Brothers In Arms

Spoiler Warning: I discuss plot elements of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2.

In Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (2008), Bishop is pulled from his teaching position at the R6 Academy to deploy in Las Vegas, where a drug-cartel-kingpin / terrorist-mastermind / evil-overlord is planting bombs and taking hostages and otherwise making exactly the sort of mischief for which they call in Rainbow Six teams. The terror army is massive and full of Chicago-bank-robber-esque sounding mercenaries.

Bishop tracks down Miguel Nowak, brother to Gabriel Nowak, ex-R6 officer and subordinate element member to (and student of) Bishop. After a stealthy infiltration of an industrial park, Bishop winds up face-to-face to Gabriel, but is knocked out by the old exploding plane trick.

Command takes Bishop off duty, ordering him to stand down, figuring he’s gone through enough. Also, his prior professional relationship with Gabriel is turning into a liability. Indeed, Bishop defies orders and takes his team to a Costa Rica villa for a final showdown with Gabriel. After another interpersonal confrontation, Bishop and Gabriel resolve to settle their differences with an impromptu quick-draw contest. Bishop wins and kills Gabriel.*

It’s a silly story.

It seems to be an important one — rather the archetypes and tropes being pulled here are important in that they’re commonly expressed. Brothers in arms, often a master and apprentice within a secretive elite fraternal order have a falling out in which one of them goes full-evil and not only rebels against the order, but becomes a right adversary and attempts to take down the order, requiring a confrontation between master-gone-rogue and apprentice. Always, the master has to go against orders to fight the apprentice. Often they’re literal siblings. Generally, they’re the same sex. This stuff is as deeply rooted as the hero’s journey.

Sadly, this exact premise is the fodder for many cheesy 80s-era action movies, so when I see it, I associate it with cheesy 80s-era action, not an attempt to tell a military techno-thriller. It certainly doesn’t belong anywhere in a Tom Clancy story, or what I think of when I imagine a Tom Clancy story…or at least what I want a Tom Clancy story to be.

Tom Clancy (as I see him) gets his inspiration from the Cold War in which these two vast empires enjoyed an uneasy peace in which cautious, deliberate world leaders maneuver around each other to gain subtle advantage. Sometimes situations could get fragile and delicate and these cautious, deliberate leaders would to send cautious, deliberate agents (sometimes cautious, deliberate agents with precise guns) to make sure things don’t escalate into a hot global nuclear war.

Threat of nuclear war ended. But then the the threat of terrorism became palpable with the 9/11 attack. So now we still have need for cautious, deliberate agents with precise guns to defuse situations that, without caution and deliberate action, could get very messy. Without their caution and deliberateness, a lot of innocent people could die at once, and that would be horrible.**

Sometimes, even horrible things happen because cautious, deliberate people were too cautious and too deliberate, but these cautious deliberate agents know that in the long game, their caution and deliberation saves more lives than it costs.

This ideal is well expressed in Tom Clancy’s bookending framework to The Hunt For Red October. Jack Ryan takes a tense nighttime flight from London to Langley. And then, after all was done, Jack Ryan, exhausted, sleeps through a return flight back to London, teddy-bear-in hand for his daughter. The story is about the crazy things that happened at work. And what happens at work stays at work.

There’s no room for agents of these secret organizations to quit and go full-terrorist-mastermind. There’s no room for an operative to go rogue so he can finish the job on his own terms. Both of these run entirely contrary to feasibility of secret, elite organizations that handle delicate policitical situations in which lots of people are imperiled: All the people who cannot sustain caution and deliberateness have long since been weeded out at training.

And besides, how often does it happen in real life, that special-operations guys go rogue?

* Note here that I just summarized the worst of Rainbow Six Vegas 2, which is a campy intra-military psycho-drama in what is otherwise a pretty-durned-good 2008-era tactical shooter, including well-modeled guns, a team of guys who behave smartly and take cover as they move and fight and some pretty levels. It also allows for co-op multiplayer, in which two people can run through the campaign.

** In Tom Clancy’s idealism — as I see it — Cautious, deliberate secret elite agencies proudly do the job they were meant to do without getting corrupted or diverted by perverse incentives. Political and corporate officers don’t secretly wish for big awful terror things to happen from which they would personally profit. Civilians are generally good well-meaning people who want to work hard and raise families, pay their own workers a decent wage and, and not tip cows or harass minorities. Lies told to the public by elected representatives and agency officers are exclusively for the benefit of obfuscating current operational secrets, and never for anything else. No-one likes to lie or cheat or steal if they don’t have to. It’s a world I’d gladly live in, and I might be more conservative if I did.

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