First, it must be said that the nature of this article is not to force the reader into another interpretation. It is merely that: an interpretation. After several days of critically thinking about the ending of Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain, a different conclusion was created as opposed to many of the more popular one’s that are abundant. This is a different perspective of what was witnessed. As with any interpretation, this one is also open to debate.
This essay will cover the relationships between the major characters, the overall storyline, and the themes. There are several elements which must be addressed in order to clarify some confusion. In time, through explicating these topics, perhaps a greater appreciation will be gained from the story and the characters. Evidence and connections will be laid out in support of these findings. Evidence and connections that would include what one would find in the many cassette tapes, dialogue exchanges, and future events that happens in the series. That being said…
You have been lied to.
Not Your Kind of People: Venom Snake and You
Immediately into the game, your presence is established through making an avatar. At first, there’s hesitation given the circumstances. Why change Big Boss’s face? Will I look like this forever? But I want to play as Big Boss, so why…? It’s uncomfortable when you knowingly change the face of Big Boss. So, you give yourself hair, skin color, facial hair, everything you think looks appealing. But there is still that lingering feeling of unease: why am I doing this? Once that is complete, you find, with a sigh of relief Big Boss’s face hasn’t changed. That entire sequence was pushed to the back and perhaps was settled with “probably online features”.
Sins of the Father: Big Boss and Venom Snake
Let us tackle one of the main issues. The ending of Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain has effectively divided the community due to its ambiguous nature and outright obliteration of the fourth wall. After several hours of gameplay, you are told that Venom Snake is a body double. You are not the real Big Boss.
There is a sense of disbelief as you hear the recording of, “I cheated death, thanks to you. And thanks to you, I’ve left my mark. You have too. You’ve written your own history. You’re your own man. I’m Big Boss, and you are too. No… he’s the two of us together. Where we are today, we built. This story, this legend; it’s ours. We can change the world, and with it, the future. I am you, and you are me. Carry that with you wherever you go. Thank you, my friend. From here on out… you’re Big Boss.”
This is not a message of praise. I will make this clear: it is pure manipulation from Big Boss’s part. There seems to be some confusion regarding Venom’s mental state when he learns about his “true self” and what happened. In this message, it’s implied that Big Boss is thanking you. Others assume that it is Hideo Kojima thanking you for “sticking with the series”. That is not the case. There can only be “one Boss”, so with Big Boss stating “he’s the two of us together” is entirely false and misleading. In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, The Boss states “There is room for only one Boss”. There is no two, there is only one. The player is being told that as a form of appeal, a sort of “pat on the back” for doing all that work. All of that effort. All of that hours of gameplay. All in the name of Big Boss.
There is no “you”. “You” never existed. There is only “Big Boss”. You will be swallowed in his legacy. At first, the idea of becoming Big Boss or being Big Boss seems extraordinary. You becoming the legendary soldier and spreading the word of his accomplishments. His legend lives through you. But this is all wrong. All of it. You were erased from history. Venom’s identity was erased. There is nothing left except Big Boss. All of Venom’s accomplishments, all of his actions, all of his would-be dreams will be consumed by Big Boss.
The scene in which this plays out shows Venom smirking to himself when Big Boss explains the situation. In a bizarre way, the player feels the same emotions. “Alright. I’m Big Boss. Sounds good!” but once the realization dawns on Venom and the player as he sees his reflection, his emotions change. He no longer sees himself. He sees a bloodied, demonic Big Boss glaring right back at him. The man that stole his face in a constant reminder on what happened to him. In response, he smashes the mirror. The realization of this makes him angry. This is outright betrayal in the worse way.
Many say, “Venom is a soldier of Big Boss, he would be happy to do this!” Even Ocelot in the game agrees with this. It’s almost as if the game is telling you would be happy to be Big Boss. However, there is no record of Venom consenting to this. I will say this again: no evidence whatsoever was shown regarding Venom’s consent to having his very identity rubbed away. No written documents, no cassette tapes, flashbacks—absolutely nothing supports this so-called “consent”. To assume otherwise is victim-blaming at its finest.
Another argument is the simple fact that Zero was the reason for Venom’s transformation. In order to protect Big Boss, the legendary soldier who saved the world from nuclear war, one of his own men was “destroyed”. This is a fact. Venom’s identity is forever erased and he would be used as a body double for selfish ploys.
Big Boss said nothing.
To one of his most trusted and loyal soldiers, he allowed and even went along with the best lie in the world. He took advantage of Venom’s state to fulfill his own needs. Venom would be the decoy as Big Boss went off into the world, switching places, to make his dreams of creating his own nation. Venom now had the largest target on his back. He would unknowingly accept this role. He would endure these challenges he never asked for, nor did he get the opportunity to say so otherwise.
Big Boss had the opportunity to be truthful towards Venom and perhaps even express outrage to Zero. After all, Venom was his own soldier. Nothing was said, however, and Venom was strung along for these escapades. Venom was lied to and betrayed from the very beginning. He was lead to believe he was someone else when, in fact, he was not. Big Boss had issues with betrayal himself; he left the United States because of it after Operation Snake Eater in 1964. Betrayal and hypocrisy.
This is unacceptable on many levels. The argument of, “Venom doesn’t have a personality anyway, so it doesn’t matter. We don’t know anything about him so why should we feel sorry for a character who is mute?” is absurd. I’ll address his personality on another note, but the simple fact that a man’s life was erased to fulfill anothers agenda is morally wrong. There was no consent. No one considers the feelings of Venom. Just because he is a “blank slate”, does not justify Big Boss’s actions.
But this entire charade was absolutely necessary.
The Man Who Sold the World: Big Boss’s Downfall
By far the largest compliant is that we never truly see the beloved Big Boss “turn evil”. Many of the trailers of Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain led the Metal Gear community to believe that this was it. I felt the same. I was anxious every time there was an opportunity for Boss to do something “evil”. I had the exact expectations. I shared the same disappointment of the reveal.
Until I realized I was witnessing the downfall right before my eyes. When Venom sees his betrayal and becomes angry, I felt the same way. A form of evil is to manipulate another in such a way. Venom’s very existence is an example of Big Boss’s downfall. Many, many soldiers around the world look up to Big Boss as a hero. The legendary soldier who saved the world and the legendary soldier who stood up against the American government because of their corruption. The legendary soldier who betrayed one of his own men to accomplish his own goals.
Does this mean this would-be “one instance” made him “evil”? No, but this isn’t the first event. In the hospital, where you and Ishmael (Big Boss) are attacked, several people—innocent people—are killed. We watch as patients are grabbed, dragged, and shot. Sometimes in outright massacres. People begging to be saved. Others hopefully reaching for the helicopters, only to be filled with holes. Its total chaos and confusion.
Instead of making the effort to save or even attempt to help, Big Boss only saves you. He ignores the cries for help and hides within the shadows. He only saves you because he only needs you. Instead of, “Let’s move to an area where there are less people” we get, “Hide among the bodies to hide yourself”. Just like you, Big Boss uses the innocent people of the hospital as a shield.
It is vital to accept that Big Boss will do horrible things. In the very beginning, it becomes apparent when he allows innocent people to die and use them for his own purposes. In the Metal Gear series, Big Boss is an iconic bad guy. Big Boss becomes a massive threat to the world as he builds his nation of soldiers and he is willing to do anything to achieve this. He wants a world of endless war so soldiers have a place in it; he explains about the endless cycle of war in Metal Gear 2. Child soldiers raised into the next generation of war to keep killing and ruining the lives of other children so they can become soldiers. Big Boss wants the opposite of peace. Big Boss manipulated and used one of his own men to help along his dream. Imagine what he would do to complete strangers.
Big Boss was once the hero but not anymore. He manipulates you, the player, into becoming his decoy. In a brilliant way, it is a form of violation and betrayal. The man that you admired took everything away from you. Nothing will be left. Not even a memory. You were consumed in Big Boss’s legacy. You, the player, were sacrificed for his goals. You are a victim of his plans. Big Boss took something very precious to you and will never give it back. Many are not grasping the ramifications of this conclusion.
Big Boss plays it as a good thing, that you wanted this, that the legend is something you “both” build. The assumption of “he would want to play as Big Boss anyway!”, but if the opportunity were to arise—if the opportunity of a choice were to arise—of willingly allow Venom’s memories almost completely washed out, no doubt there would be hesitation. The idea of having your very mind erased and taken over by another personality…how would one enjoy the experience if they weren’t aware of it? There is no “enjoyment”, there is only deception and betrayal. Erasing yourself to allow another to absorb you would make anyone hesitate. It’s only natural. Imagine all of your memories and experiences snuffed out without hesitation. Unfortunately, your own actions as you live through this phantom will never be remembered. The accomplishments you achieve with your own hands will only be remembered from the person you portray. “You” never existed.
There were many chances to tell Venom of his circumstances. Big Boss could have revealed the truth to him—to you, the player—about the situation, but he said nothing until much later. The reason why was it would destroy the “illusion” if you being Big Boss. Had you’d find out at the beginning of the game, that lingering aura of “Big Boss” wouldn’t be the same. You would be a phantom. Venom would be a phantom, nothing more than a fake. A copy of the real thing.
Big Boss plans on having you eliminated later. After all, there can only be “one Boss”. Big Boss denies his “sons” yet he accepts his body double. This is inconsistent. Venom is a victim of Big Boss’s eventual fall from grace. You never outright witness Big Boss doing horrible things, rather, you become a product of his plans. You are a living sin of his actions, a sin of the father.
Nuclear: The Face of Venom
Venom seems to be a blank canvas, designed to have the player put themselves into his shoes. Many games have done this with the best example being Gordon Freeman from the Half Life series. Games do this so the player can feel more like they’re “in the game”. In Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain, the opposite effect happened. Many players lack empathy for Venom because he seemingly lacks a personality. He’s a virtual mute. He responds to nearly nothing in the game.
But this is the beauty of his personality. Through his actions, we notice how passive he is. How quiet and reclusive his responses are to the things around him. Very rarely do we get any emotion. We’re almost starving for it. However, when he does make any responses, it’s critical we take note on what he does. Venom is a massive contrast from Big Boss.
One of the first instances is with the companion Quiet, the young and skilled sniper. If the player chooses to spare Quiet, Venom is criticized by Kaz for his choices. In the helicopter, Venom covers Quiet with a Diamond Dog jacket, as if trying to comfort her. Against Venom’s orders, Kaz tried to have Quiet killed (understandably but Venom is still “Boss” and what he says, goes). Kaz pointed out “She was saving herself!” instead of Venom. Quiet would have been killed if Venom didn’t step in and calmed the situation down. “Put her in the cell. Keep an eye on her.” Despite knowing that Quiet is the enemy, Venom decided to spare her and keep watch.
Venom also showed mercy towards the children who were working in the mines. Kaz, who was willing to do anything for revenge, hinted on Venom to kill them for money. Venom rescued and defended the children from their captors. One could argue that yes, because they’re kids, anyone would do that…except for Kaz. Some would be willing to do anything for money. Once Venom brings the kids back to the Mother Base, Kaz is bitter about his decision. At first, Venom observes the children are “natural” at holding a gun (after being antagonized by Kaz). However, Kaz rejects the idea of children ever becoming soldiers and instead opts for basic education. Venom Snake agrees, stating it would be a life “better than behind a gun”.
One of the most apparent differences is his interactions with Huey Emmerich, who is accused of causing the destruction of Mother Base nine years prior. Ocelot and Kaz interrogate Huey for 6 hours. Kaz has it set in his mind that Huey was responsible. Venom states, “We need more evidence before we can pass judgment.” Once again, we see consistency with Venom’s almost pacifist personality. He doesn’t jump to conclusions. He shows mercy instead, even against better judgments.
Once Venom extracted the badly damaged Sahelanthropus, I had honestly thought he would use it as a weapon. After all, that’s what the new ‘fallen’ Big Boss would do. It would be a valuable resource against his enemies. But Venom sees it more as a trophy, as a symbol of Diamond Dog’s “strength”. He doesn’t want to use it as a weapon. He knows how dangerous it is.
The best example of Venom’s personality is during the quarantine incident. He is forced to execute his own men who are infected with the vocal cord parasites that threaten the entire world. Kojima shows his desires of the horror genre as Venom makes his way through the chaos of panicked men and bloodied floors. The mission is to search and extract survivors. Many are killing each other. Many are laying on the ground, writhing in pain. They’re all calling out to their Boss, begging for help. They’re relieved to see him there.
The horrible realization of finding out the entire facility has been infected dawns upon everyone through the heat-sensor goggles. The only way to stop the infection is to kill the hosts. There is clear hesitation on Venom’s part, even shooting the legs of his men to stop them from moving. But it would be cruel to allow them to live in this state. His men salute as he kills them. Some are still sane enough to realize what’s happening. They shout in disbelief, others try to fight back, and some beg him to kill them. The entire sequence was emotional for Venom and the player. Surrounded by the dying and the dead, the people Venom himself recruited and trained, it was a powerful impact. Huey kept shouting in Venom’s ear “This isn’t the Big Boss I know!”, criticizing him for killing his own men. He even saw himself as a demon as he walked through the hallway, feeling the heaviness of their deaths.
In his grief, Venom falls to his knees in the bloody hallway. His fists are clenched and he lowers his head. No words need to be spoken here. This is clear remorse and despair over what has happened to his people. Venom feels responsible for everything. He is their commander and they died because of him. The weight of their deaths are heavy on his conscious right from the beginning.
Afterwards, Venom is seen gazing at the burning coffins of his dead soldiers. He’s motionless, staring at the flames. There is emotion. There is guilt. During the ceremony, Venom spreads the ashes of his fallen men on his face. “I won’t scatter your sorrow into the heartless sea. Plant your roots in me. I’ll always be with you. I won’t see you end as ashes; you’re all diamonds.” He blames himself for their deaths. “I killed them, with my own hands.” He genuinely cares about his men. He felt remorse for having to kill them. He turns their ashes into diamonds as a memento instead of casting them into the sea, so they can be with him at all times. Venom tried to spare them, shooting their legs, but he had no choice but to give them a quick and painless death as his only act of mercy.
One of the defining characteristic for Venom is his consciousness. Given what we know about Big Boss now (hospital, how he treated Venom, ect.), one would ask if he would respond in the same way. Venom clearly shows remorse over how his soldiers died. Big Boss used one of his own soldiers for his own selfish gain. How much would he be willing to sacrifice for his dreams?
The consistency continues to an almost disbelieving level: Huey is found out to be a compulsive liar. He lied about Mother Base, his son, Strangelove, and a mountain of other elements. It’s discovered that he was in contact with Cipher. He caused the second outbreak of parasites on Mother Base. Huey was the cause of much suffering.
Yet Venom spared him. He gave him food and water and a boat to exile him from Mother Base. “That’ll be the end of it.” When we expected him to lose his temper, Venom doesn’t. He continues to show mercy towards his enemies. Once again, would Big Boss do the same at this point?
Venom shows to be his own individual through his actions (and inactions). He has the memories and experiences of Big Boss, but how he responds is dramatically different. Some are frustrated with this “goody-two-shoes” act but this shows how drastically different he is from Big Boss. He is truly his own person with his responses. One can change their memories and experiences, but how one responds to these can define who they are.
To reinforce Venom’s compassion towards his comrades, a cut-scene can be activated when morale is low, the amount of soldiers in the waiting room, or the amount of GMP a player has is low. This cut-scene shows a group of soldiers cheering on a fight as two men beat on one another. The situation escalates when one draws a knife. Soldiers keep cheering louder and louder in their fevered excitement. Before the armed soldier can attack, Venom grabs him and throws him against the other soldier. He stumbles before Venom successfully separates the two. In his rage, the unarmed soldier also draws out a knife and readies to attack. Venom grabs his hand and says, “We don’t draw weapons on comrades. Look around you…this is your family.” He plunges the blade into his shoulder, allowing himself to be injured instead of his own men and as a way to calm the situation down using himself. He encourages his men to work together and not fight with one another. He encourages the element of “family”. The fight ends abruptly in shock and Ocelot intervenes to break the crowd away.
Once again, Venom is faced with the decision of punishing those who were in the wrong. Ocelot threatens to send them to the brig for a week and clean the decks by day. Instead, Venom rejects the idea and states that the soldier’s CQC is “sloppy” and tells them, “Come see me later for a lesson you won’t forget.” One could say he’s going to punish them via beatings, however, as we see on Mother Base: soldiers ask for training in CQC from Venom. They show gratitude whenever Venom works with them. The idea of getting lessons from ‘Big Boss’ increases morale from them (why—that is truly left to interpretation). Instead of locking away his soldiers, Venom chose to work with them one-on-one to improve their CQC.
The only time that Venom Snake doesn’t show his merciful side are between the moral choices of choosing to spare Quiet or shooting Skull Face yourself. These moments are up to the player to decide, but even then, such as shooting Skull Face—Venom Snake misses his shots before Kaz shoots his arms and legs off for revenge. Venom has no response to this, as if he has no satisfaction out of causing Skull Face misery. It conflicts with who he is. It’s not in his nature to want to cause harm or have conflict.
Venom Snake has a personality, just not the personality the Metal Gear community expect because we thought he was “Big Boss”. This is because he isn’t Big Boss, but an entirely different person all together. Venom shows he’s willing to compromise. Big Boss has already shown us he’s willing to do anything to achieve his dreams; using one of his own men as a decoy and sacrificing innocent people as literal shields. We know the nature of both individuals and realize they are very much different.
Decoding Venom’s personality is also challenging. When using the actor Kiefer Sutherland, the idea was emphases on acting; showing, not telling. In the past, the Metal Gear series has pampered its fans with wordy exposition and several minutes of exchanging dialog for the players to know the story and characters. The entire meaning of replacing voice actor David Hayter (Solid Snake, Naked Snake) with ‘live-action’ actor Kiefer Sutherland was to portray Venom’s emotions/personality through actions instead of words. It’s important to pay attention to even the smallest of detail whenever we watch cutscenes of Venom Snake and the characters around him. Telling a good story doesn’t always need a thousand pages.
But there are absolutely negative consequences with this conclusion. Consequences that further shape Venom into the ‘person’ that he is and that he never asked for. He is haunted by nightmares for the reasons he calls himself a “demon”.
The Phantoms of Venom Snake: Paz
Whether you believe it or not, Paz has a presence in the game that impacted Venom Snake in a real way. The missions involving the extraction of wandering Mother Base soldiers allows an optional sub-plot in which the player can help Paz “revive” her memories. These memories are small building blocks for the player to figure out the “mystery” of her existence.
Arguments about Venom’s relationships between him and Paz often come up. But we have to remember that Venom was the Medic who worked on Paz right before she died. He had his hands buried within her stomach to remove an implanted bomb. He caused her extreme pain before she died. He failed to know about the other bomb (hence why he was wishful about finding and extracting the second bomb) and thus died because of it. There is a relationship between the two, as doctor and patient.
Paz refers Venom’s memories towards the end of the cassette tapes. “It is no mystery now. I am just a phantom, a fragment of the mind you have lost.” Whatever parts of Venom/Medic’s mind is left, he still remembers only a few elements. So far, all we see him are small interactions with Paz. He has guilt over not being able to save her. In the tapes, Paz talks about “Peace Day”. She talks about peace, how she is an angel of peace, how she’s excited for Peace Day. Peace, peace, peace.
To quote one of the tapes: “It is just a dream. It is all a dream. I am in it, and you are in it too. I am the dreamer, but you are having my dream. Do you get it now? You do, don’t you? Peace Day never came … Our wishes do not come true. We just cling on to our dreams, our phantoms. Mine and yours.” – Paz
This heavily implies that Venom Snake wants peace, but knows that will never come true. The ‘fragment’ of Paz focuses on peace and is excited for it. That wish correlates with his behavior; how passive and non-confronting he is when the time comes. He avoids conflict whenever possible and wants as few sacrifices as possible. His consistency has never stopped since the beginning of the game. Venom is a pacifist at heart.
The Phantom of Venom Snake: Skull Face
Although Skull Face’s time in Phantom Pain was brief, he represents a massive foreshadowing of what is to come in the future.
There are core similarities between Venom and Skull Face. Both lost their face, their identity, their origins, and both are phantoms of Big Boss. Both were created to be phantoms by Zero for the sole purpose to support Big Boss. In Skull Face case it was cleanup work and possibly other tasks that we don’t know about. With Venom, it was to be a distraction and extend Big Boss legacy until he is ready to resurface. However, Skull Face knew about Big Boss. Who he was a phantom of. Big Boss did not know about him. With Venom it is the opposite. Big Boss knows about Venom, but Venom does not know about Big Boss.
Ocelot comments on the background of Skull Face in the tape “Skull Face’s Origins and XOF.”
“His country, his family, his face, his identity, everything was stolen for him.”
Skull Face also comments that he never had choice to Paz. Where he was born, the language he speaks. He talks about how he never had the freedom to choose, but says Paz does. There is subtle resemblance that whispers to you. Venom had no choice. The face he’s baring, the identity he has taken over, and his name. Everything was stolen for him as well. This could be the reason why Skull Face lingers around after his death to Venom. The comparison that we see in the trailers where Venom is burning until you just see a skull.
But that’s where the similarities end. Their motives are different. Skull Face wants revenge on Zero and Big Boss, and has his own interpretation of The Boss’s Will. Skull Face wants to destroy the English language as an attack against Zero and cause a world retaliation to make the world unite as one to complete The Boss’s Will. His thirst for vengeance is attracted the third boy to help accomplish his goal. Venom’s vengeance was not strong as his. Kaz is the one that is constantly pushing the vengeance against Cipher throughout the whole game, but ends up respecting Venom for not being mad with vengeance like him.
What Skull Face could represent is that if vengeance consumes Venom, he could become like Skull Face.
The Phantoms of Venom Snake: The Boss
Venom Snake shares the memories and experiences of Big Boss. Through hypnotherapy and other bizarre Metal Gear Solid plotlines, Venom’s personality has mostly been consumed by Big Boss. This includes all of the good and the bad.
“Kaz…I’m already a demon. Heaven’s not my kind of place anyway.”
Venom Snake remembers the bad things “he” has done. He remembers when “he” killed The Boss and feels guilty because of it. He refers himself as a demon for the actions he never committed. This would also explain his pacifist nature; he wants to avoid becoming that demon he sees himself as.
He may share the memories and experiences of Big Boss, but clearly his attitude is different. His responses to these memories is what is substantial to him as a character. One can change the memories and experiences of an individual but their consciousness—your awareness of these memories/experiences—can reflect differently. The attitude of Big Boss and Venom are two entirely different personalities.
This consciousness shines through when we see the alternative ending of Forward Operating Base after successfully disposing of all the nukes.
Venom has a brief dialog as he addresses a certain someone, “I haven’t forgotten what you told me Boss. We have no tomorrow, but there is still hope for the future. In our struggle to survive the present, we push the future further away. Will I see it in my lifetime? Probably not. Which means there is no time to waste. Some day the world will no longer need us, no need for the gun or the hand to pull the trigger. I have to drag out this demon inside me and build a better future. That’s what I…heh…what we will leave as our legacy. Another mission, right Boss?”
Many believe that this is Venom talking to Big Boss. That this is confirmation of Venom and Big Boss working together. This is not the case.
Venom is talking to The Boss, The Mother of Special Forces, from “his” memories with her. He remembers the lessons that she taught “him” and remembers how she died. He remembers her talking to “him”. This sequence can be activated before ‘The Truth’ mission from the online features. This means that this “ending” could or could not be the actual ending of the game. However, that has little value compared to the significance of the scene. It is very likely that Venom is interpreting The Boss’s Will in his own way.
Skull Face interpreted The Boss’s Will. Zero/Cipher interpreted The Boss’s Will. Big Boss rejected her Will, and instead chose to pick up his gun and fight. Anyone with memories and experiences with The Boss could interpret her Will, and this includes Venom Snake.
But Venom Snake is not Big Boss. From what we’ve gathered, his attitude is different than that from Big Boss. It would make little sense for Venom Snake to address Big Boss in that near word-for-word dialog when Big Boss rejected for what The Boss stood for. She chose to put down her gun, while Big Boss kept his.
Furthermore, this scene happens when the player disposes of all of the nukes in the FOB missions. The world is effectively safe from their danger. Venom’s pacifist personality would coincide with what he thinks The Boss wants. The story would become far more enriched as well if Venom, the man who never even met The Boss, interprets her Will in the exact opposite of what her “son” wanted. The “fake boss” strives to leave a better legacy for the future and he must “drag out this demon” inside of him.
The demon Venom addresses is Big Boss. In selective moments, we see Venom have a bloodied face and elongated horn. This happens whenever he feels he’s doing something horrible and that’s the “demon” inside of him. It was apparent in the hallway during the quarantine mission. He wants to abandon that side of him, cast it aside because it conflicts with his true personality. It’s almost as if the memories of Big Boss are haunting him through these nightmarish images.
Venom Snake: The Soldier
Venom Snake has accomplished many, many trials. Without the aid of so-called “superior genes”, he did what Big Boss could do. He was one of the best soldiers in Big Boss’s army. The complaint about the player not playing as Big Boss often comes up as a disappointment but that’s beside the point: you’re playing as Venom Snake. He’s a character that can stand on his own without the legacy of ‘Big Boss’ to back him up.
Aside from infiltrating several bases, recusing prisoners, soldiers, taking down gunships and tanks, Venom established and helped recreate Mother Base that was lost nine years prior. He trekked across two countries as he gathered materials, soldiers, civilians, blueprints, weapons, vehicles, and even animals to strengthen his stronghold. To strengthen the home of Diamond Dogs. Through his increased heroism and influence, he attracts soldiers from around the world who are eager to join his army. Venom’s army, not Big Boss’s. He shares similar abilities and leadership as Big Boss but his actions are different.
The threat of Metal Gear ST-84 (Sahelanthropus) was eliminated by Venom, preventing the world from knowing about its deadly existence. Venom kept the machine as a testament to Diamond Dog’s triumph. He would never allow it to become of use as he saw it to be far too dangerous of a weapon. Venom continued to defeat threats of the world by stopping Skull Face’s plan of wiping out the English language in a twisted version of The Boss’s Will. He destroyed the English strain of parasites (save the one which Eli had gotten from The Third Boy). Defeating Skull Face also prevented the use of nukes being created so commonly until every country would have them at their disposal, ultimately having a world filled with them. By killing Skull Face, Venom was able to save the world from a free-market of nuclear weapons.
In another contrast to Big Boss, Venom attempted to reintegrate child soldiers back into society. He had rescued a handful of children from a mine and brought them back into Mother Base. At first, they seem to be “natural” at holding a gun, but still lack obvious training. Kaz said they would provide basic education for them that wouldn’t involve guns. Venom agrees, suggesting a life besides “behind a gun” would be better for them. Big Boss, on the other hand, wanted child soldiers to train into the next generation of soldiers to create an endless cycle of war in the world. We’re still seeing subtle differences between the characters.
By now, we’ve established that Big Boss had willfully used one of his own soldiers as a decoy. He had hidden a precious truth from one of his most trusted and loyal men. He used him as a “poster boy” for the world as dangerous enemies drew to him like a flame. Big Boss stayed hidden in the shadows, working towards his goals and dreams. Venom Snake fought against Big Boss’s enemies and survived every trial, but he was still haunted by his own ‘phantoms’ with each step. Venom was willing to put himself in danger for the benefit off others (e.g. the quarantine incident) while Big Boss allowed dozens of innocent civilians to die for cover.
We, the players, admire Big Boss for his previous actions. He was once a hero to our eyes because of these actions. It is very possible that Venom once felt the same way. But that is no longer the reality in which we live in. Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain shows us the indirect fall of Big Boss by becoming the product of his sins. We wanted to witness the fall of the man we were loyal to the most but instead became a victim of his dreams. The desire of emulating this man, of wanting to be him, is a mistake. To want to embrace the idea of becoming a demon is wrong.
It is clear that Venom Snake is not Big Boss. He doesn’t need the title of “Big Boss” in order to exist. He is his own individual through his choices and accomplishments. Many of these accomplishments he had done through his own hands. One could argue that it was because he thought he was Big Boss—but his physical abilities and prowess were his own. Only his face and memories/experiences were changed. How he used them and how he thought, were his own actions.
There Can Only be One Boss: Conclusion and Predictions
There is a massive amount of confusion regarding the ending of Phantom Pain. When Venom Snake hears the tape of Big Boss praising him for his ‘work’, he smiles with a nod. He acknowledges the appreciation and seems to be honored with his task. When the tape stops, however, and Venom looks at the mirror, he no longer sees himself. He sees the phantom—the demon—that has been haunting him throughout the game. The personality he tries to cast away. He sees the image of Big Boss glaring back at him, bloodied with a long “horn”. Venom closes his eyes and slams his prosthetic fist into the mirror, shattering it in anger. He destroyed the image of Big Boss to reveal the image of himself as Venom Snake. We have already established they are two different characters. They are not “one in the same”.
It has been stated over and over again throughout the Metal Gear series: There can only be one Boss. Usually this statement is associated as a death sentence. There is only room for one ‘Boss’. There is never ‘two’, there is only ‘one’.
At the very end of Metal Gear Solid V, we are treated with a cassette tape of the one and only Big Boss addressing Venom Snake.
In the tape, “I cheated death, thanks to you. And thanks to you, I’ve left my mark. You have too. You’ve written your own history. You’re your own man. I’m Big Boss, and you are too. No… he’s the two of us together. Where we are today, we built. This story, this legend; it’s ours. We can change the world, and with it, the future. I am you, and you are me. Carry that with you wherever you go. Thank you, my friend. From here on out… you’re Big Boss.”
This is a death sentence.
Further into the ending, at the last of the credits, we hear the last pieces of dialog between Kazuhira Miller and Revolver Ocelot. Ocelot states, “Huh. You know…sooner or later there will be only one Boss. There’s only room for one Boss.” This is meant to be a type of threat towards Venom Snake. Once Venom has established his Mother Base and done all of his work, what would happen when Big Boss created his new nation? What would happen when Big Boss rises from the shadows and declare himself as the real “Big Boss”? There can only be one Boss. Venom’s use will be no more.
Venom is well aware of this. He is aware of the danger that he is now in. Aside from having the target on his back from Big Boss’s enemies, his existence is now limited because he is the “extra” Boss. It is only a matter of time before he is completely erased because there can only be one Boss.
In the same dialog exchanged between Ocelot and Kaz, Kaz feels betrayed and abandoned by Big Boss’s ambitions. Left behind and angry, he tells Ocelot, “No…Big Boss can go to hell. I’ll make the phantom and his sons stronger, to send him there. For that… I’ll keep playing my role.”
The biggest theme in Phantom Pain is vengeance. Almost every character in the game is driven by vengeance. Kaz’s vengeance towards Skull Face and Huey, Huey’s vengeance towards Skull Face for forcing him to make weapons, Eli’s vengeance towards Snake, the child soldier’s vengeance towards the men who destroyed their families, Skull Face towards Zero—it’s almost universal as every major character we interact with desires a form of revenge.
All except for Venom Snake.
Venom’s emotions don’t outright declare a motive for revenge. He willingly goes along with Kazuhira’s plans for vengeance (maybe to simply stop Skull Face) but doesn’t immediately kill Skull Face when he has the opportunity. Kaz is the one who makes Skull Face suffer and leaves him to die. Venom is more concerned about the English strain of parasites. Huey has the finishing blow on Skull Face. We’ve seen Venom’s passive emotions even when he’s been wronged. Everyone around him shouts and screams of vengeance and he is the calm voice of reason. He avoids conflict and tries to compromise.
Everything has been revealed to him. Venom is aware of what has happened to him and why. His very identity erased, his accomplishments forgotten, his personality swallowed up by the man he trusted the most. He will never exist, only Big Boss. His life is short because he is “Big Boss” and he is expendable. Betrayed and left to face hordes of enemies, haunted by memories and crimes he never committed—all of which he never asked for. This ‘gift’ is a curse.
Now is the time for Venom’s vengeance. Now is the time for Venom Snake to take out his revenge on the man who ruined his life. Would it break his consistency? Yes. But that is only because of Big Boss’s actions; if Venom were to become angry and take revenge against Big Boss, it would be on Big Boss’s shoulders alone. He was the cause of Venom’s tragedy. The beautiful irony and the true twist of the story is to have Venom (the player) have vengeance against the man who told the best lie in the world.
Venom Snake would attempt to become a better Big Boss as Kaz hinted in the end dialog. Aware of the dangers towards himself (and his soldiers), Venom would build his own Outer Heaven to combat against Big Boss. Venom Snake first acted as the decoy, the shield in which protected Big Boss against his enemies. Suddenly, he would be the weapons in which attacked the very thing he meant to protect. The possibilities of revenge are everywhere here.
The idea of Venom Snake following Big Boss’s plans would be, frankly, dry. He would indeed just be another Big Boss. He would die (at the hands of rookie Solid Snake) and nothing would remain. There is no accomplishments here, no celebration, no Venom or Medic, only Big Boss. There is nothing enriching about a copy-cat Big Boss doing precisely what the original Big Boss intended. With strong hints of retaliation from both Ocelot and Kaz, it’s a strong assumption that there will be conflicts between the two parties.
At the end, we know that Venom Snake will fail in his attempts to rise up against Big Boss. Even in death Venom Snake will continue to be swallowed up in Big Boss’s legacy and act as a decoy against his enemies. His actions will never be remembered nor will they be acknowledged. All of achievements and so-called legacy will be consumed for Big Boss’s image and glory. Nothing is left, only the one true Big Boss. Venom’s very existence is tragic for the simple reason that he will be forgotten, something strikingly similar to how The Boss was consumed by the U.S. Government. Betrayed by their leaders and died as phantoms, except Venom Snake’s presence never existed. Not even a memory.
You were devoured by the legacy of Big Boss.