What Is The Phantom Pain’s Ending?

This article discusses the ending of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. If you have not finished the game yet, then read the following article at your own risk. Consider this your warning.
This article discusses the ending of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. If you have not finished the game yet, then read the following article at your own risk. Consider this your warning.

So, the ending of Metal Gear Solid V is a point of contention for a lot of people. Some people loved the “twist”, others were less than thrilled. I was one of those who, at first, wasn’t really impressed by the ending. I admit I felt a bit let down. However, it’s not because the twist was easy to see coming. I felt let down because I didn’t get to see the things I truly wanted to see. I wanted to see Grey Fox be rescued. I wanted to see Sniper Wolf saved.

I wanted to personally build Outer Heaven and maybe even have it be a playable area. I wanted the credits to roll, and hear the famed Solid Snake over the radio – “Commencing Operation Intrude N313”.

That doesn’t quite happen.

Though you do kind of get a glimpse of it with Venom Snake in that bathroom, putting the cassette into the tape player, you can hear in the background what sounds like fighting going on.

However, the way the game truly ends is that we find out that the Big Boss we’ve been playing as…isn’t the real Big Boss. It’s a body double. Not just any body-double – it’s the medic that was in the helicopter of Ground Zeroes, who also happens to be you, the player. This, honestly, was not hard to figure out – and if you paid close attention, there were clues all over the place, right from the beginning of the game. Even before the character creator. There are hints everywhere. “The Man Who Sold the World”, the photo shown in the beginning being on the wall of the ACC, clearly showing a fold over the medic. The subtle reflection in the right window of the ACC at night. The fact that Big Boss has a giant piece of shrapnel in his head, and a bionic arm [You know, things Big Boss NEVER HAD.]

Even before the game came out, if you think about it. Kojima jokingly said during an interview, when asked about the perspective in the hospital scene showing both Miller and Big Boss being operated on, he was asked “Who’s the third person”? He answered, “It’s me.” He gave us the ending right there, and we just ignored it because it seemed too easy. “Perhaps he was just referring to his being the director!” we told ourselves.

Now, I think the problem that a lot of people have stemmed from the fact that they wanted to see Big Boss’ “descent into madness”. They wanted a Darth Vader moment. They wanted to see Big Boss finally lose his shit, and go completely evil – and that never occurs. You get hints of it, sure, like in Mission 43 and the scenes that follow – but nothing you ever do really feels “evil”, it all feels necessary.

The way this ending fully shakes out, is that Venom Snake is the “Big Boss” we face in Metal Gear 1. and the real Big Boss is the “villain” of Metal Gear 2. This does actually manage to shed new light on the events of those games – it explains how Big Boss managed to survive after MG1. Truth is, he didn’t – because he was never actually killed. I like that. It’s nice to have that plot hole resolved. And not just that – things like Grey Fox being a POW in MG1, but somehow on Big Boss’ side in MG2 are also cleared up.

Why would he be working with the guy who had just captured him, and likely had him tortured?

He wasn’t.

What’s not explained, though, is why Solid Snake was sent after Venom Snake in the first place.

I have two thoughts on this.

First is that, after finding out about what he was, Venom Snake started to lose his mind. The personalities of Big Boss and the original medic started to conflict, and he just lost it. Venom Snake becomes a threat because of this, and Big Boss – the real one, and leader of Foxhound – sends Solid Snake in to eliminate him.

Big Boss was working in the shadows, building Zanzibarland and hiding away from Cipher. Venom Snake, however, became such a threat that Big Boss risked revealing himself to Cipher in order to stop him. Keep in mind, that Big Boss actually agreed to Zero’s body double plan.

Second – and this is possibly the more likely answer – Venom Snake was simply serving as a decoy while Big Boss carries out his plan to build the real Outer Heaven in Zanzibarland. Perhaps Mother Base is the Outer Heaven we infiltrate in Metal Gear 1. Solid Snake does have to enter from the water, after all. Why do I find this more likely? The medic is clearly a man who respects Big Boss, and was willing to put his own life on the line to protect him. He jumped in front of Boss to shield him from the explosion. This man would die for Boss, willingly.

“Okay, that sounds feasible…but that still doesn’t sound like Big Boss is a villain..what gives?”

My thoughts are this: Big Boss was never a true villain. Not in the sense of him being a psychopathic monster, anyway. Instead, he was villainized.

That’s a running theme in a lot of Metal Gear games – the “bad guy” is often never really a bad guy. They’ve done despicable things, sure – but usually because it was what they had to do, or they thought they were doing good. More often than not, the main villains are just misguided.

Evil characters for the sake of evil are a rare thing. Characters like Skull Face, Liquid, Fatman or Fortune who have ultimately selfish goals.

Metal Gear is a story of history repeating itself. The Boss was never a villain – yet she went down in the history books as one of the worst war criminals to ever exist – all because the CIA was afraid of what she could be capable of.

As an aside: The other thing to remember is that MGS3, 4, 5 & Peace Walker are also about how wildly different interpretations of a person’s will can distort and corrupt their original vision horribly.

The Boss saw the world as one. Unified. No more fighting. No more need for soldiers or war. She wanted that. Big Boss, being the top piece of idiot bread, took that to mean that soldiers would become useless, since borders wouldn’t exist. So he vowed to create a nation of soldiers – mercenaries – not beholden to any ideology. A place where they would always be relevant. This leads to Outer Heaven.

Zero, the bottom bun of the idiot burger, took it to mean “control the flow of information so that people no longer hate each other and the world can be united under one banner.” THIS leads to The Patriot AIs.

And then there’s Skull Face – who forms the patty of the idiot burger. HIS interpretation leads to him trying to commit literal genocide by wiping the English language from the face of the Earth in the hopes of unifying everyone. Somehow.

All of these interpretations in one way or another end up feeding into even worse interpretations and outcomes down the line.

Now, to get back on track:

We already saw Big Boss’ downfall, I think. The moment he turned into the “villain” was the moment he was forced to murder one of the only people he ever loved or trusted. The moment he was forced to pull the trigger on The Boss. That was his fall. Everything since has just been showing the formation of Outer Heaven, and the way Cipher perhaps spun Big Boss into the villain we know.

He was made into it. Just like The Boss.

Just like the CIA feared The Boss, Cipher feared Snake. It feared what he could become. In keeping with history repeating itself, this same thing occured with Solidus and Raiden. The Patriots – aka Cipher – used Raiden to eliminate Solidus because they were afraid he could actually disrupt their plans. Remember? They were the bad guys there, not Solidus.

When Big Boss sends in Solid Snake to take out his Phantom, he’s exposed to Cipher, who then send Solid Snake in to Zanzibarland under the guise of Big Boss being a threat – which, technically, he was. He did have a Metal Gear, and he had nukes. However, he also had a nuke and a Metal Gear in Peace Walker – and it never felt like he was really threatening to use it. He had these things purely as “deterrence”. “Break glass in case of emergency”.

And in Ground Zeroes, we saw how that turned out. Cipher obliterated Mother Base via Skull Face. It was a very stupid decision on Big Boss’ part, certainly.

There’s also a point of confusion I’m noticing for some people. Zero and Big Boss weren’t really “enemies”, they just weren’t friends anymore, and were on opposite sides. I think the confusion is stemming from the fact that Cipher and Zero are not the same thing. Zero started Cipher, but that’s all – it grew to be bigger than he was, and got out of control. Cipher was responsible for the attack on Mother Base – not Zero.

Back on point – Big Boss was never a villain. His Darth Vader moment already occured in Snake Eater. I don’t think we were ever going to see another. What really could have caused it? What could possibly have been worse than being forced to kill your own mentor – for a reason that was nothing but bullshit the entire time? The act of committing nothing more than sanctioned murder of one of the only people in the world that you loved?

Zero wanted Big Boss to be an icon. The Big Brother to his Inner Party. Had Zero not sanctioned the Les Enfants Terribles project, or shown that he seemed to want to control the world rather than actually unify it (Not that Big Boss’ interpretation of The Boss’ will was any better, mind you) – Big Boss could have easily stayed with the Patriots. But he instead lost Big Boss’ trust. He still wanted to use him as an icon, even after that. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a Legendary Hero as an icon, over a villainous psychopath if I were going for world unification.

I honestly believe that Big Boss was just a thorn in Cipher’s side. A thorn they just couldn’t completely seem to get rid of.

I get it. People wanted Anakin killing Younglings at the Jedi academy and having a final showdown with a former friend, screaming in rage. Believe me, I get it – but as I said, there’s nothing that anyone could really do to Big Boss that could really be any worse than what he’s already gone through. Nothing that wouldn’t make his rage feel petty instead of justified.

Maybe Kojima knew that, and didn’t bother trying.

I think that you have to look at Snake Eater, Peace Walker, and Ground Zeroes/Phantom Pain as the 3 chapters of a single story. The beginning, middle, and end. Snake Eater is the beginning. It’s the “Darth Vader” turn. The fall from grace. Peace Walker is chapter 2 – the middle of the story, where things ramp up and set up the climax – the descent into madness and the turn from a Snake, to Big Boss proper. Ground Zeroes/The Phantom Pain are the end. the climax. Act 3. Together, they tell the story of how Outer Heaven was formed, and also how Big Boss manages to survive the first attack, let alone how he managed to rebuild so quickly.

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James Headrick
James Headrick

Gamer & Fractal Artist. // Lover of giant robots & Fighting in Streets. I've been gaming for over 20 years, and writing reviews for over 10 now. ReviewHaven is my baby.

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