If Amazon’s Mass Effect TV show retells the trilogy, I’m not interested - but there’s one storyline I would watch
Unable to get enough of Shepard’s story, I bought the first three Mass Effect novels from a college bookstore just as the third game launched without so much as even reading their summaries. Revelation, Ascension, and Retribution were among the only books I managed to read in my undergraduate career that had nothing to do with a class, and my newfound love for Mass Effect’s additive lore led me to comics, the datapad app, the animation, and any passing mention of the trilogy from its developers. My search was a tad obsessive and constant, but becoming my own encyclopedia of useless lore became a hobby over the years.
Yet even in my desperate attempt to consume all things related to the beloved sci-fi epic, learning Amazon Studios is chasing a deal to adapt the games into a television series filled me with a strange mixture of dread and excitement - though more of the former and less of the latter. If Amazon wants to translate scenarios from games to television in a one-for-one adaption, I’m just not interested. While not opposed to Mass Effect The TV Series, I count myself among those hoping we just don’t see or hear about our former protagonists. More specifically, I think the calls for abandoning both Shepard and Ryder and a dive into the First Contact War are right on the money for the perfect mixture of familiar and unknown.
Leaps across mediums aren’t something I’m vehemently opposed to; I approach most any book, film, or movie adaptation with guarded optimism. It’s burned me more often than not, so the collective groan half of us let out over just the news of negotiations seems well within reason. I adore plenty of junk food-style adventures that serve as a simple vehicle for nostalgia (see the first Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movie), and feel frustrated with adaptations that go barreling past the point (looking at you, Cowboy Bebop).
When I think about how to approach Mass Effect, it’s a more complicated beast. Not in the sense that it was too formative in my tastes or my standards too high - I just admitted to liking the Tomb Raider movie, after all - but more because a decisive mage of who Shepard or Ryder are portrayed as seems pointless. Tickling my brain for nostalgia points isn’t really hard. We don’t need to spend years pondering how to avoid Mass Effect’s protagonist obstacles when ignoring the situation altogether is an option. The Mass Effect universe is rich.
Tomb Raider had the opposite going on - a strong protagonist and little else. Mass Effect has a million “remember when x, y, z happened?” side stories. It’s not lazy to avoid untangling a complicated story of choice, but it’s also entirely reasonable to ask Amazon to give us other elements that feel familiar.
The First Contact War serves as a happy medium between building upon what we already know and gray areas we can fill in - all minus the excessive wink and nudge moments that beat fans over the head with stories they led. Part of me feels irritated by the idea BioWare would ever allow any of Shepard’s or Ryder’s stories to become canonized, but our experiences in The First Contact War are less fleshed out. We’ve heard Anderson and other veterans speak to the fight while also expanding upon it in the politics of Revelation or even graphic novels like Evolution. It’s the spark that ignites terrorist organizations like Cerberus and a chance to look at Saren’s unraveling with the death of his brother.
The nature of the war even lends itself well to TV budgetary constraints: not all of Mass Effect’s races are involved, meaning the show could focus on introducing and characterizing the Turians before we go on to meet people of other races.
We don’t need the big info dumps of episodes with humans discovering Mass Relays and what they are, either. It’s too much for the format’s limited time, and there’s always the obstacle of serving an unfamiliar audience. A few major ingredients tell something coherent for the lore-enthusiast in briefer self-contained beats, it’s the same appeal the novels hold.
Give me a less confident Anderson over who I knew as Shepard, someone struggling before his divorce and inexperienced. I want more of Jon Grissom’s unlikely crew of Earthling heroes, people who can lead the series before taking a backseat to the eventual rise of the trilogy era. Alec Ryder, the protagonist’s father in Andromeda; General Williams, Ashley’s grandfather; Dr. Chakwas, your ally on the Normandy; and Commander Vyrnnus, a Turian who later tortured Kaiden - they’re all veterans of the war with endless stories to tell.
Mass Effect’s movie was canned over concerns you can’t tell its story in 90 to 120 minutes, and I get it. The presentation even seems like far too little for selecting one of those side characters and fleshing them out, and I can’t help but feel like the big screen guarantees a hollow shell of what the series really is. But, episodic installments, perhaps even further narrowed in scope to just delivering The Anderson Show: First Contact Edition? I’ll bite. I had no say in who Anderson became at the end of the day, but his legacy as one of humanity’s saviors pre-Shepard left its mark on the universe - I got that much.
When I bought those books in college, I had no intention of reading tales where Shepard wasn’t directly involved. Enchanted by the game’s logo on paper covers, my mistake led to discovering countless other threads in a universe that’s not only interesting because of its heroes, but because of everything that’s possible in this vision of the Milky Way. As I think about how many of those threads remain unexplored, I realize Shepard’s tale isn’t the only one I want to hear. Mass Effect’s early influences on my taste encouraged me to start accepting some tales do and need to end, but a departure into the less familiar and letting go can feel just as rewarding.
The First Contact War is formative in how you experience four game’s worth of otherworldly politics. Every alien and human alike will remind you as much. Yet it’s still the perfect blank canvas, plenty of voids to fill with characters you’ve met. Mass Effect’s community will never agree on how to revisit the trilogy or Andromeda, it’s too complex a journey, and that’s okay. So give me my happy in-between, an adaptation that respects who you were as Shepard or Ryder, but captures the spirit of a cast already endeared.