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Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1’s ending, explained

Nearly three years ago, director Christopher McQuarrie started filming Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1, and it’s been a long journey to get this sequel on the big screen. Franchise star Tom Cruise has been headlining the Mission: Impossible films since 1996 with increasingly risky stunts and over-the-top action that has kept audiences coming back for more. But Dead Reckoning Part 1 takes things to another level with a story that is too big for a single movie.

By most accounts, Dead Reckoning‘s two-movie adventure will mark the end of Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his time in the Impossible Mission Force. When the ending comes around for Part 1, Ethan’s team has been forever changed, and even bigger challenges lie ahead in Part 2. If you need help making sense of it all, then you’ve come to the right place because we’re about to dive in. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep reading, preferably after you’ve already seen Dead Reckoning Part 1.

Warning: the rest of this post contains spoilers for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1

How does Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 end?

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell turn around in a small car, looking concerned.
Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part 1. Paramount Pictures / Paramount Pictures

Dead Reckoning Part 1 ends as it began, with Ethan receiving one of the IMF’s customary mission briefings and a warning that he and his team will be disavowed if they are captured or killed. Unfortunately for the team, they’ve already paid the price. Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) was murdered by Gabriel (Esai Morales), an enemy from Ethan’s past who has teamed up with the IMF’s new adversary, The Entity.

As explained in the film, The Entity is a rogue A.I. program that may be the most advanced creation of its kind. It’s suggested that The Entity is sentient, and its predictions about the future are eerily accurate, up to and including Ilsa’s death. Ethan and his team spent the whole movie trying to get a pair of advanced keys that may be the only way to control The Entity. However, while the rest of the world powers simply want to bring The Entity under their thumb, Ethan just wants to destroy it.

With Ilsa out of the picture, and Ethan’s newfound ally, Grace (Hayley Atwell), now a captive of the U.S. government, Ethan was able to escape a wrecked train and reunite with Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). Thanks to the dying words of Paris (Pom Klementieff), they now know that the keys open a chamber on a sunken Russian submarine that has The Entity’s original unaltered code. The submarine was shown in the film’s opening sequence as The Entity tricked its crew into sinking their own vessel. Now, Ethan and Benjii have to devise some way of getting to the sub, assuming that they can find it. Meanwhile, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) has stepped away from Ethan’s team in order to get off the grid and try to examine the code of The Entity on his own laptop in order to find a way to destroy it.

Is Ilsa Faust really dead?

Rebecca Ferguson in an eyepatch lines up a shot with her sniper rifle.
Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One Paramount Pictures.

If you’re skeptical about Ilsa’s fate then you’re not alone. The Mission: Impossible films have done fake-out deaths before. The beginning of this film tries to briefly convince viewers that Ilsa was murdered during an attempt to recover one of the keys from her. Ethan helps Ilsa sell the illusion of her demise and he tells her to “stay dead” in order to remain undetected.

However, Ilsa comes out of seclusion to help Benjii and Luther find Ethan and assist him in his time of need. It doesn’t appear that Ethan and Ilsa ever had a truly romantic relationship, but they clearly had an intimate connection as seen when they enjoy each others’ company in Venice during one of the film’s rare quiet moments.

Ilsa’s death is even more tragic considering that she gave her life defending Grace, a woman that she barely knew. Ilsa put up a hell of a fight, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough to save her.

Will Grace return in Dead Reckoning Part 2?

Ethan Hunt holds his hands up in the air in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One.
Grace and Ethan are cornered in a scene from Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1. Paramount Pictures.

Haley Atwell’s Grace will almost certainly be back, especially since the film goes out of its way to establish her as the new female lead of the series. Although Grace and Ethan are at odds throughout the majority of the story, Ilsa’s sacrifice greatly affects Grace and she agrees to go on a mission with Ethan while impersonating the White Widow, Alanna Mitsopolis (Vanessa Kirby). Grace contemplates betraying Ethan and selling the two keys to save herself, but she ultimately chooses not to.

At Ethan’s direction, Grace attempted to stop their runaway train and save everyone on board. She and Ethan also had a very narrow escape thanks to the unexpected assist from Paris. But in the end, only Ethan could escape from the train. Yet as she was advised earlier, Grace surrenders herself to IMF director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) and offers to become one of his operatives.

Presumably, this will allow Grace to reunite with Ethan, Benji, and Luther when Dead Reckoning Part 2 comes around next year. We’ll just have to wait and see how it happens.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 is now in theaters. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 2 will arrive on June 28, 2024.

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Blair Marnell
Blair Marnell has been an entertainment journalist for over 15 years. His bylines have appeared in Wizard Magazine, Geek…
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