The Tragic Fate of Ethan Winters: In the Aftermath of "Resident Evil: Village"

Monday 5 July 2021

Resident Evil: Village concludes the story of Ethan Winters in a most dramatic way, or at least this is how it seems with the data that we have so far. For this is Resident Evil, after all, a universe where we have seen characters come back from the dead enough times so as to have hope that maybe this wasn't the last that we saw of the saga's latest lead hero.

Ethan Winters has been (and possibly still is) a curious case; we only had the chance to accompany him in two games, after he was introduced to us quite abruptly in Resident Evil 7, a game which, moreover, drove the series to a new path. To begin with, Resident Evil 7 was in first person. Excluding the on-rails games that were The Darkside Chronicles and The Umbrella Chronicles, this was the first time that a title of the saga was in first person. Personally I didn't mind that; some of my most favorite games happen to be in first person, so playing a Resident Evil story in such a mode was quite enjoyable. What I didn't like much was how the developers, probably following the example of Outlast, insisted in never showing Ethan's face to us, even making his in-game model headless. This was a strange condition for a Resident Evil game, coming from a series where the characters always played an important part, their personality being an essential element of the stories. Code Veronica, for instance, would have never been the same if we were unable to actually see Claire's reactions on screen, the feelings that her facial expressions would betray. Or if we were never able to witness Leon's thoughtful face as he was approaching the village in Resident Evil 4, or his emotional state as he watched innocent people being eaten alive by zombies in Resident Evil 6. Specifically I am talking about the cutscenes - even if Ethan never showed his face in-game, he could very well appear normally in the cutscenes, like it usually is the case in first person games.

In Resident Evil 7, this was not so much of an issue, of course. Almost until the end, we were in the process of adapting to the game's new tactics and of getting to know the cast, including its protagonist. All this changed with Resident Evil: Village. This time around, Ethan's story became a lot more personal, focusing on his close family and the two most beloved people in his life: his wife and his baby. It was unavoidable that the time we got to spend with Ethan in Village, brought us much closer to him and we got to know and like him more. 

The story takes place a few years after the Baker house incident. Ethan and Mia, who now have a baby, a girl called Rosemary, are under the protection of Chris Redfield who, incidentally, has meanwhile differentiated himself from the BSAA for unknown reasons. I'd like to think that he was so heartbroken after Piers's death, that he couldn't go on working in the same environment any more. At some point, Chris bursts into Ethan's home, inexplicably shoots Mia dead and kidnaps Ethan and the baby. Something goes wrong however, and Ethan ends up alone at the snowy outskirts of a mountainous village in Eastern Europe, where he begins a desperate search for his baby, while at the same time trying to figure out why Chris, who was so caring and protective over him and his family, killed Mia in cold blood.

With the help of a local merchant, the Duke, and with his own investigation, he discovers that Rosemary has been abducted by Mother Miranda, a weird woman who poses as a prophet in the area and has the villagers worship her as some kind of god. Miranda has four prestigious residents of the region under her command, treating them as her "children" and giving them orders on a regular basis. As it turns out, Miranda, as well as her children, are all mutated; Miranda has been carrying experiments in order to be able to resurrect her dead daughter, by making use of a parasitic organism that grew deep in the mountains of the area, and found the perfect host in Rosemary. This is not what is important, however. It is not the first time that we see such a scenario in a game (The Evil Within 2 comes to mind, and I'm sure there's many more). An unexpected revelation happens when Chris confesses to Ethan that the Mia he killed was not the real one; it was actually Mother Miranda, who apparently was able to shape shift; and he did not even kill her, as she was able to come back to life soon after. But even this is not the clue of the story. 

After we witness Ethan's shocking death in the hands of Mother Miranda, we see him wake up in a cold place where he is greeted by a familiar face. It is Eveline from Resident Evil 7, who informs him that he actually died back in Louisiana, during his very first encounter with Jack Baker: the patriarch of the family of creeps beat him to death in the attic, minutes after his arrival, but since he was infected with the Mold he was able to resurrect, never realizing his actual state. That is why he could re-attach his cut hand or leg, and could never die no matter how badly he got hit. So Ethan was in fact dead all along, and moreover, thanks to his unwilling mutation, was potentially extremely strong. His altered DNA was passed on to his daughter, making Rosemary practically a super-weapon, which is why Miranda so ardently wanted to take advantage of her. In the end, Ethan sacrifices himself after sending Chris away with Rosemary, in a scene that is very similar to Piers's sacrifice in Resident Evil 6.

I was truly hoping that, in the sequence where Chris finds Ethan's unconscious body after Miranda rips his heart out, the developers would sort of reward us with a revealing view of his face at last. But of course this didn't happen. I like to believe that maybe in a future game they will introduce a seemingly new character - maybe a bad guy - who will actually be Ethan, but since we have never seen him, we probably won't be able to recognize him. And yes, I know we have seen Ethan's model in full, but we have never seen his in-game face, how his features change with every emotion, how he looks when he is happy and how when he is sad. The developers claim that they did it this way so that the players could identify better with the protagonist, but I don't think it can work this way. This is not Outlast where emphasis is put on the horror factor. This is a game where the character has a serious backstory that we know very well; he has a personality and he has his own place in this fictional world. 

Although I can't say that Ethan was one of my favorite characters in the saga, I still liked him a lot and especially in this game I grew to feel him like a friend of sorts. We've been through thick and thin with him, after all. His personality was highlighted more, we were able to form a more precise idea about his character and his attitude. Truth is, however, that it was the lead baddies, Miranda's four "children", that stole the spotlight. 

Lady Dimitrescu, the unnaturally tall vampire with the extending nails and the three bloodthirsty daughters, was the first to catch out attention. A beautiful woman with an attractive figure, but at the same time terrifying due to her height and her cannibalistic habits, however turned out to be a minor boss with the least important role in the story, despite the incredibly enchanting atmosphere of her castle which brought back memories of Ramon Salazar's residence.

Then it was Donna Beneviento, one of my favorites. Hiding behind a black veil, always carrying her horrific doll, she looked like a female mock version of Ethan: like with him, we could never see her face (except in a portrait and, after she died, we had the chance to briefly catch a glimpse before she dissolved), and she was holding on to her doll, just like Ethan was desperate to hold his daughter again. Interestingly enough, the House Beneviento incident is not only the most compelling part of the plot (its atmosphere and setting remind me a lot of The Evil Within, by the way), but moreover is the one that is most closely connected to Ethan's story. House Beneviento is a huge and complicated puzzle, created mostly by hallucinations, where all the parts are related to Ethan and his family: his wedding song, films from his life, a giant doll depicting Mia, a gruesome gigantic embryo that hunts him around mocking his baby daughter. The code to open a locked door is his wedding anniversary with Mia, and even Angie, Donna's creepy doll, is dressed like a bride, malevolently nodding to Ethan's wife, and also nodding to the ghostly Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations".

Dr Moreau is a weird, fish-like mutant whose posture and movement remind me a lot of the old beggar in Francisco Goya's painting of "Old Beggar with a Maja". There is no intriguing interaction between him and Ethan, apart from random attacking attempts as our hero is trying to do what is necessary in order to weaken and defeat him. Dr Moreau is the most neutral of all Mother Miranda's children; he seems indifferent towards Ethan, his main concern being to appear as a good son in Miranda's eyes. His area is a secluded part of the village where everything is working with hydro-power via a rather elaborate but old-fashioned system involving windmills, that seems to have been lost in time. 

Last but not least, Karl Heisenberg is, along with Donna, one of the most interesting lead enemies of the game. Unlike Dr Moreau, he openly hates Mother Miranda and is determined to stand against and eliminate her. Obsessed with engineering and machinery, he runs a factory where he produces super-powerful mechanical soldiers, hoping to form an army big and strong enough to defeat Miranda. His aim is to use Rosemary in order to get to his goal, and he keeps trying to persuade Ethan to join him in his ambitious plan. Heisenberg keeps talking to Ethan as our hero wanders around the factory, sometimes degrading him and other times confessing his own impatience to get rid of Miranda. Although he is one of the coolest characters in the saga, his part of the story is unfortunately ruined by the ridiculous mutation that he goes through in the end, where he transforms into a tank-like machine, a tangle of magnets, buttons, iron bars and God knows what else. 

Notably, all of the four lead bosses seem to be obsessed with something: Heisenberg is obsessed with his machines, Donna with her dolls, Dr Moreau with his water, Lady Dimitrescu with her prestigious bloodline. Quite possibly Miranda used their obsessions in order to manipulate them and make them part of her experiments. That said, Mother Miranda, in spite of being the evil mind behind everything, is not so memorable, and the final confrontation with her feels more like a chore and much less like an imposing boss fight. On the contrary, the brief scene where Ethan is lying inside Duke's cart with the merchant driving him to the altar, and then gets out and we see the black horse that was actually leading the cart, bringing to mind a Victorian hearse, is one of the strongest and most blood-chilling of the game.

With Village, the Resident Evil series took an interesting turn, but I feel that somehow the potential of both the story and the characters were not fully explored. The ending left me with a bitter taste, and not only because of the unexpected twist that was Ethan's death. There were characters in the game, like Donna or Heisenberg, that should have had a bigger role. I feel that Donna's past and the backstory of her lineage, for instance, should have been presented in more detail, and in more sections of the game; and same goes for Heisenberg. Unlike Lady Dimitrescu or Dr Moreau who seem to be secluded in their personal spaces, both Donna and Heisenberg have a looming presence in many parts of the village. As I mentioned a few paragraphs above, Donna in particular seems to reflect Ethan and his quest in a morbid, creepy way. In my humble opinion, this is a feature that should have been highlighted a lot more. Moreover, Donna somehow embeds certain familiar enemies from the previous games, namely Ramon Salazar from Resident Evil 4 and Alfred and Alexia Ashford from Code Veronica, and also nods to the Victoriano family from The Evil Within (like Salazar and the Ashfords, also created by Shinji Mikami), characters that share a series of common elements: all of them bring an aura of Victorian decadence about them, both with the way they are dressed and their attitude; they are deranged, their life is a tragedy, and they seem to have emerged from a vintage fairy tale, never being able to adapt to the modern world, reminiscing the glory of past days, at the same time reminding us that the stories they are involved in also belong to a world of magic and fancy.


Desativado said...

i disagree a little bit. For me, Ethan was a awesome character since RE7 Biohazard. And to be honest, i think he Spoke more than necessary just to please some donkeys who thought that in RE7 he said too little. i like the fact of him don't show his face, i don't know why this happen, but i think this is intersting. I also liked the Mutated Karl, fucking awesome Metal Freedom Fighter

Well done text, as always.

hisbrokenbutterfly said...

Depends on the perspective, I guess! It's not so much him not showing his face per se that I don't like, but the fact that the developers seem to try way too hard to keep it this way - ie, in the scene where Chris finds him and holds him up, his head hangs so low and so motionless that you can clearly tell they overdid it. He staggers, he moves his hands, he talks to Chris, he even interacts with both him and Rose, yet all this time his head is hanging there like a lifeless bag of sand. That is, I would like his moves to be more natural in the 3rd person scenes, and the environment to be more interactive in connection to him - like in RE7, when he has that hallucination of himself near the end, you can catch a glimpse of his face from a distance.

hisbrokenbutterfly said...

Oh, and thank you!! :)

Unknown said...

Hello, I found your blog just today while looking for pictures of the beautiful interiors of Resident Evil locations. It's surprisingly hard to find good screenshots of the arquitecture, mobilia and pieces of art I pay attention to in these games. My dream is to someday live in a house similar to the Spencer Mansion or the Dimitrescu Castle, puzzles and all! Needless to say I am absolutely in love with every single one of your posts, especially the compilation of themes in games, like your post showing gorgeous chess sets or paintings.
I would love if it you made a post talking about the art of RE Village, as soon as I played it obviously reminded me so much of RE4's aesthetic. Especially Lady D and Donna's houses enchanted me, but the church and other smaller locations as well.
So thankful for your work! I will be paying great attention to your blog from now on :)

hisbrokenbutterfly said...

Thank you very much for your comment! I have played RE Village a few times already, but I was a bit discouraged due to some technical issues (lag, slowness) that haven't been resolved so far despite the update patches. But writing more about it and analyzing it more is among my future plans :)