Bad Parenting in Mass Effect 2: Father of a Species

…as always, the below contains spoilers…

Previously, we’ve looked at actually fathers and how they dealt with their children in Mass Effect 2.  This time, I want to examine a man who would play father to an entire species.

Doctor Mordin Solus is one of the most interesting characters present in video games.  He carries undertones of Hannibal Lector or Dexter Morgan, and he is exactly the type of character not present often enough in video games.  He is complex, multi-dimensional, intriguing and thought-provoking.

He is a completely terrible individual who is easy to like on a personal level.

Mordin’s life is very compartmentalized.  He has served the salarian Special Task Group, his species most elite group of spies and operatives.  He is well-trained in combat and fire arms, and before Shepard meets him, two very conflicting ideas are presented.  Some claim the professor is a great healer, running a clinic for the desperate on Omega.  Others talk about him as a cold-blooded killer, murdering without concern or a second thought.  As the story progresses, it turns out both are true.

There are two major aspects in Mordin’s life: the STG agent and the doctor of medicine, and he keeps them compartmentalized in his mind.  When he is an agent, he is an agent, and when he is a doctor, he is a doctor.  At one point, he tells the commander:

“Have killed many, Shepard. Many methods. Gunfire, knives, drugs, tech attacks, once with farming equipment. But not with medicine.”

This is a very important distinction for him.  Interestingly, he does not consider drugs to be a part of medicine.  That aside, it is a strong look into his psychology.  Killing does not diminish his contributions to the field of medicine, or the results of his work as a doctor.

To further his complexity, he is one of the most independent characters on the squad.  When you speak to most members, they do not step far outside their assigned roles.  Joker will tell you about his disease, which limits him as a pilot, but only to the extent that it influenced him as a pilot.  Tali will talk about machines, but as she is specifically a mechanic, it doesn’t flesh her out further as a character, just keeps her within her role.  The only two characters, apart from Mordin, who display depth and thoughts on things outside their definitions for the roles they serve on your team, are Thane and Samara.  Samara speaks of the Justicar code, and Thane brings up his religion.  Samara’s code still defines her professionally, but it is more complex than some interests other characters display.  Thane’s religion depens his character, and does not define him as an assassin.  He could be one without this aspect, but Samara could not be a Justicar.  Interestingly, they are both fathers.  The other members of your crew don’t seem to have developed ideas and interests beyond whatever directly effects them in their roles as biotics, soldiers, mercanaries or technicians.

Mordin discusses art with you, and Shepard is surprised to learn that he has a strong interest in the field.  Previous to this, all discussions have been on the morality of the scientist’s work.  This revelation is not foreshadowed, and Mordin is able to provide specific examples of the art he likes.  In one of the most entertaining moments of the game, he even sings a modified version of Gilbert & Sullivan, describing the very model of a “scientist salarian.”

He is also one of the very few characters that Shepard has no option to romance.  The only other members of your team who cannot be pursued romantically are a synthetic life form which does not reproduce biologically or derive pleasure from sex.  With Mordin, he displays no interest in a romantic or sexual relationship with Shepard.  If none has developed, at a certain point in the game he will ask an unattached Shepard of either gender if the commander is attracted to him.  Whatever the answer, Mordin will inform Shepard that he is not interested, but if he was to try a human, it would be the commander.

This gives Mordin a depth beyond the others once more.  Shepard is not central to the salarian’s life.  The implication is that Mordin has sexual interests, but Shepard is not what he is looking for.  Shepard and the mission are not central to his life, just something he is doing, and he cares about art and looks for sexual fulfillment elsewhere.

Mordin’s Evil

Mordin is responsible for one of the darkest acts in the Mass Effect universe.  It begins before Mordin enters the scene, 2000 years earlier, when his species found the krogan home world.  The krogans were a tribal race, far from reaching interstellar travel on their own.  The salarains provided them with the technological boost they needed, to have the krogans work as soldiers in a war they were fighting.

After the Rachni War, the krograns spread through the galaxy.  The natural lifespan of a krogan is around a thousand years, but on their home world, harsh conditions and tribal warfare kept their numbers severally limited.  Now, in wider space, they experienced a population boom, as they lived longer and had more children.  The krogans began to attack the other space faring races.

In order to restore balance, the salarians developed the Genophage, a biological weapon which ensured only about one in a thousand krogan infants survived childbirth.  This brought the species back under control.

Within Mordin’s life, the krogan had begun to overcome the Genophage, and it looked like they were about to begin increasing in numbers.  Mordin worked with a team that rewrote the Genophage, effectively re-inflicting the krogan populace.

This is, effectively, a form of eugenics, the science in which practices designed to promote desirable traits are promoted.  This science, in the real world, is only applied to human beings, but if we expand to a fictional realm populated by multiple intelligent species, the same basic practices would apply.  While the positive language of the above definition indicates a benevolent idea, where the most intelligent or athletic, or those with other desirable traits are encouraged to have children, there is a much darker side in real world eugenics.

It is less likely to the more benign eugenics of men like Cyril Burt, who attempt to encourage those with traits they consider superior to have children.  Eugenics are most often linked to the National Socialist Workers Party, and NAZI eugenics more often involved sterilizing those who were of a undesireable genetic background.

This is exactly what Mordin has done.  He has bought into the idea that the krogans are an undesirable influence in the galaxy in vast numbers, and he has taken away their ability to effectively reproduce.

Remember the above quote, about how he has never killed with medicine?  This comes up as a defense when Shepard accuses him of killing krogans.  He sees increasing their infant mortality rate as something very separate from murder.  While this point is arguable, Mordin’s affirmation of that view says a lot about the necessity he feels this practice has.

For most of the decisions made by party members, Shepard can influence their views.  Mordin remains steadfast that the rewritten Genophage was the correct thing to do at the time.  He feels that the salarians are responsible for the krogans leaving their homeworld, and the pressures there that limited their populations.  He feels that it is only natural to have 1 in a 1000 krograns survive childbirth, and it is the job of salarians to ensure the return of this balance.

He is also willing to take personal responsiblity for what he has done.  He feels he made the right choice.  He presents the only alternative being wiping out the krogans.  The genophage limits their power and makes genocide unnecessary.  Krogan psychology does not allow them to abandon their warlike ways, and if they achieved the necessary numbers to conquer the galaxy, they couldn’t resist.  He believes he has saved them through the genophage.

He is very paternal when describing the relationship between his species and the krogan.  He also sees himself as central.  When one of his students, Maelon, wishes to reverse their work, Mordin is furious.  He is mad at his student’s methodology, and desired results.  Mordin understands Maelon’s guilt, but is furious about how he acted on it, attempting to kill his student.

Mordin does tell Shepard he struggled with the choice.  He talks about turning to religion to make peace with the choice.  However, everytime it is brough up, Mordin vehemently defends the choice.  He is certain that only the genophage or genocide could solve the krogan problem.  He feels justified in making the decision.

He treats the modern krogan as children of the salarian as a species, and as a representative of the salarians, he feels justified in making the tough decisions he made regarding them.

Next time, we’ll finish up by looking at what happens to those without the shadow of a bad father in the Mass Effect 2 narative.

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The second best Renegade Folk Hero to come out of Stettler, he is a well known liar. Look at him, in that profile picture. He cannot play t
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11 Responses to Bad Parenting in Mass Effect 2: Father of a Species

  1. Max says:

    I think there’s a lot to this analysis. Mordin can easily be described as the most evil, however I don’t think that’s accurate. He definitely is the most complex character in ME2.

    First, I have to make a remark about what you said about his sexuality. On Ilium there are two conversations you can overhear (the lost family pedigree and the salarian bachelor party), where you find out that Salarians, in general, don’t have sex drives. Reproduction is arranged through contract. So, I don’t think you can mark Mordin’s involvement in the quest as somehow contigent.

    Mordin has a morality. In his loyalty quest you see Mordin express indignation at the idea of testing on sentient species, even if it is to reverse the genophage. Mordin claims that the Krogan would be destroyed completely if the genophage was not used. Would he have been a just individual to not attempt to save them? It is childish to compare all eugenics to Nazism. This was an attempt to save an entire species.

    The paternalistic role Mordin takes on he explains as a responsibility, because the Krogan were given advanced technology by the Salarians as the Hanar did to the Drell. Mordin explains that if it wasn’t for the Salarians the genophage would never have been necessary in the first place. We can see that it would be a unfair to call Mordin evil, he took on the burden of a moral dilemma. Every action he took was the lesser of two evils. Perhaps, his shortcoming is not his evil, but the idea of morality in the ME universe. The renegade/paragon dichotomy, the justicar code, and Mordins actions are all reflections of a black and white morality. Mordin only saw two actions, he took the better of the two. His failure, I would say, is not his lack of morality or his being evil, but rather the limitation of his moral philosophy.

    Great post, by the way. Really made me think!

    • renegadefolk says:

      I’m glad you liked it! I was hoping to hear views like the one you had hear.

      I don’t mean to compare all methods of eugenics to Nazism. I do have a problem with forced sterliziation, even if it is not the complete forced sterlization, of a species. I consider it a real credit to the game that Mordin shows remorse, and questions his decisions, and while they present a lot of black and white choices for morality, the fact that you have Mordin’s reactions, the justicar code, and Shepards own code show that there is not a single black and white morality that can be applied to the whole universe.

      While I strongly disagree with the choices Mordin made, I understand the reasons he made them, and I am glad he is such a complete and complex character. He is not completely immoral, and I don’t entirely understand all aspects of his decisions of right and wrong, but it seems his writers took care to make him complete in those choices. He can intelligently defend everything he’s done. He was my favourite part of the game, and I look forward to seeing more of him in ME3.

      • Max says:

        I definitely didn’t mean to imply that there was a singular black and white morality, but that the ME universe is filled with multiple examples dichotomous morality. Mordin seems to be an example of how that thinking becomes dangerous. It perhaps can be viewed as the reflection of the player. Paragon and Renegade actions are bad when it is viewed as part of this dichotomous tradition.

        I do have a question. You highlighted that the father figure is an important literary theme throughout the story. Do you believe that the authors which to illustrate the shortcoming of parenting, or do you believe that the paternal failures is an anecdote on the modern relationship with god? For example, in Fight Club, Tyler Durden and the narrator have a conversation about their fathers, this is immediately followed by a scene in which Tyler speaks out against God. Durden says, “You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you.”

        Some of the ethical choices made by the player decide the outcome of entire species. We are forced to play God, and the entire time we are reminded that paternal figures are terrible. What does that mean for our paragon/renegade morality in which we play a paternal character? Mordin shows us a reflection of that? So, are we critiquing fathers or are we critiquing God? If the latter, does ME force the player to experience being God (and possibly necessarily evil)?

      • renegadefolk says:

        I think that’s a really valid reading. Both Mordin and Thane bring up the possiblity of God, which is odd in science fiction, especially from a non-human non-theocratic species. Ashley also talks about her faith in Mass Effect. There seems to be a search for him in the Mass Effect universe, and its another strength to the depth of the game that no easy answers are provided.

        I think the theme of fatherhood is as strong as it is due to Shepard. Tipping my hand a little for the next article, Shepard doesn’t play father to a species, he acts as the father for the whole of known space. His choices before the ME2 set up what the ruling government is (Council Species or Human Council), and he makes multiple decisions on the fate of species (Rachni in the first, Krogan and Geth in the second). I think these themes are present to inform Shepard of his own nature and his relation to the galaxy around him.

  2. Pingback: A look at Mordin Solus, the most evil being in Mass Effect 2, and how he’s a terrible father figure. | Gaming

  3. Andrew says:

    Awesome article! Mordin was my favourite character in ME2, but he died in the last mission for me. I’m subscribing to your feed; looking forward to neat stuff in the future!

  4. Pingback: Bad Parenting in Mass Effect 2: Those Alone « Joey On Games

  5. Terry says:

    I found this as I was looking for pictures of Mordin as drawing references. Really great.

  6. You pointed out a very interesting metaphor here. I disagree with your ethical conclusion, especially given Mordin’s actions in ME3, but it’s still worth tying his actions thematically to the parenting decisions of the other characters.

    Max has an excellent point in tying together the parenting and the religious motifs.

    I personally see a big connection between Samara and Mordin, as per their making strict ethical decisions, fueled by very different rationales and methods. Samara uses direct, commando-style intervention, best summarized in her unique dialogue at the varren-fighting ring: “If I survive your mission I may come back here and instruct the Krogan on compassion. I’ll need many bullets.” Mordin, however, uses subterfuge and prevents things from happening, as per the consistently subtle and ultimately powerful methods of the STG. As per his salarian, nonlinear thinking and attention to multiple options, his work on the genophage accounted for “millions of data points. Years of arguments. Countless scenarios.” [ ] and ultimately he went with a no-kill solution, alternative to wiping out the Krogan in response to their rebellion and rapid, violent colonization attempts. It was also theoretically reversible, in contrast to the killing that Samara generally falls back on.

    So, in addition to the parenting motif, I would consider the distinction between inherent loyalties (Samara to her family, Mordin to his military position) and a pursuit of overarching justice. Both Mordin and Samara are exemplars of those standing in the liminal of this dichotomy.

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