[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for episodes 1-8 of season 2 of The Legend of Vox Machina, and episode 60 of season 1 of Critical Role.]
Home and family have loomed large over the second season of The Legend of Vox Machina. That’s no surprise — at the top of the season, Vox Machina is forced to abandon the home they have cultivated outside of Emon, pushed out by the rise of the Chroma Conclave. In episode 5, “Pass Through Fire,” Keyleth reunites with her father and her people, and is reminded of her mother’s legacy. Episode 8, “Echo Tree,” explores the many ways that home and family can shape people — in particular, the way going home affects Laura Bailey’s character, Vex’ahlia.
Home has long been a sticking point for Vex, who has seen every home she has ever had ripped out from under her, from her mother’s house in Byroden to her home with Vox Machina. Episode 8 takes viewers through two very different homecomings, as Pike (Ashley Johnson), Scanlan (Sam Riegel), and Grog (Travis Willingham) journey to Pike’s grandfather’s house and Vex, Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien), Keyleth (Marisha Ray), and Percy (Taliesin Jaffe) are all trapped in the Fey Realm, looking for the Fenthras bow. Within the eighth episode, Vax and Vex return to their former house in Syngorn — and a meeker, more uncertain version of Vex emerges, as she is brought face-to-face with her father, Syldor Vessar.
When Syldor (played with extreme haughtiness by Troy Baker) arrives on the scene, we know what to expect from him. From flashbacks, we already know that the twins had a terrible childhood — in “The Sunken Tomb,” we see Syldor refer to his children as mistakes due to their half-elven blood. When Vox Machina meets Osysa the sphinx in episode 2, she calls out Vex, specifically, for “hopelessly seeking” her father’s love, long before they’re even reunited.
In another fantasy story — or even for another member of Vox Machina — the coldness with which Syldor treats his children could be something that makes Vex cold in return. But “Echo Tree” shows us how much Vex has grown around the thorny roots of her childhood.
As Vex and Vax wait for their father to arrive, they’re greeted by Devana (Toks Olagundoye), Syldor’s new wife — and their new half-sister, Velora (Jayla Lavender Nicholas). As an abandoned daughter, Vex has no reason to be generous with Velora, especially in a household that holds so many bad memories. Yet, she kneels and removes her signature owlbear feather from her braid and places it in Velora’s hair, greeting her warmly.
This fits with what we know of the character, even if you’re only a fan of the show and not the actual play. Vex’ahlia is not on the surface someone who is in any way fragile. She is bold, and self-confident, and unremorseful about the things she wants. She can also be prickly and stubborn. Beneath her bravado, though, lurks a very big heart. Big enough to rescue an orphaned bear cub, fierce enough to protect her brother and her friends, and kind enough to welcome a half-sister with open arms.
Even with an earlier moment of reassurance from Percy to buoy her up, Vex is still noticeably uneasy throughout her reunion with her father. As they discuss Vox Machina’s role in handling the threat of the Chroma Conclave, Syldor scoffs at the idea that the twins have done anything of note. “The very idea of Vex’ahlia and Vax’ildan standing up for the greater good is, well, rich.” Not only is Vex resigned in the face of Syldor’s evident dismissal, she later defers to his anger and even chides Vax when he attempts to rebuke him.
It’s awful to watch Vex wilt beneath Syldor’s snide comments, especially when it’s set against Pike’s far warmer homecoming with her family earlier in the episode. As Vox Machina prepares to leave, Syldor presents the party with a decree that will allow them to move through the city, knowing that they need safe passage in order to retrieve the bow. As he does, Percy is quick to inform him that the scroll needs amending. “It’s Lady Vex’ahlia. Lady Vex’ahlia, Baroness of the Third House of Whitestone and Grand Mistress of the Gray Hunt.”
In the actual play, it’s a big moment. Episode 60, “Heredity and Hats,” was filmed during a live show, and as soon as Taliesin Jaffe, playing Percy, invokes the title, the room erupts. Laura Bailey reacts with visible shock as Travis Willingham grabs her shoulder in surprise and glee. In the animated series, though, Syldor immediately dismisses the gesture, tossing aside Percy’s kindness. And that’s when Vex finally stands and fights back. “Don’t you dare talk to him like that! We came here seeking aid, and you insult my friends?” she exclaims. When Syldor smugly rebukes her, she continues. “We won’t fail, which is more than I can say about you as a father.”
Rather than apologize, Syldor demands a display of worthiness from his daughter. “Show me that bow and I will give you the welcome you think you deserve.”
The strength of Vox Machina, in particular, has always been the found family aspect of their friendship (a reflection, in some ways, of the bonds that tie the Critical Role cast together and make the actual play so successful). Vex’s family, all that she considers her family to be, is nearby at all times — and they accept her for who she is and they support her, which is far more than can be said of Syldor, whose prejudice blinds him to his children. Though Vex has conflicted feelings about her outburst — telling Percy she feels like somehow “it hurt me more” — she still finds warm support she could never find with her father.
And so, when the party manages to come across the Fenthras bow later in the episode, the corrupted archfey that possesses it makes the same mistake that Vex’s father makes. He assumes her to be broken, and attempts to prey on her sense of unworthiness. “Being abandoned by love can be liberating,” he says. “You’ve been a good daughter. You’ve tried. But it will never be enough — you will never be enough.” He promises her the care and companionship her father never gave her.
For a second it looks as if it might work: “If I could pull the blood of him from my veins and give it back, I would,” Vex admits. It’s another deviation from the actual play — in “Heredity and Hats,” Vex tells Syldor himself that she wishes she could rip the blood of him away. In response, Syldor (played by Matthew Mercer) gives a kind of strangled apology, for the twins’ upbringing and for the prejudice he carries.
But the animated series has done an amazing job at allowing all the characters in the show to stand on their own feet — in particular, they’ve been writing the women of the show beautifully. And season 2 has focused, in part, on how individual characters derive their sense of self, and how they reconcile the people they are now with the heroes that they must become in order to defeat the Chroma Conclave. After informing Vex of the ways he could make her whole, Saundor (Sendhil Ramamurthy) makes a request: He wants her heart. In response, Vex pushes him away and informs him: “My heart is someone else’s.” It’s a small choice, but omitting Syldor’s apology allows Vex’s self-acceptance to take center stage, rather than Syldor’s reaction and half-measure, too-late kindness.
What Saundor and Syldor both fail to understand is that Vex is not alone. She is not broken beyond fixing, and she is certainly not unworthy — her friends and her brother understand this, even in the moments when she cannot. When she breaks away from Saundor’s compulsion, Vex chooses to believe that not only is she worth loving, but that her own heart is not beyond repair. She is not so damaged that she should prevent herself from loving someone else.
The fight with Saundor showcases Vex for all that she is. She is defiant and bold, even when Saundor shatters her bow. When she kills him, acknowledging that his cruel words have been lies, she does so with the arrowhead Percy gave her, the one he worked on while consoling her about her father. And then she claims the Fenthras bow, signaling the fact that Vox Machina is one step closer to accomplishing their goal, and is increasingly worthy of the task they’ve undertaken.
By the end of the episode, Vex admits that she’s not ready to face Syldor again. Not because of some change in herself or worthiness evoked by her possession of the bow, but because she finally acknowledges that no matter who she is or becomes, he will never see her differently than he already does. It’s a hard, horrible thing to acknowledge, but it means she’s no longer contorting herself into the shapes she believes others want her to be in. She finds strength not only in the friends she has made and the family that she has fought so hard to build and keep, but in herself.