Every time I end up playing any video game, I find myself comparing it to the cinematic experience of Mass Effect. It’s not an obsession; I love games with great stories. Mass Effect not only had a great story, but the game mechanics gave the player a way interact with everyone in a personal way. I haven’t seen another game quite like it. It sets the bar pretty high, and that’s a great thing. So while I was comparing the story of Mass Effect with the story of another game I’m playing, Fallout 3, I ended up thinking about the characters I met along the way. That brought me to Councillor Udina.
Councillor Udina was one of the most interesting figures in the Mass Effect universe. He really was. Humanity was seen as an upstart race that needed to be put in its place. He stepped up into the role after his predecessor left. And that role was insanely complex. He had his finger in many pots, each of them ready to boil over. Udina’s job was to protect humanity’s interests on a galactic scale. The player only saw a small fraction of Udina’s life. And within that small fraction, he was portrayed in one of the most unsympathetic lights imaginable. So yes, he was the one that everyone hated and wanted to kill. And yes, it wouldn’t be surprising if Udina was one of the most unpopular characters this side of Kai Lang.
This article will be arguing that Udina was treated rather unfairly in Mass Effect 3 during Priority: Citadel II. There was no way that Udina would have done what the writers claimed he would do. No way.
Consider the first Mass Effect and all the problems Udina had to deal with. There’s no way you can imagine the crap he was getting from the Council just before Shepard showed up. He’s the go-to guy for galactic politics for humanity. The first mission Shepard was on, from the Council’s perspective, was a f*ck-up on a galactic scale. Nihlus, a Spectre, was killed while observing Shepard. A freaking Spectre. Killed. You better believe that’ll get the Council’s attention, and not in a good way. Not to mention Shepard being responsible for a Prothean beacon blowing up. Feel free to add on a Geth assault on a Eden Prime, potentially crippling a good section of the colony, and you have a headache and a half for him. The moment he sees Shepard standing in his office, the same Shepard who he pushed Spectre-status for, he had every right to be a little cranky. It had to feel like a betrayal of trust.
But despite all of that, Udina still tried to trust Shepard. He continued to talk with him in order to get someone accomplished. Heck, he still pushed for Shepard’s Spectre status. And once that was granted, Udina handed the most advanced ship in the Alliance over to him to command. That shows a lot of support! And how did Shepard repay him?
Yeah, that. He sent Anderson to beat the crap out of him. Yes, Udina was in the wrong trying to stop Shepard. We all can see that since we controlled Shepard. We knew what was going on. But did Udina? Of course not. As far as he knew, Shepard kept on pushing forward something about the existence of the Reapers but was unable to present any substantial proof about it. But what he did know was this: Shepard nuked a planet by the Terminus system. Any military action by or in the Terminus system can be considered to be an act of war. Udina, rightfully, viewed Shepard as reckless and potentially unstable. So he grounded Shepard, locking out the controls to the Normandy.
For some reason, many interpret Udina doing that as him being jealous of Shepard, feeling threatened by the Spectre’s success or trying to gain status solely at Shepard’s expense. Udina’s viewed as so self-serving that nobody considered the possibility he was acting in the best interests of humanity. Rather, every cheered when Anderson knocked out Udina with one punch.
Mass Effect 2
Udina had two years to be Shepard-free. If Shepard didn’t pick him for the Council, then he’d be very reasonably pissed off. Shepard’s an outsider who had zero idea about everything Udina has done to help humanity. To see Shepard back would be a very unpleasant surprise. I know I wouldn’t be happy to see Shepard. But if you did pick Shepard for the Council, I could understand why Udina wouldn’t be happy to see Shepard. Rumor had Shepard working for Cerberus, the terrorist organization. The hero of the Citadel was working for the antagonists of the galaxy. It’s like Shepard was doing everything he could to destroy humanity’s reputation and make his life as difficult as possible.
Mass Effect 3
Before the Priority: Citadel II mission, Udina was everything I thought he was. A politician who struggled to maintain humanity’s relevance in the galactic community. I have no doubt what Shepard saw was exactly what Udina went through every single day. He wasn’t reveling in power. He struggled to use what little he had to help the Alliance. I honestly saw Udina in this light. He was a nice enough guy at heart, but he needed to put on a rough exterior to endure the punishment he was taking. He had people he really liked and enjoyed keeping in touch with.
But despite it all, despite all his power, he was helpless at the same time. But nobody ever saw it. And he was alone in the galaxy. Shepard had his team. David Anderson had Shepard and Kahlee Sanders. At best, Donnel Udina had his rivals… he had the people who hated him.
We didn’t receive this sort of complexity in the end. Udina was turned into a tool for Cerberus, trying to have the entire Council killed off to seize power. There was a good reason given in the story that he was forced to by Cerberus and, chances are, he was doing it to gain support of the Citadel fleet to help save Earth.
I have no proof of this outside of a gut feeling, but I’m positive the only reason why they had Udina do this was to give the player a chance to kill him. I want to emphasize this… zero proof at all. It could just be me wishing they would have done something different since I saw potential in him. But I can’t shake the feeling. Udina should never have worked with Cerberus like that. He was smart enough to know what they were like. Hell, with his connections he would have known they attacked the Alliance. They were the enemy. To have him do what he did was damn near unthinkable.
But you know, I realize what happened was pretty good. Nothing contradicted the overarching story so, honestly, I don’t have any actual complaint other than “I would done this.” Let’s face it, that’s not much of a complaint at all. So consider this a love letter to BioWare and to the great characters they make.
Characters like Udina.