Before Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One Ethan Hunt always found a way to rescue his friends no matter the situation. He never had to trade one life for many. His worst nightmare finally came true in the franchise’s seventh installment, when Gabriel murdered Ilsa Faust on a bridge in Venice.
At least that’s what the movie wants us to think happened. A closer look at the events surrounding her death and Ethan’s past indicates him and Ilsa conspired to fake her death a second time in Dead Reckoning Part One. And if he did she is primed to return for glorious retribution in Part Two.
Dead Reckoning Part One Parallels with Mission: Impossible I
Dead Reckoning Part One is about how “our lives are the sum of our choices” because “we cannot escape the past.” The movie reinforces this theme via major connections with the original 1996 Mission: Impossible. The seventh film finally marked the return of Henry Czerny’s Eugene Kittridge, the man who delivered that line about the past. The movie also prominently features Ethan’s up-close magic skills and finished with a lengthy train sequence.
The most important connections with the original film involved a death on a bridge. The 1996 movie featured Jon Voight’s Jim Phelps staging his own death during the film’s opening mission. It was a deception designed to take his enemies focus off of him entirely before he returned.
Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa also died from a stab wound on a bridge, just like Jim Phelps pretended to. Without Dead Reckoning Part One‘s connections to the 1996 movie that might seem like a coincidence, but with them it feels like anything but an accident. That’s also true of other choices Ethan has made in similar situations.
Is Ilsa Really Dead?
Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt truly loved his wife Julia. He still does and always will. But they both knew they ultimately couldn’t stay together. Their relationship didn’t just put her in danger, it put everyone in danger. They realized their marriage would inevitably lead to something terrible happening because Ethan wouldn’t be around to stop it. Luther told all of this to Ilsa in Mission: Impossible Fallout when she asked why the two were no longer a couple.
Why did Luthor tell Ilsa this? He said, “In all the years that I’ve known Ethan he’s only been serious about two women.” Julia was the first. Ilsa is/was the second. And how did Ethan try to keep his ex-wife safe as best he could? By faking Julia’s death.
By seemingly removing her from the world entirely he kept her hidden and safe. At least he did for as long as he could. The problem for him was some people in the government knew Julia was still alive, so when a traitor like August Walker wanted to destroy Ethan, Walker and Solomon Lane were able to use Julia against him.
If Ethan wanted to keep Ilsa safe, which he’s been desperate to do since he met her, the best way to do it would be to fake her death same as he did Julia. Only this time he would learn from his past failures. This time he wouldn’t let anyone else know she is still alive. And we know he’s more than capable of doing just that with Ilsa.
Faking Ilsa’s Death the First Time
As Kittridge correctly pointed out, Ilsa and Ethan have a routine. She gets herself in trouble and Ethan helps her out of trouble. That happened in Rogue Nation and Fallout. It’s how her story began in Dead Reckoning Part One as well. Ethan faked Ilsa’s death in the desert. It was the best way for him to protect her from enemies and the IMF alike. It removed her from the board of this global game he must play. And that was all before he learned Gabriel was back in his life. Ethan knows Gabriel can and will get to him by hurting the people Ethan cares about most.
In classic Ilsa fashion, she couldn’t and wouldn’t stay away. When Ethan needed her she returned to his side. She then joined him for his meeting with the White Widow, Gabriel, and the Entity in Venice. It was an encounter Ethan had to know was likely to end in bloodshed.
Ethan Hunt’s Foresight and Misdirection
No one outthinks their opponent’s like Ethan Hunt. Everything Gabriel said about the Entity applies to Ethan, who has a long history of foreseeing how events will play out. It’s how he manipulates them to trap and best his opponent. And he does it quickly. It’s as if his brain can run an infinite number of simulations like a super computer.
Ethan had to know what dangers awaited him at the Doge’s Palace. He knew Gabriel would be there and he knew what Gabriel is capable of. Going into that meeting the odds of him, Ilsa, and Grace all walking out of there alive had to be close to zero. At least they would be for someone else. Because while Luther told Ethan none of their lives were more important than the mission and Ethan would have to be willing to let one of them die, Ethan said he didn’t accept that. If he didn’t accept that, he didn’t walk into the Ducal Palace unprepared. He wouldn’t put Ilsa out in the open like that and make her a target if he didn’t want to do exactly that.
If you know what your enemy has planned you can use it against them. Ask Jim Phelps, Chief Atlee, Solomon Lane, and August Walker about Ethan’s ability to outmaneuver people with fake outs and misdirections. It’s one of his best skills. Since Ethan knew Gabriel/the Entity would want to kill one of his friends, Ethan was more than capable of using that against his foes.
(We know he’s capable of outsmarting even the Entity. Thanks to Luther, Ethan avoided the outcomes the Entity was counting on. He got the key when Gabriel fully expected to have it by the end of that day.)
Not only could Ethan have faked Ilsa’s death after Gabriel (maybe) stabbed her, that could have been the plan all along. (She did give Gabriel a little smile when he said someone was dying at that meeting.) If Ilsa couldn’t kill Gabriel—or was never supposed to, since Ethan always wants to keep assets alive for information—she might have planned to “die.”
And faking her death would do more than just keep her safe.
Why Would Ethan Fake Ilsa Faust’s Death in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One?
Faking Ilsa’s death not only protects her, it also helps Ethan and the world. As Luther also told her in Fallout, a movie where Ethan’s refusal to sacrifice Luther put the world in peril, “We’re in this mess because Ethan wouldn’t let me die. He’s a good man. And he cares about you. More than he can admit. That’s one more worry than he can handle right now. If you care about him, you should walk away.” Ilsa is maybe the single greatest weapon Gabriel and the Entity had to use against Ethan. But they can’t play that card twice.
Why would the courageous Ilsa agree to that? We know she can’t stay away from any mission no matter how much Ethan begs her. (Ilsa couldn’t do that in this very movie!) She certainly wouldn’t when the fate of humanity is at stake. Because faking her death actually makes her more valuable. She’s now a powerful secret ally that Gabriel, the Entity, and the governments of the world are no longer including in their calculations.
The Entity can run all the simulations it wants, but if it does so without all the information it needs its predictions will always be incomplete and wrong. By not accounting for Ilsa it will be behind Ethan’s own calculations. That gives the IMF agent the advantage he always has over his human enemies.
Ilsa wouldn’t be his only advantage from this scheme, either.
What Ilsa’s Death Meant for Grace
Ilsa’s “death” also served another important purpose: it inspired Grace. Hayley Atwell’s thief—who was notably unconscious when Ilsa “died” and therefore never saw what happened when Ethan found Ilsa’s body—needed a push to join Ethan’s team. Knowing someone sacrificed herself to save a stranger helped Grace follow a path that might save the world. Ethan now has an ally within Kittridge’s own circle, which could prove just as valuable as having a secret Ilsa out there to help him.
It’s a lot of compelling circumstantial evidence. And that’s without factoring in how muted Ethan and the film’s response was to Ilsa’s death.
What the Weird Reaction to Ilsa Faust’s Death Tells Us about Ethan Hunt
It makes sense on one level Ethan would quickly move on after Ilsa’s death. There was no time to waste since the very fate of mankind was at stake. But it was weird the movie didn’t let a major character’s death breathe. In the moment it also felt like it swapped out one major female character for another, something that is wholly unlike the Mission: Impossible franchise. It doesn’t treat its female characters like interchangeable parts. But it was only strange if she actually died on that bridge. If she’s really secretly alive everything Ethan and Dead Reckoning Part One did after Venice makes total sense. And for a series with some of the best writing in Hollywood we know which side is the smart one to wager on.
But while the film was about the past, a fake out of this magnitude is ultimately about the future. And that’s what’s really exciting about the possibility Ilsa is still alive. She’s now positioned to return and stop the man who tried to kill her. He’s a man with a name and role that foreshadows how his own story will end.
Why Gabriel’s Biblical Name Is So Important in Dead Reckoning
Gabriel is a name of great importance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Like the parallels between Dead Reckoning and previous movies, that was not a coincidence. The film made a clear connection between Esai Morales’s character and the archangel of religious scripture. It described the Entity’s chosen representative as a “dark messiah,” a figure who views death as a gift. The man Ethan Hunt fears is the ultimate angel of death for the Entity, the proverbial “ god in the machine.”
The archangel Gabriel is present at both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. So if Ilsa is really alive, Mission: Impossible‘s Gabriel, clad in white, would have been present at her death. And that means he might very well be present for her resurrection, too, as Ilsa could be the key to stopping Gabriel for good.
Only, unlike the Messiah of Christianity, the dark Gabriel’s story will also be a dark version of the archangel’s tale. Ilsa’s resurrection will mean his death, as the film has beautifully set up one of its greatest moments, with her becoming Ethan’s very own deus ex machina.
Gabriel views death as a gift. Only, the “death” he gave Ilsa was a very present than he intended. It was a gift to her, Ethan, and the whole world. Now it’s time for her to return the gift he has long deserved.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.