Characterization being a little thin in the TRON movies (and games), this tends to make some really interesting fodder for character questions. Add the TRON: Legacy timeline properties being written by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis of Lost and Once Upon a Time, who are notorious for their Gray-and-Gray Morality and ambiguous characterization that blurs the lines of "good" and "evil," and it becomes much more open to guessing than most Disney properties.
Note: There will be some unmarked spoilers. Read with caution
- Can Kevin Flynn be considered heroic or "one of the good guys" at all? He's established as a guy who has a natural gift for business, programming, and persuading others to do what he wants, but is otherwise a full-blown Manchild. His primary motivation on the first film is to get revenge on Dillinger for stealing his ideas and a ton of money. Defeating Master Control is the only way he would be able to get back to analog so he could enjoy the credit and cash. Anyone else's concerns could be a second thought at best. Even right before he makes his attempt at Heroic Sacrifice, he kisses a Program woman who is a doppelganger for his ex-girlfriend (and who he knows is happily attached to his new Program best friend). After he does get back to analog, he proceeds to steal his friends' work (Lora's laser, Alan's Program) just like Dillinger did to him, and conduct highly irregular and dangerous experiments in his arcade's basement, all the while lying to his friends and even his wife about what he's really up to! And what is he doing in cyberspace? Millions of sentient, artificial life forms with their own society, goals, thoughts, and feelings, and he explicitly refers to their world as a "game," and "[his] gift to the world," with little if any consideration for them. And when the Isos come along, he's so delighted by them that the Programs seem secondary concerns at best. When things inevitably go south on him, he saves Quorra (last Iso), but throws millions of Program lives (including Tron's) under the proverbial bus in the process. Quorra says he fought against Clu, but there is no evidence of it in TRON: Uprising and his idea of "fighting" in TRON: Evolution was to code up Anon to do battle for him and die to rescue Quorra. As for his in-universe defenders? Quorra has a loyalty to him that is, to put it bluntly, fanatical. To her, he is her master and her god. To Sam, he's the long-lost heroic father he's spent a lifetime missing. Both would have plenty of reason to paper over the man's faults.
- Are the Isos really as important as Flynn thinks? Both Legacy and Uprising don't reveal why Flynn thought so, except that disease itself would be eliminated, so if they are important enough that Quorra was worth risking everything to save CLU was condemning millions of Users to death with his Purge. Considering his actions and big speech in Legacy, it may even have been part of the plan.
- Clu (2.0) himself: Was he just doing exactly what he was told to do, but taking the most draconian method to accomplish it? Was his coup over Flynn done out of malice, or because he felt it was the only way to save the system from a negligent and foolish creator? Remember, Betrayal established that the Grid was riddled with bugs, near-fatal crashes, glitches, and instability. Flynn was pulled in too many directions at once to see how bad things on a cycle-to-cycle basis were becoming, and still overly in love with the idea of the Grid over its reality. Furthermore, Clu would do the work, but Flynn got the credit, and there was just enough of Flynn in Clu to be angry about it. Worse (horribly, horribly worse), after Clu murdered the Isos and a large chunk of the Program population in his purges, the system went from unstable and barely holding together to running for nearly 21 years without a hitch.
- TRON: Uprising seems indicate that Clu's reign wasn't as hitch-free as CLU was eventually seeking to "repurpose" every program in the Grid whether they resisted or not. Maybe CLU's real motivation was that he was a Control Freak (admittedly, he was created to be one by Flynn) who came to resent the system he was supposed to manage. Then there's the father/son parallels between Flynn and him, especially the vicious Sibling Rivalry between him and Sam when they meet, and you can extend that to Flynn's coddling of the Isos.
- Is Clu a Well-Intentioned Extremist operating under a badly worded and utterly stupid directive, and trying unsuccessfully to prove himself to his "father?" Is he conducting a Zeroth Law Rebellion against a User who was infatuated with the Isos and the Grid's potential to see the dysfunctional reality of the situation and doing what he thought was the only way to save his fellow Programs? Or are we dealing with a Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist who chose to interpret his directive in the most self-serving way possible, destroying the Isos who could compete with him for attention and turning the Programs into rectified drones who only lived to feed his ego and serve his whims? Was he really planning to take all his army through the portal, or just himself in an attempt to become a User himself?
- CLU's genocide of the ISOs. Did he do it because he saw them all as flawed because they weren't created by a user? Or did he do it because he grew jealous of all the attention Flynn was giving them over him, Flynn's digital partner in making The Grid?
- Alan Bradley: Did he really believe Flynn was alive, or was he giving the proverbial middle finger to Flynn's enemies by refusing to state his friend was dead? Alan would also be all too aware of Flynn's faults, but could be blinded by Undying Loyalty, Never Speak Ill of the Dead (especially after doing the lion's share of raising Sam), or something else entirely. Furthermore, in raising Sam, and helping to keep the kid's controlling interest in the company, is he really trying to do right by his former ward, or does he want to put Sam (who is every bit the Manchild his father was at that age) in charge and then act as The Man Behind the Man? (This interpretation has a lot of weight if you've played TRON 2.0, since his Establishing Character Moment was in pulling strings to try and force his own son into a higher-ranking position in Encom). Furthermore, is his bi-coastal marriage to Lora a case of Happily Married, Happy Marriage Charade, or even The Beard?
- His position in Encom. We know that he was Kevin Flynn's right hand man during the Betrayal era, and was promoted to CEO after Kevin's disappearance, but shortly afterward forced out and into a token mascot position. And after Sam states he's taking over, there's a scene in the bonus feature where it shows him making very explicit plans about Encom's future without Sam being consulted. But is it due to The Peter Principle (he makes a poor leader and only got as far as he did due to Flynn's charisma and personal friendship), or a Deconstruction and Reconstruction of The Man Behind the Man and/or Chessmaster Sidekick - deconstructed in showing why you don't put that character type on the proverbial throne, but reconstructing it in showing why he's happy to be behind the throne and why he does his best work there?
- How much does Alan actually know at any given point? His Establishing Character Moment in the first film was pulling a Xanatos Gambit on both villains that he had to have been working on for months, meaning that he may have suspected Master Control went A.I. Is a Crapshoot well before anyone else did. Or was that just a lucky guess on his part? Did he submit the paperwork and memos to Dillinger thinking Dillinger was paying attention, or a Batman Gambit, knowing he was Beneath Suspicion until it was far too late? Was it a coincidence that he kept on good terms with Gibbs, the only one who out-ranked Dillinger? Flynn apparently told Alan and Lora nothing in the Legacy timeline, but Alan's words in the ARG, his manipulation of Sam to get the kid to the arcade, and the scene with Roy in "The Next Day" are all very ambiguous as to how much he does or doesn't know about Flynn's experiments, his disappearance, and even the nature of their friendship. It's clear from his talk with Roy in The Next Day that he knows Kevin's dead, but is he assuming that because Sam's taking the company (and wouldn't do so without conclusive proof of his dad's fate), or did Alan find the computer and verify it independently? And is his decision about Dillinger Junior putting trust in Junior because he's "earned his place," or does Alan suspect (or know) Dillinger Junior is up to no good and better have him where he can be watched? Add in that Programs reflect the best and worst parts of their User (as we see with the Clu Programs, Dumont, and Yori), and realize that Tron reflects the best and worst of him.
- The overall question: Is he the mostly harmless, geeky scientist/programmer staunchly loyal Lawful Good boy scout he seems to be, or is he an incredibly clever man who uses a meek and mild persona so that no one suspects he's potentially the most dangerous guy in the franchise?
- Tron himself: Is his devotion to Users something he chose, or did Alan make him Three Laws-Compliant in response to The MCP, which was a classic A.I. Is a Crapshoot? Was his erratic behavior in TRON: Uprising a reasonable response to a system that was even worse than Master Control's? Was he trying to chase Beck off, after losing so many apprentices already (Beck was his sixth apprentice at least). Was he slowly going mad without a User to serve? Was he slowly succumbing to the effects of rectification without being entirely aware of it? And when did the Rinzler programming start to crack? Was he Fighting Fromthe Inside all that time, or was he freed by User power?
- Another bit (or Byte, given the universe): Tron is know as a big hero and rallying point for the revolution, but he is clearly not very good at it in TRON: Uprising. It is because of his mental instability, as noted above? Or is it that he's a very good fighter, but not very good at anything else? Remember, his attempt to defuse the mob in "Scars," ended in disaster (John Sheridan, he ain't). And watching the first movie, you see he is the champion of the Game Grid, but everything else - planning, diplomacy, the getaway vehicle - was handled by Yori. It could be that he's actually a very poor leader, which also kinda fits with his User being CEO after Flynn's disappearance, only to be forced out in disgrace and placed into a powerless mascot position.
- Ed Dillinger Jr.: Whose side is he on? Cillian Murphy tends to say he doesn't play "bad guys," but Junior's talk with what appears to be Master Control 2.0 definitely raises eyebrows.
- Sam Flynn. Did he really want to take over his dad's company, or is he being strong-armed into it? Worse, is he making his choice for good reasons? His father was all about embracing his User status and building a wonderful world for humans and Programs to co-exist. Sam makes his decision to step into power after a nightmarish trip down the digital rabbit hole. Where his father saw a mix of A.I. Is a Crapshoot (Master Control, Sark) and Benevolent A.I. (Tron, Yori, Ram, Dumont), Sam only saw malevolent Programs. Zues and Gem are scheming jerks, thousands are cheering for his messy death in the arena. Tron is a crazed assassin on Clu's leash. Quorra is not a Program, but a lone survivor of a Program-led massacre. Top it off with his father betrayed, exiled, and murdered by Clu. Sam has absolutely no reason to show mercy or benevolence to the Programs. And he's taking over a software company. A person who has every reason to hate Programs now given the power of User over billions of Programs? Encom could become a nightmarish system with very little of the elder Flynn's vision intact.
- Furthermore, how much power will Sam actually have? He's still young and a bit foolish, and Alan is making a lot of decisions without consulting Sam in the matter. Worse, there are a lot of people (Alan included) who see him mostly as a proxy of his father, not as a person in his own right.
The series has very complex characters all working at cross-purposes to each other, even when they're on the same side. None of them are cut and dried.
- Beck seems the most obviously heroic character and he does seem to be a good person, but his Technical Pacifist stance can come off as unrealistic considering he's being groomed to lead an armed rebellion against Clu. Does he really believe the lives of every program is important enough to save, or is he worried that he may become as bad as Tesler and Clu if he allows himself to take a life?
- Paige: loyal second-in-command whose traumatic past causes her to turn a blind eye toward Tesler's viciousness and instability because she believes his way is the only way to save the Grid, or a seriously deluded young woman who only serves a man she knows to be a horrible person who doesn't care about his underlings like he does for her and doesn't see the flaws in his "rescue" of her from the Isos? Was she really trying to kill the Renegade all those times or was she holding back because she subconsciously recognizes he's the only one protecting the programs Of Argon from Tesler and Pavel's excesses? Or maybe she realized that Beck was the Renegade and just couldn't bring herself to kill him, either for personal reasons or because she believed she could convince him to support the occupation, as he would be more useful joining willingly than as a rectified drone.
- Tesler: just what is his motivations? He's definitely brutal and power-hungry, yet he cares for Paige in a way that he doesn't seem to care about anyone else. Other than her fighting skills there doesn't seem to be anything else about her and there's more of a father-daughter dynamic than anything romantic. Is he serving Clu out of My Country, Right or Wrong? Is he a Well-Intentioned Extremist who believes Clu is doing the right thing? Is he trying to amass a power base for himself, independent of Clu?
- Cyrus: just why did he go from saving Tron's life to wanting to destroy the whole Grid? Again, there's so little revealed about him it's only possible to speculate. Did the Tron Lines on his body have something to do with it? And his argument against free will - did that have anything to do with Flynn's repeated comments that Programs lacked the ability?
- Lomox, is he The Brute with a touch of Genius Bruiser, or a Slave Mook to Gorn who had his programming messed with similar to what Pavel did to Gorn.
- Able poses as a worker and sneaks into a secret facility in episode 12. When a suspicious Dyson discovers him, Able's superior comes to his aid, hastily apologizes to Dyson and angrily sends Able back to work. Did the Foreman believe that it was all a misunderstanding, or was he just being a Good Samaritan trying to prevent another work-place execution?
- Dyson is an incredibly nasty piece of work, but "Scars" hinted Villain Has a Point. Dyson's directive is to protect the system, Tron's is to fight for Users. As far as Dyson could tell, Flynn had abandoned the Programs to fawn over the Isos, whose presence was tearing the system apart. To have a security monitor that was faithful to the User (who apparently didn't care if the system collapsed) was endangering the system and every Program living on it.
- Alan Bradley: In that timeline, Flynn still vanishes, Lora ends up killed by her laser project, and Alan is left to carry on alone. It's implied several times in-game (and outright stated in the comics) that the AI Ma3a is actually what's left of Lora that was trapped in the system. Was this an accident? Did Alan do that deliberately? And if it's the latter, was it the action of a grieving man doing what he could for his lost wife, a borderline insane grief where he could not let her go (so he uploads her to an AI), and the comics even proposed a Ron the Death Eater scenario where Alan killed Lora in a jealous rage, and Ma3a was a way to cover up the crime. That last one was proposed by a nasty character trying to Mind Rape a Program who believed he was Jet, so it's probably not the case...)
- Is his rocky relationship with Jet because of Jet's apparent apathy about the future and Spoiled Brat tendencies? Is it because Jet is Brilliant, but Lazy? Is it frustration over the fact Jet's skills and talents are very different from his and Lora's? Is it because Jet takes after Lora in personality, so he's reminded of his lost wife when he looks at his boy? Taking a page from TRON: Uprising, it could also be that Alan is very broken himself, and therefore not really capable of emotional support. Tough Love is the only thing he can give, which just makes Jet pull away more. Or, as proposed by the Mind Rape scenario, he suspects Jet may not be his, and the "you sound like Flynn" was a passive-aggressive, incredibly nasty comment that apparently flew over Jet's head.
- His call to save the Terrible Trio at the end of the game. Was it a genuine act of mercy in sparing their lives (and a good way for a Disney franchise to keep their protagonists from killing humans)? Or was it a very Cruel Mercy in that he did trap their corrupted, Body Horror fusion state on an external hard drive? Alan remarks that he's in no particular hurry to free them. He also saw what happened with Thorne and knows about the Year Inside, Hour Outside nature of Cyberspace. Keeping them alive in that state indefinitely is probably a Fate Worse than Death.
- Jet Bradley: Genuinely Brilliant, but Lazy, or suffering by comparison to two genius parents? Lora had her Ph.D. in physics by the time she was Jet's age, and Alan is a pioneer of both computer security and AI research. Jet shows little of their genius, though he's by no means stupid. It could be that he is quite bright, but his talents skew in a very different direction from his parents.
- Did he refuse Alan's attempt to maneuver him into a promotion because he was "happy making games," or because he knew he didn't earn the job, and would only have been promoted due to his father's string-pulling. The same can be implied for his taking the job at Encom, but he was in no position then to refuse during that time. Is it because he resents his father's Chessmaster tendencies, and did it to spite him? Is it because he's watched his father slave away at Encom all his life (emotionally neglecting him in the process), and refuses to do the same in giving his all to a company that can't/won't repay his dedication? Or is he slumming it in the game department (and refusing to take on more responsibility than he absolutely has to) because he lacks the confidence to take on more than that?
- Jet turns out to be surprisingly gifted as a warrior inside cyberspace, even more so than his godfather. Add that to his video game job (designing simulations), and you could argue that he takes after his virtual "siblings" even more than his parents.
- Even more of a horrific thought: Is the reason why Jet refuses to take the job because he didn't earn the promotion, or does he feel that he's trapped in his father's shadow because he happens to be on the board of directors and Jet is trying to make his own way (at the start of the game, at least) and felt he was making a name for himself in video games? The question alone puts the scene where Jet corrects Ma3a's designation of him as "Alan 2" in a new light.
- In the flashback scene, he says he hacked the school's computer because he was "just bored" and tried to play it off as no big deal, but is he a Spoiled Brat genuinely uncaring about matters of right and wrong because his dad bails him out of trouble, or a Lonely Rich Kid who is desperate for his dad to look up from his grief and his workaholic tendencies to notice he's still there?
- His reluctance to accept User status in the comic. Is it because Thorne and the Wraiths soured him on the idea, and that's all he can associate it with? Is it tied to the Brilliant, but Lazy and he never wanted that kind of power because he hates taking on responsibility? Is it because of guilt due to all the Programs he had to kill? Is it because many of the Programs he met in his travels were nicer to him than most of the humans he knows? Is it because of Ma3a and Mercury; the idea that he's a deity over them doubly so because Ma3a is essentially his mother's Virtual Ghost is just too absurd to contemplate? Was it because he grew up on so many of his HonoraryUncle's stories that it never occurred to him to treat Programs as anything less than human? Is because Flynn also vanished in this timeline, and Jet figures that if his genius godfather couldn't manage it, what chance does he have? Is it because he knows all too well what it's like to have someone else (his father) plotting out your destiny with no say in the matter, so he refuses to do that to anyone else? Or is that just Blue Jet.exe knowing on some level that he is a Program copy and not an actual User, meaning that it isn't his power to take?
- Ma3a : Did she recruit Jet just because he was the Right Man in the Wrong Place (meaning she would have uploaded anyone that stumbled in the lab)? Or did she do it because she remembers enough of being Jet's mother to know that he would be willing and able to help her? How much does she actually know about what she is and her abilities? Was her ability to control digitization and some of the powers she exhibited (like being able to wipe out a battalion of IC Ps given sufficient time to integrate with the system) due to her being an AI on par with Master Control, or her being at least part User, specifically the human that co-invented the Shiva laser in the first place?
- The issue with Programs and free will. Several times in the Legacy timeline, Flynn mentions Programs do not have it (while humans and Isos do). This appears to fly in the face of everything we see in the series universe because we see Programs making choices again and again without a pre-coded path, or take on new functions that were never intended for them...Or do we? Cyrus certainly believed Programs had no free will, and Beck wasn't able to give him a straight answer either way (then again, Cyrus is deeply disturbed). But we also get that conflict between Tron and Dyson's conflicting directives. Dyson can't convince Tron to stop fighting for Users, and Dyson explicitly states his task is to preserve the system, with or without Users. Clu also had his hard-coded track to make a "perfect" system and couldn't disobey it, no matter how much he hated the User who gave him the stupidly-worded command. Even in the Game Grid cells, there are moments where Ram lapses into an insurance sales pitch. It could be that a Program does have a hard-coded directive they can't break and won't want to break, but that they have a great deal of freedom in how they interpret and carry out that directive.
- The Iso situation. In TRON: Legacy, it was treated as Clu and his forces just Putting on the Reich and attacking because the Isos were something they couldn't understand, they hate what they can't understand, that the Isos were in the way of Clu's idea of "perfection," and so forth. But get into Expanded Universe material like Uprising, Tron Evolution, and the Betrayal comic, and things get a little grayer. While it's true that the Isos were innocent, wonderful miracles, they were also destabilizing the system to the point of collapse, meaning all life on it - Program and Iso alike - were going to be destroyed if it continued. Worse, Flynn was so enamored with them that he started seeing Programs as secondary and didn't seem to have a solution to the increasing likelihood of total system failure. Worse (horribly worse) is that Clu's purge took the system from near-collapse to stable enough to run longer than most real-world computers ever could. Clu's option was Moral Event Horizon personified, but unfortunately, it may have been the only option on the table.
- Likewise, in TRON: Legacy, they were unambiguously a Woobie Species who were "naive but infinitely wise," doing no wrong until they were cruelly and for no reason scapegoated and killed. Quorra's sweet characterization certainly adds weight to that interpretation, as did Jalen being tricked and corrupted into Abraxas. Get into the Betrayal comic, some parts of Evolution, and Uprising...and again, gets more complicated. Most of the Programs are not openly hostile to the Isos, but they were led to believe that Isos were seeking to destroy Programs and able to kill with a mere touch, due to the False Flag Operation Clu set up in Evolution. Giles and Ophelia are outright hostile to the idea of working with Programs in Betrayal, Gibson and the Bostrumites are openly separatist, and there are statements to the effect that Isos consider "Basics" to be inferior, stupid, and obsolete while the Isos know they are the race their Creator favors more, making the Programs a collective case of The Unfavorite. There's even a bit of it in The Grid section of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance where Quorra tells Sora not to bother trying to save Tron, blowing off the idea that a Program could have a heart. All of this could make the Isos seem less Too Good for This Sinful Earth and more Egocentrically Religious. The third edge on the truth is probably closer to Zootopia where there was a lot of Jerkass behavior on both sides of the fence, but Clu was the biggest Jerkass of all for exploiting it to destroy the Isos and control the Programs through existing prejudice.