Written By: Cameron Deslaurier
Spoiler Warning: this post contains spoilers up to Episode 11: “Belly of the Beast.” Specifics are avoided, but major plot points are covered.
Rating Warning: The Legend of Vox Machina is rated TV-16+ to TV-MA for “Nudity, violence, substance use, alcohol use, foul language, and sexual content.”
Four ancient dragons and a race to find weapons made to put down the gods? Check.
Season 2 of The Legend of Vox Machina had big shoes to fill. Season 1 scored 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and contributed to a growing consensus that animated, gory, and sometimes raunchy adult-oriented fantasy game adaptations like Arcane and Castlevania do, in fact, work.
Critical Role’s nerds did it again, however—Season 2 received another 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Based loosely on Critical Role’s D&D actual play Campaign 1: Vox Machina, Amazon Prime Video’s The Legend of Vox Machina takes Vox Machina in its own, slightly different direction while honoring what fans loved most about the original live stream.
Season 1 of The Legend of Vox Machina centered heavily on Vox Machina’s establishment as protectors of the realm and on Percival de Rolo’s backstory, as originally told in Campaign 1’s “Arc 2: The Briarwoods.”
Season 2 of The Legend of Vox Machina picks up from Season 1’s cliffhanger ending, where our newly celebrated heroes saw four massive dragons attack the capital city of Emon—together, which dragons never do.
News flash: Emon never stood a chance, and neither did Vox Machina in defending it. After the city’s desecration, Vox Machina is left in shattered spirits, wondering if they have any place in such a massive conflict. Because the dragons aren’t content with stopping at Emon—led by Thordak the Cinder King and flying under the banner of the ‘Chroma Conclave,’ they’re intent on conquest of all of the continent of Tal’dorei.
The team’s solution? Get drunk, force themselves back onto their feet, then seek out the Vestiges of Divergence: ancient artifacts intended to strike down the gods.
The only problem? They’re scattered not only to the winds, but the realms. As in, not all on the Material Plane. Feywild field trip, anyone?
The journey Vox Machina takes in Season 2 is a wonder of animation, showing off the beauty that’s possible even in a setting where the world is always in strife. The fights are similarly epic to behold.
The season’s major snag is pacing. There’s a lot happening in each episode, and all very quickly. This is partly a conversion-to-television challenge: “The Briarwoods” arc was only about 15 episodes in the original live stream, whereas “The Chroma Conclave” arc was originally about 45—and is being split into only two seasons.
The pacing makes narrative sense, however. Season 1 was steeped in personal intrigue and trauma as the squad uncovered the truth behind the brutal demise of Percy’s family and fought to reclaim the city of Whitestone from its vampiric overlords. Four ancient dragons—whose goal to subjugate all of Tal’dorei for its gold is only the beginning of their machinations—is a much larger threat, with a much faster time clock.
Season 2 might move fast, but it does justice to its characters, especially Grog Strongjaw and Keyleth of the Air Ashari. Both sometimes get unfairly shafted in fan circles: Keyleth mostly because of fan-hate directed at the talented Marisha Ray, and Grog because he can get written off as muscled levity. Both characters get their due in the highly emotional episodes Pass Through Fire and Killbox.
Pass Through Fire sees Keyleth master the element of fire on her Aramenté and delivers some of the most heart-wrenching, step-into-your-strength lines in the series. Grog’s story offers us a complex look at masculinity and strength, and Killbox is fanservice at its absolute best. The episode directly pulls numerous lines from the live stream and features a rooftop team montage to die for, which is perhaps one of the only ways to pull off ‘I get strength from my friends’ well.
The narrative is tight even when it’s fast. As Keyleth notes later in the season, there’s often too much going on for the chaos crew to think about their personal lives, but the writers always manage to squeeze things in with the lines that hurt the most—looking at you, “Don’t go far from me.” I still need tissues.
Vax’ildan’s step into the service of the Raven Queen to save his sister’s life is gut-wrenching, and his (literal) dive of faith into the death goddess’s arms takes his broody character in an entirely new direction. Vex’ahlia finally has a chance to stand up to their father, and to claim her own sense of self-worth outside of any man’s affections (sorry Percy, you’re a really great bonus). Pike and Percy take backseat after their focus in Season 1, but the free-loving gnome Scanlan has a whole lot of introspection going on when, amidst the world being threatened, he realizes he has a daughter he never knew about—and that she’s none too happy to meet him.
As far as LGBTQIA+ representation, The Legend of Vox Machina is a win again. While Critical Role’s characters have arguably become queerer and more inclusive as the franchise has progressed, the show celebrates diversity while remaining true to the original storyline. We’ve got Lady Kima of the Vord and Allura Vysoren’s heartfelt on-screen kiss, Vex’ahlia and Zahra flirting—I mean fighting—and Vax’ildan and Shuan’s “I thought I’d lost you,” followed by Keyleth finally taking the step to ask Vax’ildan to dance. Love that bisexual representation.
On the overall: don’t expect Season 1. But buckle up. Because it’s like the end of the world out here.