Ask anyone what they feel about the story behind Living World season 1, and you’ll get a response of grimacing and almost-retching. Scarlet is so annoying, has too many informed abilities, and generally didn’t have a point except to shoehorn new content into the game by any means necessary.
But looking back from the other side of season 2, I think Scarlet Briar deserves a second shake. For me, the most disappointing moment of the entire arc were these lines during the Scarlet’s End instance:
Scarlet Briar: And here, at the center, little old me. Aren’t you even curious about why I did it? All this chaos and destruction?
Braham Eirsson: It doesn’t matter now. You’re done.
I wanted to punch Braham so bad when he said that line. Yeah, I get trying to subvert the defeated villain monologuing trope, but for anyone who was trying to find a method to the literal madness, it was a slap in the face. And looking back, the reason is clear: if she had said much more, she would have spoiled the biggest revelation of season 2.
Many questions were left unanswered, ones that can’t be swept under the rug as unimportant (especially since a cheeky line by Scarlet in the Aetherpath turned out to have massive implications to Tyria as a whole).
Method to the Madness?
While it’s been conjectured that she became a pawn of Mordremoth as the madness caused by her fighting its influence drove her to do horrible, evil things, this typically is concluded by saying “and Mordremoth still got its way.”
What if it didn’t? What if Scarlet’s madness was partially an act, partially a defense mechanism walling the Elder Dragon off just long enough to get what she needed accomplished?
Scarlet Wasn’t Mad
Consider that every single bit of her dialogue in any appearance is one of two things: devious and lucid (“I’ve gotten what I wanted”), or so cheesily playing to the “big bad villain” stereotype to the point of being annoying (“Die die die” spam).
For all of the in-game statements of madness, her own words bear witness against that. One could argue that it’s just flawed writing on ArenaNet’s part, but it’s too consistent in its purpose.
But what of the journal? The madness she speaks of is the dragon speaking into her mind; first through nightmares, and then directly as time went on. If someone was speaking directly to you and you had no way to stop it, wouldn’t that be annoying? Oh yeah, Scarlet did exactly that to players during The Nightmare Incarnate instance.
Even if somehow her dialogue and journal weren’t evidence of lucidity and planned sanity, actions speak louder than words. Would any of her inventions and alliances be possible from someone unable to keep it together?
But There Was Madness, There Had to Be!
Going back to the journal, yes, madness was there – but it was only lurking. We know now with absolute certainty that it was Mordremoth speaking to her, trying to bend her will to its.
If there is one way to describe Scarlet, it is strong-willed genius. Visible in her journal and actions is a determination to not give in to the voice. Even as she saw the inevitability of it, she had to try to fight against it, or literally die trying.
So she applied that genius to one of the maddest schemes Tyria has yet seen: kill the source of that voice.
She knew Caithe’s/Wynne’s secret; she knew who it was and where he was, and thanks to all of the research on ley lines; she knew exactly what direction Mordremoth was in, and that he needed magic to survive. Oh, and that he was an Elder Dragon akin to a force of nature.
The Maddest Scheme Tyria Has Ever Seen
Scarlet’s plan revolved around three things: producing materials that didn’t exist; maintaining a buffer between her and anyone who would stop her; and most importantly, stalling for time. And she even planned for the chief pitfall of the entire plan: unintended consequences.
Producing materials that didn’t exist
If you’re going to cut through bedrock without the luxury of time, simple iron (or even orichalcum) isn’t going to do it. Something more substantial is required. This is where the Molten Alliance and Fused materials come in.
Further, if you’re going to get at the central ley line hub on this side of the world that happens to be right under a fortified city defended by every major race in Tyria, you need an air fleet, and the people to man it. The Sky Pirates of Tyria, the Aetherblades. Then you need to keep people out. Hence, the nightmare toxin being improved into the miasma.
Maintaining a buffer between her and anyone who would stop her
This ties into the time aspect, but needs to be mentioned by itself. Why have alliances with thousands of members? Why spend the time making positively absurd Grand Statements of Power (the Molten Facilities, crashing the Queen’s Jubilee, and the Tower of Nightmares)?
Because all of that stuff is between the players and her, between the people trying to stop her and her aims. Fighting into the Molten Facility and taking down all the guards within takes a while. Same with getting rid of the reworked automatons raging across Tyria and the Bioweapon-By-Existence Tower.
Stalling for time
Take a quick look at the Breachmaker. It’s pretty big.
To make that alone would take a very long time, and she also needed the time to gather the components to even make it in the first place.
The problem with having very specific factions to give you what you want is that you have to give them what they want. Ergo, every alliance became a big problem for Tyria, and by extension, the players.
Scarlet set herself up as a clichéd villain of the most extreme variety, stealing as many mannerisms as she could and adding a twist of “madness.” In my opinion, she didn’t pick the name Scarlet Briar because she actually hated Ceara. She knew that it was far more evil to have a name indicative of the thorns she had seen in her nightmares. She willingly made herself a figure that had to be stopped, and any plots she could possibly be involved with, too.
Scarlet’s masterstroke: planning for the players to try and stop anything she did (or anything remotely evil in Tyria). She enabled her alliances to become deadlier than desired in exchange for the things she needed, hedging the entire time that we, the players, would clean up the mess those deals made.
And boy did we serve as an amazing cleanup crew. Every alliance’s “Big Evil Thing” broken to pieces, taking long enough time in each case, that Scarlet got away scot-free.
Scarlet’s Ultimate Goal?
All told, it leaves the question open: what was she really trying to achieve on the Breachmaker? I see it as one of two ways, with both still accomplishing her aim:
Plan A: Poison Mordremoth with its own food supply
What better way to shut a dragon up than to give it a concentrated dose of its own medicine? Remember: her goal is to beat the inevitable, to flip Mordremoth the bird as it tries to take control.
What if instead of simply breaching the ley line hub, Scarlet also pushed a button to inject Nightmare Toxin into the stream? It wakes up, inhales deeply, and goes insane. Voice silenced.
Plan B: Wake it up early and have a crew of united heroes to take it down before it gains full strength
This is the failsafe plan that we ended up executing. She knows that if anyone is able to stop her, it will take maximum effort and momentum to reach her. In other words, she can die the designated villain; the heroes’ existence assures Mordremoth will join her soon.
And last laugh? She’s dead, and thus can’t hear that maddening voice trying to take control. Wouldn’t you be smiling if blessed silence is just moments away?
All told, I think Scarlet gets a bum rap, and the narrative as well. She’s a villain of a different caliber than the ones we’re used to. One that is willing to look the part, even as she’s ultimately working toward an aim that’s beneficial to Tyria. She planned on the most obvious reaction from any group of heroes: stopping the evil by barging in the front door. Which we did, every single time.
Talk about meta, eh?