Councilor Mel Medarda from Arcane: Character Overview
In the Netflix show Arcane, Councilor Mel Medarda is one of the story's most influential characters. She also has a complex and interesting backstory that has clearly helped shape the character you see in the first season of Arcane.
Warning: This article contains significant spoilers about Councilor Mel Medarda and other characters in Arcane. If you have not already watched Arcane, a League of Legends story, you should definitely check it out on Netflix before continuing.
In this character overview, we will cover and discuss everything to do with Mel Merdarda. We will begin with a thorough discussion of her storyline and then follow with interesting tropes and cinematic moments that really stood out to us.
In short, Councilor Medarda is one of the member's of Piltover's ruling council. She is also the most intelligent, cunning, ambitious, and manipulative of the councilors. As described in the Storyline section below, she is pivotal in pushing forward many of the plot points that drove the drama and intrigue that makes Arcane one of the best TV shows ever created!
“Any worthwhile venture involves risk.”
Mel lived as the daughter of a Medarda warlord in her early life. This lifestyle put her in close contact with wealth, politics, and violence.
In her early teens, Mel surveyed the ruined throne room of a rival whom her mother, Ambessa Medarda, had conquered. Ambessa told Mel that Mel’s grandfather exposed her to the horrors of war as a learning opportunity when she was young.
Mel objected, quoting her brother, saying, “War is a failure of statecraft.” Mel described her fantasy of a refurbished throne room, complete with a character to occupy the throne. Mel describes this character as “pliable, so we can mold her,” showing that her manipulative tendencies started at a young age.
Ambessa’s soldiers brought in a young girl, apparently a royal family member who once ruled there.
Ambessa used the prisoner to test her daughter, asking her what to do with the girl. Mel encouraged her mother to spare the girl’s life, strip her of her possessions, and banish her to the far colonies. Ambessa countered “This prisoner is a symbol of the old regime. Kill her now, and only one must die. Spare her, and you may have to kill thousands.”
When Mel continued to advocate for mercy, Ambessa ruthlessly beheaded the girl. Like Mel’s grandfather, Ambessa used war as a learning opportunity. This event was so traumatic for young Mel, she still dreamt of it many years later.
Mel came to Piltover when she was disowned by her mother and sent away from her home in Noxus. She became a prominent figure in her new home, rising as far as the ruling Council. Her clout came from successful investing and influence peddling. Still, she bemoaned being “the poorest Medarda.”
Councilor Medarda purchased a gift for a fellow Council member, the petulant Councilor Hoskel. The gift was presented as a challenging puzzle, but in reality, it was a children’s toy. This gift showed Councilor Medarda’s two-faced nature: complimenting Hoskel to his face, but deriding him as an ignorant child behind his back. Hoskel was seen struggling with the same puzzle toy seven years later.
When Jayce Talis in Arcane was apprehended for experimenting with dangerous materials, Councilor Medarda suspected that the young man might be working on something she could profit from. At his trial, when Jayce tried to hide the true nature of his work, Councilor Medarda prodded him, trying to get him to say more. She mocked his work and his capabilities. She called him “a boy meddling with things he doesn’t understand.”
Jayce lost his composure and pushed back, revealing that he was attempting to create magic. The Councilor’s reactions were extremely negative, except for Mel’s. Her eyes seemed to light with avarice.
Not long after, Councilor Medarda came upon Jayce and Viktor sneaking onto Academy grounds, trying to complete Jayce’s experiments. She didn’t stop them. She even went so far as to distract a guard, so that the two men could work uninterrupted.
When the experiment succeeded, Heimerdinger, Mel, and some enforcers came upon the scene. Heimerdinger wanted to suppress Hextech. Yet, Mel would not allow him, saying it was for the Council to decide. The Council embraced Hextech. Moreover, Medarda’s investment in Jayce proved to be very profitable.
A period of about seven years passed, and Hex Tech ignited Piltover’s economy. The skyline of the city transformed, with towers rising higher and airships crowding the air. Thanks to the Hex Gates, a means of transporting vehicles over great distances almost instantaneously, Piltover became the world’s shipping lane.
Still, Councilor Medarda was not satisfied with her wealth, always craving more. When she heard Jayce and Viktor had a new Hex Tech invention, the Hex gemstones, she rushed to make deals with investors before the product was officially released.
Jayce told her that Heimerdinger proposed to delay the project by a decade or more. Mel goaded him to reveal the project immediately. She used physicality and flattery to manipulate Jayce, placing her hands on his chest and calling him “A leader who looks to the future.”
For once, her manipulations fell flat, and Jayce decided to delay the release of the gemstones. When Councilor Medarda heard this, she and her assistant Elora stormed away from Jayce’s Progress Day speech.
In spite of Jayce’s decision, the work was ultimately released. An agent of Zaun, Jinx, committed a terrorist attack upon Piltover. She stole one of the precious gemstones, along with the research notes to make it work.
The theft sent the Piltover Council into an uproar. They feared that Zaunite terrorists would use the gemstone to create powerful weapons to attack Piltover. At a council meeting, they ranted that the Undercity had become uncontrollable.
Jayce recommended that all Hextech operations be suspended until the situation was resolved. This would have been disastrous for Mel and the other corrupt Councilors, who had enriched themselves greatly through Hex Tech and the Hex Gates in particular.
Councilor Medarda in Arcane masterfully tempted Jayce with a lofty position, one contingent upon the continued operation of Hex Tech. She moved for Jayce to be elevated to the Council. His purview would be the guardianship of Hextech, protecting both the citizens’ lives and their investments. This would rocket house Talis to greater importance, as well as allow Jayce to continue chasing his dream.
When the Council approved the motion, the temptation was too great for Jayce to overcome. His selfless desire to suspend Hex Tech was forgotten, and he became consumed by the task Mel set for him. Mel Medarda was one of the early voices in Arcane urging Jayce to weaponize Hex Tech against Zaun, a call that he would eventually heed.
Jayce took his new role more seriously than Councilor Medarda had hoped. Worried about a gemstone-powered weapon entering the city, Jayce enforced strict control over Hex Gate traffic, stopping smuggling in its tracks. This went against Councilor Medarda’s interests, as she and the other corrupt members of the council were up to their ears in the black market. Once again, it was time for her manipulative talents to shine.
Councilor Medarda warned Jayce that by halting smuggling, he had made himself the common enemy of powerful Piltovers. Using genteelisms such as “favors between friends,” Mel explained that most of the Council members and their powerful friends relied on smuggling to amass wealth, trade favors, and treat themselves to forbidden goods.
The newly ascended House Talis is more vulnerable than ever, and with the attention of the powerful, it could be destroyed. After menacing him with that stick, Mel quickly tempted him with the carrot. She appealed to his greatest character flaw: his wounded confidence.
Jayce always hated when people doubted him and his dream. Mel presented the success of House Talis, even by corruption, as an opportunity to prove his doubters wrong. Jayce quickly buckled under this pressure and allowed smuggling to resume.
She pulled Jayce further under her influence by seducing him. She flattered him, paid lip service to his dream of putting power into the hands of common people, and kissed him. While Jayce was busy in the Councilor’s bed, he neglected his friend Viktor in Arcane, who needed him.
When Jayce learned that his friend had been hospitalized, he left his lover without a goodbye. This seemed to irritate her. He returned the next day with an apology and a need for comfort. His body language, placing his head on Mel’s lap, suddenly thrust her into a maternal role, one in which she had no interest. She asked, confused, “Why did you come to me with this?… You should be with him.”
Councilor Mel Medarda encouraged the overthrow of the one Councilor who was not corrupt: Heimerdinger. When Jayce regretted his betrayal of him, Mel soothed his conscience. “Everything you said about him was true.” She told him that this move would bring him closer to his dream, bringing Hex Tech to the masses.
Soon after, Mel increased the pressure on Jayce to weaponize Hextech against Zaun. She downplayed the aggressive move, calling it a “countermeasure” rather than an “aggression,” and suggested, “if we’re lucky, we’ll never need to use it.”
Rumors of Hextech weaponry in Arcane soon brought Councilor Medarda’s warlike mother to Piltover. At first, the warlord approached the conversation in the dishonest, manipulative manner we have observed so many times from her daughter. Ambessa feigned that she had never banished Mel, reframing it as, “I sent you here to oversee the family’s interests and grow yourself.”
Unfooled, Mel called her out on the attempted gaslighting. When the warlord saw that her attempts to ingratiate herself were failing, she brought up an emotionally charged topic that might bring mother and daughter together. She revealed that Kino, Mel’s brother, had been killed. Ambessa was tightfisted with the details around Kino’s death, revealing only he had made a powerful enemy.
She then veered the conversation toward her true goal, Hex Tech weaponry. Mel chided her mother, saying that Piltover was unlike their homeland, Noxus, in that, “War is not our first and only resort.” Ambessa warned, rather prophetically, that “Weapons can’t be unmade, and they are always used.” Repulsed by her mother’s ideology, Mel began to back away from her stance regarding weaponizing Hextech against Zaun.
Councilor Mel Medarda’s Backstory in Arcane Shaped Her Response to Terroristic Behavior from Zaun
Soon after her mother’s arrival, Councilor Medarda attended a Council meeting where Piltover’s conflict with Zaun was discussed. Caitlyn Kiramman and Vi of Arcane's Undercity came to present what they had learned: that the troubles were all orchestrated by one man, Silco.
Silco’s aim was independence for the nation of Zaun, which the Council wasn’t ready to grant. At that meeting, Vi urged the Council to pursue violent action against Silco. They also confirmed that the terrorist Jinx in Arcane, who made distinctive and technically masterful bombs, had possession of the stolen Hex gemstone. On hearing this, Councilor Talis declared “Then we have to go in by force.”
It was Councilor Medarda who opposed him. Perhaps remembering the horrors she’d been exposed to in her youth, she cautioned, “Jayce, you don’t know war. I do. It must be our last resort.” As usual, the other Councilors followed Medarda’s lead. This led to Vi storming out, and seeking Piltover aid in a less direct manner. She convinced Jayce to join her in an attack on Silco’s Shimmer manufacturing facility, bringing Hex Tech weaponry to bear.
When Mel learned that her favorite catspaw was going against her advice, she blamed her mother’s influence. She stormed into Ambessa Medarda’s quarters and angrily confronted her. At first, the warlord maintained her usual brash, condescending demeanor. Yet after dismissing all witnesses, she took a more soulful approach.
She confessed to Mel that the enemy Kino had made was still out for Medarda’s blood. His resources were superior to theirs unless Ambessa could get her hands on Hex Tech weaponry. She admitted to fanning the flames of war between Piltover and Zaun to encourage the development of such weaponry, saying to Mel, “I’ve only accelerated a process you started.” She urged Mel to allow the war to unfold, and then return to Noxus at her mother’s side.
Mel reminded her mother that she was not part of the Medarda clan any longer. She asked her mother why she was cast out. Ambessa gave an explanation that would be most palatable to her daughter: that Mel’s merciful nature made it emotionally harder for Ambessa to take the violent actions which safeguarded the family. Framed this way, one can infer that Ambessa loved Mel too much. The verity of this excuse is unclear, since it only came about when Ambessa needed something from Mel: weapons, and perhaps a new heir.
During the final Council meeting, the Councilors once again discussed the war between Zaun and Piltover. Jayce Talis revealed that he had bartered a peace deal with Silco, one contingent upon Zaunite independence. At first, the Council was in an uproar. Councilor Talis had vastly overstepped his authority. Looking thoughtful, Councilor Medarda removed her ring, a symbol of her warlike mother’s family. She moved to accept Jayce’s proposal for peace. Influential as ever, her motion inspired the other Councilors to do so as well. She and Jayce shared a look of triumph as the motion carried.
A moment later, the Council chamber was destroyed by a missile launched by a Zaunite Hextech weapon. Whether Mel or the Council’s plans for peace would survive remains unclear. We eagerly await the return of Arcane in Season 2 to help answer this question.
Mel is usually the smartest person in the room. This is seen in her private joke on Councilor Hoskel. Mel laughs at him for years, but most characters are unable to see the punchline, or whether a joke has even occurred. Mel has used her incredible cunning to rise from banished outcast to wealthy Piltover elite. Her influence comes not from violence, but from peddling influence, making investments, and controlling the other players on the board.
She is a level-headed character with great mastery over her emotions. She is rarely controlled by anger and never by fear. That is not to say that she comes across as robotic or unfeeling—quite the opposite. Mel is extremely charismatic and can simulate the emotions other people wish to see in her. For example, when she distracted the enforcers from Viktor and Jayce’s illicit activity, she did not show fear of getting caught or even excitement. When she interacted with the enforcers, she portrayed calm and confidence.
Especially in the early chapters of Arcane, Mel is used as a symbol of greed. She is always pictured surrounded by luxury, from the extravagant parties she attends, to the elaborate drink in her hand, down to the gold-painted accents on her face.
The audience often sees her through Jayce Talis, a character with much more screen time than Mel herself. To Jayce, she is a corrupter, a snake in the garden who transforms a pure-hearted man into a greedy sinner.
She also seems to be a lonely character. Long ago, she was isolated from her family by banishment. Now she isolates herself from others with her two-faced nature. Instead of having genuine interactions, she shows people what they want to see, so that she can manipulate and control them.
Even when she takes a lover, it does not seem to touch her heart. She keeps Jayce at arm’s length, acting cold and awkward when he needs emotional support. Jayce is the goose that laid a golden egg, and taking him into her bed was a strategic move, to keep those eggs for herself!
Whether this relationship might deepen into something more meaningful is a question for season 2.
Mel’s relationship with her mother is an interesting one. On one hand, we can see that Mel has been molded by her mother. It was Ambessa who gave Mel an appetite for wealth and modeled for her the manipulative means of maintaining power. For her mother to go from promising Mel “the world” to casting her out with nothing must have been painful for
Mel. On the other hand, spiting her mother’s influence spurred Mel’s most momentous action of season 1, her bid for peace with Zaun. Ambessa tried to teach Mel that violence is sometimes necessary, so one should become comfortable with it. The horrors of war are apparently still horrifying to this character, who still has nightmares about Ambessa’s backfired lessons.
Mel embodies the Corruptor. This type of character interacts with a pure-hearted protagonist, gradually pulling them into darkness. IT is usually done by offering the protagonist an easier to their goals.
The final shot of Mel may be inspired by an iconic shot in Citizen Kane, a movie said to have revolutionized aesthetics in world cinema. When viewers first see the establishing shot of Susan Alexander’s nightclub, the camera moves towards the glass, then seems to pass through it.
The final shot of Mel similarly passes through a window, as a missile rockets towards her location. Her golden jewelry flashes, perhaps reflecting the light of the incandescent weapon.
In Arcane, Councilor Mel Medarda is one of the most realistic and dynamic characters. Her brutal past and terrible childhood shaped her into a cold, calculated, and lonely individual. Yet, her intelligence and tenacity propelled her into a position of great power within Piltover, regardless.
It is not clear if Mel’s storyline ended with the conclusion of Season 1, or if we should expect to see her character return from the aftermath of Jinx’s attack on the council chambers. We look forward to discovering this with you.
Images Courtesy of Riot Games and Netflix.