‘Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I’ (2023) Ending, Explained: Did Ethan Kill Gabriel?

A number of yesteryear’s beloved movie franchises have tried to make a comeback in the pop culture scene, making an effort to become relevant among the new generation by becoming topical, and most of them, like Indiana Jones and Ghostbusters, have failed miserably due to a lack of connection with the contemporary audience. Among the exceptional ones, the Mission Impossible series has survived the brunt of time by being able to reinvent itself, a strategy most perceivable since Christopher McQuarrie took up the directorial role of the franchise since Rogue Nation

Aside from that, a major reason for the steady success of the franchise is the zeal for constantly pushing the limits of practical filmmaking, a trait that is spearheaded by none other than the lead actor, Tom Cruise himself. Cruise has continued to amaze viewers by shouldering the demanding physical hurdles necessary for the franchise’s lead, Ethan Hunt, through the last two and a half decades. The last of the movie stars has once again flaunted the fact proudly that age is just a number for him, as in the latest entry, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One, he has proven the only challenge he could ever face anymore is outdoing himself.

Spoilers Ahead


Ghost In The Machine: What Did The Key Of Sevastopol Unlock?

As the movie begins, viewers are taken to the inside of the Russian submarine Sevastopol, moving beneath the icy layers of the Bering Sea. The mainframe of the state-of-the-art weapon system of the submarine is locked with a physical key, which is divided into two parts. While practicing some basic training drills, the marine operatives all of a sudden notice on their radar an enemy naval vessel approaching rapidly, which also starts firing at the sub. In retaliation, the Russians fired a tracking torpedo at the vessel, but it turns out both the vessel and its launched weapons were a rouse, and the tracking torpedo was redirected toward the submarine instead. The mainframe of the sub has been corrupted by malware, which orchestrated the aforementioned incidents in quick succession. The submarine gets hit by the torpedo and sinks to the bottom, resulting in the deaths of all the marines on board. The corpses float up to the icy surface of the sea, with the two pieces of the key still latched around the necks of two of the dead naval officers.

The scene moves to Amsterdam, where veteran IMF (Impossible Mission Force) leader Ethan Hunt is training new recruits for the shadowy agency. IMF assigns him the mission of retrieving one-half of the key, which is currently in the possession of Ethan’s former associate Ilsa Faust, who has taken cover in the Arabian Desert. Ethan also gets to know that Ilsa is being chased by bounty hunters and secretly rushes to her location. As the duo eliminates the pursuing bounty hunters, Ethan decides to fake Ilsa’s death to the world, sends her undercover, and takes one-half of the key with him.


What Is The Significance Of The Key?

As the scene moves to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of the United States, several top-ranking intelligence officials inform Director Denlinger about the impending global disaster caused by the presence of the aforementioned malware. In reality, it is actually an ultra-advanced AI that was being used in cyberspace infiltration, has gained sentience, and has infiltrated the entire digital landscape of the world right through all the sectors of defense and intelligence alike, making the human forces basically ineffectual. The world is at the mercy of the AI, which is being referred to as an entity, and the only possible way of controlling it is through the combined halves of the key, but intelligence is unaware of exactly what the key unlocks to allow access to the Entity. The IMF and CIA chief, Eugene Kittridge (returning to the franchise for the first time since the first movie), states to Denlinger that his IMF agent has managed to retrieve one half of the key, and soon they are going to get the other half as well. It turns out Hunt was present at the meeting in disguise, knocking out all the officials using gas bombs, and revealing himself to Kittridge.

Now aware of the key’s purpose linked to the Entity, Hunt states his decision to get both halves of the key and access the Entity before any of the world powers decide to misuse it. Kittridge warns him that any such actions will turn him into a rogue agent, as if that has ever stopped Ethan from taking drastic measures. Ethan meets with his friends and fellow IMF techies Benji and Luther, informs them about the entirety of it, and arrives at Abu Dhabi airport, as they have received a tip that a potential buyer of the other half of the key will be present there. Speculating that the buyer knows where the other half is and might lead them to the location of the object, which can be unlocked by the combined key, Hunt decides to tail the buyer. All the while, Kittridge sent a team of CIA operatives on the hunt for Ethan, and they arrived at the airport as well.


Who Is Grace? Who Is Assisting The Entity?

Benji and Luther help Ethan remain well hidden by disguising him digitally, but as Ethan follows the buyer, he notices that a low-level thief named Grace has managed to steal the buyer’s half of the key. Meanwhile, the Entity starts making its presence felt as it distracts Benji in disarming a coded nuclear bomb, which he barely manages to defuse, and amidst the confusion, Grace manages to slip away from Ethan. The Entity seems to be linked with one of Ethan’s past associates or enemies, Gabriel, whose sight spooks him, and an alarmed Ethan instructs his teammates to abort the mission. Before his IMF days, Ethan lost someone close to him at the hands of Gabriel, an incident that traumatized him so much that the sight of the person in question shook him to the core. Knowing that Grace is heading to Rome to meet the buyer, Ethan decides to go after her alone.

In Rome, Ethan apprehends Grace once again, but before  he can interrogate her, he finds himself chased by CIA operatives. As Grace decides to make a run for it, Gabriel’s lethal assassin, Paris, attacks her, and Ethan manages to rescue her just in time. The duo finds themselves being hunted by the CIA, Paris, and the local police force, and after a lengthy city-wide chase, Ethan manages to evade them. However, Grace escapes a second time, and Ethan is rescued by his friends, Benji and Luther, who are now assisted by Ilsa Faust. Going through the video footage of the airport, the team spots Gabriel in a reflection, as all other evidence of his existence is being removed by the Entity in real-time. They realize the Entity has chosen to make Gabriel its operative in the physical world and is seeking to get the key through him. With the Entity getting smarter each moment, Ethan wonders whether bringing his teammates to him was part of its larger plan because, among every other party interested in the Entity, only Ethan wants to destroy it. He requests that his team members back off from the mission as he fears for their fate, but the team isn’t willing to abandon him.


Who Has The Second Half Of The Key?

Ethan had learned about Grace’s buyer, located in Venice, where he and Ilsa decided to pay a visit during the commencement of the transaction. At the location, Gabriel, assisted by Paris, has arrived as well, and the infamous arms dealer and Ethan’s old associate, Alanna Mitsopolis, aka White Widow, turns out to be Grace’s buyer, who has the other half of the key as well. Ethan deduces that the only reason the Entity has brought out Gabriel to seek out the key and stop Ethan is that it sees him as the biggest potential threat. He urges Alanna not to sell the combined key to her buyer, as she has planned to do, but Gabriel’s threat convinces Alanna to stick to her plans. As the attendee parties scatter, Grace flees. Ethan chases her but gets interrupted by Paris and other henchmen. Grace is attacked by Gabriel, who knocks her out and almost finishes her off before Ilsa attacks him. Ethan manages to beat up Paris but spares her life, and Benji and Luther assist him in navigating Venice’s alleyways. Suddenly, the Entity takes control as it misguides Ethan by faking his team’s voice, which leads him to rush through the streets without reaching either Grace or Gabriel. Ilsa manages to land serious blows on Gabriel, but in the end, she gets stabbed to death. Ethan appears at the scene and is devastated to see yet another person close to him being taken by Gabriel. Grace feels remorseful at Ilsa’s sacrifice, and the team requests that she join the IMF.


Did Ethan Kill Gabriel At The End?

Ethan plans to board the Orient Express with Grace disguised as Alanna and himself as her brother Zola where the deal regarding the combined key is going to take place. However, the mask printing machine gets broken, resulting in only Grace boarding the train using a disguise and him choosing a not-so-safe approach to catch the train—one that involves a bike and parachute. Luther takes his leave as he needs to go to a secluded place off the grid to examine the Entity, but warns Ethan of the probable consequences that the AI might have already assumed on its own. Facing Gabriel, if his vengeful instincts take over and he kills him, he won’t get to know about the actual location of the object that the key unlocks, and the Entity will roam free forever. And if he decides not to kill Gabriel, the Entity will arrange the situation in such a way that he doesn’t leave the train alive, which boils down to the only preferable choice for him being taking the combined key and getting out.

As planned, Grace takes Alanna’s disguise, boards the Orient Express, knocks out the real Alanna, and meets her buyer, who is none other than Kittridge himself. Gabriel and Paris infiltrate the train as well, destroy the brakes, kill the engine crew, making the train unstoppable, and meet the DNI Denlinger. The chief of intelligence of the United States is acting as Kittridge’s handler, as the key bought by the latter will be delivered to him. Denlinger proposes an alliance to Gabriel in which, in exchange for the key, he wishes to control the Entity, which he reveals was created by the States’ intelligence to begin with. Denlinger adds that the AI was used as a digital outmaneuvering mechanism at first, which the States used on the Russian submarine Sevastopol to test its capabilities, but it became too powerful to control and went haywire, imprinted its own source code on the submarine’s digital mainframe, and destroyed the submarine as well. The key unlocks access to the sunken mainframe of the sub, the location of which only Denlinger knew thus far, which makes Gabriel eliminate him at once and also fatally stab Paris, as she was the last witness to their conversation.

Grace, disguised as Alanna, hands Kittridge the combined key and almost decides to betray Hunt and Co. by taking the opportunity to flee from this ordeal by taking monetary compensation for it. However, she changes her mind at the last moment, cancels the transaction, and makes a futile attempt to flee by taking the key away. Meanwhile, Ethan performs the most daring act of his career in order to board the train; he rides a dirt bike off of the cliffs of the Alps and parachutes down into the train, arriving in the nick of time to save Grace from Zola and his other henchmen. During the confusion, the combined key is stolen by Gabriel, who makes an attempt to escape by climbing on the roof of the train.

An intense battle ensues between Hunt and Gabriel on the rooftop, and as Hunt pins down his nemesis and almost considers killing him, he is stopped in his tracks by Kittridge’s two CIA operatives. Using the distraction as his opportunity, Gabriel strategically jumps off of the train and escapes, and Ethan’s goodwill inspires the CIA agents to adhere to his words about securing the passengers of the train first instead of chasing him. As planned by Gabriel, the train approaches a collapsed bridge, and by decoupling the rest of the carriages from the engine, Grace and Ethan manage to slow the train down—enough to save the passengers on the far side. However, the empty compartments at the front start falling through the bridge, and Ethan and Grace almost don’t make it until they are assisted by Paris. Later, it is revealed that Ethan managed to take the key from Gabriel at the last moment, and when he questions Paris about the purpose of the key, she mentions Sevastopol before losing consciousness once again. Still being chased by the authorities, Ethan escapes with the key, and as instructed by him, Grace introduces herself to Kittridge and states her wish to officially join the IMF. Ethan joins Benji, and they start their journey to locate the Sevastopol to finally access the Entity’s source code. The movie ends with a closing shot of the sunk submarine. Whether Ethan manages to destroy the AI or whether Gabriel and the White Widow take their revenge will only be revealed in Part 2 of Dead Reckoning, slated to release in 2024.


Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I is a 2023 action thriller film directed by Christopher McQuarrie.

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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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