Sicario: Day of the Soldado Ending, Explained

Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Sicario’ grabbed eyeballs with its brutal, raw depiction of undue state-sponsored violence. The film’s definitive ending was considered the final chapter in a horrific story, but the makers of the political thriller weren’t done yet. ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ revisits another day’s mission in the lives of CIA operatives, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) and Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). 

In ‘Soldado’, an act of terrorism allegedly committed by terrorists from Mexico sparks off a series of unfortunate events. As a form of retaliation against the suspected perpetrators of the attack, a Mexican drug cartel, the US government recruits Alejandro and Matt for a false flag mission. Matt and Alejandro kidnap the daughter of drug kingpin, Carlos Reyes, Isabel, to instigate a war between Reyes and a rival cartel, the Matamoros gang. Things, however,  do not go according to plan. Isabel escapes the clutches of the American team; Alejandro pursues and, eventually, catches up with her. Matt, meanwhile, is commanded to scrub all evidence of American involvement in the so-called kidnapping; this, he realizes, will come at the cost of Isabel and Alejandro’s lives. Against his best instinct, Matt warns Alejandro and asks him to kill Isabel instead.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado Ending, Explained

The first installment of ‘Sicario’ was blatantly didactic. It questioned the morality and legality of war and the often gung-ho foreign policy approach to it. Its sequel is much the same. At the ending of ‘Soldado’, we see characters straddle two different mission objectives, perspectives, and moral codes. 

Alejandro rebels against his directives and goes rogue to save Isabel’s life. With both Matt and the cartel pursuing them, he and Isabel prepare to illegally cross the border into the United States with the assistance of human traffickers. Midway, they are recognized by a young coyote, Miguel, and captured by the cartel. Hot on their heels are Matt and his team of operatives, using a tracking device activated by Alejandro. As Isabel and Matt’s team watch aghast, Miguel is forced by ranking members of the cartel to shoot Alejandro dead. 

As the cartel makes their escape, Matt and his team intercept them. Within seconds, the cartel is, as Matt directed his team, ‘wiped clean’. But Matt shirks his orders to kill Isabel and wipe the slate clean. He instead instructs his team to put her in witness protection. Meanwhile, Alejandro regains consciousness and realizes that Miguel, in an act of mercy, shot him through the cheek. A year later, Miguel, now a full-fledged part of the cartel, makes his way towards a fellow cartel member. Instead, he finds Alejandro, who asks him a singular rhetorical question, “So you want to be a sicario?”

Does Isabel make it out alive?

As the CIA faces off against the cartel, in a series of snippy (and cheeky) cuts, we’re almost made to believe that Matt shoots Isabel in the bloodshed that follows. But we later discover that the intended target was a cartel member behind her; Isabel is safe, but not sound of mind. Even as Matt extracts Isabel from the vehicle and deposits her inside the helicopter, she remains in a catatonic state, numbed by the violence and grief she’s endured. Matt tells his troops that not a hair on her head is to be harmed, and informs them that she is to be placed under witness protection.

While Isabel is (barely) alive, her life is drastically changed. The trauma of being abducted, put through torture, and, finally, witnessing the death of Alejandro will remain with her for the entirety of her life. Witness protection will never wash the target off her back and the young girl will likely spend the rest of her life sleeping with one eye open.

What caused Matt to halt the kill order?

Witnessing his friend and colleague ruthlessly gunned down is a life-altering moment for Matt. The CIA agent appears to process Alejandro’s supposed death in two ways: with simultaneous grief and relief. He grieves the brutal murder of a long-time companion, but is relieved that his was not the finger on the trigger. Upon realizing that Alejandro forsook his life for that of Isabel’s, Matt feels compelled to halt the kill order and save her life, almost as a form of paying his respects to his slain friend. He decides to place Isabel in witness protection, where she will be shielded (to a certain extent) from the likes of, both, the Mexican cartel and US government-funded assassins like him. 

What lies ahead for Alejandro?

The gruesome aftermath of America’s war on drugs has been a recurrent theme through both installments of the Sicario franchise. Alejandro, at first desensitized to the gore and violence, finally comes to terms with the collateral damage that this so-called war has left behind. American imperialism, he sees, has cost the global south several lives and livelihoods. When Alejandro realizes that he, too, is complicit in the war and its casualties,  the CIA agent goes rogue, ready to wash the blood off his hands. The first step in doing so is to help Isabel evade the scrutiny of the cartel and the US government. While he doesn’t succeed, he doesn’t entirely fail either. The CIA will presumably place Isabel in witness protection and Alejandro will get away scot-free after being pronounced dead. 

His assumed death, then, is almost a form of catharsis to Alejandro, an escape from the tumultuous life he led as a CIA agent. Alejandro is a free agent now, free to say and do as he pleases, without a gun pressed to his back. Alejandro doesn’t forget the reason he’s alive and free either: Miguel. Miguel may be a prospect for a merciless Mexican cartel, but he’s a prospect with a conscience. When asked to shoot Alejandro dead, Miguel grows a moral code of sorts; he shoots Alejandro in the cheek, sparing his life. Despite being in a stupor, Alejandro perceives this.

A year down the road, Miguel is living the life of a gang-banger, as evidenced by the numerous tattoos he sports. When he attempts to meet a fellow cartel member in the food court of a packed mall, he encounters someone completely unexpected instead: Alejandro. Alejandro then asks of him, “So you want to be a sicario?”, continuing, “Let’s talk about your future.” Alejandro does this with a view to recruiting Miguel. Alejandro recognizes the young foot soldier’s potential to become an adept ‘Sicario’ – albeit one with a conscience – and aims to induct him into his lifestyle and more importantly, spare him from the life of a cartel member. This also sets up the third installment to the franchise perfectly, hinting at Alejandro and Miguel joining forces as quasi-vigilantes. 

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