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Red Dead Redemption 2 is a beautifully written video game with some expert performances across the board. But for my money, few of the stories that Rockstar's epic Western tells are quite as tragic as the gradual fall of Dutch van der Linde.
If you went into the 2018 prequel having played the original Red Dead Redemption, you already will have known that things don't end well for Dutch and his merry band of outlaws.
But even if Dutch was a complete stranger to you, Red Dead Redemption 2's opening paints a bleak picture. The gang are being pursued through a snowstorm, desperate and on the verge of death. We're told a job in Blackwater went badly wrong, but the exact details of it are left to the imagination.
Dutch, like everyone in the gang, is technically a bad guy. He's murdered. He's robbed. But he also lives by a code and looks after his own. Throughout the story, we slowly see Dutch deteriorate from a strong, reliable leader into a desperate paranoid mess who constantly second guesses himself and is easily manipulated by the terrifying, murderous Micah. By the end of the game, he's pushed everyone away and, by putting his faith in the wrong people, tears the gang apart.
One popular theory that's started doing the rounds again is that Dutch's personality shift is bought on by a head injury that he suffers during the Urban Pleasures mission. In yet another job that goes south early into the game, the gang's fearless leader takes a major blow to the noggin and becomes dazed for the rest of the mission.
The theory posits that Dutch was left with a brain injury as a result of the blow, and that this ultimately leads to his downward spiral. It's certainly an interesting idea, but I can't help but feel it's something an insult to the excellent writing of Red Dead Redemption 2.
The genius of Red Dead Redemption 2's Dutch arc is that his fall from grace isn't a sudden switch caused by a bonk on the noodle. It's gradual. Earned. From the very beginning, multiple characters refer the Blackwater job, heavily implying that Dutch was goaded by Micah into killing a woman in cold blood. Micah's very presence has clearly been a point of contention among the group for some time, with both Arthur and John expressing their concern that he's leading Dutch down a bad road.
Then there are the multiple other factors that keep pushing Dutch to his absolute breaking point (and well beyond). This is a man who's struggling to find a place in a world that no longer wants him. A man who is struggling to keep his family together while being hunted across America, and has to deal with constant setbacks, betrayals, and deaths of people he loves.
I'm sorry, but chalking it all up to a bump on the head? Red Dead Redemption 2 is better than that. So much better.
Featured Image Credit: Rockstar Games
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