"Mass Effect" (2009): Joker, a Character Analysis
Joker is actually one of my favorite characters in Mass Effect.
I'll admit that part of it has to do with the fact that he is voiced by Seth Green. I grew up seeing Seth Green in a lot of movies that I enjoyed as a teenager (such as Can't Hardly Wait), and I also liked Oz, his character on Buffy (werewolves are cool).
But there was also the character of Joker himself. Joker is considered a secondary character and most fans don't care for him, but as a writer, I actually really appreciated his evolution across the series.
He had a nice arc. The only thing I regret about it is that EDI had to become a sexbot . . . But these are video game developers we're talking about here. They will sexualize women in whatever way they can.
I'm always baffled that game developers aren't remotely ashamed of the fact that they actually spend time sculpting perfect camel toe. They shamelessly see women as sex objects, I suppose.
But whatever. Back to Joker.
Joker Starts Out Pretty Rude
In the first Mass Effect, Joker isn't very nice to Shepard.
He's rude, bitter, and insulting — but then, he treats everyone that way. When the game first opens, we can see him bickering with Kaidan (which, because I hate Kaidan, I kind of don't blame him for).
Should Shepard try getting to know Joker after becoming commander of the ship, he is very defensive and rants at her about how he earned his place as pilot, despite his disability — something a baffled Shepard doesn't even know about.
As you continue through the first game, you can talk to Joker after every mission to hear him say something funny about what just happened.
Talking to Joker after the Noveria mission means he will insult Shepard with a "balls" joke. The joke is extra insulting if you are playing female Shepard.
Then on Virmire, he mutters bitterly, "I know the drill!" after Shepard does her job by — you know — commanding him.
He is blatantly disrespectful of a commanding officer. And he does this whether you're playing male or female.
And finally, there's the fact that Joker continuously interrupts Shepard's private moments with her love interest. As you may have guessed, this does not happen on accident. Joker purposely interrupts what are private and intimate moments for Shepard.
Shepard can demand to know if he was actually listening in (because the timing is just too perfect), and he will awkwardly and quickly deny it, having been caught.
I should add, however, that Joker is actually really nice to Shepard after Kaidan/Ashley is sacrificed on Virmire. You can talk to him afterward, and he comforts Shepard that it wasn't her fault, while marveling that she had to make such a difficult decision (perhaps realizing for the first time that it's not so great being Shepard, after all).
Seems to be the only time he's really nice to her. To me, it says that he's really decent underneath all the bitterness and mockery.
Why Joker Initially Hates Shepard
My theory is that Joker is jealous of Shepard.
Shepard is a big war hero, loved by Anderson, adored by all of Earth. She is fit, healthy, and powerful. Everyone is trying to sleep with her, male and female, human and alien. She's likely also rich, and if male, Shepard being good looking would also have to get on Joker's average-looking nerves.
Meanwhile, Joker is stuck at a lower paid grade, stuck sitting in a chair all day, and doesn't get to do all the awesome stuff Shepard does. Before he actually becomes friends with her, he has no idea what it's really like to be Shepard (as in, it sucks).
To him, Shepard gets to play this super hero role while he is stuck being a sidekick that no one even notices.
If you trigger Joker's special scene in Citadel, Mass Effect 3's DLC, Joker can be seen narrating a fantasy where he is a hero who kills scores of goons like Shepard. Shepard is then given the option to come up and support his lies, telling the bartender that Joker is one hell of a badass.
The fact that Joker's Citadel scene is about him wishing he was a hero and Shepard telling him he already is one kind of supports my theory: Joker sees himself as weak and helpless, while Shepard sees him as a hero in his own way.
Joker's Change Of Heart
After the way Joker treated Shepard in the first game, I was very surprised to get to the second game and see how warmly he greeted her upon her resurrection. Not only that, but Joker continued to be there for Shepard, talking to her, joking to keep her spirits up, being a listening ear after the confrontation on Horizon.
I soon realized that he felt guilty for Shepard's death. It was because of him that Shepard — instead of getting on an escape pod — wound up going back to save him and was ultimately killed (in what was one of the best video game intros ever).
While it is realistic that not everyone is going to like the main character and be their friend, I was glad when Joker finally stopped being bitter and was kind to Shepard. Especially given what a tough time she faces in Mass Effect 2, what with her reputation being destroyed by Cerberus and her becoming isolated due to the fact.
Friends Who Become Family
You are probably wondering why I like Joker.
After all, he occasionally says and does sexist and racist (specist?) things. He also looks at porn (Yes, that's immoral). And he can be a bit of an asshole sometimes.
To be clear, Joker's reaction to EDI's body in Mass Effect 3 is pretty sexist because he quite literally objectifies her. So much to the point that it makes her uncomfortable and she pleads, "I'm sitting right here, Jeff." Because he's talking about her like she's a thing, not a person.
He also says some unfortunate things about the krogan, the geth, and a lot of the different races/species in the game. For lack of a better term, it's "racist."
Joker is very, very flawed. I think that's why I like him, though.
All the supporting human characters in Mass Effect are flawed to the point of being toxic (the important ones, not side quest characters like Emily Wong).
Yes, all of them. The only (important) human character not deeply flawed is Anderson, and that's because he's supposed to be an older version of Shepard, the perfect example of humanity.
Yes, even Admiral Hackett was toxic in the way he sometimes treated Shepard. Especially with the whole Arrival incident. It's a fun DLC, but I started skipping it on my last playthroughs because it's crappy how Hackett sends Shepard on this mission and then leaves her holding the bag once it backfires.
As I stated in another article, I feel humans were depicted this way on purpose. I like Joker because he is the only human who actually tries to be better.
For example, I hate Kaidan because his sexist, homophobic behavior toward female Shepard is never fully acknowledged by the game and he never tries to change that behavior, instead continuing on as if it were normal and acceptable.
Joker, on the other hand, actually goes through changes over the course of the series. He tries to be better toward Shepard. He tries to be more tolerant of alien races. He tries to be less of an asshole. He tries, even though he fails multiple times.
EDI can be seen calling Joker out in Mass Effect 3 about his inappropriate jokes, and he just doesn't get it.
I don't care what comedians say. You can't joke about everything. Everything is not funny. Some situations should be treated with respect, and if you can't manage that, you're an asshole.
That being said, I've always found Shepard's argument with Joker after Thessia to be pretty touching. It's actually my favorite scene between Joker and Shepard because it shows how close they've grown as friends over time. Their shouting and arguing makes them look like family.
When Shepard gets angry at Joker for making an inappropriate joke about Thessia, he whips around in his chair and bursts out that he is just trying to keep Shepard calm because he knows how stressed out she is — even though she's trying to put on a brave face and hide it.
It always fit so well into my roleplay, because in Mass Effect 3, I always roleplay my Shepard as slowly falling apart at the seams, while trying to hide just how stressed she is. I have her do out-of-character things (for my particular Shepard) like jeopardizing an alliance by punching Han Garrel or going off on someone, because I imagine she's under a lot of stress.
That Joker and EDI are so worried about Shepard is very sweet to me. And because of that, I was never bothered by Joker's clumsy attempts to help Shepard with inappropriate jokes. In fact, I was surprised that so many other fans hated Joker for that scene.
Probably another one of my favorite scenes between Joker and Shepard is in the DLC, Citadel, from Mass Effect 3.
If Shepard doesn't have a romance (or fails to lock one in before doing the content), Joker will talk with her instead. He'll say it's been one hell of a ride, and Shepard will remark that it's probably the last one.
Joker is upset that Shepard is writing herself off as already dead and places a hand on Shepard's shoulder. The Citadel DLC was full of nice moments like that.
In the end, Joker was toxic and deeply flawed but still managed somehow to be likable.
And that's enough for me.
© 2019 Ash