Have you ever just sat around and wondered what the real story behind Phantom Shadow is? Who are these characters on the album art? What is really going on? Well, someone I know did a lot of digging online for tidbits of information, so I decided to take what he learned and modified it, and then combined it with what extra knowledge I have to build a theory of my own.
Disclaimer: This fan theory is wrong. The truth behind Phantom Shadow is that the album barely scratches the surface of the actual story, so even if you did put in the time and effort, there was simply no way for you to figure out the story. That doesn’t mean that it’s not fun to read though!
There are three groups in this theory: the Corporation, the Renegades, and the Bearded Man. Here’s a bit about each of them:
The Corporation: The bad guys, of whom Sara is the leader. On the surface they are a legal company, but they are secretly building up to something in the shadows.
The Renegades: The group led by Agnes that knows something bad is up with the Corporation and is trying to stop them from achieving their goal.
The Bearded Man: A scientist who formerly worked for the Corporation and later joined the Renegades once he suspected that something bad was going down there.
Skye: The main character (front and center). Skye is a super-soldier who was built with technology that removed a part of your soul to give you super strength, agility, endurance, etc. Skye was the first “success” in the sense that it didn’t wipe her of her humanity completely. The process made her wild and untamed, a force of nature to be reckoned with, and too bloodthirsty and uncontrollable to be of much use to the Corporation.
Edge: Code name: Perfect Dark (red hair). If Skye was the first success, Edge is the most recent success – the perfected version. He has the same degree of power that Skye has, but it is contained and controlled. He too shares a rampant lust for blood, but can control it better than Skye can and has more human emotion in him than Skye.
The Bearded Man: The Bearded Man worked in the R&D department of the Corporation and was the head of the division that made the super-soldiers. Skye was his “baby” – the first success, only she was too volatile and violent, ignoring the commands of everyone but him, so he put her in a cryosleep for some amount of time (10 or so years). Some years later he realizes that the Corporation is up to something, so he destroys the technology for making super-soldiers and takes their latest success (Edge) and joins forces with Agnes, the only person remotely capable of hiding from Sara.
Pearl: A lead researcher in the Corporation, but a different division than the Bearded Man (bottom left). When the Bearded Man leaves the Corporation, he tells Pearl to stay behind and learn what she can about the new special project that they’re developing. Pearl then finds the design for the “God Machine” and finds herself living in fear, terrified that someone will find out that she knows something she shouldn’t.
Agnes: The leader of the Renegades and one of the Corporation’s losses (bottom right). Before the Corporation designed physical super-soldiers, they also created people with other powers, such as Sara and Agnes. Agnes has the power to take and remove souls, and was one of the ones who created phantoms for the Corporation (before Skye). After enough distress over what has happened with the phantoms and her inability to give souls back, she faked her own suicide. Agnes is a bit a prophet as well and found out that someone (the “One”) will save the world from the God Machine. She is recruiting anyone that sets off her mental sense, who could possibly be The One, so she can make sure the prophecy comes true.
Jovi: A gamer (top left).
Sara: A super-powered human psychologically, but in the body of an 8-year-old girl, also made by the Corporation, and now ruling it from the shadows via mind-control. Sara is behind the Corporation’s slow take-over of Europe and the creation of the God Machine, which she hopes to use to become fully omnipotent upon its completion.
About 10 years before the start of the album, the Bearded Man was field-testing Skye, the first success they had with keeping humanity in a super-solider after taking out part of her soul and giving her powers. However, the technology was still fresh and they couldn’t keep enough humanity in her, so Skye was too violent, too bloodthirsty, and would only listen to the Bearded Man. The Bearded Man’s superiors declared her a failure and ordered her to be terminated. However, instead he put her into cryosleep, sensing that she would have a purpose to serve yet.
A few years later, the Corporation began growing exponentially and the Bearded Man sensed that something was happening in the shadows that wasn’t right. He left Pearl behind to keep an eye on things as an undercover agent and left with Edge to find Agnes, believing her to still be alive somewhere. When he finds her, they agree to join forces to stop the Corporation. Agnes tells him that she’s recruiting strong people to fight because of some great calamity that she is sensing, and that someone of great strength is destined to save them. Edge wonders if it could be him, because as far as he knows, he is the strongest person out there, as the perfected version of the super-soldiers. The Bearded Man lets him think this, because it gives him courage and confidence and the sense of invincibility that gives him an edge in battle.
Meanwhile, Sara has taken over the Corporation with her mental powers (such as the ability to enter people’s minds and change their beliefs) and no one but a select few, like Agnes, know she exists. She has started building something in the shadows called the “God Machine” that, once completed, she could merge with and become omnipotent, unconstrained by her 8-year-old body.
By the start of the album, Agnes tells the Bearded Man that it’s time to get Pearl out of the Corporation, because she has learned about the God Machine. She explains what the God Machine is and what it will do (which she has learned via her own mental link into the Corporation), and the Bearded Man realizes that if he was to use it, he could change the world for the better. Agnes thinks it’s a bad idea and that the God Machine should be destroyed. Agnes and the Bearded Man have a falling out and part ways in anger. Edge leaves with the Bearded Man because he believes in him and his cause.
The Bearded man sends Edge on a mission to rescue Pearl, who should know how the God Machine works and can help him. Once Edge has gone, the Bearded Man knows he will need to strong allies to get to the machine. He goes to wake up Skye.
1. I Wasn’t Made for the World I Left Behind
Fairly self-explanatory. Skye put her trust in her mentor, the Bearded Man, and went to sleep not knowing if she would ever wake up. In the decade or so that she was asleep, the world changed (as the Corporation began to gain power).
2. The Villain of This Story
Skye is aware that she is little more than a mindless killer and doesn’t understand why the Bearded Man has woken her up. The song shows how the Bearded Man was the only person Skye would listen to: “Where I was, not one to follow / You gave me something I did not believe / was ever meant for me…” (he gives her purpose and direction and offers her redemption). She is grateful but she knows nothing has changed about her and has no idea what she has to offer him at this point. Skye is quite unemotional/apathetic, but the Bearded Man is charismatic and clever, and convinces her to join him once again because she can help him change the world by acquiring the God Machine.
3. Perfect Dark
The Corporation suspects that Pearl knows too much now, and she’s scared for her life, wondering if she should stay silent or try to escape. They send their assassins to kill her, but Edge shows up just in time to save her, and tears them apart in the way only these super-soldiers are capable of. At first Pearl is startled, but then he explains who he is and who he serves. In the end, Pearl realizes that Edge has been sent to protect her, so they leave together. A seed of romance is planted.
Interlude: If you’re wondering how “Edge and Pearl” fits in with this, here’s how! After they’ve escaped together, Edge continues to protect her no matter what the Corporation sends after them. Edge (with his somewhat fanatic love of the Bearded Man) tells her to tell everything she told him about how the God Machine works to the Bearded Man so he can use the machine to save the world. Pearl is hesitant to tell anyone what she knows, in case the information gets into the wrong hands, but Edge encourages her to use her knowledge for good to save the world, and she could have a mind at peace like he does, serving such a great man.
Meanwhile, Agnes has hunted down the Bearded Man and tried to stop him from going off on his own. What the Renegades find, however, is Skye, as the Bearded Man has left to take care of some other business. Skye tears Agnes’ strongest warrior apart effortlessly and mercilessly, and Agnes and her team retreat in shock.
When the Bearded Man and Skye regroup, and he laments that they had to kill one of Agnes’ men. They discuss why he left their group, and how things have “gotten real” now that they are even fighting each other and blood has been shed. All of these factions have different agendas and there is no possibility for peace between them. The situation is bad.
5. Throne of Games
Defeated and not knowing what to do after the loss of her strongest ally and her strongest fighter, Agnes gets a sense of someone new, someone important: a gamer named Jovi (gamertag Hubnester). Agnes does some research and learns that Jovi is the ultimate gamer. He dominates every game from every genre, and in real life he’s a computer geek. Agnes goes to him online to recruit him as she sees his potential as a strategist: “Put on your game-face / and reset that switch inside / Descend your throne of games / and stand with us with pride…”
6. Meanwhile (in the Hall of Shadows)
Sara has been keeping an eye on Agnes and the Bearded Man as much as she can (because of Agnes blocking her), and wonders who this new player is (Skye). Sara realizes that Skye must be strong because she defeated Agnes’ trump card and is perturbed by the fact that she has no idea who Skye is. Perhaps Skye is from before her time…
7. Phantom Battle
Around the same time, Sara has not been happy that Edge was able to get Pearl out of the Corporation and has been successfully keeping her safe. She sends a large group of phantoms to pursue them. Everyone from the Corporation knows what the phantoms are – they’re the failures, the attempts from before even Skye’s time, and they have no soul left, no humanity. They are mindless killing machines. The romance is in full force, and Edge knows that he can’t beat them all, so he tells Pearl to run, find the Bearded Man and relay her message, expecting to die protecting her. He wonders who is controlling them as they are usually mindless, and Edge gets to let out some of his bloodlust and cockiness. Edge tells Pearl to live on for him… only to see her run right into their trap and get brutally beaten down. Edge watches helpless as he is overrun.
8. Captured (Sara’s Theme)
Well… fuck. As you can imagine, Sara is not very happy with Pearl.
Meanwhile, Agnes has tracked down the Bearded Man again, right as he and Skye have located Edge’s beaten and mangled body. After her encounter with Edge when they were allied, Agnes had a sense that she might be able to do something for these super-soldiers (unlike the phantoms, who she could not save), and wants to get close enough to the Bearded Man to try to give Skye her soul back. Agnes gathers her full forces and confronts the Bearded Man, to try to convince him to rejoin them, or to try and take Skye away from him.
The Bearded Man taunts Agnes a bit, calling their plan juvenile, but when she makes a move, he reminds her what happened last time they messed with Skye: “I see you’ve met my new pet / Tell your crew to back away / They don’t want that kind of hurt…”
Skye stands apathetic during this encounter, awaiting command, and the Renegades find out that she’s a super-soldier, and that the fight between her and their dead warrior wasn’t fair. Skye doesn’t care – no fights are fair.
“Used to be a single voice that vanished in a crowd / Vague just like a distant sun when hidden by the clouds / Found a way to surface and to speak my truth aloud…” Agnes has finally gotten a hold of Skye and gives her a part of her soul back without diminishing her powers, finally feeling a degree of redemption for taking so many souls away in the past.
10. Beyond Good and Evil
Skye, now with her soul and the will to care about what’s happening, is starting to see what she has been mindlessly following: a man who seeks power that is no better than the Corporation they seek to take down. She sees that the Bearded Man has been using her and that even if his intentions are good, the potential for a bad outcome is too great. She leaves him and joins forces with Agnes. It is suggested now that Skye is The One Agnes has been searching for.
11. The Second One
During the encounter in “Renegades,” Agnes also managed to revive Edge by giving him his soul back as well. He sat watching everything go down, and comes to realize that he isn’t The One, but that doesn’t mean he can’t use his power and bloodlust to fight for what’s right as well (that is what Pearl would have wanted). He picks his allies (the Renegades) and his enemy (the Corporation) so as to avenge the girl he loved. In the end, he apologizes for losing Pearl and her knowledge, but also accuses them of leaving him alone with the Bearded Man (a bit of a duality – he is mad at himself for following the wrong person, and mad at them for not stopping him when he left).
12. Redemption Was Never Really My Thing
Skye says her farewells to the Bearded Man. She is grateful to have been given a second chance, but she doesn’t need the redemption that he offered.
13. The Bigger They Are (The Harder They Fall)
Some time later, Agnes senses that the Corporation is almost done with the God Machine and they are out of time. She and Jovi prepare a battle plan and the Renegades launch an all-out attack on the Corporation. They are greeted by Sara and her phantoms, led by none other than Pearl. Edge had believed her dead, and as the battle starts, Sara torments him by sending the love of his life to try to tear him to shreds. Edge mourns Pearl, but knows what he has to do, as Agnes could only fix the soldiers who still had some soul left. He can’t regret it… Pearl isn’t really in there anymore.
The battle is raging all around, and as Skye is tearing through the phantoms and other Corporation forces, she comes face to face with none other than her creator and father-figure, the Bearded Man. Skye rejects him completely, saying that she doesn’t want anything to do with him – the God Machine is about to turn on and it must be stopped: “Now get the fuck out of my way, old man!” However, the Bearded Man says that he’s proud of her and who she has become. He lets her go and they fight on the same side of the battle as a farewell to one another.
15. Mortal Wound (Skye’s Requiem)
Skye and Sara have an epic showdown and Skye takes Sara down, except…
16. Hubnester Rising
Jovi wakes up in the wreckage. With Skye in the lead, they had fought their way to the God Machine, but Sara had already turned it on when they had arrived. As he struggles to his feet, he looks around to see that Skye, Agnes, the Bearded Man, Edge and Pearl… all of his angels are gone. Even Sara’s motionless body is amongst the carnage.
Jovi was never really sure why he was a part of this. He was a gamer thrust into a real life war. He was strong of mind and calculating, but not an actual fighter. But now he sees that he is alone with the God Machine, with its countdown slowly ticking before it turns on. Thanks to the knowledge the Renegades got from Edge (that he had learned from Pearl), they understand that the machine must merge with someone. If it doesn’t, they don’t know what could happen (possibly the end of the world).
Jovi knows what the God Machine can do – it will merge with you and make your thoughts and desires reality… it makes you a god. So he stands and, knowing that it’s what Agnes would have wanted him to do, he focuses on how he feels as Hubnester – the all-powerful badass god of his world, and steps into the machine. Jovi is digitized and made omnipotent, and ascends to a higher level of reality, becoming the Hubnester.
So that’s it! That’s the theory. Again, it’s completely wrong and I know it, but there was really nothing I could have done – there are scenes and characters you wouldn’t even know existed. But if you liked this story, I suggest you stay tuned if you want to know the truth, because this year we’ll have a special feature on the real story behind Phantom Shadow!
Text/theory: Amy Wiseman
*The author of the original theory did not want to be credited*
[Edit: correction on Edge’s part of the theory]