KOTOR II Companion Analysis: Kreia I.
[The following article gives heavy spoilers for Knights of the Old Republic I and II.]
Last but not least, fittingly we come to the unseen dominator of the KOTOR II companions. Seemingly impossible not to include writing about even in articles not centred upon her, Kreia equals this importance in game, possessing a seemingly unending amount of observations, criticisms, teachings and insults to the entire cast and protagonist. She is a character that unfolds and plays with perspective the more you investigate, plot wise welding herself to The Exile’s hip, giving you objectives, joining your minds to (falsely) give the impression that either of you die without the other. And yet, by far her most impressive and intimidating skill is how this verbose, manipulative, acerbic woman just walks invisibly throughout the galaxy and making the concept of moral greys and spiritual certainty into a unique superpower, a symbol of how people are unnoticed within an apathetic universe filled with veils and sleeping giants.
Kreia knows exactly whom she is, and possesses the experience and malleable persona to alternate between a woman people cannot identify while looking at her discussing Jedi while missing the lady in the Jedi robe discussing the order often. She all but tells you she is the third antagonist, describing Darth Traya in an entertainingly vague way, waiting to reveal herself as though her villainy is just another mask and pawn to play. It’s nothing like a surprise when she reveals her chequered past, well before the mid-game for many; yet the twist is the growing sympathy for her realising how agonising both of her falls were and Kreia’s furtive nature working against her as both an incredibly clever and powerful witch, but essentially useless and defeated in everything she attempted in life.
Kreia is too despicable, desperate, self-assured, sardonic, helpful or philosophical to really be encapsulated as less than a human character, with all that entails. What remains is more her pointed criticisms to the point of essentially being a vehicle for the writing staff to poke and critique or bend the rules and assumptions of the IP. Her plan is hard to make sense of without speculation because the endgame comes out of nowhere, the conclusion clearly very rushed and so personal opinion affects this game but Kreia herself most of all.
Personally the only thing that makes sense to myself assumes something many miss when praising Kreia’s writing or discussing KOTOR II: she lies as a matter of course but also in order to create an illusion of possessing more power than she has. This theme is something the other villains share: Nihlius, Atris, the Masters, Sion, Goto all have this projection in common, so why not the final boss?
While it’s a fascinatingly unique motivation that’s so wild nothing else touches or refers to it, personally killing The Force itself strikes me as so grandiose and possibly omnicidal that I think instead the aim was a means to force any kind of Exile to come and kill her. It’s as big a bait as you can get, and ultimately her calm prophecy, declarations of affection, and no dent in the pride in her voice save a slip should you choose to show her compassion and offer redemption all suggest someone dying victorious. She wished to teach, living and breathing disseminating her experience, her cynicism and many lectures on life and the galaxy.
In listening you’re regarded, in following you gain power, but the sweet spot of a true teacher showing you please Kreia is debating and even meeting her cynicism head on. For all her attitude Kreia worships the idea of struggle, and your struggle -while obeying her and sharing pain and battle objectives- to maintain a different outlook to her is the intellectual sparring which warms her to The Exile, where she probably only cares for two human beings in the entire galaxy. Her daughter means nothing to her. Innocents and civilians, Sith Lords and Jedi Masters are nothing to her. Everything is on its course striving with primal desire, useful beings to academically appreciate, like the lover with a enslaved wife bearing a struggle she feels for yet does not personally empathise with. Of these teeming trillions, those she deemed as too dangerous to galactic society are assassinated by using you as a tool. The goal itself here is seemingly contradictory, the pseudo-Darwinian acting for the wider good and encouraging you in a roundabout manner to reform the Jedi and protect them from corruption, the one who twists her voice and breaks her pupils but violently chides you for a meta-moment of convincing two thugs to jump from a skyscraper.
But this makes sense given her predilection for the personal, both as a narcissist, and as an individual obsessed with individualism and self-determination. Her growing devotion to you ironically makes her your vessel, your instrument by the finale with her knowledge given for you to use however you want (in real life as well as the game). She sought out and found the pupil who would listen, simply in listening you do her a service. In many ways, contemplating what is not says gives a deal of insight concerning a story about self-discovery and the past. She describes patience, listening, subtlety. And considering Revan, Sion, Nihilius are as far from subtlety as one can get, the implication is that of pupils who learned power, but perhaps not the spirit, or indeed this later furtiveness came after being forcibly humbled.
Kreia speaks of failure, but at heart for someone so broken and deaf to human connection, needing to manipulate to have any affiliations or aid at all must be very grateful for someone to interact with again. And while on a meta level The Exile is hardly a Revan; to Kreia they are definitively the greatest. Because they took their power in their own way, they were able to give up where Revan was corrupted and puppeted, most importantly they never forgot or betrayed her and accepted her for what she was with all sides of her nature confessed.
A thing I think is an unconsidered possibility is that she is deceptively weak at the start, or perhaps weak in truth as well. as you grow, she does, fitting the bond (which is either lost or a lie; as we kill her and live no matter what).
Her older, weary voice -used to great effect by Sara Kestelman’s masterly performance- is part of the Traya persona, like a rotted oak. Part of her corruption, that persona and time when she was likely artificially aged to a great degree. And her little speech about tragedy being unspoken resonates with me as her mournfulness, that she can never tell all the truth, and light or dark she cannot show you both.
Kreia is honest with Atton in the way he draws it out of others. By underestimating him, or something more. As a fellow torturer, a sadist. As one who fell. While the player sees it, the Exile notably does not, and so her malevolent aspect and her spoken point about suffering leading to being broken and remade is excellent. It’s arguably wasted on Atton, who hates her, but like Sion, he is a living embodiment of the teachings she wishes to instil. As a non force sensitive who bested Jedi, and as a force sensitive with the potential to be very much like Sion himself. Her discourse and distain, even hatred makes sense though. Not only has he killed her kind, and mentally bested them, his sexual desires and use of lusts would reasonably enrage a woman who despises sex and such ‘indignities’ and ‘base lusts’ greatly.
Small moments such as sitting are no act, like her alternative spiteful voice, she is not manipulating all the time. no one can really perform either sacrifice, intense planning, or hiding from others and themselves without at least a moment of evident strain. It’s clearly an intentional way to add to her horror, as much as humanity. Any time she experiences pain, The Exile is directly threatened. A metanarrative warning of her teachings; that the ‘luxury’ or hard choice of empathy causes one harm, that a duality exists between cruelty and kindness, ability and frailty, and striving requires cost and discontent.
In a way, I find Kreia more affectionate, more motherly for lack of a better word with a dark side Exile, for example with her lesson against being cruel to the beggar. This ties to her apprenticeship of those who were all ruthless, who all choose the dark side as she did. It’s both subversive and darkly tragic when taking it in context; the abusive relationship, the pupil likely to attack or impose force on Kreia is something she warms to in the same way one beaten down by life or abused does. From a less philosophical and more interpersonal viewpoint it’s ugly that the woman’s view is aimed neatly and sharply to encourage the pacifistic or lost to take agency and shed naivety, but for the evil or self-absorbed Exile lessons in killing and lessening restraint provide more insight to the player than the protagonist, still limited by the both pre-TOR experimentation of granting a less thespian evil ‘dark path’ and an amputated ending to the game.
It is interesting how she, like many teachers, instruct their pupils in what they do not do; from a desire to make them better rather than out of hypocrisy. Her clear emotion, almost a wounded comment about a lover who “should have found her on his own”, her stern tone about never going out of your way for her, and the spite she flings later if you offer her mercy are the calculation covering her, while the other way around she freely admits to manipulating or killing whatever she needs to for you to survive and achieve your potential. Her pride would never allow her to admit it until the end, but she is touched and surprised if you espouse the wish to have saved her.
All the companions are flawed, none lack humour or a mistake in-game. No matter how grandiose she presents herself to be, this is still a woman who notably loses her temper at a droid enough to attack it, striking T3 being part of the shadowy KOTOR III we did not see, but also an incredibly selfish and ridiculous action. Hissing ‘betrayal’ in her tone emphasises the nature of the deceitful and the arrogant, everything revolves around them. There is a jealousy and spite in relishing lies and manipulation, yet feeling personally offended that a sentient being you disregard as not even living ‘chooses’ not to share information with you. It’s an interesting little scene for contrast: the “betrayal!” and strike from an old woman lashing out at a young machine, Revan’s teacher aggressively lashing out at one of the most loyal individuals to Revan, who may well have many ideas on the subject that no one ever hears.
The idea of influence, and that one’s associates says a lot about you makes one think a lot makes sense with Revan and Kreia. To the point of amusement honestly. While Kreia would have been less dark, a Jedi and not what she became later, her core, academic nature, and much of her knowledge would have been present. And beneath that, the tendency to test, question, and a teaching style does not change. She certainly taught him much, and it is hardly surprising that it led to choosing a route that is not that of a typical Jedi, to combat, influence, conviction and domination.
Kreia’s knowledge of the dualistic nature of the Force and morality, her emotional intelligence and mental aptitude work together to force her way, which is ultimately teaching possibly entirely different ‘pupils’. Whether good or evil, dark or light, you will have something to hear from her. what you do with it, where it leads is different. But the undercurrent is there.
Healing is possible, but what people do when they get out of bed so to speak is quite another.
Each playthrough is a window, into feelings and opinions Kreia may always have had. While frustrating from a gameplay perspective if you are wishing to pursue every option (at the advantage of diversity of gameplay and payoff of player choice), I believe this variation actually replicates more accurately the nature of complex human beings. Much goes unsaid, and many of our deepest feelings are only unveiled when we are in pain, or tested. After all, we may be in love with someone; but unless we have the fortune to be in an easy union with them, how often is this love only expressed as a revelation, when we explore because a betrayal or damage to the relationship prompt us to declare our feelings directly?
Part II here.
Knights of the Old Republic. BioWare. 2003.
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.