KOTOR II Companion Analysis: Visas Marr
[The following article gives heavy spoilers for Knights of the Old Republic I and II.]
Visas Marr begins the game as a combatant and assassin, and from the beginning of her unexpected attack and induction KOTOR II starts early with exploiting audience expectations to think very hard about notions of betrayal and slavery. The notion of apocalypse, not war but the ashes and very last remnants of an entirely dead civilisation is most clearly depicted through Kelly Hu’s pleading tones. Her despair, hollowness and desperation make her threat from the start a complex thing.
It speaks to the nature of the game and her master that the antagonist is not purely a physical powerhouse -Sion serves that purpose- but something that has bitten and drained the vitality and hope of anything he comes across. The Sith Lords of KOTOR II: The Sith Lords are not explicitly villains because of the Dark Side or antagonism to the Jedi. They are utterly unrepentant, omnicidal, and fundamentally inhuman beings. Following the Sith Code, much like the Jedi Code in this game creates an apathetic cruelty and galactic decay. Therefore; in a companion cadre intending to force empathetic connections and the survival instinct, Visas Marr plays an effective role as the dark apprentice, companion to be redeemed, and either platonic love or romantic lover.
As with Hanharr, some of the more interesting Kreia dialogue getting to the heart of relationships refers to desire and lust (tied to love and sex, which is bound to Visias’ writing quite explicitly) which says much about her own perspective of ‘yielding’ and so forth as much as the Kathari. Often as not considering the impulse, any impulse proffers consideration on the nature of companionship and friendship. “Do friends not follow?” It is curious that devotion is most apparent with the initially most hostile character. One with no faith comes to find it with you, and the question is always there for the player as much as protagonist, as to whether Visas remains a slave. If her service is not servitude, why is this the case? What is the best course, morally; while the game and the pragmatism of this story mean that these figures around you will be compelled to aid your quest?
Of the romance options, Visas seems to be the most thought-out idea, but then it could also be part of the misinterpretation of bonding and devotion modernity attributes to love. To swear one’s life for another is done by friends, by companions, and speaks to love; but love and erotic affection are not close to being 100% synonymous with each other.
‘Marr’ could refer to marred, that her sight obviously is marred in the sense of her blindness. But her sight in interconnected with another marring, that of ideology and despair. Unable to see through the Force properly, unable to see the good in the universe or her civilisation again, unable to be free of the Sith Lord who exterminated her people, she has been loosed to like many other companions find this uncomfortable arrangement interestingly enough become her greatest moments of freedom; like many risking death in this quest surrounding Malachor V is less hopeless and filled with appreciation she lacked during most of her life. Bringing hope to the hopeless, or seeing the fragility of the universe so starkly in many derelict and harsh planetary systems and cultures is reflected as well through Visas as any other. Where to begin with hope, with seeing clearly, or looking around you when your civilisation, senses and autonomy have been stripped from you, confined upon a dead ship, ruled by a half-dead master and the residual energy of your planet a psychic scream?
It’s a simple and clever subversion to make the Sith apprentice and assassin not only recruitable, but one of the more pleasant companions. Generally, not solely to The Exile she is easily one of the ‘nicest’ in simply speaking politely to the others and listening to make a small point. She is the defensive non-aggressor in the feud with The Exile, and after a few hours it’s quite easy to forget the first interaction was quite a poor attempt to ambush and kill you. KOTOR II follows a clear writing blueprint to engage its audience, but it is a very powerful one; wherever possible contradict a binary of two characters with expected traits and use emotional performance and backstory to confuse and provoke curiosity.
Kelly Hu is so soft spoken -I doubt her voice raises once- that aggression is hard to conceive, yet suffocation, despair and love are sensations almost implicit associated with the character. It is the Sith apprentice that was broken by her master, who challenges Kreia (a fellow blind woman) enough to uncharacteristically attack her. Her speech attempting to break Kreia almost works, and it did enough for her to attack rather than listen, due to the essence of what was being said. For all the power of the manipulator, they stand alone. “It is difficult to hear the whisper of the blade” applies as much to morals in regard to philosophy in this setting, as much as action. The great schemes and armies in these ideological wars can be altered by one person, by a secret doubt or resolve in an ally’s mind, and this conflict makes the story more engaging as we see characters and fundamentally companions band together to protect The Exile’s interests, being more ultimately than automata to be directed and possessing true loyalties and capabilities of their own.
The presence of silks and vermillion coverings are fundamentally opposite to Mandalore’s armour while their dialogue often mentions explicit scarring and the ‘dented iron’ trope. Marr is initially not just a threat, but a hiding murderer acting like a horror villain, whom if anything is the emotional heart of the companions, certainly the most passionately declarative of them all. Her potential death is more artificially triggered and unlikely than Rand’s, but a contender alongside his for the most tragic (both deaths are delivered rather painfully, but more hauntingly due to pervading a theme of senselessness and futility that is hard to shake, although I believe Atton’s to be far worse given the disposable attitude he and the setting has towards him and that death lacking the tone of Visas’s clear sacrificial heroism).
Visas is infected by an advanced and malevolent case of the ideology which gave her master his name: nihilism. She breaks seeing the mass grave, the ‘ashes’ of her entire planet. One of the things that makes Darth Nihilius evil, not simply uncontrolled or zombie-like is the clear malevolence required to keep one victim alive to show the massacre. KOTOR II tries hard to show how hard and desperate it is to make something truly die, and Visas’s impressive endurance is as much proof of this as the contrasting persistence of the bastardly quality of her master. Indeed, starting from low point and extreme despair, besides command she naturally is drawn to The Exile despite being ultimately very much like Nihilus on account of not abandoning humanity or hope.
It is critical to understand this. Even a grey Exile, even a dark side Exile still has hope even if the motivation and goals involving this hope differ. The Exile is very much a person, whatever uncomfortable and absorbing powers they have do not erode the self and all life around them. For better or worse, Visas will find strength and healing with The Exile, and freedom.
She gives her love and service, but throughout the story, no matter how you do it or what you direct her to do, her nihilism fades. She will rise in hatred and vengeance or rise peacefully, she will call upon either the howling dead ghosts or her world upon The Ravager or appeal to the spirits at peace when meditating one last time within her old cell. Even if you make the decision to command her sacrifice in order to give an unnecessary boost to defeat Nihilius, that touching devotion and the yearning passion in Hu’s delivery presents her finding contentment in the end. It’s a witnessable variant of what we are told is Mira’s possible future; another repetition of a warrior woman’s finding death without regret, defending others with admirable compassion.
Aggression and something of a different political view observably different to her peers, refreshingly not on a moral basis but simply due to an alternate perspective not as binary and reductive as good vs evil or the moral option against a lucrative immoral one. Her backing of Vaaklu is akin to a conservative supporter sharing an opinion against those like The Disciple being more liberal (although this is very reductive and I’m not the most politically minded of people). Marr’s viewpoint is coloured by experience, but not entirely I believe considering her affectionate emotions and being like a combination of a person recovering from disease, or a recovering drug addict. Her despair and nihilism are fading, but there is an underlying current of aggression in her character that’s not affected by others on account of it being rather understated and automatic.
Another signifier for this predilection is her lightsaber weapon and possessions: double bladed and aggressive as a weapon should be, her robes projecting the red and black symbolism of power and confidence, but also the veil signifying mystery, with embroidery suggesting artfulness and beauty. Aesthetically she possesses a shared disability to Kreia, a particular blindness that’s not a visual impediment. But, as with many companion similarities, these are close to superficial, and not strong enough to merit much bonding or favouritism. The most downtrodden of the companions by a fair margin, her gold and silks are a rich decoration. Kreia’s ‘veil’ is simply the hood of a nondescript robe, the muddy brown not even obscuring her eyes at times.
The theme of the blind seer is split into different iterations, like colours broken through crystal. Kreia is the aged, worn experience of power using nondescript clothing as a subtle weapon. Visas is a woman unconcerned with how obvious she is, her insight and scrying encapsulates vast distances across the present. She is literally blinded and wounded by the past, and her arc and heroism derive from facing a suddenly uncertain future with hope. A darksome ingenue, placed alongside The Handmaiden as youthful beauty and tenaciousness wandering among populations she has little in common with and much to observe.
Visas Marr is certainly one of the most passionate, soulful companions of the KOTOR II cast, and very much a popular one. This popularity I believe is due to the very entrenched connections with both the core of the main plot, and the predilection with emotional intelligence and themes of Jungian psychology and transformation. While on paper the murderous Sith apprentice is one very familiar to Star Wars, the red bladed huntress still used so many years later; no character illustrates as much as Visas being nothing of the sort. While such things as a pitiable backstory and a tragic villain have been explored, the calibre of writing offered so many themes of facing nihilism and defeat that the story and character have always remained unique.
Without Visas Marr the story would lack a lot of its heart, a compelling reason to face the antagonist, and singlehandedly Marr easily compensates as the ‘dark’ mirror for both The Handmaiden and The Disciple simultaneously. While perhaps one of the most enigmatic and interesting companions besides Mira, more than ample time was given in KOTOR II’s development to create a character with a very satisfying arc, presentation and optional ending. The completeness of her experience and how it makes one evaluate recovery from the most blinding misery is an experience in and of itself within the story of this game.
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Obsidian Entertainment. 2004.
I would also recommend the Papito Qinn Youtube channel for the extensive KOTOR coverage to be found here.