Grand Theft Auto V Book Club, Chapter 2: Torture, Trevor, and 25 percent done (full spoilers)
Warning: This goes into spoilers for the story and side-missions of Grand Theft Auto V. You can read our thoughts on the first 10 percent of the game to get caught up.
I’m going to be second-guessing some of my decisions for a long time. After I blew up the CEO of LifeInvader, should I have invested all my money in stock? It went straight into the toilet, but I’m hoping that a young Steve Jobs-style kid is going to come in and pick up the pieces of the company. And if they do, man I’m going to be rich.
But for now I’m feeling kind of foolish about the whole thing.
I also went cheap on the hired gun for my first heist, because I chose to do things quietly. Who needs an expensive gunman when you don’t plan on using the guns? Of course he crashed his motorcycle during our escape, so I didn’t get to level up a henchman and I lost a big chunk of cash, but there was a line of dialog about how his cut was left back where he wrecked. Would it have been possible to go back for it? These are the things I ask myself.
I also took part in a series of ethically disgusting missions where I helped a paparazzo invade the privacy of women. Could I have killed the photographer and simply gone about my day? I wish I would have at least tried. The side missions and metagames that exist outside of the main story are interesting, and it's fun to figure out how to make the most money, or at least enjoy all that Los Santos has to offer.
But let's just back into the story, shall we?
Back to a life of crime
The conversations with Lester led to my first heist, and the system for planning and executing the mission was interesting, and it seems that stealing that much jewelry was enough to pay off the gangster who was threatening me over the destroyed the house. So that story line is wrapped up already? Once again, there is no crazy external threat. There is no world that needs saving. Grand Theft Auto V is made up of people who aren’t making much of a dent in the greater community one way or the other.
Then, of course, there’s Trevor.
Someone on Twitter described Trevor as the feeling of having the Joker on your team, for good or ill, and that’s an apt description. Trevor screws, kills, snorts, shits, and screams his way through life, and since Michael used one of his old signature lines during the last heist, Trevor now knows that his old friend is not only alive, but back in action. He only has to destroy an entire motorcycle club, make a few shipments of guns using an airplane, and blow up most of a trailer park before it’s time to go investigate.
This is just another day in the life of Trevor, after all. Meth-seller and gun-runner. He’s sexually omnivorous, completely fearless, and always ready for violence. The moment he walks into Michael’s kitchen is electric, everyone feels the threat, Michael makes sure his son is standing behind him, and even that goofy-ass yoga instructor knows enough to shut the hell up. The two men get on like it’s old times, but we’re all just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Look at how quickly Trevor settles into this situation though. Soon he’s running jobs with Michael, torturing people for the FIB, and running his own scams on the side. He wants to know what’s going on with his “friend,” but in the meantime he’s going to get paid, and he doesn’t really care how that happens.
The torture scene is just as disturbing and hard to sit through as I’ve read, and there’s no way around it. You have to participate, and even Michael notes that the man they kill, before Trevor cuts the torture victim loose, probably didn’t have it coming. It’s not so much that you have to torture someone, it’s that the game rubs your face in it, and you have to try each implement if you want to 100 percent the mission.
Also, the torture is effective, just like most depictions of torture in pop culture, even though the use of real world torture is incredibly controversial. But on the screen, on the things we watch or play for fun, it always just works. The “right” person dies. The victim is thrown away like a bag of garbage. There is no price to pay.
At least not yet, I’m not done with the game.
This is part of the problem with Grand Theft Auto as a whole. This is just the way the world is, and there’s no option to try to minimize the damage done as you rampage through it. Torture is just a tool that’s forgotten a moment later. There is no “good” option, and the game effectively rewards you for really digging into the nastier bits of itself.
I’m not sure what the game gains by having this sequence in it, since we already knew Trevor was willing to do anything, it has been established that the characters aren’t moral people, and the scene doesn’t provide any information we didn’t already know. It turns an often interesting game into a snuff film purely for shock value, and it feels exploitative.
Hell, Grand Theft Auto V can even be beautiful at times. Watch Michael’s hallucination after his son drugs him and dumps him out of the car, complete with alien abduction and a scene where he flies around the city as gentle music plays. It feels like something out of the Big Lebowski, and you have to end the sequence by splatting into the ground. It’s neat stuff, conveys character information in a non-traditional way, and provides an interesting break in the action. This isn’t a stupid game, by any stretch, but it’s often needlessly ugly.
In fact, the mission where you have to grab the guy who will ultimately be tortured is sublime, and takes full advantage of the ability to jump between the three characters. Trevor flies the helicopter, Michael rappels down, and Franklin watches everything from the scope of his sniper rifle and takes out the opposition from across the way. Switching between these three actions on the fly is amazing, and thrilling. The game comes to life in moments like this, even if the end result of this action is ripping someone's teeth out so they can describe someone you need to kill.
The game even goes out of its way to feed you background information on these characters. We learn that Trevor was happy with the idea of learning to fly so he could drop bombs on people, until he was thrown out of the military due to his alarming psych profile. Michael is the one who picked him up and brought him into a life of crime.
We also learn that the FIB has been pretending to be sending letters from Brad, the third member of the old crew, to Trevor to keep tabs on the man. The real Brad? He's in the ground, in a grave that has Michael's name. That's how Michael has pretended to be dead, and evaded prosecution.
This stuff comes out naturally, in conversation, as you play the game. The relationships between these men are interesting, and the stakes begin and end with their lives. It's almost a personal story, told through the points of view of people who victimize everyone around them at will. It's not a pretty world, but it's hard to escape once the draw of being completely selfish catches you.
I'm going to keep playing. Things are just starting to get good.