In this episode, Asala and Niko are heading for Hypatia as they follow the trail of the eponymous missing ship – but they’ve got an unexpected third party aboard their cruiser. Cue much awkwardness, and some very tense situations.
Let’s discuss The Vela. Spoilers follow for this episode.
I was especially looking forward to this episode, knowing that it was written by Becky Chambers. I’ve come to expect a high standard of intimate characterisation from her: interactions and introspection, and insight into her characters, that’s deep and unflinching yet never feels like it’s taking a detour from the story. Instead it feels like it’s making good use of some inevitable quiet time, rather than simply fast-forwarding through it as a sacrifice to the plot. Other readers’ mileage may vary when it comes to this sort of story beat, but when it’s done well, I can’t help loving it – and Ms Chambers handles it beautifully.
My, Grandma, what sharp teeth you have
So in my review of the first episode, I speculated a bit about General Cynwrig and what hidden depths she might turn out to have. This week, we are apparently all about those depths – and it pleases my grey-area-loving heart immensely.
First up, our hard-as-nails General is a grandmother. One who likes to eat vanilla puffs and watch videos of her tiny grandson performing in plays. Believe me, I was just as bewildered by this revelation as Niko was. At the same time, though, Cynwrig IS still a hard-as-nails military wolf, and no amount of thought-provoking sheep’s clothing can change that. In a single scene, one conversation between this world(s)-weary military strategist and our resident naive but well-meaning young hacktivist shows us more colours than it might have seemed like Cynwrig had, but rather than making this a case of “her true colours are prettier!”, we’re shown something that many, many people could stand to bear in mind about humanity in general: that we often simply don’t see the whole picture. Just because someone is willing to throw those less fortunate under the bus doesn’t mean that they don’t have their reasons, even if those reasons only make sense to themselves. At the same time, the fact that someone has grandchildren and likes sweets and slapstick comedies doesn’t change who or what they are when they put their uniform on.
Niko and Cynwrig are like night and day, and even when it seems like Niko might be reaching a better understanding of their personal boogeyman, we’re not allowed to forget that understanding someone doesn’t mean we have to like them or forgive the heinous things they do. All it means is that Niko’s black-and-white picture of how the world is, or should be, is an impossibility because real life is much more grey.
On the other hand, and because this is a Becky Chambers episode and the other thing I love her work for is a sense of unbreakable optimism, Asala is not so much like Cynwrig that Niko can’t make progress with her.
A beautiful friendship?
Where Asala is concerned, this episode is also really interesting to me because, unlike Niko, there are some significant similarities between Asala and Cynwrig. Whether it’s due to her own military background or those harder aspects of her nature that we saw a little of in the first episode, Asala is more capable of comprehending someone like Cynwrig than sheltered, idealistic Niko. Where they differ most significantly, though, is in Asala’s ability to find common ground with someone like Niko as well.
She begins this journey anticipating a welcome chance to enjoy some quiet, solitary downtime. That plan is shot when she’s faced with the reality of travelling with Niko and the general, together in a relatively small space. Asala tries to maintain her distance from them both, but the constant reminder of Niko’s revelation about her sister in the first episode is harder to shake off, until Asala eventually decides that letting that hope into her life is better than making herself miserable by trying to shut it out. It’s a glimpse of a more optimistic nature than I can really see Cynwrig displaying, to be honest – and it’s deeply reassuring, not only for Asala’s own sake but for Niko’s. Our baby hacker is not nearly slick or clever enough (yet) to deceive someone like General Cynwrig, so having an ally like Asala can only help.
And they might just need that help, because our baby hacker is Up To Something. (Beyond just their top-secret trip to Hypatia in the first place, of course.)
Who was Niko communicating with? What’s their ulterior motive with this mission? Is something sinister going on behind the scenes, or are Niko’s personal goals being used against them by someone else with malicious intentions?
I don’t really believe for a second that Niko intends to do any harm, however misguided they are, so that leaves a puppet master somewhere. I suspect their father pretty heavily, but there are large pieces of this puzzle still missing, so I’m inclined to reserve judgement even though I definitely don’t trust Ekrem.
Oh, Niko, please be careful. Too many wrong moves and not even your (beautiful) budding friendship with Asala may be enough to save your skin.
I’m awfully nervous already. Bring me the next episode!