Of all of the core canon characters, I think Tali’Zorah is the hardest to write correctly.
Much of ME and many fanfics portray her in what has to be an unrealistic light. She is a civilian teenager, barely old enough to be on her Pilgrimage, yet somehow magically is a better engineer than people with years of experience and is capable of handling fights that challenge trained marines and experienced C-SEC types.
Tali is presented as some kind of bizarre admixture of Roma Gypsies, Middle Eastern stereotypes, with a dash of Jewish history thrown in for good measure. Instead of being able to develop an actual character aside from Hartman Hips and a cute accent, she’s instead used as a walking quarian-culture infodump.
The intent is of course to build her as some kind of ‘little sister’ character with cutesy overtones, and in ME 1 I supposed they succeeded at that. She didn’t really ‘do’ anything in Engineering, after all, and we never get to see her really pull out anything impressive in terms of skills.
Then comes ME2, and all of a sudden when she joins the Normandy’s crew, she’s some kind of super-engineering expert, even showing up the two engineers with the ship on some obscure techno-bullshit. It’s designed, I suppose, to establish her ‘engineering’ chops. But it comes of hackneyed, since how in shit would someone working on quarian ships this whole time know more about a cutting edge design than the human engineers who’ve been working on it for months?
(Hilariously, in ME3 we see her incompetance — her ideas to extend the ships’ stealth endurance by using weapon sinks fails totally, just like the human engineers said it would.)
Her criticisms of Cerberus are also hilarious. Her comment that Cerberus should be reviled because “Cerberus thought that enslaving Thorian Creepers and rachni was a good idea” would come off as less hypocritical if her people weren’t exiles for first enslaving and then trying to genocide the geth. Additionally, she has no alternatives — Cerberus is bad in her eyes even when literally no one else is doing jack shit to stop the Reapers or even respond to missing human colonies.
Likewise, her leader-role on Freedom’s Progress and Haestrom is supposed to show growth, and instead only shows an inability to actually lead. She can’t control her men (the VERY first thing required of any leader) and instead of providing inspiration she cowers at Haestrom to retrieve data she doesn’t even know the significance of.
Her trial for treason is completely , utterly nonsensical. Leave aside the fact that the treason accusation is stupid. Sending back geth parts that had to be re-assembled and repaired in order to form a geth is no more a crime than sending raw materials and circuit boards that that had to be assembled to form a geth.
What bothers me the most is the trial is supposed to be some kind of contextual crap about the ‘direction of the quarians’ , yet no matter what choices you make they still do the same stupid shit in ME3. Worse, the politics of it all don’t make sense in a culture supposedly about communal burden-sharing.
We’re given almost nothing on Rael’Zorah save that he was a massive dick with no real characterization. And all of the attributes of the admirals shift entirely around from ME2 to ME3 for no good reasons.
Tali is ‘exiled’ from a society that she clearly wasn’t fitting into anyway, a society that saw fit to use their daughter’s friend as some kind of bargaining chip to convince quarians down one path or another, and then end up attacking anyway. It’s the illusion of choice, the fake effect of your actions meaning something.
It is also hilarious that even after being double-crossed by her own people, she hates Cerberus, who only attacked due to the actions of yet another exiled quarian, Golo.
Tali’s choice as a possible romance was handled with heavy-handed insistance. My main issue with it is that she’s frame as, aside from Liara, the only choice for many players. Miranda is a bitch who will stop talking to you if you criticize her for defending the torture of children. Jack is a criminal with a plethora of issues that are turn-offs for lots of people. You can’t sleep with Samara, Morinth will kill you, and Kelly is a slut in a shiny stripper outfit.
By contrast you have polite, kind, loyal, exotic Tali. Real subtle, Bioware.
By the time ME3 rolls around, the image is entirely warped and stupid. Suddenly Tali is an admiral, for no goddamned reason we’re ever given that makes any sense. All the other admirals are in charge of entire fleets and are older. She is made an admiral because … why?
“Due to her expertise with the geth.”
What fucking expertise? Shooting them? The geth data she submitted — oh wait, that was GIVEN to her by Shepard, she had jack shit all to do with it. Getting her ass shot off in Haestrom?
It’s a bullshit excuse. Even WORSE, it’s the same excuse they use if they bring her back after they exiled her, even though exile is supposed to the the worst punishment for unforgivable crimes in the Flotilla.
So basically , bullshit.
Trying to find a way to re-write Tali so she isn’t a pile of badly designed sterotypes in a cutsy but illogical package is difficult. The main themes I am trying to achieve are as follows:
- A conflict between her duty to the Flotilla and her personal life. Given that in my AU the quarian situation is not as dire, she begins to question if she has to sacrifice her happiness and life for that of the Flotilla, especially given what doing so has cost her father.
- A conflict between her views on what is ‘correct’ in terms of engineering and technology based on quarian methods and her growing understanding that quarian methods aren’t always the best. Her tiresome devotion to things quarian in canon never was shaken even when the quarians clearly were making suboptimal choices.
- Her relationship with Jeff, her self-confidence issues, and her lack of feeling like she has choices in life.
I want to recreate Tali, to make her something interesting that references but moves beyond the Tali in Canon. I find myself not needing to recreate Garrus, or Liara, or most of the other characters, but Tali has the feel of a character they repeatedly threw in as a last minute gesture without trying to develop her more fully.
Talimancers will dislike my opinion, but I challenge them to show their work on why I’m wrong. Merely stating she is nice, loyal, has sexy hips and an awesome voice and is good with a shotgun is not character development.