Remember how I said Eli and Breen are foils? Barney and Mossman may be foils as well.
On my old blog, now sadly deleted, I made an audio post about how similar the two characters' roles were and the discrepancy in how fandom perceives them. I lamented that Barney receives fully-fleshed out backstories while Mossman garners far less fandom attention.
My working theory used to be that, because HL2 and the Episodes are structured in a way that hinges on the player liking Alyx (why play them if you don't like one of its central characters?), they're inclined to agree with her assessments of the world and of other characters. Alyx gets along with Barney and so do we. She is suspicious of Mossman and so we are as well.
And, failing that, just plain old misogyny would suffice to cover the rest. Disregarding Epistle 3, there were moments where the HL2 beta skirted the line of misogynistic writing. (Alyx used to be a lot more hostile toward her, for instance, and called her a "bitch.")
But, thinking about it now... That explanation might be too simple and not give Valve enough credit. The differences in how fandom perceives Barney and Mossman might be intentional on the developers' part. It may be deliberate, not a side effect, that at the end of Half-Life 2, the player comes away feeling close to Barney and ambiguous on Mossman, despite the two sharing the role of double agent.
They differ in one crucial aspect: their relationship to Gordon, the player proxy character. One engenders the safety we find in familiarity, and the other plays on fears of the unknown.
Let me explain what I mean.
The way these characters are introduced to the player are actually inverse of one another when viewed side-by-side.
When we first meet Barney, we're probably terrified out of our minds because he appears the same as any other Metrocop looking to torture us. It's only when he takes off his mask that we breathe a sigh of relief.
Although he is retconned in as an old friend of Gordon's, a sense of camaraderie is quickly established. We associate safety with Barney, which will serve us later during the uprising.
In short, he seems dangerous but turns out to be friendly. He is the first real human connection we make. We can trust him in this strange, unstable world.
When we first encounter Mossman, we find ourselves in a similar position of being trapped at the mercy of an NPC. Gordon is caught unaware in a room, much like the room he was ambushed in in the Half-Life chapter Apprehension. The dimming of the lights echo those of the Marine ambush. We practically expect to be attacked in this vulnerable state, and then smoke wafts out. We don't know what exactly what that smoke is, nor what purpose the laser enveloping us serves.
Instead of experiencing relief from meeting a familiar face, we are kept in suspense while being coldly examined by a stranger whose advice to stay calm provides little comfort. Mossman quite literally looks down on us from a high perch, scrutinizing us through a window as though we are some sort of specimen. This marks the first in a series of subtly distancing effects.
Mossman further distances herself from the player by coming on a bit too strong; her friendliness, too, provides little comfort. She has heard of Gordon, but Gordon has not heard of her:
"I've been hearing about you since long before the Black Mesa incident."
Her monologue during the elevator ride often confuses players and redirects their attention to the goings-on in the background. It's merely white noise to while away the time as we find ourselves trapped in the elevator with her.
Our ride with Alyx in the elevator, by contrast, is marked by a brief uncomfortable silence. Mossman fills Gordon's silence, not allowing him to get a word in edgewise even if he were inclined to chime in.
We're mostly inclined to tune out her technobabble in order to catch glimpse of Black Mesa East (even though, interestingly, what she says is significant to understanding why the Combine don't oversee Earth directly and is rooted in real string theory---but this is a discussion for another time).
What's more, Mossman comes off as disingenuous, perhaps even hostile, because of her past as Gordon's competitor. We are unsure whether she nurses a grudge, where we stand with her. Are we truly a new colleague? Or just an usurper?
Alyx's line about her penchant to drone on about "how it should have been her in the test chamber that day" suggests that Mossman believes she should have had Gordon's position, or is better suited to do his work. In retrospect, this tidbit makes her cheerful talk of working together seem fake.
Unlike Barney, Mossman appears friendly but turns out to be dangerous... at least in the short-term. Her regret at her actions does mitigate her betrayal very slightly, but even so it can't be denied that she led to Black Mesa East being destroyed and essentially left Alyx and Gordon to fend for themselves in Nova Prospekt.
Of course, she defects to our side in the end, but her allegiances until that point have not been clear, as was the case with Barney.
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- very, very Southern
- either an ultra-angsty sadboi or a plain old goof
- or, alternatively: a tortured soul who is suffering the worst midlife crisis ever
- Civil Protection is a living hell
- every other word out of his mouth is some smartassed quip
- slightly mean-spirited; takes the piss out of Gordon whenever he can
- utterly traumatized by headcrabs and the cat incident
- was well-acquainted with Eli back in Black Mesa; now is Alyx's uncle/big brother figure
- Kleiner's bodyguard
- The Beer Guy(tm)
- caught by the Combine and tortured for Even More Angst Points
- only hint as to his background is his surname; the only other bit of info we have is where he attended college (Martinson's)
- looks after Kleiner occasionally, but not frequently enough to realize that Kleiner decides to keep Lamarr as a pet ("I thought you got rid of that pest!") because of his long shifts and short breaks
- sardonic, sometimes deadpan, occasionally teases Gordon but follows up his quips with genuine tinges of warmth
- friendly; somewhat laidback underneath the jumpiness. Doesn't like being teased about it, however
- sports a few rough edges to his personality but is ultimately a loyal, down-to-earth man who does what needs to be done for the Resistance
- may not know Alyx that well; calls Gordon a "lucky dog" because she is waiting for him on the other side of a bridge
- although Barney does have some kind of personal history with Dr. Kleiner, it is unknown whether he knew the Vances back at Black Mesa. He does not mention Eli, nor does Eli mention him. However, it's possible this is because Eli was not included in early versions of the teleportation scene
- competent field commander and tactician; good at organizing people and concocting strategies during combat
- task-oriented; doesn't dwell on unpleasant things; somewhat "chin-up," prefers to stay on the sunny side
- "not an animal person" due to trauma from an unknown incident involving Kleiner's teleporter and a cat, as well as Kleiner's insistence on keeping Lamarr as a pet
- shows slight disdain for his CP status using sarcasm; the line from the HL2 beta, "I'm working as a hack now," implies he views it as drudgery in addition to a morally questionable job
- leaves Gordon to set and disable traps because as the player proxy with most of the high-tech weaponry at your disposal, you're supposed to be the one doing the heavy lifting lol
- good at evading the Combine; avoids capture for a week after the Uprising
- easy to irritate; says "you're pissin' me off, doc" if you mishandle too many items in Kleiner's lab
- the get-a-move-on guy; quick to remind Gordon to hurry up when prompted
- may be a daredevil; gets a kick from combat; used to vent race Gordon to reach Kleiner's office
- more forceful than Alyx in his suggestions; yells "GORDON? THE GRENADES??" when pinned down by sniper fire
- says he owes Gordon a beer once
- mistakes a Strider's roar for a cat's meow once
- seriously, he hates Lamarr more than the cat
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