Big Boss and the Long Road to Villainy

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Spoilers! If you haven’t beaten Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, don’t read this post!

Originally, I was just going to dissect the ending of TPP, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it could become a different post altogether. What’s just as interesting in my mind and what’s got a lot of fans buzzing about the final (?) Metal Gear game is that, by the end of this game, we don’t get that oh-so-satisfying conclusion that lets us breathe a sigh of relief that says, “Okay, NOW he’s a bad guy.”

But as I sit here listening to this amazing soundtrack, I can tell you that this ending should have been a Big Boss Bad Guy slap to your face. But in a much more subtle sense than how any of us thought it would happen.

If you’re reading this, you’ve beaten the main story missions to Phantom Pain. That or you don’t care about spoilers. In either case, by the end of the game, we’ve done it all. We’ve (maybe not fully) resurrected Mother Base, created an army for our own personal uses, we’ve taken revenge on the man that destroyed Big Boss previously and sent him into a nine-year coma. We’ve met and lost Quiet, we’ve met and lost Eli and what I refer to as the Lost Boys, even if at least one of them was a girl.

Nurture or nature, I would not babysit.

Nurture or nature, I would not babysit.

And then we find out we’re not even Big Boss. Nope, the man whose face is wrapped in bandages that helps us escape and whatta ya know, also had the voice of Keifer Sutherland, was the actual Big Boss. And after helping you escape the hospital and swarms of people out out to murder you, rode off on his bike using your identity while you assumed his.

Now regardless of whether or not you approve of the twist itself, how the game ended, and that there seems to be no real resolution with the game as a whole (We’ll get to that, trust me. I want to talk about this.), many fans felt disappointed that there was no real “Daaaamn” moments in recognizing how Big Boss is actually a villain through all this. I mean, he’s barely even in the game. Even the things we did in pursuit of the end, the moments that made us feel like Big Boss was losing his mind…turned out to be a different man completely. “The Phantom,” “The Medic,” and “Venom” are all aliases he’s since taken on.

But for all of what I could go on about, let’s examine how any of this game gives us what we were told we’d get upon playing this game. Y’know, about the real Big Boss’ descent into madness and all that fun stuff.

First off, the Metal Gear games can be over the top, right? Solid Snake jumping off of a missile in The Twin Snakes as well as Raiden’s entire character arc can really make you feel like Michael Bay got a hold of the creative consultant title at some point. But one thing these games are rarely known for are their directness. We rarely feel a sense of completion even after beating the games because there always seems like there’s more to do.

I mean, I wouldn't have minded going into mirror world with Venom, personally.

I mean, I wouldn’t have minded going into mirror world with Venom, personally, as long as it was open world.

But aside from how much more content any fan would want from this series, black and white doesn’t fit it in the slightest, does it? Nobody is who they seem to be, deceit is a common theme, and most character’s morals might seem legitimate at first but often end up being grayed to the point of convolution and we really don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing aside from teaming up with Snake or going against him.

Such is the case with Big Boss. In Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Big Boss is painted as the villain, no question about it. While he “pretended” to be just the commander of the super elite team, FOXHOUND, he was really playing both sides of the field as the villain you were also sent to kill, with “you” being Solid Snake in this case. Seeing as how he’s not all he says he is, it becomes clear that he must be the villain.

Fast forward the prequel to it all, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and we’re playing as Big Boss before he even had the title and was known as Snake, or Naked Snake. This is Big Boss in his prime when he’s still working for the US government for similar reasons we’ve see Solid Snake do before- because it’s his job, he’s doing what’s right and fighting the villains, etc. It’s not until the end of this game does the tone darken and sadden to the point of Naked Snake (who has now been given the title “Big Boss) seeming to have reason for defecting from the US to create his own nation of soldiers; the only way he believes one can be truly free.

Now many people people are willing to accept this in their own right that this is what makes Big Boss a villain. If you’re willing to go so far to create a nation of soldiers that will inevitably come into confrontation with other superpowers and they’re willing to kill to get what they want, how can you not be bad? On top of this, Big Boss did send Solid Snake to, what Big Boss thought, was Solid Snake’s doom. He didn’t actually expect Snake to succeed.

Okay, so let’s say that this doesn’t sell you on the idea that Big Boss is a bad guy. You’ve played Peace Walker and you’ve seen what this guys goes through, all the deaths he witnessed (and caused) and you come to feel for him. Maybe he’s not the “Emperor Palpatine” mastermind type of villain we’ve been thinking of him as. And he’s not. He’s depicted as a real guy with his own ambitions. I used the term “real” loosely.

But for all we’ve seen him go through and as much of his side as we’ve seen, that doesn’t make him a better character morally than say, someone like Zero. Now Zero is a character we still think of as a villain and past his role in Snake Eater and the recently released “Truth Tapes,” it’s pretty easy to see him as the overarching villain of the series. He’s Big Brother with a face. He wants complete control and for the world to stay safe by sedation.

But while Zero wants the world to stay safe and sound by keeping it in a giant tupperware container, Big Boss’ ultimate goal was one of ultimate “freedom” which is really a nicer way of saying that chaos is the only form of liberty. A soldier’s paradise, one where their uses as a fighter would never become irrelevant. This is what the Boss would want, right? If 1964 had been a place like this, she never would have had to lay down her weapons and die for someone else’s goal.

Listen to Big Boss’ speech at the end of Peace Walker real quick.

Now listen to what he says post-credits. That is, if you don’t have it memorized or something already.

Now these wouldn’t necessarily scream “BAD GUY!” especially if you have no context for the scenes. But this is a major moment in the Metal Gear history where the guy who went from trying to do what was right, as his clone/son, Solid Snake, would later become known for, but where he hangs up his love for his Peace-loving mentor, The Boss. It’s where he states that she betrayed everything she stood for by dying for “someone else’s” beliefs.

But if you re-watch her speech in Snake Eater, everything she says makes sense. She’s not choosing to die because she’s just tired or doesn’t feel life is worth living. But because given the life she was a part of, there were only so many ways for her to go. And why not at the hands of her successor while making sure to stop a potential nuclear war?

To paraphrase the Boss, she speaks of understanding your role in life and knowing when to fight and when to surrender. The best you can do is what’s right. Sounds cliched when put so simply, but that doesn’t keep it from true all the same. To Big Boss, he ultimately sees this as her giving up and turns his back on the idea of it. Seems reasonable enough, right? But by doing so, he just places himself back into the role of pawn, only this time, elevated to something more powerful. But he’s still a part of an endless struggle all the same and has opted to keep from bettering himself or learning anything. As he says by the end of his life in Metal Gear Solid 4: The Guns of the Patriots after telling Snake to put down his gun that “It all began with a bunch of old fools. Now they’ve all passed away. Their era of folly is over. I’m the only one left. And soon, I’ll be gone too.”

This is, in a sense, an admission of guilt. There’s more to it as you know, but put simply, if you reject the idea of peace and decide that fighting others is the way to live, regardless of what humanity you have left in you, in any story, you couldn’t be the “good” guy. So Zero can be the bad guy, all these different elite groups can be the bad guys…but that doesn’t make Big Boss any sort of good guy.

All this, and not to mention that fact that Metal Gear has often been a series to point out enemies are enemies in relative terms. Solid Snake may be a good guy, but that doesn’t mean the people who sent him on his mission are. Technically, he’s working for Zero. Which is really crazy to look at the series that way.  But while good and evil are something to be debated as far as the characters go, there’s still the immediate nuclear threats that need to be resolved and that’s normally what your character will be sent on their mission to do. So of course, you’ll always feel like the good guy, even if the character you’re playing as in something of a moral quandary in their personal life.

Rough day at the office.

Rough day at the office.

More than that, let’s take a relatively quick look at the ending of The Phantom Pain. From all you’ve done in the game as Venom, down to the time skip that takes us about a decade or so into the future (Very subtly done, fairly easy to miss), the main character is not actually Big Boss, but a soldier in Big Boss’ army that took the brunt of the explosion for Big Boss when Mother Base was being destroyed in Ground Zeros. From here, he’s given reconstructive surgery to look like Big Boss and through means of hypnosis, his own shattered state of mind from the coma he’s been in, and the power of suggestion, this character we’ll call “Venom” becomes Big Boss.

As I write this, I’m going with the idea that you remember it well enough that I don’t need to recall every detail to the end to place you back in that scene.

But this guy is led to believe he’s the world’s most famous soldier/spy/mercenary after a nine year coma and it wasn’t because he volunteered. This guy has been brainwashed to believe he’s a man with a giant target on his forehead all because of the face that was given to him, again, not one he asked for. From this, he lives a life of hell believing he is who he’s told he is and all for Big Boss’ plans. Put yourself in that situation where somebody makes you become them to help carry out their legend, their work, and have all the attention (positive and negative) put onto you so they can carry on more of their own work in secret.

Now, in the Truth Tapes, it’s revealed that this was originally Zero’s plan that Big Boss woke up to, and went along with. But let’s not act like Big Boss going along with it is okay since he didn’t come up with the idea. He took it and ran with it, didn’t he? Now he’s having Venom carry out his will with the events of TPP and Operation Intrude N313, or rather, the events of the original Metal Gear. This isn’t unlike why he left the US government for their way of completing operation Snake Eater with The Boss. Do what I want, carry out my will, it’s all for the best. You couldn’t have known you’d be in this position but you need to continue.

Yo dog, I just broke my own heart reminding myself of this.

Yo dog, I just broke my own heart reminding myself of this.

And if Zero is a true villain, what does that make Big Boss for going along with Zero’s plan? Big Boss may have been disgusted by Zero’s creation of his clones, but he didn’t seem to have a problem with creating a mental copy since it would fit his own goals.

Does Venom do some good? Sure, in the same way that Solid Snake kills people. In the Metal Gear world, much like the real one, “bad” guys aren’t always bad because they just like being bad and many “good” people do good things out of convenience. But in the end, Venom didn’t change anything he’d been doing since finding out the truth. Be it through brainwashing or sincere belief, Venom is another Big Boss.

We’ll never know what would have happened to Venom had they not chosen to make him Big Boss’ “clone” in a sense, but he’s never given the choice in the first place. Essentially, he’s a metaphor for the player who’s done all the work anyway. But by the end, when Venom flips the tape over and punches through the mirror, shattering any differences between Big Boss and his former self, we now see the that Venom isn’t going to be anybody else and that from this, Big Boss isn’t much different than the authorities he’s hated so much.

All of Venom’s pain from the events of TPP are the results of Big Boss putting Venom in his place just so Big Boss can create another machine elsewhere to further his plan in two ways. The real Big Boss wants to fight for himself and his own ideals, to make his own choices.

But in doing so, he inevitably causes others to fight for him, to fight for his ideals, and he makes their choices. This is what makes him a villain. Empathizing with him doesn’t mean you’re wrong or that he’s right, it just makes him a great character.

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3 Responses to “Big Boss and the Long Road to Villainy”

  1. Jack Sparrow Says:

    Konami was right to fire all these losers. Ending sucked big boss butthole.

  2. FlowenRain Says:

    The real hero of the entire Metal Gear series has always been Pequod. Come on people, Wake Up! 😛

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