Thursday, February 23, 2012

Doctor Liara T'Soni

*Time to focus again on one of the cast of the "Mass Effect" games...this time out, I focus on one of the fan favorites: Liara, voiced by Ali Hillis!*

The mystique of the alien female in sci-fi has been around since the original "Star Trek's" pilot episode, "The Cage". And I don't mean alien women who look like Earth females; those kind have been done to death by "Trek" and many others...see for example "The Next Generation's" Deanna Troi of Betazed, played by Marina Sirtis, who also gave voice to Matriarch Benezia from the first "Mass Effect"! In the first adventure of the U.S.S. Enterprise, we saw an Orion slave woman and it was just on the right side of camp (blame a meager budget) this incarnation of Susan Oliver's Vina, her body was covered head to toe in green stage makeup as she danced seductively for Captain Christopher Pike. The pace of her dance increased and her obvious desire became something primal as poor Captain Pike tried to keep from giving into his own urges. He finally runs...but Vina catches him, anyway. And what guy wouldn't want to be caught?

Exploitative? About as much as pretty Shirley Eaton getting her naked body covered in gold paint in the James Bond classic "Goldfinger" only a few years earlier. Alien women have come a long way since then, though. Look to Suzie Plakson's K'Ehleyr from "TNG" and Roxann Dawson's B'Elanna Torres from "Star Trek: Voyager", both coincidentally half-Klingon, half-Human. (Ask any fan: a full-blooded Klingon is antisocial even when in a good mood!) On another sci-fi series, "Farscape", the blue-skinned empath Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan (Virginia Hey) and ash-gray thief Chiana (Gigi Edgley) were part of the alien-rich cast. It can thankfully be said that the geek appeal for unworldly dames is more than just skin-deep.

Bioware understood that as they created "Mass Effect"...and thus Doctor Liara T'Soni was born.

Liara is part of the Asari race, the first intergalactic civilization to find the Citadel and among the most influential along with the Turians and Salarians. Two things distinguish the is that they have bright blue skin and head-tentacles instead of hair. The second is the Asari are mono-gendered, which means all of Liara's people are female, but they can mate with either gender of any species. This is preferred among her people as opposed to two Asari mating with one another, which is frowned upon in her society. If two Asari mate, neither gains any new genetic data that would mix with and enrich their culture...if both parents are Asari, the child would be labeled with the slur of 'Pureblood'. Both of Liara's parents were Asari, which makes it an uncomfortable subject for her. Her mother was Matriarch Benezia, but she was never told who her Asari 'father' was. After Shepard becomes a Council Spectre in the first "Mass Effect", it becomes part of his/her mission to find Liara after Benezia's working with Saren comes to light. At the time of the first game, Liara is only 106 years old -- her people can live to be as old as a thousand years, which makes her a barely legal adult! -- and an archeologist...her first passion is studying the Protheans, at least what little evidence there is to find of them.

Shepard searches for Liara in the Artemis Tau Cluster, where she is digging for Prothean artifacts. The young doctor is found trapped in a force field, after having accidentally triggered it in an underground Prothean ruin. Shepard and his party free her, but they are attacked by a Krogan-led assault team hired by Saren and Benezia to get Liara. Shepard and the others kill their enemies and barely manage to escape to the surface before molten magma floods the ruins. Hoping to help her mother from whatever hold Saren has over her, and out of curiosity to know more about the Conduit and Shepard's visions ingrained by the Eden Prime beacon, Liara joins the Normandy crew to stop Saren and his forces.

*Spoilers follow for those who haven't played the "Mass Effect" games! You were warned!*

Almost from the start, it becomes clear that Liara's first passion to know about the Protheans has gotten in the way of her developing social skills. She's often charmingly awkward when speaking to others, speaking from a scientist's point of view. This isn't helped by her immediate curiosity for Shepard, who was touched by Prothean technology in such a profound manner. That doesn't stop her from being one of the most level-headed members of Shepard's crew. That changes when she and her new friends confront her mother, Benezia, in the Peak 15 labs on Noveria. But this ruthless enemy shifts to the mother Liara once knew when she manages to fight Saren's control over her, which she calls Indoctrination. Benezia reveals she joined Saren to find out more about his mysterious goals to stop him at first, but then she and the Asari Commandos loyal to her slowly and subtly became his thralls, due to the power from Sovereign, what she believes is simply Saren's massive ship. After she gives them a critical clue to finding the Conduit she got from the memories of the Rachni Queen kept captive, Benezia then loses control and tries to destroy Shepard and Liara again. She fails and dies, much to her daughter's sorrow.

As their adventures continue and they piece together the clues needed to track down the Conduit, Liara and Shepard become closer as they know their share of victories...and then the tragedy on Virmire happens, when one of the Normandy crew is lost forever. Liara ultimately confesses her curiosity in Shepard has become desire: she's attracted to the heroic figure (whether you, the player, are playing as a man or woman). I'll go from here from the perspective of my first FemShep, Mary, and what I did about it. I was seriously intrigued -- and what the hell, I'm a guy! -- so I decided Shepard would feel the same way for Liara.

And yeah, as the Normandy traveled to Ilos, my female Shepard and Liara made some serious lovin'. Ahem. Moving on!

When Shepard, Liara and the others track Saren to Ilos, they discover the full weight of what's happening, thanks to an ancient virtual intellgience left behind in a Prothean stronghold. Shepard confirms the evil of the Reapers and how they harvest all organic life every 50,000 years, and how it was they and not the Protheans who built the Mass Relays and the Citadel as part of their plans. They also discover the secret to stopping Saren and Sovereign...and then, well, a lot happens. And if you're good enough, you'll destroy Saren and Sovereign, and maybe even save the Council.

However, not much time passes before we reach "Mass Effect 2"...the Council is in denial saying 'What Reapers?' as Shepard and her crew are assigned to find the remaining Geth forces that considered Sovereign a god. That's when things get worse. A massive Collector ship intercepts the Normandy and mercilessly cripples the frigate. Shepard has Liara and the rest of the crew get away by escape pods as she goes to retrieve Joker. Shepard barely saves Joker, getting him to a pod...before she dies suffocating from a rupture in her suit's oxygen systems.

Thankfully, as every "Mass Effect" fan knows, that's only the beginning of the story! Shepard's body is retrieved and resurrected by the terrorist organization Cerberus, their goals being surprisingly altruistic: they know how powerful Shepard is as a hero and a symbol, at least to Humans, and the galaxy can't afford to lose her. But much more is happening: the mysterious Collectors are up to even more evil, harvesting entire Human colonies...possibly for the Reapers!

Along the way on this new mission, Shepard reunites with Liara on Illium, where she is a dealer in information and is hunting for the mysterious Shadow Broker. However, after sharing a long-denied kiss (<3), we quickly see how much the young Asari has changed. She's a lot colder, and is on an all-consuming vendetta to kill the Shadow Broker. Shepard wants to help Liara, but at first she refuses...then, her cold shell breaks and Shepard realizes how overwhelmed she is with anger and guilt. Liara hates herself because she reveals that the Shadow Broker obtained Shepard's body not long after she died, but Cerberus approached her and a friend named Feron to take the body and deliver it to the terrorist organization so they can bring Shepard back through Project Lazarus. If it wasn't for her, even though the Shadow Broker would have given her body to the Collectors, Liara took Shepard and gave her body to the equally dubious Cerberus because she couldn't let her go. After neutralizing the Shadow Broker agent known only as the Observer, Shepard and Liara begin to work together to find the Broker with new information provided by Cerberus in the amazing DLC adventure, "Lair of the Shadow Broker".

All hell breaks loose on Illium as a result, and after defeating a corrupt Spectre employed by the Broker, Shepard and Liara travel to his headquarters to find and stop him once and for all. After fighting through his guards, they reach him and find an enemy they don't quite expect. (I can't spoil the surprise any futher!) After a brutal battle with their ferocious enemy, Liara annihilates the Shadow Broker and then takes over his information network with nobler intentions in mind, first and foremost to help Shepard. Liara can't help but be overwhelmed emotionally by where the past two years have taken her and my FemShep gave Liara a kiss, and she quickly felt a lot better. From there I took the option of reigniting the romance they started so long ago, especially after Shepard shows Liara her new Captain's Quarters...ahem! Even though she can't stay, the love is there as Liara wishes Shepard and her new crew the best success in their mission.

Did your Shepard, male or female, start a romance with Liara at all? Hopefully you didn't cheat on her with Miranda or someone else? No matter what you've done, Liara will be back as a part of Shepard's crew, just like old times...and the love's gonna be there too, or at least I'll make sure of that, as they battle the Reapers in "Mass Effect 3"!

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