Ilsa Faust In ‘Mission Impossible,’ Explained: Is Ilsa Dead?

For all the remarkable feats accomplished by the Mission Impossible franchise when it comes to reinventing modern action movies, one key aspect was notably absent from the series: the presence of a strong female character in a prominent role. Don’t get us wrong; characters like Jane Carter, Nyah Hall, Julia Meade, and Sabine Moreau were exceptional in their respective roles, but their characters didn’t have more individuality than the story required of them during their brief appearances. With the appearance of the mysterious triple agent Ilsa Faust, played by Rebecca Ferguson, the franchise got a truly great addition to its gallery of female lead it can boast of, who seemed competent enough to take on the franchise lead mantle on her own. Introduced in Rogue Nation, the character has left a prominent impact on Ethan’s life and career, the IMF’s position as a global espionage agency, and the narrative of the latest entry of the franchise, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I, where unfortunately the character breathed her last. Let’s take a look back at the character’s journey so far to appreciate her more as a character.

Spoilers Ahead

Spying The Spy

The chief quality that sets Ilsa apart from the majority of MI characters is her unpredictable nature, a steady, progressive arc in that the director carefully opted to assert her individuality without turning her into just another recurring love interest for Ethan Hunt, and a complex, relatable characterization that is an intriguing amalgamation of 70s noir vamps and female action leads like Beatrix Kiddo. Some might even argue that the franchise lead Ethan’s character writing feels less nuanced when compared to the layered portrayal of Ilsa and her constant conflict between motivation and actions. Her status as a triple agent acts as a hint of the complexity she is identified with, as after serving MI6 as a highly skilled agent, Ilsa was instructed to join the Syndicate as a deep cover agent (an off-the-record offshoot espionage agency of MI6), which was later turned into a terrorist organization by the rogue agent Solomon Lane. Ilsa’s loyalty to her nation, righteousness, necessary self-preservation instincts, and feelings towards Ethan create a complex situation for her, which contributes to her oscillating allegiance without complete adherence to a single cause. She isn’t the basic Mary Sue or boy scout who will strike an impossible balance between idealism and practicality for the sake of fiction; she is among the ones whose interference allows the aforementioned archetypes to maintain the balance.

A unique aspect that was opted for in Ilsa’s relation to Ethan is that, right from the get-go, the damsel in distress trope is subverted, as in Ethan gets into troublesome situations and is rescued by Ilsa in the nick of time. This is a deliberate, recurrent decision taken by the makers, as seen in her very first appearance in the movies in which the character has appeared so far. Ilsa rescued Ethan from the Syndicate despite being a part of the terror organization herself in Rogue Nation, saved Ethan again from the vicious fighter posing as John Lark in Fallout, and saved him from the bounty hunters in Dead Reckoning. Not only does the subversion feel fresh in a male-dominated genre, but it also highlights the character’s multifaceted qualities in a great way. Ilsa’s taciturn, calculative demeanor and thorough modus operandi also fool Ethan at every turn. The super-spy might be able to track down, apprehend, and analyze the worst criminal minds in the game, but Ilsa is the puzzle he remains forever unable to solve. Part of the enigmatic aura surrounding Ilsa also stems from how little the viewers know about the character, even after her third appearance as a major character. Keeping her origin shrouded in mystery was another wise decision that paid off in the long run.

A Perfect Foil For Ethan

Matching her skillset, personality, and outlook is Ilsa’s complex relationship with Ethan, which is far from conventional love interests. It can be said the duo perfectly complements each other, which makes Ilsa’s never completely surrendering her feelings and trust towards Ethan all the more interesting. For a straight arrow like Ethan, capturing and detaining someone like Ilsa, who during their first interaction tiptoed through both sides of the law, would seem most plausible, and on the other hand, there is no reason as to why a hardboiled agent like Ilsa would risk her neck again and again to save Ethan—but still, they choose to not adhere to their instincts. And this aspect almost mimics the chemistry between Batman and Catwoman in the sense that the dynamic breaks conventions while still retaining the essence of fatal attraction. While not as emotionally vulnerable as Ethan, Ilsa has a softer, more protective side, which the senior member of Ethan’s friend circle, Luther, realizes after getting to know her.

In Dead Reckoning, Ilsa’s role is surprisingly limited but still very in sync with her existing character arc. Ilsa had previously offered Ethan the chance to turn a new page with her, leaving his past behind, which he rejected. At the beginning of Dead Reckoning, Ethan offers her the chance, the clean slate, to let Ilsa start life anew by faking her death to the world. However, it comes as no surprise to fans that Ilsa returns to assist Ethan in his conflict against Gabriel, rejecting that offer, a decision that ultimately results in her demise. While saving Grace from Gabriel, Ilsa battles him with a double-edged sword, a weapon accurately signifying the dual life she was leading, and although she deals some serious blows to Gabriel, she ultimately breathes her last after being fatally stabbed.

Ilsa’s death might traumatize Ethan all the more, as the realization that Gabriel contributed to two of the most tragic events of his life while he was unable to do anything dawns heavy on him, but it came as even more of a shocker that a character of such mettle was ultimately killed off in such a way. Although we might disagree on the necessity of such an undeserving death, the director Christopher McQuarrie is of the opinion that Ilsa’s death showcased the reality of the world around Ethan and his compatriots, which is as merciless as it is dangerous. Nevertheless, here’s wishing we get to see more of Ilsa, even if in flashback, in the upcoming second part of Dead Reckoning and get spin-off content focused on her, which is long overdue at this point.

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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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