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I was just watching a couple of clips where Edwards participates in a couple of tests while being considered for admission to the Men in Black. Like this one:

Given the second lieutenant's response, it appears that nothing happened before Edwards arrived, even though Zed says he's late. This struck me as odd; why would they delay everyone's testing just for Edwards? Edwards is also the only one who demonstrates any sort of analysis of the situation at all. He's the only one who attempts to rectify the lack of resources during the written test, and all of the other participants immediately start shooting without question in the second part. This also strikes me as odd; the Men in Black operate covertly and well outside established norms of society. Why would the Men in Black be considering candidates who are so ingrained in the normal way of doing things?

This got me wondering: are the Men in Black seriously considering the soldiers they have there? Or are they just unwitting props, used as part of the test to evaluate whether Edwards is qualified? In other words, are the Men in Black trying to choose a candidate from among these several men, or are they only evaluating Edwards at this time?

This idea that this is an elaborate set up to see how Edwards responds seems to be plausible, at least. The fact that the soldiers are seemingly unaware and tend toward rigidly doing what is expected of them might be construed as trying to mimic how agents must go against normal citizen's expectations in the field. In a sense, it might test Edwards' ability to remain alert, creative, and aware even when those around him might disapprove. It also seems unlikely that the Men In Black would even be considering people who take their situation at face value, don't dig deeper to try to understand what's going on, and forego the resources available to them because of some sense of normality or appropriateness.

I would strongly prefer an answer based on an authoritative source (such as novelizations, interviews or commentary from writers/directors/producers/etc., early drafts, etc.) if any clarification or related information exists. Of course, if anything in canon provides greater clarity on this question (such as information from the sequels), that's entirely acceptable, too.

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    Based on who they chose as his partner in MIB2, I'd say that they were all in with a shot at the job. – Valorum Dec 1 '17 at 11:58
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    @OrangeDog: I don't think the government agencies are (generally) aware of MIB. It's more likely that the soldiers were approached individually by MIB, unbeknownst to whatever organization they belonged to at the time. – Flater Dec 1 '17 at 12:47
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    @OrangeDog MiB is independent of the government, since it asked too many questions for their taste (I think K explains it at some point, but I forgot the exact quote). And why would they ever need to listen to any "muggle" if they have flashy-things and everything? – Annatar Dec 1 '17 at 12:49
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    Found it (thanks, imdb!). Jay: "What branch of the government do we report to?" Kay: "None, they ask too many questions." Jay: "So who pays for all this?" Kay: "We hold patents on a few gadgets we confiscated from the visitors. (...)" – Annatar Dec 1 '17 at 12:55
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    MIB3 makes this scene even weirder – Andrey Dec 1 '17 at 14:38
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Given the second lieutenant's response, it appears that nothing happened before Edwards arrived, even though Zed says he's late.

One does not contradict the other. Z and the others waited for J to arrive before starting the examination.

This got me wondering: are the Men in Black seriously considering the soldiers they have there? Or are they just unwitting props, used as part of the test being given to Edwards?

Notice that K tries to convince Z that J is a worthy candidate. Z doesn't quite agree, but he seems to defer to K's judgment.

There are two possible reasons why Z defers to K, even though Z is in charge:

  • Z values K's opinion.
  • Whoever was going to be the new agent, would end up as K's partner. If K personally vouches for J, and J ends up being a bad fit, then K is the one who has to endure J's ineptitude, since they are partners. Since Z doesn't suffer from K's bad choice, he lets K choose his own preferred partner/trainee.

The fact that they are seemingly unaware and not analyzing the situation might be construed as trying to mimic how agents differ from ordinary citizens in the field, as well. In a sense, it might test Edwards' ability to remain alert, creative, and aware even when no one around him is.

You're reading too much into it.

Listen to K. K is adamant that J is a very good pick. K is so sure of himself that he has already decided that he wants J as a partner.

The testing confirms what K has already been saying. Notice how J and the candidates fare:

  • Initially, J is at a disadvantage. He shows up late, irritates Z, makes snappy and unwarranted comments, and seems to be uncomfortably unconventional.
  • Comparatively, all the other candidates are well disciplined, arrive on time, and are not trying to be funny or witty.

From the get go, J is disadvantaged. But in practice, he clearly outclasses the soldiers:

  • J pulls the table towards him. While this initially comes across as misbehavior (due to the screechy sound, and disapproving looks from the soldiers), his problem solving attitude is actually a good thing for an MIB agent. J solved the problem, rather than blindly assuming he wasn't allowed to move the table. He acted based on what was in front of him, not based on what he expected others to expect of him.
  • Once J starts filling in the paper on the table; you see the soldiers' looks change from disapproval to envy.
  • During the target practice, the soldiers shoot at the monsters. But J sees past the looks (and species), and then decides to only shoot someone who doesn't look scary, but whose appearance is contradictory. The results of this test is clear: the soldiers are biased to thinking that aliens are hostile and humans are not, whereas J judges every target independently, regardless of species. This is clearly a desirable quality for an MIB agent.

J may be a bad candidate in theory, but he is the best candidate in practice. The soldiers weren't incapable; but they simply lack J's innate skills.

It also seems unlikely that the Men In Black would even be considering people who take their situation at face value, don't dig deeper to try to understand what's going on, and forego the resources available to them because of some sense of normality or appropriateness.

But that is exactly why they put the candidates through those tests, instead of hiring someone based on their CV. You're putting the cart before the horse here.

This is standard procedure for many jobs where lacking a certain skill can be dangerous. Doubly so for MIB due to the highly unusual nature of their job, and the severe ramifications of e.g. putting someone in the field who will cause intergalactic diplomatic conflicts due to his ineptitude.

The test wasn't faked because (secretly) J was already known to be a superior candidate. The test was real and is the proof that J is a superior candidate.

Why would K be trying to convince Z to hire J, if both men have been faking the entire recruitment process to inevitably hire J anyway? It makes no sense whatsoever.


So, to answer your question:

Z was considering the soldiers as viable candidates. Based on his reluctance in his conversation with K, I infer that Z think that the soldiers are better candidates than J.

K, however, was already convinced that J was the best choice. If K was calling the shots, he would've likely not even invited the soldiers. But since Z is in charge, the soldiers are invited.
K then uses the result of the testing to prove to Z that J is indeed the best choice.

Even though Z doesn't see things the same way as K, he allows him to pick J as his partner.
This could be because Z trusts K, or because Z knows that K will suffer the consequences of choosing a bad candidate. It's never confirmed exactly why Z defers to K.


People mentioned in the comments that J was slated to replace K after his training. While that is correct, it's not quite relevant as to why J was hired. Z did not defer to K's choice because K gets to decide who replaces him. Z deferred to K on the basis of K assessing J's aptitude.

J was hired to replace D (the old agent we see in the first scene). L, the female coroner, is hired to replace K after he leaves.

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    Agreed, but I think you've missed something as well; K wasn't looking for a partner, he was looking for a replacement. K was the top agent in MiB, fully entrusted by Z. Z is a good manager, but he is a bureaucrat and not a field operative, and he is aware of this. So while his inclination is to find the traditional Best of the Best (his inner bureaucrat showing) he's a good enough manager to respect his Talent (K) in making an intelligent decision based on his own experiences for who would be best suited as his own replacement. – Broklynite Dec 1 '17 at 13:14
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    @Broklynite: K wasn't looking for a partner, he was looking for a replacement. I don't get the distinction you're making here. K was looking for a new partner, as his previous partner had retired, and therefore a replacement was needed. The rest of your comment (Z deferring to K because he trusts his judgment) was already explicitly mentioned in my answer. – Flater Dec 1 '17 at 13:16
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    @Flater The theory is that he was looking for a replacement for himself (that he would take as a partner for a short time to teach him the basics), not another long-term partner. – Annatar Dec 1 '17 at 13:17
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    @Annatar: J serves as D's replacement. (L is K's replacement) And J eventually getting promoted to K's position isn't really the point of the question: J was being judged on his aptitude, and there is no established rule that says a retiring agent gets to pick his successor (based on nothing but personal opinion). Z didn't listen to K because J was slated to replace K. He listened to K because K was making an accurate judgment about J's aptitude, which the testing (with the other soldiers) confirmed. – Flater Dec 1 '17 at 13:19
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Null Dec 5 '17 at 4:32
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I'm going to take the opposite position from Flater, and say no, they were not.

The events we see on screen could plausibly play out as they did, regardless of which position you take. There are good reasons for both views. I think the key lies in a particular moment of the scene: J's arrival.

This is a highly classified position that J is trying out for. I cannot see any kind of examination on this level being delayed to wait for a single person that is late unless that person's presence is absolutely required. A latecomer would just be turned away; you can't even get into the ACT after testing has started. It makes more sense that they waited because J was the only actual test subject.

Next, look at the answer to J's question about why they are there. A simple answer would have done, and would have made for a bit of funny to boot:

J: "Why are we here?"

Zed: "Testing for a classified position."

J: "What position?"

Zed: "That's classified."

Instead, Zed defers to Mr. Best of the Best of the Best, Sir. Note the look that soldier gives J. This scenario is meant to intimidate. Every other part of this series of events seems designed to test if the candidate is capable of thinking and reacting outside of the norms, a certain flexibility of thinking. MiB agents deal daily with beings that can outclass them physically or technologically; here they are seeing how he reacts when he is at a disadvantage. The fact that he is late only adds to the disadvantage.

MiB has very specific needs and qualifications for the agents it chooses, which the other subjects don't seem to meet, even on casual inspection. They are all regimented and rigid; they don't appear to have even the basic mindset to deal with the reality MiB operates in. They don't just not think outside the box, they ARE the box. I can't imagine these individuals would have even passed the first cut, unless they were there for another reason. Zed makes this pretty clear when he dismisses the other recruits: "You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training."

They were both set dressing and the first test.

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    It's not from the movie, but a soldier's training involves him performing without question. There is no room for creative thinking in the army, not that they are oppressed, but that the logistics make it impossible for everyone in it to know all the details. Of course, things can go very wrong still (Vietnam War). – Nelson Dec 1 '17 at 15:31
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    Exactly. MiB has experience with this, and Zed's attitude towards them makes it seem pretty clear that he doesn't consider them to really be viable recruits to start with. – Irishpanda Dec 1 '17 at 15:53
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    My interpretation was always that J was the only real test subject, and that both Z and K implicitly agreed that J had passed this test; Z still had misgivings about J's insubordinate attitude, but K's certainty decided the matter. It was quite obvious the apparent tests were not the real tests. The content of the written test isn't even mentioned, but it's abundantly obvious that it was made physically difficult to actually complete it. There's little point in testing the candidates' marksmanship, but it was important to consider the targets. Only J even attempted the real tests. – bgvaughan Dec 1 '17 at 17:22
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    "You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training.", is still very apt. The soldiers were performing as they thought they were expected to perform. Given the right cues, even a highly regimented soldier will "stray" and behave creatively. Had Zed been less uptight himself, that could have potentially given the interviewees (in the real world) some slack. Then again, group interviews tend to be very tense, and everyone is trying to outdo everyone else. To a soldier, that can mean "be more of a soldier than the other soldiers," especially in this kind of setting. – computercarguy Dec 2 '17 at 1:06
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    "They were both set dressing and the first test." - yup.. that could easily be a test for giving in under perr or society pressure – quetzalcoatl Dec 3 '17 at 9:08
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Z was probably considering other candidates but K was not, or at least not after he met J.

Directly after D retired, Z probably started looking for replacements to offer to K to pick from. Since MiB is a quasi-government-law-enforcement agency it makes sense to look for candidates that have those backgrounds already; on top of that some the solider have probably been a part of classified operations in the past (Z mentions the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers).

However, after the shooting range scene we see two things... the decision to pick the new agent is K's and he has already made that decision.

[Z] He's got a real problem with authority.

[K] So do I, but the kid ran down a Cephalapoid, on foot. Boss, that's got to be tough enough.

[Z] Let's hope you know what you are doing.

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K probably prejudicially favored Edwards prior to the test

K interacted with Edwards personally, and extended an invitation to him. It is likely that he was aware of the sort of people that would show up as the other candidates, if he didn’t know precisely who they were (which he probably did). He was very well aware that Edwards would be the odd man out in that group, and extended the invitation anyway. That suggests that he was looking for something different from the recruit than Z and/or the MIB organization as a whole were looking for.

Z probably prejudicially disfavored Edwards prior to the test

Every other recruit had a very particular background, were exceptionally skilled, incredibly disciplined, and so on. “The best of the best of the best, sir,” as the one guy put it. Z seemed to like that, and did not seem to like Edwards’s wise crack about it. Z was probably responsible for selecting the other candidates—K, as a field agent, wouldn’t have the time to really go through resumes and recommendations and find candidates, that wasn’t his job. (It probably wasn’t Z’s job either, but it was Z’s job to manage and oversee the people whose job it was, so he was ultimately responsible there.) K only found Edwards out in the field, doing his job, and Z probably only included him out of respect for his most-senior agent, who, after all, would be the one who has to put up with whoever got recruited. He probably expected Edwards to do poorly enough in the testing that K would agree he couldn’t be recruited.

Edwards’s testing did himself a lot of favors with K, and enough favors with Z

K likes Edwards’s attitude and independence; Z doesn’t seem to. Z is also concerned about the pure physical and training aspects of the job—Edwards presumably did not compare favorably against the “best of the best of the best” when it comes to things like physical endurance, marksmanship, and so on.

K’s perspective is that Edwards is good enough in those areas so as not to disqualify him. “He ran down a cephalopoid on foot, that’s got to count for something.” K would, no doubt, agree that a certain minimum level of physical and combat skills are necessary for the job; no matter his other advantageous attributes, if Edwards was out of shape, or had never gotten in a fight in his life, he probably wouldn’t make a great MIB agent. But as a cop, particularly a cop who did run down a cephalopoid, Edwards was in good shape—if not the phenomenal shape of the soldiers—and knew how to carry and use a gun—even his marksmanship probably wasn’t as good as the soldiers.

But we see K and Z discussing the recruitment in private, and while they focus on Edwards, they do not seem to be in agreement. K has seen his gut instinct borne out by the testing, and is pushing strongly for Edwards. Z retains his doubts about Edwards with respect to his simply not being one of the “best of the best of the best” that the other candidates represent.

But Edwards did do the unexpected thing with the table, which demonstrated thinking outside the box and paying attention to his environment. Z had to respect that. And while it was never clear to me that the shooting test was designed to test how much people were individually judging threats—it always seemed to me that Z was quite sincere in his confusion about Edwards’s behavior, that he expected candidates to treat the test the way every other candidate did. But Edwards answer was good—very good, and Z had to respect that, too.

So by the end of the testing, Edwards has performed well enough on the aspects of the testing that the “best of the best of the best” excel at so as not to disqualify himself, and has also demonstrated a number of unique attributes that are particularly well-suited to the job of an MIB agent. Z still has misgivings about it, since the other candidates presumably are better in a number of ways, and also because he has concerns about Edwards’s attitude, but he recognizes what Edwards brings to the table, and is willing to defer to K’s judgment that his shortcomings won’t be liability enough to ruin those advantages.

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Ok, another answer refreshed my memory a bit.

Z appears to prioritize obedience (or at least discipline) heavily, given how he frowns on J's problem solving tactics and attitude. K reminds him of J's physical capabilities which is likely comparable to the military candidates, and that appeases Z enough. But K favors J's personality, having direct experience with him. However it doesn't look like K himself set up the test, but rather invited J to it, so the rest of the candidates were probably selected more on Z's criteria of discipline, but were valid candidates in and of themselves.

  • You should edit your answer to read more as an answer than a question. – TheLethalCarrot Dec 1 '17 at 14:50
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    I think K's recommendation was based on both J's running ability, and how he responded to seeing his first alien (Tony Shalhoub regrowing his head in the pawn shop). Though J's memory was wiped, K did see that J did not e.g. freak out when realizing aliens exist. – Flater Dec 1 '17 at 14:51
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    I think the running down an alien caught K's attention, but I suspect that led to K digging deeper into J's records as a cop. Those records probably gave K enough clues to gauge J's potential. – Irishpanda Dec 1 '17 at 14:54
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I think the answer here depends on a piece of information that we don't have: Was the test pre-planned to be at this specific time? We don't know the answer to this, so I don't think it's possible to give a definitive answer to the question, but here are my thoughts either way:

A) If the test was pre-planned

In this case, the scenario is that MIB was actively looking for a new agent, and picked the best candidates they had available to them at the time. One of those candidates happened to be Edwards. He may have been a late addition, having been spotted by K just at the right time, or it could be that K was specifically looking out for a candidate from the police. None of the candidates knows what's going on, but that includes Edwards; it's perfectly reasonable that all of them have had similar alien encounters that caught MIB's attention, and that they've all had those memories wiped.

B) The test is specially arranged

If the test was not planned in advance, then it is highly likely that the question is correct, and that Edwards is the main focus of attention and the other candidates are unwitting dummies. At stake here is not so much whether MIB are looking for a new agent, but whether Edwards in particular is suitable: nobody else is going to get the job if he doesn't pass the test.

There are some clues in the conversation between K and Z that could lead us to either of the above conclusions, but I don't think any of the clues are conclusive.

The one clue that I think does give a strong hint is in how J subsequently recruits his new partner (agent L). If the recruitment pattern shown in this case is similar to how K recruited J then it strongly implies that J's test was specifically arranged for him. But it doesn't prove it.

  • Remember K was looking for a replacement. – Edlothiad Dec 4 '17 at 13:47
  • @Edlothiad - yes, but that fact doesn't preclude either A or B. It could be that K's recommended candidate was added to an existing test, or that the test was arranged because of K's recommendation. – Simba Dec 4 '17 at 16:17

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