The latest episode of Life is Strange 2, simply titled Faith, is the most adverse chapter yet. It separates Daniel and Sean for the first time in the season thanks to the utter chaos unleashed at the end of the prior episode, then proceeds to put Sean through some serious trials and tribulations. He’s separated from his brother, completely alone, and it feels like the world is completely against him.
If Sean is going to re-unite with his brother, he is going to need new reserves of inner strength. Or put away, he needs a little faith.
The episode opens with Sean in a hospital bed. His depth perception is ruined due to one of his eyes being damaged, he has discovered that Daniel has been taken away by social services, and due to his lack of communication – or more realistically the fact that the agency just won’t believe the existence of telekinetic superpowers – Sean is on his way to a juvenile detention center for his reckless endangerment of his brother and for all the potential collateral damage he has accrued over the course of the journey.
And that’s not the end of his problems. After escaping from the hospital, however many people you step over or manipulate to make that happen is entirely up to you, things become even more hectic for our young protagonist. Driving off into the night with a stolen car on the thinnest of leads as to where his brother might be, Sean travels deep into the Nevada desert where he comes across even more adversity. Being accosted by racist landowners, running out of gas and having to walk the rest of the way while fighting off heat exhaustion, and worrying if the lead he has will even amount to much.
But what ultimately makes Episode 4 more than just the universe beating the tar out of a well-meaning older brother for two hours and change is what happens in the episode’s second half. Sean discovers that Daniel has been adopted by a highly religious, in fact downright zealous, Christian family, who have started using Daniel’s telekinesis to grant them a level of spiritual authority over their small community. “Behold, a miracle from God himself, truly we are doing his work,” they declare to the masses, “now donate to our cause, we will totally use it for good, promise.” Adding an additional wrinkle to proceedings is discovering who helped relay this crucial information to Sean: his estranged mother.
On the surface it feels like yet another cudgel to beat down Sean’s resolve and twist his history with Daniel against him. Unhinged cultists are very common among video game antagonists after all. But Life is Strange’s writing has always excelled at humanizing even the most basic-sounding character archetypes through believable dialogue and three-dimensional background details. The epitome of this is a prolonged sequence in a hotel room where Sean can finally ask the burning questions anyone would ask of an absentee parent. Where were you? Why did you leave? Do you not love me? But rather than demonize or sugarcoat her motives, Sean’s mom gives painful but nonetheless believable answers that expose a deep vulnerability to her character. A vulnerability that makes it difficult to harbor any ill will towards her. Life, after all, is stranger than people think.
It also highlights the theme of faith in this entire episode. Characterization through hardship and adversity is very common in video game narrative, but it’s usually strictly in a gameplay or progression context. You have everything, now you don’t, get everything back. But Life is Strange 2 goes in a different, less explored direction, allowing that adversity to either harden or soften one’s openness to emotional connection. Thanks to dialogue options, Sean could have easily elected not to hear out his mother, and blame her in part for everything he and his brother suffered. It would be easier, but he could also use that adversity as a means of empathy as well.
If there is a weakness in this episode, it would have to be in its conclusion. There is a final showdown of wills between Sean and Daniel’s new adopted family, but after all of the nuance and complexity shown by both the mother and some small cameos by recurring characters, the zealots feel paper thin and basic by comparison. Just another bunch of religious nutters using someone for their own benefit. How everything plays out in the end is serviceable enough and sets the brothers up for a touching reunion and for the final leg of their journey, but it says a lot that I was more engaged by a touchy reconciliation between a parent and child than having to knock the taste out of another cultist in a big set piece yet again.
Life is Strange 2 Episode 4 is a fantastic installment that explores some powerful themes in a way I wish gaming had more confidence in itself to handle. It has me more than excited for how this whole thing will wrap up, and I already have some tissues on hand no matter what that entails.