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A Self-Defeating Attempt to Make Sense of the Argylle Mid-Credits Scene

In the weeks leading up to the release of director Matthew Vaughn’s latest spy comedy, Argylle, a trailer for the film teased the twisty-turny exploits of spy novelist Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), who finds herself plunged into a real-world espionage plot not unlike the one she’s written. We see fantasy sequences starring the fictional protagonist of Elly’s books, the James Bond–esque superspy Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill). And then, midway through this trailer, Elly is told by Samuel L. Jackson’s character, a rogue former CIA deputy director named Alfred Solomon, that a “real” Argylle exists in her own world. But who are they? At the time, no one could say — but everyone could speculate wildly.

Some half-serious internet theorists supposed that Argylle would be revealed as Conway’s pet cat. That led to the theory that the real Agent Argylle would be played by noted cat lover Taylor Swift, which led to the theory that Taylor Swift ghostwrote the Argylle tie-in novel, which somehow led to the theory that, no, actually, J.K. Rowling wrote the tie-in novel. (Said Argylle novel was in fact written by Terry Hayes and Tammy Cohen. How did we stray so far from the mystery at hand?) The end of the film does eventually answer the question posed in the trailer: Elly herself is the real agent Argylle, and she just didn’t know it yet! Fine, you might say, straightforward enough. But then, just a few minutes later, a mid-credits scene upends that conclusion too. All of it may or may not leave you reaching for a stiff drink.

A title card tells us the mid-credits scene is set “20 years earlier” than the events of the film. A stylish young man (Louis Partridge) walks into a countryside pub called the King’s Man — ostentatiously linking what we’re seeing to the Kingsman movies, Vaughn’s other spy-centric film series. (The “KM” Kingsman logo hangs on a light-pole banner outside the bar.) The young man asks a flirtatious bartender (Ben Daniels) for “a Cosmopolitan, hold everything but the twist.” It turns out those are code words, and the barkeep hands him a gun. “That is a twist,” the young man says wryly. The bartender insinuates that he must be in real trouble if he’s coming to him and asks for his name. And then? The young man identifies himself as Aubrey Argylle — the same name as Elly Conway’s fictional hero, until now played by Henry Cavill. And then we cut back to an empty room we recognize as Conway’s home office, where an Argylle movie poster hangs on the wall. New words then appear on the poster, telling us that “Argylle: The First Book: The Movie” is “coming soon”!

Now, I’m not an easily confused viewer. I can explain the plot of Tenet. But this? This is where I started questioning every reality, including my own.

As we learn in the film Argylle (not Argylle: The First Book: The Movie, I mean the actual Argylle we just watched), Conway wrote her novels while drawing on details from her own life as a spy named Rachel Kylle — memories she’d apparently repressed after an accident. The clues were all there: Not only does “R. Kylle” sound a bit like Argylle, but the last four letters in Argylle (and Kylle) spell “Elly” backwards. We can unpack why Elly Conway essentially wrote ********** fan fiction about herself by making her protagonist and her partner-boyfriend both male characters at a later date. The point is that Elly was Argylle all along.

Or so we think. At the end of the film, prior to the mid-credits scene, a new character played by Cavill shows up at Elly’s book launch with an even crazier wig than the flattop the actor wore as Argylle and a southern accent to boot. Dun dun dun! So there is a man out there in Elly’s real world who looks almost identical to the character she created and named Agent Argylle. Is this scene telling us that he’s the “real Agent Argylle,” then, and not Elly/Rachel — despite the fact that we’ve just watched an entire film clearly lay out all the ways that Elly used the details of her spy past as inspiration for her novels? Did she know an Argylle in her spy days, and has she repressed her memories of him? Is Partridge playing a younger version of this second Cavill character in the mid-credits scene (sans southern accent, which is presumably part of some undercover ruse)? Does all of this mean we’re in for an Agent Argylle prequel film starring Partridge and Daniels?

We can reasonably infer the answer to that last question, at least: Argylle premiered to dismal box-office returns this past weekend, likely killing Vaughn’s chances of spinning out a new trilogy. But prequel potential aside, let’s pivot to the Kingsman of it all. Fans of Vaughn’s other spy franchise will have not only noted the name of the pub in the mid-credits scene, but also that Aubrey Argylle’s name has alliterative initials, just like two key characters in the Kingsman films: Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes). As far as we know, the pub is not a known front for the Kingsman spy agency, like the tailor shop on Savile Row and the Scotch distillery in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. But we haven’t really seen what the Kingsman universe looks like in 2004, given that the first two films take place between 2014 and 2016. Maybe they owned a pub back then!

One more Easter egg in the film supports the idea that the films’ worlds are connected: Elly drinks a Statesman bourbon drink in a can when she arrives in London. The Statesmen are the American equivalent of the Kingsmen, as seen in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and they make bourbon as a front for their espionage agency. One might be tempted to conclude that Argylle is a secret Kingsman spinoff, set within the same continuity. But (deep breath) even that theory comes with complications.

For starters, Samuel L. Jackson and Sofia Boutella appear in both franchises as different characters — and both their characters died in Kingsman: The Secret Service, which takes place before Argylle. There’s also the fact that Boutella’s Kingsman character, Gazelle, has knives for feet, but her Argylle character, Saba Al-Badr, is seen with regular boring human toes. It would take a lot of work to convince audiences that these are somehow the same characters — but then again, Vaughn is a writer known for trying very hard.

And what to make of the aforementioned Argylle poster on Elly’s wall? Does the “coming soon” teaser’s appearance on the poster tell us that an Argylle film is releasing in Elly’s world, or is it advertising a sequel or (prequel?) to the Argylle film we just watched? Is the preceding scene between Daniels and Partridge’s characters a flashback to real events, or is it a scene from a movie-within-a-movie based on Elly’s books about the fictional Agent Argylle? If the latter is the case, did she write the movie, too? Is she a stand-in for Vaughn? Oh ***, does Elly live in the Kingsmen universe — or did she create the Kingsmen universe? Would she have also created Kick-***, another Vaughn-directed movie franchise based on comic books that, in our world, were written by the same man (Mark Millar) who wrote the Kingsmen comic books? How does Stardust figure into all of this?

Look, I know I’m overthinking this. But the mid-credits scene raises way more questions than it answers, and in more of a headache-y way than a fun way. As of the release of Argylle, two more films in the Kingsman franchise have been announced. There’s The King’s Man: The Traitor King, a follow-up to the 2021 prequel starring Fiennes. And there’s Kingsman: The Blue Blood, which will complete the original trilogy starring Taron Egerton. What Argylle: The First Book: The Movie is, exactly, whether it will figure into either of those upcoming films, and whether Elly Conway/Rachel Kylle/Aubrey Argylle’s stories will continue remain unclear. All we can say for sure? Taylor Swift has got nothing to do with it.

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