Warning: There will be spoilers for Mass Effect games, novels, and comics about the Illusive Man.
There is nothing stronger or capable than a man filled with action and reason. What better reason does somebody need than to save his own race and world. All Jack Harper wanted to do was fight for Earth. Fight for the humans. That is what he did. He sacrificed everything to ensure the human race’s survival and position in the galaxy.
Who we now know as the Illusive Man was once Jack Harper, a solider. He fought in the First Contact War. For everyone one thing we know about the Illusive Man there is another thing that stays a mystery. We don’t know everything about him. However, the one thing we do know is also the most asked question about him: what is up with his eyes?
During the First Contact War, Jack and his team were ordered to Shanxi to recover a valuable object aboard a crashed Turian ship. The object turned out to be Prothean. Much like Shepard, Jack was forever changed due to the activation of the artifact. His eyes had changed and he could understand a language he had never heard of. Aside from those two things, any other changes to Jack are unknown.
After the war, he founded Cerberus and became the Illusive Man. He hid from his past because he worried about the future. He saw dark times for humanity ahead. Cerberus was instituted for the betterment of mankind. He felt that the human race had done everything it needed to do to earn a firm place within the galaxy. When they still were faced with hardship and an uncaring Council, Cerberus stepped in to ensure that this would be changed. If the humans wouldn’t be welcomes, they would make themselves be welcomed.
The Illusive Man
The Illusive Man is a busy man. He is always working. Where there are plots, there are sub plots, and even more sub plots under those. No one can ever tell exactly what he is planning or doing. He almost never is seen in person except by a few people he completely trusts. The only time Shepard ever sees him in person is at the end of Mass Effect 3. Every time before that was by hologram.
Is the inability to truly see into this character, the reason why we call him a villain? Or is it the experiments and dire choices he makes? The Illusive Man does what he believes no one will do: he makes sacrifices for the survival of the human race. He will do what no other man or woman would dream of if it meant that the future of his race would be peaceful and strong.
This kind of dedication to one’s goal reminds me of a comic book character. Specifically, I am thinking about Superman Prime. If anyone knows who that is, you’ll quickly roll your eyes at me but think about it. Prime was a tortured and bullied boy in what was supposed to be real Earth. Our Earth. The real world. The world where Superman, Green Lantern, and Aquaman were just comic book heroes. Prime read them all. He wanted to be Superman so badly. Finally, the Crisis Wave was set to annihilate the multi-verse. Prime was saved by a Superman from another Earth, not the one we read in DC Comics normally. When Prime entered the multi-verse and other realms, his powers grew.
Eventually, Superman Prime became stronger than Superman. He waged countless wars against the DC heroes but it all started with a misunderstanding. All he wanted to do was help but his strength made him seem like a threat. He was attacked and he killed Superboy. He didn’t mean to actually do it. Filled with sadness, doubt, and rage, Superman Prime became angry at the people attacking him for not listening or understanding. His initial reason for help became his greatest downfall.
This is just like the Illusive Man in that he was condemned for his actions which were meant to help the human race. Cerberus was deemed a terrorist cell.
Of course, it is hard to agree with what Cererbus was truly doing to humans. With vile experiments in different ranges from disgusting to down-right gruesome, it is easy to peg the Illusive Man as a villain. However, no matter what Shepard or anyone has to say to him, he remains confident in himself and his plan. He has seen things. He understand things that no other living being in the galaxy does. He knows what the humans must do in order to survive.
Let’s take what Shepard had accomplished at the end of the day. He did the impossible. He stood up to the Reapers and was given the choice. He was given three choices. Did any of them truly save humanity? The Illusive Man wanted to meld humanity with Reaper tech and ensure the power to survive and be welcomed fully. Shepard could either control the Reapers, destroy them, or change living beings into a cybernetic race.
Taking control of the Reapers would do nothing to further humanity. There would still be the Council to deal with and once they found out that a human was in control of the Reapers, the galaxy would rise up against them. Then what? Shepard wouldn’t use the Reaper armada against the entirety of the galaxy. He knows how destructive it can be and he wouldn’t use it.
Destroying the Reapers would get rid of the galaxy’s biggest threat. The Council would go back to being the biased bastards they already are and continue their uncaring nature against the humans.
Creating the Synthetics would effectively get rid of the human race altogether. It would ensure one race for the entire galaxy but you can’t sit there and believe that all of a sudden the Turians, Salarians, and every other race would just change overnight. There would still be Turians and Salarians. There would still be diversity. Also, knowing that a human changed every being without they having a say would cause massive unrest against the humans.
None of these choices would help further humanity’s position in the galaxy. What exactly was Shepard fighting for in the first place? Of course he wanted to save the galaxy from the Reaper threat but his first and main thought was always on home and humanity. He just wouldn’t do everything it took to truly save them and ensure their future. In fact, if you think about it, the only true hope for humanity was the Illusive Man.
Doing What Was Needed
The Illusive Man knew that in order to gain every piece he needed to save humanity, he would need someone to make that journey. He chose Shepard. The Illusive Man was no longer Jack Harper. He couldn’t do the things Shepard did. He used Shepard and his friends in order to gain what he needed.
In the end we were given a glimpse into a very in-depth character who managed to maintain his mysterious nature and still be a vital part of the story. The Illusive Man was the only human who truly wanted to do whatever it took to save the race from a future of low-tier, not needed beings and prejudice. If you were in the Mass Effect universe, wouldn’t you take pride in someone who would stand up for you and your world no matter what it took? Or would you rather stand behind someone who would rather let the hardships of the human race continue?
We may not all agree with some of what the Illusive Man and Cerberus was doing but not once did they deviated from the notion that they must save humanity at all costs.
Was the Illusive Man truly a villain? Just because he researched every way possible to further humanity, be it gruesome or politically incorrect, does that make him a villain? In the eyes of the alien races, of course it would. However, the other races didn’t truly give the humans a real chance anyways. In the eyes of humans, it should be a give-in that the Illusive Man was truly the best hope in the fight for survival.