So we come to the conclusion of Before the Storm, a great prequel mini-series, and it’s a shame that things end on a shaky note.
If Max’s powers were a manifestation of her social anxiety, then Chloe’s powers – those of disobedience, backtalk, and scrawling her anger across walls in felt pen – are surely symbolic of her obliviousness to her own strengths. At one point in the first episode Rachel reveals that she’s been watching Chloe, seeing the numerous things she’s done that most wouldn’t. The feeling of being rescued was mutual.
It’s not without irony, then, that in this last episode of Before the Storm it feels as if developer Deck Nine has lost sight of its strengths. The rapture of its central relationship, so far the series’ greatest touch, takes a step upstage. In its place, we find wayward silliness and loose ends. It’s as if, in a touch of that same irony, Deck Nine has paid homage to Twin Peaks’ wayward second season.
There are several silly diminutions of plot here: a questionable character meltdown that didn’t scan, a zany set-piece showdown with one foot over the shark, and an utter non-choice at the final curtain. These are challenges put at the feet of a far less bellicose Chloe, having found, by Rachel’s side, a port in the storm.
The pathos lies undiminished however. One of the greatest achievements of Life is Strange, and Before the Storm, is its refusal to ironise its characters or dialogue; there isn’t an insincere bone in its body. This means that despite some heavy-handed lines (“His entire life is about keeping people safe”, “No one’s just a type”), the game’s heart, while often bleeding, is always in the right place: on its sleeve.
The writing in Before the Storm has been its high watermark; it’s recontextualised much of the Arcadia Bay we thought we knew for the better. It has also created some threads that feel frayed and unfinished. Max’s departure was once a simple drifting-apart, the kind we are all faintly haunted by in our lives. Now, and with particular attention to Chloe’s diary, Max’s departure and cutting of contact seems more sudden, mysterious even. Perhaps this will be explored in the upcoming bonus episode. Another plot thread involving Rachel Amber’s mysterious nature is left completely untouched at this conclusion.
Tonally, this doesn’t fully connect up to the original Life is Strange, but enough is done to make the proposition of a second series of Before the Storm a bit of stretch. There’s a garish post-credits sequence as unnecessary as it is unwelcome; it punctures the lingering dramatic irony, of the end we all know is coming, with an unsubtle show of darkness. None of this breaks the spell cast in this excellent series, but it’s a shame to go out on a shaky note like this.
Chloe’s streak of dyed-blue hair in this episode is a mirror of Rachel’s blue feathered earring, a cross-dimensional reflection of the same girl – outwardly deceptive, inwardly chaotic, and searching for an identity between personas and absent fathers. This mimetic compulsion is strong too in Deck Nine. At the end of each episode, there is a message thanking the great work that Dontnod started in Arcadia Bay.
It’s a humble acknowledgement, and one belied by that Deck Nine’s work outshone Dontnod’s at times – particularly in the terrific second episode. It’s a poetic shame that in this finale things veer, just as the original did, toward the more grandiose trappings of its plot and away from the intimacy of its story and characters.
A note from the Thumbsticks editorial team
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