42

In The Matrix (1999), when the agents get their hands on Neo for the first time, they make it look like he was arrested for committing felonies:

Agent Smith: As you can see, we've had our eye on you for some time now, Mr. Anderson. It seems that you've been living two lives. In one life, you're Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company, you have a social security number, you pay your taxes, and you help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias Neo and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.

Right after, Agent Smith says that they need his help in tracking Morpheus. And if he complies, they will clean his records. And, whether or not he's telling the truth, he's the only one believing that asking Neo was worth trying at all (emphasis mine):

Agent Smith: I'm going to be as forthcoming as I can be, Mr. Anderson. You're here because we need your help. We know that you've been contacted by a certain individual, a man who calls himself Morpheus. Now whatever you think you know about this man is irrelevant. He is considered by many authorities to be the most dangerous man alive. My colleagues believe that I am wasting my time with you but I believe that you wish to do the right thing. We're willing to wipe the slate clean, give you a fresh start and all that we're asking in return is your cooperation in bringing a known terrorist to justice.

Because when Neo gives him the finger, Agent Smith admits that they actually didn't need his cooperation, as they're inserting a bug into his stomach.

Agent Smith: You're going to help us, Mr. Anderson, whether you want to or not.

Is there a reason he specifically wanted to try the diplomatic approach, if it would have been more expeditive to just bug Neo and send him home?

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  • 34
    Consider that Cypher was a lot more effective than Neo ever was.
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 28 at 18:53
  • 6
    "My colleagues believe that I am wasting my time with you but I believe that you wish to do the right thing." - I watched quite a few footages of police interrogations on youtube, and this very sentence (or some variations of it) shows up in almost every single one of them.
    – vsz
    Jul 30 at 16:56
  • Do we know about The Matrix and reality at this point, or is it just, There's a guy and confusing things like this agent Smith are happening to him in his life? (I can't remember, need to rewatch it.) If not and we think Smith is a man, well, sounds like Smith has a concept of "do the right thing", so he wants to do the right thing as well. That's how people behave to each other right? But Neo "doesn't want to do the right thing" , OK, fine, you won't? I won't either. Jul 30 at 21:39
  • @lessthanideal I haven't watched the full movie in a while, but I think he had already received the "white rabbit" message on his screen and met with Trinity in the nightclub. Because right after that, it's the bug removal and meeting with Morpheus in person.
    – Clockwork
    Jul 30 at 22:28
77

We don't know that Smith was being truthful when he said his colleagues believed he was wasting his time with Neo.

It's certainly conceivable that he was telling the truth, as he's clearly established to be a bit... different from other Agents later on in the film, and in the sequels. But it's just as conceivable that he was employing a version of the 'good cop/bad cop' routine, and that the other Agents were fully on board with this.

A willing informant is better than an unwilling one.

When Neo meets up with Morpheus' crew again after being bugged by the Agents, the first thing they do is locate the bug and remove it. So evidently, relying on the bug alone wasn't a terribly effective plan.

Conversely, when Smith later strikes a deal with Cypher, it results in the Agents successfully locating and capturing Morpheus. The latter approach was clearly more productive than the former.

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  • 11
    We know that the Nabuchadnezzar crew has Neo under surveillance (e.g. Trinity telling Neo that someone is about to knock on his door, Morpheus guiding him play-by-play to escape the agents), they saw him being captured and were already operating on the assumption he would be bugged - this further justifies having Neo as a willing informant Jul 29 at 6:53
  • 1
    I wonder if they actually saw him get bugged or if the police interrogation room was a privileged location in the matrix and they had no observation into that exchange.
    – TomatoCo
    Jul 30 at 22:35
26

In acting there's a thing called breaking the fourth wall, where a character in the story talks directly to the audience who is outside of it. In other words, the character in the scene knows they are doing this for the benefit of the audience (as opposed to narration, where a character is merely explaining the story). It breaks the illusion of the play/movie/TV show when you do that, so it's not a common technique.

Smith, in a sense, has a fourth wall of his own. Neo is in The Matrix but, like most other people, he doesn't know that yet. Just as Morpheus has to be reluctant to approach people who have lived their lives in The Matrix, so also Smith has to be as well. The implanting of the "bug" breaks the "fourth wall" of The Matrix. I suspect that when they do this, there have been times where the jarring event did not go as planned. The hope is that the subject would simply "reset" at being dumped back into their life and assume it was all just a bad dream, but if they thought longer on it they might just start to notice all the tells around them that they are in The Matrix...

The other piece of this is world-building the character of Smith. Smith isn't some mere Agent, he's actually proud of being a machine. He reviles the Humans and doesn't just believe he's better, he believes that the Humans should come to recognize the superiority of the Machines. He wants Neo to accede to him, solely due to the fact that Smith (the superior being) has laid out this logical path that Neo should want to take to save his own neck. in other words, Smith is arrogant with his belief that he has humanity figured out. We see this come full circle when Morpheus is captured. Smith tries to evangelize Morpheus and gets caught monologuing when Neo attacks.

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    There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern... a virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet, you are a plague, and we... are the cure. ... It came to me when I tried to classify your species, and I realised that humans are not actually mammals. Jul 28 at 13:40
  • 4
    While this is a good answer, I don't entirely agree with the premise that bug implanting is likely to cause unwanted side effects. After his implant "procedure", Neo woke up back in his bed at home and was completely willing to write it off as a nightmare. IMO there's little reason to assume that another person afflicted by a bug wouldn't do the same and forget about the whole thing in a matter of days.
    – Ian Kemp
    Jul 30 at 10:11
  • @IanKemp In most cases, no (or they wouldn't do it at all). But I suspect they might have an edge case or two where it did cause issues.
    – Machavity
    Jul 30 at 16:21
5

Smith already has an agent on the Nebuchadnezzar and having a second as backup seems perfectly logical (would possibly seem even more so for a program).

Also consider that the existing double agent is - largely - out of Smith's control; having one bugged and under his thumb from the beginning would work much better for Smith.

7
  • 1
    I removed the edit for the spoiler naming the agent already in place, I found it unnecessary. Jul 28 at 11:44
  • 2
    I agree having it in a spoiler tag is unnecessary, but naming the agent is probably worthwhile. Note that The Matrix was released in 1999, putting it decades outside of "spoiler" territory.
    – TylerH
    Jul 28 at 18:50
  • 6
    @tylerh in general age of a work is no indication as to whether a thing should or shouldn't be spoilered. Relevant (but old) meta. I haven't looked much deeper, but I don't think we've reversed the way we treat spoilers in the last 10 years (that being said, I'm not necessarily going to enforce it either if someone chooses not to use spoiler tags, so long as nobody complains about it)
    – AncientSwordRage
    Jul 28 at 21:15
  • 4
    @AncientSwordRage Personally, I consider if someone is in a thread about a work of fiction that discusses why some character did some thing during that work's plot, they've already seen/read/played that work (or that part of the work) and won't be spoiled. I also do consider age, at least insofar as to invalidate the above (e.g. if it's the day/week/month/year of release, for example, it should always be in spoilers). FWIW I'm one of the downvoters on the top answer to that Meta, because I find it wrong on many points. I much prefer Jeff's answer there; it's more logical.
    – TylerH
    Jul 28 at 21:30
  • 1
    What about Neo being merely a distraction to keep the other one undetected?
    – Tim
    Jul 29 at 9:15
5

This isn't Agent Smith's first rodeo.

Based on the sequel movies we actually find out:

there have been many other people who were also 'The One' who existed in previous iterations of the matrix

I suspect Smith disagreeing with/deviating from his colleagues is the first inkling that he's seen this play out before in his attempts to capture Morpheus

and potentially other leaders/rebels from Zion from previous Matrix iterations

So he's trying something different this time round.

3
  • Do we know if the agents are not reinitialized between each iterations ? From what I understood, everything between the Matrix and the "real" world are reset at each cycle, programs included.
    – Echox
    Jul 29 at 13:32
  • 3
    In the second movie, we find out that some of the henchmen of the Merovingian are holdovers from previous versions of the Matrix, so definitely not everything is reset. It's at least possible for a program to remain for subsequent versions. Jul 30 at 5:01
  • 1
    @Echox We don't know, but I don't think it would make sense to reset Agents for the simple reason that the experience they gain during each iteration would be valuable in subsequent iterations, and resetting would lose that experience. In Reloaded we do see that the Agents have received, as Neo comments, "Upgrades" - but whether said upgrades are in-place by modifying their existing program, or being entirely replaced by a new upgraded program, is also not elaborated on.
    – Ian Kemp
    Jul 30 at 10:23
3

Before Neo's interrogation, the Agents have no idea how close Morpheus is to him.

Cypher has told the Agents that Morpheus is interested in Neo, but until that morning the two had never interacted directly. Therefore to the Agents, Neo is nothing more than a potential recruit of Morpheus's and someone who it would be useful, but not essential, to have as an informant. So they start off with the carrot approach because that's more likely to work, and if it doesn't they'll just throw him in jail where he'll be of no interest to Morpheus.

But Smith has his suspicions, and as a competent interrogator he uses an accusation phrased as a fact to gain information:

"We know that you've been contacted by a certain individual, a man who calls himself Morpheus."

Neo fails to deny this.

This immediately tells the Agents that their information is outdated, that Neo and Morpheus have been in contact, that Neo is thus far more important than they'd previously believed, and that there's no point in playing nice any more.

2
  • I dunno, in Neo's shoes I might well decide that either affirming it or denying it is giving information to mysterious creeps. Aug 8 at 7:05
  • @AntonSherwood I'm thinking Neo got into that kind of situation when, no matter what you do, it's likely to be bad for you either way. In this case, I think they can assume that his reaction equates to: "Yes, he contacted me, and no I won't cooperate with you".
    – Clockwork
    Aug 14 at 19:16

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