Kaidan Alenko Alliance Marine and crew-mate, is perhaps the most overlooked character in the Mass Effect series. Many felt that he was too whiny or generic in the first game, and subsequently killed him off, leaving Ashley Williams to live. However, I let Kaidan live during the events of the first game, and I was very excited about how that affected my play through of the trilogy.
Possibly because the promo art of the Mass Effeect trilogy focuses on a male Shepard, Kaidan often becomes sidelined, and is generally not marketed as an option on the team, as opposed to Ashley Williams, who is featured more prominently in promos for the first Mass Effect. However, I would say that the friendship, relationship and eventual partnership with Kaidan offers far more depth and reward than the one with Ashley, or arguably any other character in the game by a wide margin.
In the opening of the original Mass Effect, we begin on Eden Prime with Kaiden and Jenkins, who hardly makes it around the corner before being killed. As a result, Kaiden is the only significant NPC to be a part of Shepard’s crew before the events of the Mass Effect trilogy, creating an existing and established bond between the two. The player soon runs into Ashley Williams, donned in her bubble-gum pink and marshmallow white battle armor, running from the battle with the Geth.
When Ashley joins your party, Shepard, Kaiden and Ashley are seemingly the only three humans defending the human colony of Eden Prime against the Geth onslaught.
In the original Mass Effect there are several instances when Kaidan Alenko says or does something that defines his character, and it is surprisingly soon before we come across the first. After meeting a couple of survivors, including one that is a bit loopy, Shepard engages them in conversation. Given dialogue options, Shepard has the option to smack the wacky man over the head with the butt of his/her pistol.
Kaiden then responds to Shepard:
“That… may have been a little extreme, Commander,”
Kaiden remains unfazed behind Shepard, calmly and firmly stating his opinion on the situation. His manner is relaxed, as though this is not the first time he has pointed out to his superior officer where they’ve been a bit out of line. The lack of response from Shepard serves to reinforce the depth of their friendship as Shepard does not confront this particularly insubordinate subordinate.
While the military etiquette of the future is not exactly clear, it’s likely safe to assume that one would need an unusually good relationship with one’s superior officer to get away with such a remark, especially in front of others, and even more so in the presence of a brand new comrade such as Ashley. The military of Mass Effect does not seem to be too dissimilar from our own, for all their fancy guns and biotics.
Kaidan later accidentally triggers the Prothean Beacon on Eden Prime and is pulled out of the way by Shepard, who receives the vision and suffering in his place. If you choose to have Shepard vindicate Kaidan of blame upon regaining consciousness, Kaidan seems quietly pleased, the friendship seeming quite natural.
Ashley Williams, on the other hand, is quite harsh and brash by comparison. Maybe witnessing Kaidan’s remark made her believe that she could get away with speaking back to Shepard, but having just met her, her attitude is out of line, as Shepared explicitly states when he/she asks:
“Do you have a problem with me?”
Ultimately, this contrast between the two characters validates Shepard’s bond with Kaiden, which extends far beyond the opening events of the story, while Ashley is just some bubble gum armor-wearing warrior that you picked up along the way.
Kaidan and Williams shadow each other throughout much of the first Mass Effect in the trilogy, in that you are ultimately working towards sacrificing one of them. Although the player does not know this from the start of the game, the player must choose to sacrifice one of the two humans on board the Normandy in order to continue to overcome Saren and the Reaper threat. However, from a narrative standpoint this is not a choice at all. Kaiden is Shepard’s oldest friend, who he/she shares a unique bond with; while Ashley is merely a straggler picked up on Eden Prime. If you saved Kaiden (which you should have) you get the option to tell Kaidan afterwards that there was no way you could have chosen him to die in her place. He is suitably humble, yet sad that your decision came down to rescuing him over Ashley.
As a result of his subtly as a character, Kaiden often gets written off as boring, generic and whiny. Instead, what we are witnessing, what gamers are ultimately not familiar with, is a quiet and sensitive man that will only open up to you if you get the chance to know him. He doesn’t like crowds or dance clubs, but he appreciates true connection and dinner and drinks with someone he is close to. He could have easily been written as a stereotype, but BioWare chose to give him complexity, despite the fact that he’s a handsome solider that wields weapons of mental and physical destruction. He could have Been A Man in the most obvious way, but instead BioWare chose to make him reserved introspective, and reflective.
Kaidan’s reservation and self-control is seemingly a direct result of an incident from his youth. As a human of biotic talent enhanced by an electronic chip, he found himself part of an experimental group, the forerunner to the current biotic program. The conditions there were poor, and he and his classmates were treated badly by a Turian instructor named Vyrnnus. Kaidan recounts an incident to Shepard in which he lashed out with his biotic powers and killed the Turian in defense of a girl that he had become close to.
As Kaiden recalls of his experience in the ‘Jump Zero’ program:
“You either came out a superman or a wreck. A lot of kids snapped. A few died.”
Kaiden later gets into detail about the killing of his biotic instructor:
“He hurt Rahna. Broke her arm. She reached for a glass of water instead of pulling it biotically. She just wanted a drink without getting a nosebleed, you know? Like an idiot, I stood up. Didn’t know what I was going to do…just something. And Vyrnnus lost it. Beat the crap out of me. Kept shouting how they should have bombed us back into the stone age. That’s when the knife came up. A military-issue talon. Right in my face. I cut loose. Full biotic kick, right in the teeth. Almost as strong as I can manage now. At seventeen, that’s something. Snapped his neck. They probably could’ve saved him, if they got him to an infirmary quick enough. But they didn’t. Caused a stir when they shipped him home. BAaT training was shut down. Conatix folded a couple of years later. It’s funny. I’m not sure which of us got the worst of what happened.”
A Paragon or Neutral Shepard can then offer Kaiden words of reassurance:
“You’re not a burden: Kaidan, you’re a strong man. Talking about this doesn’t make you a whiner, and it doesn’t make you immature. It makes you human.”
Kaiden later offers Shepard words of solace regarding their connection, tying his past into their current relationship:
“When someone important to you is up on a ledge, you help them. Keep them from mistakes better made by a kid.”
This experience made Kaidan who he is today; determined not to make the same mistake again he keeps himself together, even if it means cutting himself off from the world around him.
In the first Mass Effect, only a female Shepared has the option to have their way with Kaidan.. Kaidan and Shepard have an existing friendship and have a great deal in common, so this is a clear natural progression of their relationship. Liara, the only other option for a female Shepard, is also a unique and interesting character, but ultimately is gender neutral and not male and that relationship as a female Shepard has a large voyeuristic element to the likely heterosexual white male player, which would take them out of the immersive experience. Unfortunately, BioWare was not quite the progressive storytellers that they became in the third Mass Effect game, and as a result a male Shepard and male Kaiden relationship is not possible, whereas this would really add to their sudden feelings for each other in the third game. However, as a caveat to that, a player can operate through the use of save edits by switching the gender flags of Shepard to allow for a homosexual relationship with Kaiden throughout the trilogy. Still, for a female Shepard, Kaiden is the only clear romantic option on the Normandy, as Liara is the only other option.
The player again meets Kaiden in the second Mass Effect game on Horizon. The man has matured immensely; he’s been promoted and is doing quite well in the Alliance military structure. Due to Shepard’s involvement with Cerberus, Kaiden is not exactly happy to see Shepard, regardless if they had had a romantic tryst in the previous game. Due to his rightly placed mistrust of Cerberus, .Kaidan remains firm at the expense of a friendship, and quite possibly a relationship. As a result, he has begun to fulfill his potential as a leader rather than a follower. Kaidain’s treatment of Shepard on Horizon stands to show that the quiet, reserved man that needs a few nice words from his commanding officer to open himself up, a man who has enough integrity to step out from the shadow of that very commanding officer and has the gall to tell him/her that they are wrong to involve themselves with Cerberus, as Kaiden feels betrayed and conflicted.
As Kaiden angrily states to Shepard on Horizon:
“Is that all you have to say? You show up after two years and just act like nothing happened? I would have followed you anywhere, Commander. Thinking you were gone… it was like losing a limb. Why didn’t you try to contact me? Why didn’t you let me know you were alive?
This is a sad and compelling moment, and a character defining one for Kaiden. As an apology, Kiaden will send the following letter to Shepard:
I’m sorry for what I said back on Horizon. I spent two years pulling myself back together after you went down with the Normandy. It took me a long time to get over my guilt for surviving and move on. I’d finally let my friends talk me into going out for drinks with a doctor on the Citadel. Nothing serious, but trying to let myself have a life again, you know?
Then I saw you, and everything pulled hard to port. You were standing in front of me, but you were with Cerberus. I guess I really don’t know who either of us is anymore. Do you even remember that night before Ilos? That night meant everything to me… maybe it meant as much to you. But a lot has changed in the last two years and I can’t just put that aside.
But please be careful. I’ve watched too many people close to me die — on Eden Prime, on Virmire, on Horizon, on the Normandy. I couldn’t bear it if I lost you again. If you’re still the woman I remember I know you’ll find a way to stop these Collector attacks. But Cerberus is too dangerous to be trusted. Watch yourself.
When things settle down a little… maybe… I don’t know. Just take care.
Kaiden is not heard from again in Mass Effect 2, but reappears in Mass Effect 3, now as a potential love interest for a male Shepard. Kaidan is now very much his own man. He becomes a Spectre as he follows in Shepard’s footsteps. Kaidan is laid-up in hospital for a while following an incident on Mars where Kaiden is nearly killed by a Cerberus biotic. But Kaiden is now an independent and confident officer in his own right.
The evolution of Kaidan’s character throughout the trilogy, and as a potential heterosexual or homosexual love interest, is powerful and compelling, and makes Kaidan perhaps the most developed, well-rounded and fully realized character in the Mass Effect universe. Kaidan and Shepard’s bond is, at the very least, worth exploring in a play though of the game, as his more subdued nature will likely be overlooked in a first play through.