In the many hours of interviews I’ve listened to with Christopher McQuarrie about these films, one thing is very clear: he is extremely protective of Ilsa. This was a character he created and isn’t going to handle without extreme care. Because of his love for that character, it makes me wonder if she’s actually gone. I find it a little hard to believe that he would have Ilsa die in a way that is emotional but ultimately doesn’t change the trajectory of the story or Ethan as a character too dramatically, and though we see her lying in those steps, the film gives us a few clues as to her not being dead.
For one, Ilsa has a fake-out death in the Arabian Desert near Yemen-set opening of the film, where she and Ethan devise a plan to get her off the grid as she has become someone with a major price on her head. It’s not inconceivable to think that a similar situation could be happening here in a long-con effort to outthink the A.I. at the center of the film, the Entity, and we learn in “Part Two” that she’s been alive.
Another option, though less likely, that you can’t count out of a “Mission: Impossible” film is that a mask is involved. That might feel rather cheap, and I’m not sure of the logistics. There has been a fake main character death with a mask before with Michelle Monaghan’s Julia in “Mission: Impossible III,” but I think the more likely mask scenario is that Ilsa didn’t die on the bridge and uses a mask of someone to escape the situation.
“Mission: Impossible” is also not a stranger to creating elaborate traps, like the Wolf Blitzer and Solomon Lane cons in “Fallout.” After Ethan and Ilsa reconnect in Italy and attend the White Widow’s party, they share quite a number of knowing glances with somewhat odd reactions that make me think there’s a possibility of a long con they’re pulling to get one over on the Entity, which is what they’d have to do for an all-powerful AI.
I know this is just hope talking, but I don’t think McQuarrie’s story for Ilsa Faust has reached its conclusion yet.