’s lair), and the start of Kevdak’s utter thrashing of Grog is no different. Things go from bad to worse when some of the half-giants discover Scanlan, Pike, and Kaylee, and Grog finds himself impaled on a wooden-spiked barricade (maybe the most gruesome injury in the show so far?) while Kevdak threatens to crush Pike in front of him.
Now, did we need to have Grog explicitly say, “My strength comes from my friends,” when he sees a vision of Earthbreaker Groon and finally realizes the answer to that very obvious question? I’ll give this one a pass because, again, Grog is kind of simple. He’s also buff as hell once more as he taps into that berserker barbarian rage and gets all his muscle back, evening the odds in his duel with Kevdak … until his uncle activates the Titanstone Knuckles and grows even huger. Grog has been bested, but luckily he has more friends than just the hostages Pike and Scanlan. Vex, Vax, Percy, and Keyleth — having been informed of their party members’ location upon their return to Whitestone from the Fey Realm — silently gather on the rooftops to prepare an ambush just in time. It’s maybe the coolest the group has ever looked.
Unfortunately, the subsequent fight scene is scored to some truly incorrigible butt rock, which is a shame because the fight is a good showcase for how powerful Vox Machina has gotten. Aided by his friends’ timely arrival, Grog manages to cripple one of Kevdak’s arms, but the half-giant simply tears the ruined limb off in a bit of badassery that boosts the Herd’s morale. It’s no match for some Fun With Physics, as Vex releases Trinket and instead sucks Grog into her Pokéball amulet so she can release him way up in the air. Grog comes crashing down on Kevdak with an axe that has reached terminal velocity. It’s absurd but not not cool. Kevdak, having been thoroughly bisected, is no longer in a leadership position, so Grog — the new bearer of the Titanstone Knuckles — bequeaths leadership of the Herd to his cousin Zanmour. With the Herd’s help, they’re gonna fight a dragon but not before they party.
It’s a pretty fun party, especially considering Vox Machina just killed, like, dozens of their fellow revelers just an hour or so before. Heck, their bodies are still just lying in the streets, as Vax discovers when he declines Keyleth’s invitation to dance (how dare he!?) and follows the Matron of Ravens’ tug. Ever since he got the Deathwalker’s Ward and became the matron’s new champion, Vax has understandably been in a bad, confusing place. Vax decides to confront the Matron of Ravens, explaining as much to Vex and Keyleth when they follow him in not especially stealthy ways. They agree to let Vax go into a decrepit-looking temple to the Matron of Ravens despite their misgivings, and Vex gives Keyleth a nice pep talk, reassuring her that he “still cares for her.”
Upon submerging himself in a pool of blood (gross), Vax finds himself face-to-mask with the Matron of Ravens, who explains that she has been watching him since before Vex’s death. He is fate-touched, she says, and she tasks him with protecting the sanctity between life and death, a role he accepts. When he exits the temple — which was actually ruins without any blood pool or other followers of the matron to be seen (oooh spooky!) — Vax is in a great mood. His meeting with the matron looks cool and serves an important plot purpose, but Vax’s whole attitude turns around so quickly that it somewhat undercuts the divine. I’d rather have an upbeat Vax because there can be only so much moping before it gets old. So while I’m glad Vax found peace with his new role as an agent of fate for the goddess of death, the speed at which he comes to that conclusion is still jarring. Maybe if he had exited the blood pool with a quiet resolve or simply a new understanding that set him on the path to true contentment it would have been better. For him to go from brooding to hunky-dory in the span of about five minutes was rushed.
Scanlan, meanwhile, has his own journey, one that begins with learning he’s a father and ends with slaying a dragon. Well, specifically, it begins with his unwittingly trying to fuck his daughter. Kaylee — a gnome who looks kind of like Scanlan and sure knows a lot about him — is indeed his daughter, as she reveals after luring her dad to a room upstairs and tying him up for what he thinks will be some hot bondage action. It’s an uncomfortable and funny scene, especially during episode 11’s opening when Scanlan has an earnest, heartfelt recollection of the one woman he loved … only for Kaylee to angrily inform him that that’s not her mom. She’s ready to kill Scanlan for the hurt he put her mother through, pinning him to the bed with a magic dagger that stays stuck in the air at will. She decides not to, as that would be helping him “run away again.” Instead, she leaves him with the burden of knowing what a bad person and worse father he was. Well, that and that magic dagger, which comes in handy when Vox Machina and the dragons finally fight Umbrasyl.
Although the half-giants were skeptical, Percy’s dragon-catching trap works … for a few seconds. Umbrasyl is able to burst through the confinement and use magic to turn invisible, spewing acid that instantly melts the poor members of the Herd he hits with it. Umbrasyl’s acid is gruesome, and it helps make the dragon feel dangerous in a way that D&D can sometimes struggle with. In D&D, an ancient black dragon’s acid breath does 15d8 worth of damage to a player if it hits them — certainly not ideal, but a high-level character probably is strong enough to take it. In the show, it’s rightfully presented as basically a one-hit kill, which makes Vox Machina’s desperate fight seem all the tenser. Grog’s new Vestige of Divergence helps, but even when he’s hulked out, he’s no match for Umbrasyl. Scanlan, however, has an idea: The dragon’s hide is too tough to pierce … but what about his insides?
In Critical Role, Scanlan and Vax used magic to teleport into Umbrasyl’s belly. In The Legend of Vox Machina, however, they put the suppository-inserting skills Scanlan showed off last week to great use and magic-hand themselves up the dragon’s asshole. You know what? Sure. It’s fine.
Placing Kaylee’s magic dagger inside Umbrasyl temporarily grounds him, but he lets the blade pierce right through his guts to fly away, with Vax and Scanlan still inside (and Grog hitching a ride on his back). The colonoscopy crew manages to escape through the gash, and they’re saved from falling to death by Vax’s vestige, which sprouts wings when he calls upon the Matron of Ravens. Grog’s Vestige saves him too when Umbrasyl shakes him off, though not as neatly. Growing giant stopped him from dying on impact, but his body is pretty shattered nonetheless and Pike spends most of her magic healing him. The gang is in bad shape, and Scanlan once more wants to cut and run, but Vax, apparently fully matron-pilled, is all about fate now. They resolve to try to beat the dragon in his lair with Vax scouting ahead while the rest of the group waits outside. This plan goes poorly, as Umbrasyl catches Vax, and even when the rest of Vox Machina charges in as backup, the dragon has the upper hand.
While temporarily safe in a subchamber of Umbrasyl’s cavernous lair, Scanlan and Vax rehash their earlier argument. Vax’s insistence that this was all fated to happen comes dangerously close to undermining the stakes of the whole show. It’s a too-convenient excuse for why things like the run-in with the twins’ dad happen, and something about the way the recently reformed Vax leans on fate makes the parts of the series that have seemed a little fast-forwarded feel even more cursory and rushed. It’s not a deal-breaker — fate is a powerful narrative tool that should feel right at home in a fantasy story — but the season chalking everything up to it at the 11th hour rang false.
One thing that’s not fated, however? That The Legend of Vox Machina would have this fight end the same way Critical Role did. In the original, it’s Grog who gets the killing blow, while in TLOVM, Scanlan sneaks up and grabs Mythcarver, stabbing Umbrasyl in the eye with his recovered Vestige. It makes sense. Who gets the kill in D&D can come down to chance and the roll of a die, but the adaptation had the opportunity to make things more structured. Grog just had a big fight and victory over Kevdak, so allowing another member of Vox Machina to get the W is sharing the wealth. Was Scanlan worthy of the honor? Assuming he never, ever tries to run away from danger again — because parts of this arc felt like a retread of plots that seemingly had already been dealt with — yes. He was reunited with Mythcarver, he showed character growth after meeting his daughter, and he had another nice moment with Pike when she briefly thought he was dead. Good job saving the day, Vox Machina! Only three dragons to go!
Or is that two dragons to go? Because when toasting to destiny back at Whitestone, the green dragon, Raishan, reveals herself to have been impersonating Empress Salda. (It’s likely — though not explicitly confirmed — that she was also the green-eyed little girl that the camera lingers on for a beat too long back in the first episode when the party fled to Whiterun.) Raishan claims that she hates Thordak as much as they do and that they’ll need her help taking him down. Is she to be trusted? Probably not, she’s still an evil dragon, but she does seem to be telling the truth when she says Thordak wants all this gold for another purpose. We end the season with a cut to the ruins of Emon, where the white dragon, Vorugal, reports Umbrasyl’s death to Thordak. He’s unbothered, and the camera pans down to what looks to be hundreds of dragon eggs waiting to hatch.
This season had some tonal issues, and the pacing of these last three episodes left a little to be desired, but it leaves things in a fine place. And while season two began with an unexpected onslaught that left Vox Machina low and without a plan, season three looks primed to focus on a much more assured and powerful group of heroes as they take on the rest of the Chroma Conclave. If you can’t wait to see Vox Machina take on Thordak, you can always watch old episodes of Critical Role. You might be able to finish all those hours before Amazon makes and releases the next season.
• The Matron of Raven’s explanation about the threads of fate makes this show’s opening sequence much more literal than we might have initially thought. That’s the matron and the actual threads of fate bringing Vox Machina together.
• Not to be all Cinema Sins, but it bugged me a little that Scanlan and Vax were just standing upright inside Umbrasy’s guts even though the dragon was doing barrel rolls and loop-de-loops. I’ll accept a lot in fantasy, but I won’t accept that dragons have gyro-stabilized colons!
• Ripley is still on the run, and it seems Percy didn’t know she was involved with Umbrasyl’s plan.
• Magic-item watch: Scanlan recovered a magic key from Umbrasyl’s hoard, though viewers will presumably have to wait for next season to see what it does.
• Getting some 1998 Godzilla vibes from the ending shot of all the dragon eggs. Where’s Matthew Broderick when you need him?