Even if it’s essentially an event to bring about the big climax that is the next chapter, I really like this moment. It’s an interesting insight into the way that everyone grieves and deals with hardships in different ways. Tyler is eager to learn more about that fateful night. But of course, he wasn’t the one who actually killed Mary Ann. It’s likely easier for him to think back to and reflect on that night. Naturally, Alyson isn’t in the same boat.
Now we’ve hit the conclusion of Tell Me Why. We’ve had quite a bit of Mary Ann’s story explored, including even some humanising moments such as the transgender child support book we find in her room, or the little moments of her dancing and hanging out with her kids, creating stories together. Now, however, it’s really her time.
With Tyler and Alyson making up and now reunited, it’s here we learn the backstory of Mary Ann and how she came to be. A difficult teenage life, need to escape her parents, and an unplanned pregnancy is what brought her to Delos Crossing. Money challenges, a miscarriage, isolation and so much more is what made her the way she was on the night of her passing. An excellent job is done here in explaining Mary Ann’s reasoning for being so absent and neglectful from her kids: she was wrought with mental health issues. At the same time, a just as excellent job is done in not excusing it. As stated earlier, abuse is abuse, even if it’s not of malicious intent.
Fast forward a bit and we get the last, pivotal shifting moment of the game. Tessa’s husband Tom has been revealed to have been the twins’ father in secret all along. He confesses he was there on the night of Mary Ann’s death and witnessed the whole thing. He makes a big claim, stating that at the most, Mary Ann was just going to commit suicide and didn’t want to hurt Tyler. The shotgun she’s holding in all those flashbacks was never intended for her son, only herself. She loved and cared for her kids, and was just barred from showing it enough because of her mental illness.
Here’s where players are faced with the most difficult decision of Tell Me Why. The twins stand on the dock, two choices ahead of them. Was the killing of Mary Ann self-defence or not? Tyler affirms everything that the narrative has been telling us the whole time: of course it was self-defence. Alyson has her doubts, and is leaning more into the guilt that plagues her mind: maybe she made a horrible mistake all those years ago. Before deciding, Tyler assures Alyson he’ll support her no matter the outcome. Maybe he too has his doubts, but wants to stick to the story to defend Alyson? That, and like so many other parts of Tell Me Why, we’ll never know.
This ending choice is excellent in tying together the gameplay knot of the unreliable narrator, as well as the themes of abuse and trauma. Depending on the walks of your life, people could really swing either way. Mary Ann did some horrible things to the twins. Of course it was self-defence. All those breadcrumbed shadows of doubt though… could it have ended differently? The answer is up to you, but it will never be simple. There’s no wrong answer here, just a lesson in the difficulties of trauma, how much it can warp your memory, and how much it can warp everything you think you know. In the end, you’ll have your own truth.
With a few weeks now removed for the dust to settle, I think Tell Me Why will sit with the right people for quite a long time, for the right reasons. It has so much to say about complex relationships and how to explore them and deal with them. More so than any other game I’ve seen for a while.
If you’re keen on more Tell Me Why coverage, check out our podcast interview where fellow Checkpoint writer Hailey and I chat with Morgan Lockhart and Clay Carmouche, two key narrative and writing staff on the game, about some of the ins and outs of this complex adventure.