Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning's Most Emotional Moment Raises All Kinds Of Questions

This article contains spoilers for "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One."

I have always thoroughly enjoyed the "Mission: Impossible" films, but I don't think they became the pièce de résistance of Hollywood franchises until the fifth installment in the series, "Rogue Nation." This was due in large part to writer/director Christopher McQuarrie coming aboard and synthesizing the ethos of the series into its purest form. But also, a major element was introduced into the films that shifted things in a major way: Rebecca Ferguson as disavowed MI6 agent Ilsa Faust.

Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt has always had his team of Ving Rhames' Luther and Simon Pegg's Benji, but it wasn't until Ilsa that the character had a true match. She's someone whose allegiances are always torn between various interested parties, but the connection between her and Ethan is one of a deep understanding, respect, and (non-romantic) love that always draws them together no matter what. And in the latest entry in the series, "Dead Reckoning Part One," the story of Ilsa Faust has seemingly come to an end.

Midway through the film, Ilsa is killed on a Venetian bridge by Esai Morales' Gabriel after a sword and knife fight between the two adversaries. In the moment, I was devastated, considering Ilsa is my favorite character in the series. Then my mind started to race about how her death impacted the story, what it meant for the characters, how it shook up the "Mission: Impossible" series as a whole, and, naturally, whether she was even dead at all.

Is Ilsa being fridged?

For those of us sad to see Ilsa gone, I don't doubt that many will consider her death to be the next in a long, dispiriting line of women being "fridged" in media. If you're unaware, fridging is when a character — almost always a woman — dies or endures violence to motivate the male hero's story, stripping the woman of her agency, her humanity, and her autonomy. On some level, I can see how some could put Ilsa's death on that line, but I'm not so sure I agree.

Yes, Ethan Hunt is the protagonist of the "Mission: Impossible" series, but Ilsa has never been an appendage to Ethan. In every film she appears, she has her own motivations for doing what she does, sometimes running in direct opposition to Ethan's goals. That's even true in "Dead Reckoning Part One," as the MI6 contacts she still has have been tipping her off because now that she has the autonomy to do so because she's disavowed.

Her death is on her terms. She chooses to take on Gabriel, as she has so many foes before her, but it just so happens that she doesn't make it out this time. Practically, had she killed the villain halfway through the movie, that would be the most unsatisfying story ever told. The fight can either end in two ways: she gets the better of him but he escapes, or she doesn't make it.

I'm also hesitant to call this fridging because her death also doesn't hang over the movie as so many fridged women do. Ethan has never been starved for motivation. After Ilsa dies, he continues to barrel forward with the mission already set in place. He doesn't even have time to reflect on it. No one understands the risks of this world more than Ethan Hunt.

Why not another team member?

If one of the members of Ethan's team had to die, why did have to be Ilsa? The optics of it being the sole female member of the team don't look great, so could it have been one of the two men? Well, that's a little complicated. I see several reasons as to why the story wouldn't allow Christopher McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendresen to pivot in either of those directions.

Every single one of the McQuarrie-helmed "Mission: Impossible" movies has put these team members in peril, as they have become more integral to the series as it goes. In "Rogue Nation," Benji was strapped to a bomb during the climax. In "Fallout," Luther being captured and nearly killed in the film's opening is what sets the entire plot in motion, and in the climax, Benji is hanged by Sean Harris' Solomon Lane and nearly dies. In fact, Luther was supposed to die in the very first "Mission: Impossible" film before Rhames raised complaints about how the Black guy always dies. Going back to that well would just be rehashing the same thing again. It being Ilsa who is in peril, someone we always expect to handle herself, makes for the more surprising and unsettling story development.

There's also the matter of how people can die. Luther and Benji may be cornerstones of this action franchise, but they are not action heroes themselves. Both of them are far more comfortable behind a computer or problem-solving than kicking ass in a big fight scene. That isn't their MO. I can't picture Luther or Benji engaging in a sword fight. It would be completely out of character. Their deaths would resemble their perils from the earlier films, but again, we've seen them already. We need the new.

Is Ilsa actually dead?

In the many hours of interviews I've listened to with Christopher McQuarrie about these films, one thing is very clear: he is extremely protective of Ilsa. This was a character he created and isn't going to handle without extreme care. Because of his love for that character, it makes me wonder if she's actually gone. I find it a little hard to believe that he would have Ilsa die in a way that is emotional but ultimately doesn't change the trajectory of the story or Ethan as a character too dramatically, and though we see her lying in those steps, the film gives us a few clues as to her not being dead.

For one, Ilsa has a fake-out death in the Arabian Desert near Yemen-set opening of the film, where she and Ethan devise a plan to get her off the grid as she has become someone with a major price on her head. It's not inconceivable to think that a similar situation could be happening here in a long-con effort to outthink the A.I. at the center of the film, the Entity, and we learn in "Part Two" that she's been alive.

Another option, though less likely, that you can't count out of a "Mission: Impossible" film is that a mask is involved. That might feel rather cheap, and I'm not sure of the logistics. There has been a fake main character death with a mask before with Michelle Monaghan's Julia in "Mission: Impossible III," but I think the more likely mask scenario is that Ilsa didn't die on the bridge and uses a mask of someone to escape the situation.

"Mission: Impossible" is also not a stranger to creating elaborate traps, like the Wolf Blitzer and Solomon Lane cons in "Fallout." After Ethan and Ilsa reconnect in Italy and attend the White Widow's party, they share quite a number of knowing glances with somewhat odd reactions that make me think there's a possibility of a long con they're pulling to get one over on the Entity, which is what they'd have to do for an all-powerful AI.

I know this is just hope talking, but I don't think McQuarrie's story for Ilsa Faust has reached its conclusion yet.

We need to wait for Part Two

More than anything, what has me believing that Ilsa Faust does not actually die in "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One" is that we will be getting "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part Two" in a year. This gigantic epic, which will be knocking on the door of six hours when all is said and done, still has so much to reveal to us, and under the stewardship of Christopher McQuarrie, I think those reveals will include Ilsa.

If Ilsa is in fact dead and this speculation is for naught, I feel like I also need to see "Part Two" to fully wrap my head around how I feel about her place in the "Dead Reckoning" story. Will I be disappointed if she doesn't return? Certainly. But her death doesn't take away what a fantastic character she has been for this franchise, elevating it to a level that I consider to be the finest of its kind. She's instrumental in the creation of action masterpieces, and just because a character dies doesn't mean they weren't a fully fleshed out, complex, exciting character at all. That actually makes her death all the more powerful and earned. If this is truly the end, I will miss her a great deal.

But I think we're seeing Ilsa Faust again.