Spotlighting Student Work #6: The Best Messiahs Come in Pairs

We have another Messiah-themed essay today, with a look at two characters from the 2015 Assassin’s Creed installation, Syndicate. Our author is TheoRel and Physics major Elizabeth Leaning. Here’s a bit about her.

I’m in my first year, studying a Bachelor of Arts and Science Conjoint, majoring in Theology and Religion (as well as Physics, Maths and Ancient History). Having spent my secondary education at an Auckland Catholic School, I took THEOREL 101 to gain insight into the pop culture element of Catholicism. I look forward  to studying TheoRel to PhD level, and combining it with my Physics major in my career.

Now for the essay.

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Jacob and Evie Frye: The Duality of the Modern Messiah

Elizabeth Leaning

When we consider the idea of a Messiah we think of a singular individual. However, when we consider the paradigm of the Messiah archetype – Jesus Christ.  we cannot ignore his duality. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, determined Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. So, is it too surprising that a Modern Messiah may share this duality? The twins Jacob and Evie Frye from the game Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, produced by Ubisoft in 2015 are testament to this belief. Being able to switch between Jacob and Evie during gameplay does more than fulfil Ubisoft’s quota of playable female characters. Through this mechanic, we see how the Frye twins approach the same goal, following the same moral code, but through different means. By having both characters contribute towards the concept of Messiah, the game suggests that having a single, perfect Messiah is not the only option for the archetype. Jacob and Evie Frye are able to present a unified, but compromising Messiah figure who fulfils many of Jewett and Lawrence’s criteria of a Modern Messiah, without being portrayed as overly perfect (Jewett & Lawrence, 2002). They are far more real, showing their flaws, but also showing that they are able to come together to act in a way befitting the title of a Modern Messiah.

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Jacob and Evie, naming their gang

The Frye twins each possess traits that the other does not, and it is only when they are unified that these traits contribute towards their messianic identity. Jacob’s purified and rationalised divine rage is one of these such traits, matching the approach seen in scriptures describing Jesus, such as when he “overturned the tables of the money changers” (Mark 11:15). Though his systematic assassinations of Templar leadership is undeniably violent, Mirt Komel argues that the assassins are not a “perverse, negative evil-self of the player,” (Komel, 2014). Their actions have meaning, and are not superficially designed for a murderous escapist fantasy. They are rationalised, as were Jesus’ acts of violence.

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I’m sure he deserved it

Another element of the messianic identity that Jacob fulfils is that of having a loyal band of iconic followers. For Jesus, it was his disciples, many of whom were outcasts before being called to mission (Matthew 9:9). Similarly, Jacob aimed to “unite a mix of disenfranchised outsiders under one name” while forming his gang – the Rooks. Furthermore, while Jesus had Mary Magdalene as a confidante (and potential love interest), Jacob found an unlikely companion and even more unlikely romantic interest in Maxwell Roth. The mission of both the 12 Apostles and the Rooks is also similar: to continue the work of their “Messiah” and spread the “Good News” amongst the people, and in both cases, this mission is spread with the solidarity that “only comes when [they] all start from the same point and are united in the same truth” that is characteristic of disciples fit for mission (Leaning, 2017). Whether this “Good News” be freedom from death or freedom from capitalism, the fact that Jacob Frye and Jesus Christ both surrounded themselves with trusted allies in order to spread this message indicates that Jacob is more messianic than he originally appears.

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The twins and crew

From the game’s early days, a distinction has been made between “Jacob’s brawn and Evie’s stealth” (Wireless News, 2015). With many players viewing Evie as the more reasonable of the siblings, she fulfils two of Jewett and Lawrence’s traits of a Modern Messiah that Jacob does not. First is her ability to remain ‘divinely competent’ under pressure. Much as Jesus reassures the drowning Peter with a simple “do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27), it is Evie who calms allies with gentle reassurance.

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Idk what that guy in the background is doing. Our girl however, top form.

However, the most recognisable trait of a Messiah is their ability to recover from suffering. Though both twins “respawn” if the player desynchronises, it is Evie who goes through a metaphorical ‘resurrection’. Her strict adherence to her Father’s rules is a common theme throughout the game, causing her the most suffering, as it damages her relationships with both Henry Green and Jacob. As she chastises herself with her father’s words, “Don’t allow personal feelings to compromise the mission” we glimpse of the pain she is feeling in being forced to live her father’s life. So, when she sacrifices something that was so important to her – her reliance on rules – for the sake of accomplishing her final mission, it can be read in the same way in which Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. She herself did not die, but she willingly sacrificed the parts of herself that were stopping her from accomplishing her mission. Though Evie’s resurrection and conquering of suffering is metaphorical, it is no less valid, and contributes towards her and her brothers’ messianic status.

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One Stoic Boi

Though even from the earliest trailers, Evie was described as one who “executes both her plans and her targets with meticulous precision”, while Jacob is “brash and reckless”, there are undoubtedly parallels between the twins. (Ubisoft, 2015). In these parallels, Jacob and Evie fulfil four more elements of a Messiah. Firstly, they have unusual origins. They were not born to a virgin in a stable, nor were they spared from genocide by the daughter of a Pharaoh; they were, however, born into a brotherhood that left them no autonomy over their lives. They never had the option of integrating into contemporary society, much as Jesus could never have merely been a carpenter’s son, and Moses could not grown up the son of a Pharaoh.

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Only the autonomy to be AWESOME

Furthermore, being born in Crawley, when the twins arrived in London they were outsiders. Not only were they overwhelmed by “the churning seas of London”, but being unfamiliar with the city, they initially relied heavily on Henry Green for information and contacts. Jesus too experienced life as an outsider – unwelcome in high social circles and treated like a criminal by some (Mark 15:3). Both the Frye twins and Jesus are the “unlikely redeemer[s]” that Matthew McEver viewed as being the epitome of the messianic narrative (McEver, 1998). Another important characteristic that both Jacob and Evie share with Biblical Messiahs is their strict morality. Though they disagree on their methods, both Jacob and Evie agree on the three tenets of the Creed. There is no grey area or region of doubt, and their morals are non-negotiable.

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Yeah, looks pretty non-negotiable from here pal

This is a similar stance held by Biblical Messiahs. Jesus repeats the phrase “truly I tell you” 24 times in the New International Version of the Bible, conveying the same sense of moral surety. Old Testament Messiahs like Moses maintained the same immutable ethics. His knowledge of his own righteousness when conveying the word of God to the Pharaoh Rameses is proof of this unshakeable nature of a Messiah-figure’s principles, and is a knowledge also held by both Jacob and Evie Frye. The final characteristic the twins have in common with Messiah figures is their seemingly superhuman abilities. In the Bible, Messiah figures frequently act in ways not easily explained by those around them, while the Frye twins possess the rare trait of Eagle Vision, allowing them to see things not visible to the naked eye. Furthermore, although they cannot rise from the dead per se (outside of respawning), they can survive even the most violent of encounters – including Leaps of Faith from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral and the derailment of trains. Though neither is a “transcendent individual” in the traditional sense of a Messiah (Kozlovic, 2004), these abilities border on the miracles that Christ performed, and give Jacob, Evie and Jesus a sense of the supernatural.

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Ok maybe this isn’t the most exciting picture I could have chosen, but Evie looks kinda spooky here. And she’s being SUPER stealthy.

From this analysis of the traits that Jewett & Lawrence attribute to a Modern Messiah, it becomes evident that there is nothing stopping a pair or group from achieving a Messianic status despite the flaws they may hold as individuals. However, the ninth trait has not yet been considered: resisting temptation. This is something both Evie and Jacob fail to accomplish, where Jesus was successful. Most famously, during his forty days in the desert, Jesus’ bold declaration of “Away from me, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10) displays a resolute resistance to temptation that neither Jacob nor Evie possesses. Jacob is not able to resist the appeal of Roth’s free world and the opportunity to create chaos without consequences, while Evie finds herself more and more enticed by the chance to understand and use the pieces of Eden they seek, rather than simply destroying them.

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Jacob and Evie discussing resisting temptation. Probably.

Although this seems very un-Messiah-like, Jesus faced the same dilemma in Gethsemane. Begging that “this cup be taken” from him (Matthew 26:39), he faced the temptation to flee from his responsibilities. He too yielded to the idea of freedom, and the promise of being able to live a fuller life. It is arguable that for those few moments, he caved to temptation and was no longer willing to carry out his divine mission. What is important, however, is that Jesus recovered his. Evie and Jacob follow this same path, ultimately conquering their temptation and becoming even more determined to carry out their original moral mission as a result. So, the twins come to the same realisation that Jesus did in Gethsemane, proving that they still share his messianic qualities without necessarily imitating them to the same extent.

More and more forms of modern media are suggesting this idea that there is a strength in a pair of characters not available when they stand alone: Pacific Rim’s Rayleigh and Mako, Marvel’s Thor and Loki, even Star Wars’ Ben and Rey. So, is it inconceivable to consider that our Modern Messiahs may share the same duality that Jesus did?  Though it would be false to say that one of the Frye twins was “divine” and the other “mortal”, it is undeniable that they are perfect yet opposite halves of the same idea. The balance between divinity and mortality in a Messiah is arguably just as important as a balance between impulse and strategy. One lends a sense of calm and reason, while the other grounds the bearer in the fallible, human world. The Frye twins are undoubtedly messianic, but do not sacrifice their relatability in doing so. Having a single Messiah is clearly not the only available option for the archetype, and what Jacob and Evie Frye suggest is that it may not be the best option either.

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2gether 4ever

 

Bibliography

All references to Biblical text are from the NIV

All textual quotes from Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015) Ubisoft

Jewett, Robert & Lawrence, John. (2002). The myth of the American superhero. Grand Rapids, USA: W.B. Eerdmans

Komel, Mirt. (2014). Orientalism in assassin’s creed: Self-orientalizing the assassins from forerunners of modern terrorism into occidentalized heroes. Teorija in Praksa Vol. 51

Kozlovic, Anton K. (2004) The Cinematic Christ-Figure. Furrow Vol. 55

Leaning, Elizabeth. (2017) Being Fit For Mission. Tui Motu InterIslands Vol. 216

McEver, Matthew. (1998) The Messianic Figure in Film: Chritology Beyond the Biblical Epic. Journal of Religion and Film Vol. 2

Ubisoft North America. (2015, June 15). Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Evie Frye | Trailer | Ubisoft [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Hocg3iOyxs

Ubisoft North America. (2015, May 12). Assassin’s Creed Syndicate: Jacob Frye | Trailer | Ubisoft [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKS8554XAmM

Wireless News. (2015, October 28). Ubisoft Rolls Out Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Wireless News. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/ps/i.do?&id=GALE|A432863457&v=2.1&u=learn&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w

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