Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) represents a new element in the rebooted universe where Daniel Craig holds the James Bond role. Previously, this Bond has answered truculently to the stentorian MI6 director addressed only by the letter M (Dame Judi Dench). The appearance of Mallory, a British hero of the Troubles who’s as willing as Bond to leap into the line of fire, helps destabilize this relationship, endows Bond with a new mentor, and, by the conclusion of Skyfall (2012), reboots the reboot.
Too bad Mallory’s actually a backstabbing architect of murder in the name of democracy.
M is hunted by the cyberterrorist/former MI6 agent Silva (Javier Bardem), who first shreds her reputation by exposing her deep-cover operatives, then blows up her office by a highly unlikely combination of infrastructural hacks, then attacks her frontally in the very chambers of British power. In a bid to protect her, Bond goes off-grid and shepherds M to his ancestral home, the Scottish country manor Skyfall, while instructing MI6 tech guru Q (Ben Whishaw) to lay an electronic “trail of breadcrumbs” that will usher Silva there to finish the job.
Mallory, the new head of “the intelligence committee,” has been spearheading the effort to remove M from the job. He is presumably a high-ranking civil servant answerable to the Prime Minister, and M resists his project as a foolish measure of “civilian oversight” on her division. But she’s tainted by major security lapses — one of them Bond’s own failure to retrieve a sensitive hard drive — and besides, she’s too old-fashioned, if not simply too old, to satisfy the new government. They want her resignation; she refuses. She’s a political trouble spot.
Mallory becomes aware of Bond’s last-ditch ploy, surprising Q in the middle of his preparations. He knows Bond is the only thing protecting M, and he knows Bond is all alone in the effort. He approves.
And then the man with access to the highest levels of government power does nothing, while Silva’s twelve footsoldiers march on Skyfall by land, and Silva himself, with yet more heavily-armed lackeys, approaches in a helicopter gunship by sea.
There’s only one conclusion: Mallory expects Bond to fail yet again. He’s probably aware of Bond’s poor performance on agency psychological and physical evaluation. To paraphrase Silva, he knows Bond is not ready, and knows that he will likely die. If he fails, Mallory is rid of both a stubborn bureaucratic headache and a Double-0 asset who’s past his prime; even if he succeeds, M by this point is such complete poison (she got a lot of people killed in Westminster Abbey just by sitting down) that her career is over, and Mallory wins.
But if Bond lives? Then Mallory, the new blood who’s nonetheless Old Guard, who keeps a field-trained markswoman for a secretary, still maintains this deadly tool in his kit. Bond is seemingly never disciplined for, in point of fact, getting his boss killed, so long as he participates in a conspiracy of silence with his new superior. His tricked-out Aston Martin is gone, first ridiculed and then blown up, but his subterranean Q Branch and upper-crust male boss in a leather-padded suite are again in place.
Ian Fleming once described the character of Bond as “a blunt instrument wielded by a government department,” a phrase M adapted in Casino Royale, the first and still best of the Craig-starring films. Mallory, he of the convenient initial, has the fatherly qualifications to aim Bond — who just immolated the last vestiges of his own father — like a missile. Wherever he lands, he wreaks havoc. If 007 someday detonates in midair en route to his target, well, that’s one more witness put to rest. Democracy prevails, as it often does in real life, by turning a blind eye to slaughter.
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