I just finished my second playthrough of DA:I. Yeah, despite all my complaining, I enjoyed the game enough to put in another 100+ hours, but that’s also because I’m a raging completist and Ineeded to finish all those damned quests, however boring. So I did. Go, me.
In the process I accidentally made Vivienne the new Divine. I say “accidentally” because I’ve so far managed to avoid most real spoilers for this game, and I didn’t realize this was even an option. I turned down the chance to support Cassandra for variety’s sake (I made her Divine in my first outing); I was going to make Leliana the Divine in this game just to see if it made a difference in anything. But clearly I did something wrong in how I played Leliana, and at the end of her personal quest she was all, “I’ll improve the Chantry by killing anyone who gets in my way, mwahaha,” which left me all D:, so I didn’t support her either. I tried to go back to Cassandra but the option never came up again. And suddenly Vivienne was on everybody’s lips. I kind of laughed and thought, “Yeah, right”, but then the endgame coda started to roll and… yep, Vivienne was the new Divine.
Let’s skip past my horror at the idea of a reinstated Circle system which means all the lives just lost in the Mage-Templar War were for nothing, and my greater horror at the throwaway mention of how Vivienne made sure the Templars were even more tightly controlled by the Chantry. (If the Chantry couldn’t manage that with faith and addiction to lyrium, what would bind them more tightly? The only answer I can think of is red lyrium.) Here’s what gets me: I don’t believe for a moment that Vivienne would be an effective Divine, or that she would even last for more than a few months. And whether she did or not, I think her election would make life for mages in Thedas much, much worse.
In the real world, whenever a formerly-oppressed and much-maligned minority achieves a position of real power, we see a violent retrenchment following soon after. I can think of several examples of this, but the best one that comes to mind is black Americans after the Civil War. During Reconstruction, black Americans made great gains: the first black senator was elected to Congress, black men got the right to vote, and they finally got wages for their labor, even if it wasn’t the compensation they were promised. But these gains lasted only a few years before they were all taken back via Black Codes and Jim Crow and race riots (by white people, killing black people, as the worst race riots in the US have always been) and federally-sanctioned economic sabotage and the longest sustained period of terrorism against American citizens that has existed before or since. Fifteen years of something approaching equality were followed by 150 years of brutal re-oppression. We’re nowhere near over this yet.
I can think of other examples, and reactions to perceived/politically trumped-up threats by a minority, though admittedly, I haven’t studied them as much; corrections welcome if these don’t actually constitute good examples. But it feels to me like there’s a predictable pattern: whenever a minority which has historically been painted as an existential threat to a majority takes power, the majority reacts by doing its best to destroy the minority utterly.
This is the pattern that’s held true in Thedan history as well — anytime the elves resist their oppression or gain a smidgeon of power for more than a minute, there are alienage purges, or Dalish bands are hunted down and slaughtered. And in this case, mages are an existential threat, with fresh proof — the scar of the Breach — permanently marking the sky. It was completely believable that the Templars would go genocidal the instant the Circles rebelled. What isn’t believable is that they would ever stop, even after the events of DA:I. If the official Templars are disbanded, I would expect fake Templars or something similar to arise — “patriots” dedicating themselves to saving the world from the threat of mages in the Templars’ name. “The Templars” would become Thedas’ KKK. And I think these “freedom fighters” would start with Vivienne’s new & improved Circles, especially if (as the coda suggests) they act as feeders for powerful mages to enter the Chantry and other positions of power. They’d be burned to the ground, after the halls of every one of them were washed in blood. The Chantry is weak and wouldn’t be able to rein in the hatred, not quickly enough to make a difference. (Especially given how many Chantry priests hate mages themselves.) The Inquisition is powerful only insofar as it holds the public trust; the instant it intervened to stop the mage slaughter, it would lose many of its alliances and forces. It’s possible that some of the new “Templars” would be former Inquisition forces forming splinter groups… freshly-equipped and trained and seasoned by you, the player. The killing just. Wouldn’t. Stop.
You need decades of counter-programming to circumvent the kind of hatred that’s been floating around Thedas toward mages for a thousand years. You need a serious investment from the top down and bottom up in preventing massacres and the re-institution of anti-mage policies. One person, however competent and ruthless Madame de Fer might be, isn’t enough. There’s no abolitionist movement in Thedas to support government/Chantry efforts; there’s no powerful neighbor with a vested interest in preventing a reinstated Circle system. So without a massive,sustained effort on the part of a lot of people with a lot of power, things get worse. Much worse. Hell, I’m wondering now if the way the Qunari treat their mages isn’t the result of some early attempt to treat mages like people which backfired spectacularly.
So as much as I’m thrilled to see a black woman, and a mage, in a position of such power post-DA:I, and as much as I’d like to believe in an improved Chantry and Circle system… I think Vivienne is doomed. I think mages in Thedas are doomed. And I think the only worse outcome for mages at this point would be if somebody made friggin’ Anders the Divine, if that were possible.