This is another long essay post of mine, but it’s about a topic that I’ve been very interested in for a long time and wanted to share. Hope it’s a good read and hope you have some points of your own to make as well.
So, a couple of weeks back, I posted a poll in the Yes or No? thread about what the most accurate term is for 47’s professional title. We know the series title is Hitman, of course - probably because calling it Assassin or having assassin in the title was too cliche’ or bland. The word hitman has a more specific meaning, but how accurate is it? The five choices listed in the poll of 47’s job description were: 1) Assassin, 2) Hitman, 3) Contract Killer, 4) Hired Gun, and 5) Mercenary. Let’s take a look at these terms, what they mean, how they apply to 47, and which one he actually is, or if he’s some combination of more than one.
The word assassin, in modern popular usage, implies someone who kills another person on behalf of a third person who is not doing the deed themselves for whatever reason. This is not always the case, however. A person can choose to assassinate someone themselves. The key to being an assassin is that you are killing a specific person for a specific reason, with the killing in-and-of itself not being the reason. For example, a serial killer could be an assassin if they killed someone for a reason other than the gratification they get from the act of killing. When they normally kill someone, they do so because the act of killing is both the means and the ends. While they typically target a certain type of person, a killer who kills regularly simply for the sake of killing to achieve personal gratification does not typically target specific individuals because they are that specific individual, but rather a certain type of person.
Meanwhile, an assassin kills a person because something else is to be gained from their death other than gratification. They may do the deed themselves because they want it done, or they may do so on behalf of another person who wants them to do it. They may choose to do so in exchange for money or favors or some other form of payment, or they may do so because they are committed to a cause, be it religious, moral, or political.
Agent 47 is definitely this, and while he has not really killed anyone for religious, moral, or political reasons, he has done so for both money and because he believes in certain causes that justify his target’s death when he’s not receiving payment. So, while it might not be the most accurate term applied to him the majority of the time, 47 is most definitely an assassin.
Next up, the word hitman. It’s the title of the game, as mentioned, and it seems the obvious pick for what 47 is; at least, that’s how I had always understood it. A hitman, according to modern popular usage, is a person who commits an act of murder, always on behalf of another individual, and does so in exchange for payment of some kind for that specific murder, be it money, favors, or the like. An agreement is struck that the hitman will perform the killing - or “hit” - on the selected target and get this payment in return, either before or after the hit is performed, making it an unofficial contractual agreement between the two parties.
However, there is also another interpretation for the word’s meaning. A hitman can also be described as a member of organized crime who commits an act of murder on behalf of a higher ranking member of their organization, but without being compensated for that specific murder. For example; if a member of a mafia family, who runs an auto shop for the organization and is paid directly by them, is contacted by the Capo and ordered to kill a specific person on behalf of the family, that person may perform the hit without being specifically paid for the act, because they are not operating “freelance.” The hitman in this case is already someone who works for the mafia; they are already being paid a regular salary by them. Carrying out the hit in this context is just considered part of their regular job duties; the are the go-to person to take someone out, but since they’re already employed, they don’t necessarily have to receive special compensation for it. They are still doing it because it’s a job that they receive money for, but it’s part of their regular salary; they’ll be paid whether they are asked to kill someone or not.
Because some form of payment is involved either way, under both definitions of the term, every hitman is an assassin, but not every assassin is a hitman. Agent 47 usually operates under the first definition of the word, but to all knowledge, has never operated under the second definition. While he has sometimes committed murder on behalf of the ICA and others without a client being attached other than the Agency itself, as far as we know, he was still paid directly from the ICA’s accounts in exchange for his service in these specific cases. The only known example I can think of where he may have been the second type of hitman was when he killed the man who delivered the Code Red contract briefing in Blood Money, assuming that the fact it was a Code Red meant he was supposed to kill that man, rather than taking it upon himself to do so, and further assuming that if he was supposed to, that the ICA did not give him a bonus for doing it. So while 47 is better described specifically as a hitman than an assassin, the fact that he’s not a hitman through-and-through by all definitions leaves it debatable of whether this is the most accurate term for him.
Moving on to the third term, let’s look at Contract Killer. A contract killer is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the first definition of hitman, and that’s all. A contract killer, as the name suggests and by its whole definition, kills people on behalf of another individual in exchange for payment as part of a contractual agreement between the two. The term is usually interchangeable with hitman in modern popular usage, but because hitman can have a second meaning to it, they are not necessarily the same thing, at least not all the time. Every contract killer is a hitman, but every hitman may not be a contract killer. Because this one is slightly more specific than hitman, having only a single definition that basically describes 47’s entire career, it could be said that 47 is more of a contract killer than a hitman, at least most of the time. Because of those instances, rare as they are, where he has performed an assassination without receiving any kind of compensation, this provides an exception to him being labeled a strict contract killer. Still, the majority of our time with him, even with overarching conspiracy plotlines, has been with him accepting contracts from his employers to kill specific people in exchange for money, so although it’s not true 100% of the time, it could be said that contract killer is the more accurate term to use when referring to 47, slightly more so than hitman, and even more so than assassin.
The term Hired Gun, while similar to the three we’ve already covered, particularly the second definition of hitman, it is actually the least accurate term to use for 47. A hired gun is used like a personal assassin who is paid to kill on behalf of their employer, but they function in this role more like a security force or body guard. Hired guns are more likely to accompany their employer where they go, and kill those who oppose or attack their employer, or anyone else whom the employer commands them to kill. This is usually accomplished by them simply shooting the target dead on the spot immediately after they are given the order. As far as I can tell, Agent 47 has never performed this role, and is not to be considered a hired gun.
Finally, let’s look at Mercenary. A mercenary is essentially a hired soldier, who is paid to carry out either killings or other illegal operations on behalf of another party. They are similar to paid assassins in this regard, but their job may not necessarily require them to kill someone, and when it does, it is not always as an assassination attempt; sometimes mercenaries are used to basically fight a war on behalf of someone, so they would kill anyone on the opposing side, not just specific targets for specific reasons. In this case, not every mercenary is an assassin, and not every assassin is a mercenary. Despite the similarities, they are two different, distinct professions.
However, 47 has technically functioned as a mercenary, when looking at the events of HITMAN 2 through a very specific lens. Providence is basically hiring 47 to fight their war against the Shadow Client for them, and so he could be considered as operating like a mercenary in a highly technical and specific consideration of the term when compared to his actions. Beyond this, however, 47 has never really performed mercenary work, since his services are specific to killings. Yes, he has been given other tasks to perform, such as destroying data or stealing items, but these were all in conjunction with the executing of a selected target, and so were secondary in nature.
So, in conclusion, Agent 47 can accurately be described as an assassin, a hitman, and a contract killer. But, of the three, the one that seems the most accurate most of the time due to its very specific definition when held alongside 47’s actions, is contract killer. 47 is primarily a contract killer, while also being a hitman and assassin when defined in broader terms. Basically, as far as our favorite bald clone is concerned: Contract killer > hitman > assassin.
Agree? Disagree? Comments? Contributions?