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Memories are a really fickle thing. Sometimes you're absolutely confident in your recollection of an event, only to be shaken by evidence that completely contradicts your rock-solid recall. Such moments can shake a person's faith in not only themselves, but in anyone trying to contradict them. I didn't really expect Tell Me Why to pivot to examining memories in its final act, but it's actually quite a pleasant surprise.
Throughout Dontnod's limited series so far, we've been examining twins Tyler and Alyson's recollection of events using their unique "Bond" power. The twins can pull up a memory in front of them as though replayed through a projector, throwing their minds back through time to grasp at past events. Chapter Two of Tell Me Why forced me to pick one version of the same event: either Alyson's recollection of how an event played out, or Tyler's.
At the time, I remember thinking that this was undercut by the fact that you're obviously going to want to get the twins to reconcile their differences after a decade apart (unless you're a sadist). So naturally if you're playing as Alyson, you're inclined to choose Tyler's version of past events to draw the twins closer, and vice versa. But Tell Me Why: Chapter 3 studies the very human nature of memories using the Bond mechanic, saving it from being undercut as a flashback device.
Tell Me Why posits that it's only human to forget memories, and for the finer details to become hazy with the passing of time. This story says that it's absolutely fine to remember an event one way, even if it actually turned out differently, because you gain conviction in choosing a version of history and reality to roll with. Tell Me Why isn't caught up in debating whether this actually happens or not, but prefers to study the closure that we can gain through choosing our own versions of the past.
This isn't necessarily something that I agree with. It's certainly a unique look at human memories and how they can impact the present, but it's a dangerous one in the post-truth era of Brexit politics in the UK and climate change denial, to name just one era of warped public perception despite countering evidence. Yes, Tell Me Why does operate on a more personal level, looking at how memories are used to inform and change current situations and human relationships, but choosing your own reality to find comfort in is intrinsically linked to modern "trutherism" movements that have wide ramifications on the public conscience. Tell Me Why's story of memory and recollection is extremely timely, and even if it's a viewpoint that's largely unaware of the wide-ranging impact it can cause, I do like Dontnod's take that it's only human nature for memories being warped over time.
Outside of the memories, Tell Me Why's Chapter Three actually got me really rooting for the Ronan twins, perhaps for the first time in the three episode arc. Previously I wrote about how Dontnod's series excelled for choosing not to put its protagonist through traumatic events early on, and that's really paid off in this final act. We haven't been made to sympathize with Tyler and Alyson through painful events (hello, Life is Strange 2). Instead, we've been introduced to them as human beings rather than emotional punching bags, seen them rise up and grow as characters before going through the hard times.
That really pays off big time for the climactic events of Chapter Three. You've likely guessed it already, but Chapter Three of Tell Me Why explores the psyche behind the twins's mother, Mary-Ann, and what was really going through her mind on that fateful night a decade ago. It's incredibly difficult to see the twins parse through the personal information relating to their mother, but it hits hard because Tyler and Alyson have actually been allowed to function and grow as human beings.
This goes doubly for Tyler, who now has a hat-trick of episodes where he's allowed to just exist as a transgender man. At the start of Dontnod's latest adventure, I was incredibly cautious about their depiction of a transgender person, and all the horrible nastyness their worlds typically have in store for their characters. Suffice to say, Dontnod took the high road, and let Tyler exist without ever having anyone question his gender or identity. Anyone with half a brain cell knows that the world can be truly horrendous for transgender people—we don't need a video game shoving it in our faces to legitimize Tyler.
Where Tell Me Why stumbles is in its pacing. You can pretty comfortably beat all three episodes of the series in just over two hours. For the vast majority of the final act's run time, the Ronan twins are adventuring around town, hashing out their feelings with the supporting characters. Then events go from zero to 100, with parts of the puzzle very conveniently falling into place in rapid succession.
There's also one final player choice to round out the series that winds up feeling a little underwhelming. Treading carefully around spoiler territory, it's not unlike the nature of Life is Strange's original ending, where you had to choose between some pain, versus quite a lot more pain. Tell Me Why concludes on a choice that feels incredibly black-and-white, something it's definitely suffered from in past episodes. It's a very thinly-veiled "good" or "bad" ending, and feels like it largely robs the player of any real progress they've made in uniting Tyler and Alyson over the series.
Tell Me Why has operated on a restricted scope and scale, with only three episodes released in as many weeks, and it's really paid off with a more succinct tale. Tyler and Alyson's story feels more mature, and reaps the benefits of Dontnod writing adults instead of how they imagine American teenagers talk. Despite an overreliance on the Bond mechanic at times to facilitate expositional flashback sequences, and a disappointing concluding choice to round out the series, I've enjoyed my time with the Ronan twins, both of whom feel like two of the most complete characters Dontnod has written to date.
ConclusionTell Me Why has been Dontnod operating on a reduced scope, with less characters and less time, and they've pulled it off. Tyler and Alyson have successfully been allowed to grow and function as developed characters before tackling difficult subject matter, and that's really helped the pair flourish as relatable characters. Despite a somewhat rushed conclusion and a final choice that rendered my past actions a little meaningless, Tell Me Why has been one of Dontnod's more pleasant adventures to experience.