If there is a theory about Borderlands that I’m continually surprised at how I often I hear it, it’s that Handsome Jack is actually the good guy. The Pre-Sequel is the primary culprit in what I see as confusion about the character arc for Jack, but there is also a game theory video that has really promoted this. The main reason the video pulls off a convincing case is because it ignores basically the entire first game in the series as well as the context we are given by Angel in Borderlands 2. Sure, in The Pre-Sequel Jack continually says he is doing the right thing, but those claims are almost entirely at odds with what he does as well as what we know about him and what he’s done prior to the game.
Jack uses people
The most foundational problem with the theory that Jack is the good guy is that you have to ignore major story elements that start and carry the entire narrative of Borderlands. First, Angel makes it very clear that the reason Jack fools the vault hunters in the first game is because he knows he can get rich off of the eridium. So at a foundational level the entire story of Borderlands is built on a man who is so power hungry and greedy that he doesn’t just trick vault hunters into opening the vault, but we find out from other ECHO casts that he enslaves his daughter in order to pull this off.
Second, according to Moxxi, Jack burned people alive prior to the events of The Pre-Sequel. We know this happened before The Pre-Sequel because it is the reason Moxxi gives for breaking up with Jack. This means that before the game where Jack seems like a good guy even gets started he’s already, for reasons unknown to us, burned people alive. Whoever he burned alive must have been innocent because Moxxi has no problem with death and killing, so the only reason she would have found it unsettling is if it was someone who didn’t deserve it.
Third, Jack knows too much to have just fallen into everything. The eye of the warrior is something he harvested as a weapon, and while you are with him in the room of the eye of the warrior he makes a reference to, “all of the eridium remnants” with significant familiarity. This is more than likely the result of lots of research, much of which he probably used Angel for. I have a theory about her Siren power and how he was able to use and manipulate her and reverse engineer the collar he puts on Lilith, but I will discuss that in another post. Suffice it to say, most of what Jack does is not by chance or pure reaction, but the result of careful planning and research.
While it is certainly interesting to entertain the idea that Handsome Jack was trying to do something good and the vault hunters are actually the bad guys, it just doesn’t have any ground to stand on. Too many horrible things are done at the hands of Jack or as the direct result of his manipulation and lies. From using his daughter and vault hunters to get rich to scooping a man’s eyeballs out in front of his family, the entirety of his character and story arc does not allow for him to be seen as a good guy. Deceived into thinking he is the hero? Sure. Actually the hero? Absolutely not.
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