Updated: Jan 31, 2022
The Illusive Man: Leader of Cerberus
Voice Actor: Martin Sheen
Appearances: Mass Effect: Evolution, Mass Effect: Foundation, Mass Effect: Ascension, Mass Effect: Redemption, Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect: Retribution, Mass Effect: Deception, Mass Effect: Invasion, Mass Effect: Homeworlds, Mass Effect 3
“Salvation comes with a cost. Judge us not by our methods, but by what we seek to accomplish.”
The Illusive Man is the elusive, secretive, and well informed leader of Cerberus. He has close-cropped silver-grey hair with "steely blue" eyes which appear to be prosthetic. The Illusive Man's real name and his life before Cerberus are both long forgotten by most. For years, the Illusive Man has been using Cerberus and his immense network of contacts to achieve his goal - that of making humanity ascendant above all other races. He is described as having the best and worst traits of humanity rolled into one man.
The Illusive Man was a normal civilian with a job and a family until the discovery of alien life. Not long after the Battle of Shanxi, an e-mail circulated throughout the extranet calling for humanity to take its rightful place and assert its power to its new alien contacts. Alliance intelligence could not locate the originator of the e-mail, but referred to him as an "illusive man" in press releases to try and dismiss the human-centric diatribe. The name stuck, and the Illusive Man founded Cerberus, a human-centric splinter group. He was responsible for breaking Cerberus away from the Alliance military, and building up Cord-Hislop Aerospace as a cover for the organization's shadow operations. His justification is that, "If humanity is to survive, sacrifices must be made for the greater good. The Alliance doesn't understand this, Cerberus does." In terms of appearance, the Illusive Man is dressed in an impeccable futuristic-style suit, combined with the casual swagger of a charming billionaire; he also seems to possess unique patterns on his irises.
The Illusive Man believes that the political party Terra Firma has a part to play in humanity's ascension and even used an assassination in order to put the right man — Charles Saracino — in power. The Illusive Man's belief that biotics are the future of humanity led him to order the sabotage and detonation of Eldfell-Ashland Energy starships over human colonies, to ensure biotic children would be born. Somehow — likely through unsavory means — the Illusive Man claimed one of these biotic children as a baby and gave her to Paul Grayson to raise as his own daughter. A decade later he planted Cerberus operatives into the Ascension Project to take advantage of the Alliance's more sophisticated biotic research.
He also has an interest in the quarians and their Migrant Fleet. The Illusive Man does not trust an alien species that effectively has the largest armada of ships in the galaxy. However, he is also greatly impressed by the quarians' technological expertise, namely their creation of the geth and their continued survival despite the odds stacked against them. This curiosity has led him to seek the transmission codes for the Migrant Fleet in order to spy on them.
His long-term plans are ultimately unknown, but it is known that he has many different projects in motion at a time, all factoring into helping humanity achieve its "rightful place" in the galaxy. Currently, it seems that his main focus is on the Reapers: realizing the vast threat they pose to humanity's survival but also acknowledging the benefits of their technology, he dedicates his vast resources in an effort to harness their power by any means necessary.
Mass Effect: Evolution
Before founding Cerberus, the Illusive Man was known as Jack Harper, a mercenary and part of a special group under the command of General Williams. During the First Contact War, Harper served on Shanxi, and in the later days of the war, he, Ben Hislop and Eva Coré were responsible for the capture of a turian general named Desolas Arterius. After heading back to General Williams' command compound, they analyze turian troop movement patterns and determined that they were looking for something. Upon interrogating the captured turian, Jack discovered that Desolas was searching for an artifact. After capturing Desolas' forces, Jack questions Desolas further; Desolas merely tells Harper to be careful about what he is looking for, as he might just find it. After leaving Eva in charge of the prisoners, Jack and Ben head into the cave where the artifact is located.
Moving through the cave, Ben and Jack find the artifact, which is guarded by strange robed figures. After neutralizing the guards, Harper and Ben find that the artifact's emissions prevent them from contacting Eva due to interference. They examine the bodies of the guards more closely, but Ben approached the artifact, which activated. Jack tries to pull Ben out, and while he succeeds, Ben is killed in the process and Jack is knocked unconscious. After Jack regains consciousness, he notices Eva coming towards him, covered in blood saying that when the light from the artifact activating distracted her, the turians ambushed and captured her. Jack asks what happened, but Desolas shows up and says that is what he would like to know. Jack falls unconscious again as Desolas orders his men to take the artifact aboard his ship.
Jack awakens sometime later aboard a turian ship, and after struggling with the guards and restraints, the turians tell him to calm down as they are there for his protection as much as theirs. Eva finally manages to get Jack to calm down as she is led into the room by Saren Arterius, who lets her comfort Jack. Eva tells Jack they are both prisoners, he's been in a coma for weeks, and that Ben is dead. Eva says it must have been something in the cave, and that Desolas took the body. Saren then cuts in saying that as far as they know, Jack is in perfect health, then after Jack demands to know who he is, Saren formally introduces himself and that he should be thankful that they didn't leave him to die. Eva then calls Saren out by saying that they are being taken to a prison camp on Palaven, the turian homeworld. However Saren says she is mistaken, about a lot of things. Outside a window, they see Arcturus Station, the capital of the Systems Alliance. Saren tells them the war is over and they are being taken home.
Aboard the station, they are welcomed by Williams, and after some words are exchanged Desolas is surprised that Williams would trade so many turian prisoners for Jack and Eva. Eva then tackles Desolas, despite Jack telling her not to, and is pulled off by Saren, who then comments to Desolas that his guards don't do much. Desolas says they have their uses, and then communicates to them in a weird language, which Jack understands. This doesn't escape Desolas' notice, however, and he then turns to Williams saying that he should take the prisoners back by the treaty protocol, however Williams says they have been captive long enough and then tells him to leave. Jack is taken to a med bay where he is examined and has a conversation with Williams about what is really going on. Williams says that he can't order Jack to take on a mission like that because he is resigning, but tells Jack not to give up. He then gives Jack and Eva his personal ship to pursue Desolas and the artifact.
In the Hangar, Jack and Eva discuss what they will be doing. As they walk up the boarding ramp, Jack suddenly collapses. Eva rushes to Jack's side and says that she knew it was too early to leave as Jack needs more time to recover. Jack counters saying they don't have time to waste, that he's been having visions of destruction and they are linked to that artifact. Eva then asks where they are supposed to go, and Jack answers that they need to go to Illium. While they are heading down to the planet, Jack tells Eva that the artifact is here, he can feel it.
After landing on Illium, Jack converses with the locals using knowledge granted to him by the artifact. They then take a cab to where it is likely hidden, with Jack's irises glowing as he uses the alien interface in the cab. On the way Eva questions why they brought it here, but Jack just ignores her and eventually finds what he is looking for. After landing at their destination, they leave the cab and start looking around. At that moment, Saren and Desolas' guards ambush them and Jack and Eva run for their lives. However, they are eventually cornered and one of the guards grabs Jack by the neck and Eva turns and attempts to hit it on the head with the butt of her gun, but Jack tells her not to. The creature's hood falls and reveals Ben, who has been transformed into another cybernetic entity, as well as revealing that Jack's irises have transformed.
Jack tries to break free of Ben, but Saren catches up and tells Ben to release him and then Jack tells Eva to run. Eva tries to get away up a ladder, but the ladder is brought down by Ben, and she crashes into the rubble. Saren then pulls Jack and Eva aboard a ship and they leave Illium. While onboard, Jack is interrogated about his experiences with the artifact on Shanxi and the aftermath of it. Saren tells Jack that he is clearly different from Ben and he wants to know why. Ben then tells his story, and Jack just sits there and listens. After Ben is done, Saren then tells the three to prepare themselves as they are about to be the first humans to set foot on Palaven.
Upon landing on Palaven, Desolas speaks to the people and Jack notices that he does know how to put on a show. Eva however says that she is curious why he doesn’t lead them out in chains, but Jack says the Council wouldn't approve, but he wouldn't be surprised if this was a power grab. Later in the evening, Jack and Eva are being led along behind the artifact and are talking about how long it is taking. Eva says that Jack was lucky he was in a coma when coming back from Shanxi, but Jack says he doesn't mind the wait as he wanted to get a closer look at Palaven for a time, and it is impressive, and so is Desolas. Eva then asks how they even know the artifact is in there, but Jack says he can hear it and Ben, who is behind them, says he can hear it as well. Jack then asks Ben what it is saying, and Ben just says that it commands them to follow and protect it, and to prepare for something. This conversation isn't lost on Desolas, who is walking just a little behind the three and orders Harper brought to him.
Later at Temple Palaven, Jack is watching the "meta-turians" raising the Monolith into the sky and then quotes Clarke's Third Law, which Desolas, who was standing behind him, quotes back word for word. Jack then turns to Desolas and says that he doesn't know what he is dealing with, but Desolas counters by asking if he does, then tells Jack that the artifact was here for a reason. He has been preparing the Temple for a while now and leads Jack into a backroom lab where they are studying the artifact. Jack, however, notices that it is only a surface analysis and asks why they just don't bring it back into the lab. Desolas says that he would like to but the now presented "Valluvian Priests" won't let him. Desolas says they can't tell him anything more about it, but Jack can and he noticed back on Arcturus Station that the relic had changed him. Jack then says, again, that Desolas doesn't know what he has, what he is dealing with, and that it is just too dangerous. Desolas then tells Jack that if he won't cooperate, then perhaps Eva will, but Jack says that she doesn't know anything and won't crack, and neither will he. Jack then pleads with Desolas to end the experiment being a man of science and the lack of results. The guards then lead Jack to an observation room.
Days later, Jack is still sitting in the room doing little but staring at the weird writings all over the walls. He then comes to a revelation and figures out what is going on. As he stands up, Desolas enters and says he discovered the same thing, but Jack then tells him there is something that he needs to know, the truth. Desolas however dismisses him and tells him to behold the future, a legion of perfect turians and destiny is at hand, and it begins now.
Jack tells Desolas that he can't do this, but his pleas fall on deaf ears and he orders Jack to be led away to a prison cell. While Jack is being led to his cell that he will share with Eva, she suddenly appears and floors one of the guards with a swift kick, knocking the gun out of his hand. She then deals with the other one and Jack lays out the first guard with a punch. He and Eva then head off to find Ben, but down the hallway find some "priests" clearing out a hallway. As they are observing them, Saren ambushes them. Jack then tries to persuade Saren what is really going on. He says that Desolas brought the artifact here for a reason and that he has been duped. He says that he has read the history of the temple on the wall, despite Saren saying that no one has been able to read them, to which Jack counters that he can, and so can the "priests". Then they look through the hole that the "priests" dug and find another Monolith inside the temple. Saren is in shock and Jack explains what will happen and how eventually the entire turian people will be converted. Saren tells Jack to shut up so he can think, then Ben shows up and explains that the artifact wants all to be like him. Saren then reaches for his communicator and after contacting Palaven Command, declares an unsecured bioweapon emergency.
Saren then goes to where Desolas is inspecting his no longer docile troops, and after seeing his brother getting thrown around, orders his guards to open fire. Jack joins the fight leading the way through the "meta-turians" for Ben and Eva. He then asks them to help, and Eva tells Jack to help her as this isn't their fight. Jack and Eva discuss what the prospects are for Ben, and while Eva is hopeful, Jack isn't so hopeful as he knows there is no place or any place far enough away to help him. Eva then says there is one thing they haven't tried and pulls her gun and shoots the Monolith. Ben, working on instructions from the Monolith, tackles Eva and knocks her into a wall.
Desolas then corners them both and after pulling a gun on Jack, tells him that he is going to do what he should have done a long time ago. However, before Desolas can pull the trigger, Ben tackles Desolas, knocking him into the artifact, and knocking out everyone in the room. Jack regains consciousness some time later, and picks up Eva and apologizes for his actions and that the artifact made him lose sight of what really mattered. As he carries Eva out, she tells him to leave her behind and save Ben, but Jack tells her that he is dead, sacrificing himself to prevent Desolas from making more victims. As he carries Eva out, he notices Saren also regaining conscious and tells him to warn his people and while he would like to stick around to see the results, he has to take care of his own.
Sometime later, while Jack is sitting in a chair watching the memorial service for Ben and Eva, he comments that Desolas was right and that the stars looked welcoming, warm, teeming with places to explore, full of knowledge, and riches to be had. He also recognizes that humanity will not always be welcome and starts recording a manifesto. A dark time is coming for humanity and humanity will be tested, and while they may not know who is doing the testing or why, humanity must meet the challenges as they have met every other one. They will succeed because to do anything else would be inhuman. He will watch the dark places and illuminate them and that there is technology and tools that they not only can, but must master in order to survive. This is not just to survive, but so they can better humanity. Eventually humanity will take its rightful place in the stars. As he ends the recording, Jack takes his place as the Illusive Man, the Leader of Cerberus.
Mass Effect: Foundation
Mass Effect: Foundation 1
A woman who called herself "Rasa" wanted to join Cerberus and was granted a meeting with the Illusive Man himself. He asked her why she wanted to join, and she replied that a man once said the pro-human group stood for something: she wanted to stand for something too.
Mass Effect: Foundation 2
The Illusive Man dispatched Rasa and Kai Leng to the Citadel to turn Shadow Broker agent Fist. Fist agreed to hand over the Broker's secrets in exchange for asylum. However, the agents discovered that Fist had instead chosen to ally with Saren Arterius. Rasa chose to let Fist go to discover more about his connection to Saren while keeping his files. The Illusive Man expressed worry that Fist may sell Cerberus out, but Rasa was confident that the Broker's bounty hunter, Urdnot Wrex, would silence him before that could happen, tying up loose ends.
Mass Effect: Foundation 5
Approximately a month after the geth attack on the Citadel, the Illusive Man held a holo-meeting with operative Rasa discussing infiltration plans and her obsession with Commander Shepard. He was unperturbed by difficulties stemming from the recent shakeups, though he had noticed the changing nature of participants in the galactic stage. He revealed to his underling that the attack on the Citadel wasn't just orchestrated by Saren Arterius as the Council would want the public to believe, and that Shepard died. His agent wanted to help investigate the latter but he prohibited it, telling her he already had other people looking into the matter.
The Illusive Man reminded her that everyone on Cerberus had a purpose when Rasa began to protest, and assigned her to another task that he deemed to be the most important one in her life.
Mass Effect: Foundation 7
The Illusive Man dispatched agents Rasa and Kai Leng against Subject Zero, who was rampaging at one of his training facilities. He also sent in the Blue Suns to act in case his agents failed. He earlier tried to start a holo dialogue with her in the office of the recently-slain Dr. Angersol, offering contrite words for his group's past abuses against her, but the biotic wouldn't hear anything he has to say.
Mass Effect: Foundation 8
The mission to capture Subject Zero was slightly botched when the Blue Suns decided to ransom her instead of handing her over. Rasa and Leng reported the development and after hearing stern admonitions they each received a new set of orders. The Illusive Man summoned Leng to report to him personally while Rasa was to assist Miranda Lawson on a mission to retrieve Shepard's classified files.
The mission was a success, although Rasa's cover was blown. The Illusive Man agreed with Miranda's assessment that Rasa's field work days are over. Not quite finished with the agent, he confided to Miranda that Rasa still had a purpose in Cerberus, pulling up mugshots from Shepard's prospective team: Archangel, Subject Zero, Kasumi Goto, Warlord Okeer, Zaeed Massani, Thane Krios, and Mordin Solus, among others.
In light of recent events, he also decided to deprioritize the ongoing clone project and allowed Miranda to continue using it merely for testing.
Mass Effect: Foundation 12
The Illusive Man is later informed by Miranda that Rasa is becoming untrustworthy, as she knows too much about Project Lazarus. The Illusive Man then recommends cutting their losses if Rasa has become a liability, not minding the resources Cerberus spent on developing her.
Mass Effect: Foundation 13
In 2184, Rasa steals the clone before it is terminated and escapes the Lazarus Station. Miranda personally reports to the Illusive Man, informing him that Rasa's shuttle was on course for the Arcturus system and that she is preparing to pursue her. However, the Illusive Man orders her to forget Rasa, believing her inconsequential compared to the coming of the Reapers and reviving Commander Shepard.
Mass Effect: Ascension
After the attack on the Citadel, the Illusive Man became suspicious about the claim it was a geth armada, knowing that no ordinary geth attack could have been so successful. He knew that word of what had really happened would eventually filter back to him, but in the meantime, he had greater concerns. Though he acknowledged Commander Shepard's role in creating humanity's new place in the galaxy, the Illusive Man also knew the suspicion and mistrust of the other races would soon close off the political channels that Shepard had opened, and decided to push ahead with his work in the Ascension Project. He also ordered Pel to go to Omega to get the Migrant Fleet codes, but Pel betrayed him and tried to sell Gillian Grayson to the Collectors.
When Paul Grayson reported to the Illusive Man, he gently confronted Paul about his addiction to red sand, but agreed Gillian needed to be pursued and authorized an attack on the Migrant Fleet itself. When the strike team, including Paul and the quarian Golo, failed to report back, the Illusive Man assumed they had died in the attempt as his vast web of informants did not stretch to the Migrant Fleet. He was surprised, therefore, to get a communique from Paul, and even more surprised when Paul calmly announced he was leaving Cerberus forever. He held the threat of revelation over the Illusive Man's head, and used it to get an assurance that Kahlee Sanders would be left alone. The Illusive Man was forced to agree for the sake of Cerberus' other projects.
Mass Effect: Redemption
The Illusive Man eventually learned the truth about the Reapers and the threat they posed to the galaxy as a whole. He knew that the galaxy's best hope was Commander Shepard. If the galaxy's hero was lost, then the rest of humanity may well follow. Therefore, he takes steps to ensure that Cerberus doesn't lose Shepard.
Unfortunately, the SSV Normandy was attacked by an unknown ship and Shepard was presumed dead. The Commander's body was retrieved by agents of the Shadow Broker, who were going to deliver the body to the Collectors. Therefore, the Illusive Man forms an alliance with Liara T'Soni, one of Shepard's alien associates, to find the body before the transaction could be completed and to discover the Collectors' intentions for it. He had her teamed up with a drell named Feron, who was in fact an agent that Cerberus attempted to recruit many times, before he defected after hearing of the Broker's dealings with the Collectors. As the two were unsuccessful in preventing the Broker's top agent, Tazzik, from escaping Omega with Shepard's body, the Illusive Man ordered Miranda Lawson to observe, desiring to wait until Feron could determine what the Collectors wanted with Shepard. Ultimately, Liara and Feron were successful in retrieving Shepard's body, though the latter became a prisoner of the Broker.
Mass Effect 2
After the destruction of the SSV Normandy by the Collectors, the Illusive Man used his contacts and influence to obtain Commander Shepard's badly damaged corpse. Over the course of two years, the Illusive Man devoted a substantial amount of Cerberus' resources into the Lazarus Project, an initiative headed by Miranda Lawson entirely devoted to resurrecting Shepard. However, he refused a suggestion by Miranda to implant a control chip in the Commander's brain, as he specifically wanted Shepard to be as they were before their death.
When Shepard is finally reconstituted and reawakened after two years, the Illusive Man explains during their first meeting that the fate of the galaxy, but specifically humanity, is just as precarious as it was when Shepard died; the Council is still in denial over the existence of the Reapers and have been ignoring the recent phenomenon across various colonies in the Terminus Systems where entire populations of human colonists have vanished without a trace. The Illusive Man postulates that the disappearance of humans must be tied in some way to the threat of the Reapers, but with the vast amount of ignorance and political red tape that has been hampering the Council and the Alliance, only Cerberus can provide Shepard with the resources necessary to confront both threats. Shepard agrees to work with Cerberus for the time being and the Illusive Man provides Shepard with the newly built Normandy SR-2 and a full crew which includes Cerberus operatives Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor, along with former SSV Normandy crew members, Joker and Doctor Chakwas to work with Shepard.
After Shepard and the new team investigate Freedom's Progress, the latest site of human disappearances, they obtain evidence that the Collectors were responsible and are abducting entire human colonies for unknown reasons. The Illusive Man admits that even he has limited knowledge of the enigmatic species, and further investigation of the Collectors' activities will require a team of combat and scientific specialists from across the galaxy. The Illusive Man then provides Shepard a list of dossiers for the Commander to recruit into the team.
Unwilling to wait until another human colony is attacked, the Illusive Man leaked information of the Alliance setting up defense turrets and the location of Shepard's fellow squad member from Mass Effect at Horizon. Shepard's timely arrival prevented the Collectors from taking the entire colony. This confirms the Illusive Man's suspicions that the Collectors are very focused on locating Shepard or any of the Commander's associates.
Eventually, the Illusive Man directs Shepard to the Collector ship that took out the original Normandy, supposedly disabled by a turian patrol. The Illusive Man intentionally allows Shepard to walk into a trap, fooling the Collectors into thinking that they have the upper hand, in order to gain information on how to pass through the Omega 4 Relay; Shepard was not happy at the apparent betrayal but the Illusive Man tells Shepard that he trusted the Commander could escape safely should any danger happen. After learning that a Reaper IFF is required for safe passage through the relay, the Illusive Man instructs Shepard to investigate a derelict Reaper — which was damaged from an ancient mass accelerator weapon — after a Cerberus team researching it had gone missing.
Near the end of the suicide mission at the Collectors' base, instead of letting Shepard rig and detonate the base, the Illusive Man suggests using a radiation pulse to wipe out all living Collectors and leave the base intact in order to use its technology against the Reapers. If Shepard destroys the base, the Illusive Man is furious with the Commander's idealism, saying he knew that Shepard would "choke on the hard decisions". He also asserts that the Collector technology could have been used to humanity's benefit, and claims that, given its goals, Cerberus is humanity. He is rebuffed by Shepard, who wasn't looking for his approval and then chooses to quit working with Cerberus. The Illusive Man tries to dissuade the Commander, citing that it is because of him that Shepard is alive. Shepard can then rudely terminate the communication or promise to win the war with the Reapers without sacrificing humanity's soul. Alternatively, if Shepard accepts the Illusive Man's suggestion and kills only the Collectors, he considers it an excellent opportunity to advance the position of humanity. Shepard can either warn the Illusive Man about using the Collector technology for anything else other than fighting the Reapers, or to agree with his idea of advancing humanity using the technology. At the end of this meeting, the Illusive Man smiles deviously while looking at a hologram of his newly acquired prize: the Collector base.
Mass Effect: Retribution
After Shepard's assault on the Collector Base, the Illusive Man sought to learn more about the Reapers in order to combat them. He required a test subject to experiment with salvaged Reaper technology. The candidate he selected was Paul Grayson, who was captured by Kai Leng, a former N7 marine. The Illusive Man subjected his former operative to implantation with Reaper technology and would have him killed if Grayson got out of control.
Before he could terminate Grayson, however, the turian military launched a mass strike on all known Cerberus assets, facilities and agents in both Council and Terminus space, including the station where the experiment was being conducted. The Illusive Man was forced to flee, while Grayson was overtaken by the Reapers (just as Saren Arterius was) and sent on a rampage. Seeing that Grayson had become a liability, the Illusive Man dispatched Leng to finish the job. Leng ultimately succeeded in his task, ending Grayson's life at the Jon Grissom Academy. Leng was forced to escape afterwards, leaving what remained of Grayson's corpse in Alliance hands.
The Illusive Man was not concerned about leaving Grayson's Reaper-altered body behind, knowing that men like David Anderson would be as pro-active as him in preparing for the Reapers' arrival. Also, unwilling to afford a war with Omega's queen, Aria T'Loak, the Illusive Man used her suspicions of Grayson's involvement in her daughter's death to secure an alliance with her.
Mass Effect: Deception
Note: This section features material from the first edition of Mass Effect: Deception, which BioWare has acknowledged contains discrepancies with other Mass Effect lore. Once revised editions of the book are released, this section will be updated.
The Illusive Man is one of the main antagonists in Mass Effect: Deception. When Gillian Grayson discovers that the Illusive Man is responsible for the death of her father, she embarks on a quest to kill him. Perceiving Gillian to be a threat to Cerberus and himself, the Illusive Man dispatches Kai Leng to eliminate Gillian. Ultimately Gillian, with the help of a biotic supremacist movement known as the Biotic Underground, capture Kai Leng and hold him ransom to the Illusive Man. The goal of their plan was not to get money, but rather to lure the Illusive Man to a trap where he can be killed. The Illusive Man eventually agrees to pay the ransom in person for the return of Kai Leng, one of his best operatives. When Gillian's group arrives at the meeting point, they see the Illusive Man and the satchels of credits for the ransom. Gillian, unable to keep her composure, summons dark energy and releases a high powered biotic reave on the Illusive Man. To her surprise, it didn't kill him. Only then does she realize that the meet was a setup and that the Illusive Man was simply present by means of a holo image. Additionally, the satchels of credits were, in fact, only filled with rocks. Kai Leng catches Gillian off guard while she is processing the Illusive Man's deception and kills her.
Mass Effect: Invasion
After cementing the alliance between Cerberus and Aria, the Illusive Man dispatched research teams to construct bases on the other side of the Omega 4 Relay to scavenge for Reaper technology. Unfortunately, a new type of husks called Adjutants being held in captivity in those bases broke free and commandeered Cerberus vessels to begin an invasion of Omega. The Illusive Man dispatched General Oleg Petrovsky and Colonel Raymond Ashe to help Aria quell the assault. Though Aria and Petrovsky amassed a fleet to defend Omega from more Adjutants, Ashe, who was imprisoned for defying Aria's authority and fought his way free, called the Illusive Man to confirm that he's ready to start the real battle for Omega.
After Aria and Petrovsky contain the Adjutant threat at Cerberus's Avernus Station beyond the Omega 4 Relay, the Illusive Man activates his true plan: the conquest of Omega. With Aria out of the way, the station's gangs are unable to mount a cohesive defense. Aria eventually does return by hijacking the Elbrus, Petrovsky's ship, and coordinates a guerrilla war against the Cerberus invaders. Petrovsky secures victory only when he threatens to order the Cerberus fleet to destroy the station. The Illusive Man's gambit succeeds. With Omega under his control, Cerberus now has exclusive access to the Omega 4 Relay and the center of the galaxy, a treasure trove of Reaper technology and potentially the safest location in the galaxy to weather the Reaper invasion.
Mass Effect: Homeworlds
While Liara T'Soni uses her influence as the Shadow Broker to find a way to stop the Reapers, the Illusive Man secretly monitors her progress and learns of her intent to investigate the Protheans for leads. Later, when Liara journeys to a Prothean ruin on Kahje, a Cerberus Phantom arrives there before her, kills the site's staff, and turns its defenses against Liara's shuttle.
When Liara makes it to the site and kills the Phantom, the Illusive Man contacts her via hologram. He apologizes for the Phantom's attack, but claims a rogue faction of Cerberus is responsible. He suggests forming an alliance with Liara to stop the Reapers and that they pool their knowledge, but when Liara challenges him to turn over his research first, he remains silent. Liara concludes he either wants to keep his research to himself or he doesn't have any research to share. Angered, the Illusive Man insinuates she is incapable of running the Shadow Broker's organisation and claims that the criminal underworld think the Shadow Broker has become soft and weak, insisting that Liara needs his help. Liara points out that he is the one trying to make a deal, advises him to send an army the next time he tries to kill her and cuts him off before he can continue arguing.
Mass Effect 3
“Where you see a means to destroy, I see a way to control--to dominate and harness the Reapers' power. Imagine how strong humanity would be if we controlled them.”
In 2186, during the Reaper invasion, the Illusive Man appears via hologram on Mars before Shepard and Liara, who were on Mars in search of a Prothean superweapon. He began criticizing the Alliance for squandering their precious time researching the Prothean Archives and reveals his intention to use the information to devise a way to dominate the Reapers and use their advanced technology for humanity's benefit.
Shepard calls his plan insane while Earth is under siege. The Illusive Man, unperturbed, warns the Commander not to stand in the way of his plans, which Shepard brushes off. But the Illusive Man has the last laugh, as an undercover agent, Eva Coré, began downloading and erasing the information, leading Shepard on a chase through the station. When Eva's escape is foiled, she's revealed to be a Cerberus synthetic, who grabbed Ashley/Kaidan and the Illusive Man orders her to dispose of them. Eva was able to inflict serious damage before Shepard is able to disable the synthetic.
The Illusive Man's methods became far more direct than those he has used in the past: He orders direct attacks on the other factions in the galaxy, attempts to stop Shepard from recovering a fertile krogan female on Sur'Kesh as well as trying to instigate war between the turians and krogan by detonating a bomb on Tuchanka, orders an attack on the Citadel itself to assist Councilor Udina in taking control from the Council, and backs a project on Horizon known as Sanctuary led by Henry Lawson to study Reaper Indoctrination as well as Husks in an attempt to find a way to control the Reapers. Regardless of setbacks encountered, he always writes off the losses as inconsequential, even considering a human of high stature like Udina to be expendable.
During the Reaper invasion of Thessia, Shepard discovers a hidden Prothean Beacon containing crucial information for identifying the Catalyst to finish the Crucible. The Illusive Man, having learned about the beacon through the Mars archives, appears once again via hologram and attempts to sway Shepard into realizing the benefits of controlling the Reapers rather than destroying them. He points out that if the Reapers wanted to destroy all organic life, they could have done so already; he asserts that the Reapers are simply interested in exerting their control over organics, as they have done for thousands of cycles. It is clear to Shepard that the Illusive Man has been indoctrinated, and with neither side being able to convince the other, the Illusive Man orders Kai Leng to take the Prothean VI Vendetta.
Ultimately, when Shepard was able to track down Cerberus Headquarters, the Illusive Man was absent for the Alliance assault. Video logs found on the station show that the Illusive Man allowed himself to be implanted with Reaper-derived nanotechnology, with no anesthetic. He also refused to allow Leng to kill Shepard, whom he doesn't want to write off as a total loss yet. He also reveals that, while he does consider Shepard to be his enemy, he still has a great deal of respect for the Commander and warns Kai Leng to show the same respect.
He later appears before Shepard as a hologram again, and tells Shepard that Cerberus will never be destroyed, claiming it to be an idea, not just an organization. He then turned to EDI, noting how determined she is to destroy the Reapers. Despite Shepard's advice not to listen to him, the Illusive Man points out she could've destroyed Eva, but instead chose to control her. EDI defends that she felt it was necessary, which made the Illusive Man feel that his beliefs are justified. As EDI manages to unlock Vendetta, the Illusive Man permits Shepard to question the VI, but advises the Commander not to overstay their welcome. Vendetta reveals that the Catalyst to be the Citadel but the Illusive Man had already fled there and thus alerted the Reapers of its intended purpose.
Shepard finds the Illusive Man onboard the Citadel orbiting Earth, showing signs of Reaper modifications across his face. Using these upgrades, the Illusive Man immobilizes and controls the motor functions of both Shepard and Anderson. He then forces Shepard to shoot Anderson in the gut to prove his powers. Despite Shepard asking him to let them stop the Reapers, the Illusive Man refuses to allow the Commander to undo his plans of controlling the Reapers. He claims that he is confident that he can control them, but when Shepard asks him if he is willing to bet humanity's existence on it his resistance begins to falter.
He desperately argues that sacrifices had to be made, but Shepard counters by saying that he had sacrificed too much. However, when Shepard convinces the Illusive Man that he is under the Reapers' control and tells him to resist them, the Illusive Man replies that he "tried" before shooting himself in the head. On the other hand, if Shepard chastises the Illusive Man at his lust for control costing humanity the war, he angrily rebuts that notion and attempts to shoot Shepard but is shot first by the Commander instead. With his last breath, the Illusive Man looks through the Citadel arms and remarks how beautiful Earth is, wishing Shepard could see it the same way.
The Catalyst, manifesting as the young boy Shepard saw killed during the fall of Earth, explains to Shepard that the Illusive Man was correct in believing that it was possible to take control of the Reapers; however, he would never have been able to do this himself, as the Reapers were already controlling him. The Illusive Man's final appearance is in the final decision at the Crucible, where he appears in a vision as the embodiment of the "Control" option.
The Illusive Man may be inspired by the Cigarette Smoking Man from the television series The X-Files. Like the Illusive Man, the Smoking Man is a member of a shadowy organization (The Syndicate) who alternately aids and opposes the protagonists of the series in their endeavors.
According to Mass Effect game director Casey Hudson, the Illusive Man had his origins in an idea for the game's DLC, of a character "who was so powerful that they told world (or galactic) leaders what to do, even though they held no public office." His name came from "an idea I had for a name for one of our early graphics engines - Illusive, a bit of a play on words."
According to The Final Hours of Mass Effect 3, Hudson envisioned the leader of Cerberus looking like Anderson Cooper from CNN and acting like Jack Bauer's brother Graem from the TV series 24 - a fraud powerful enough to influence the President of the USA, in regards to the latter.
Sheen mentions in interviews in the Mass Effect 2 Documentary DVD that he would not trust the Illusive Man, and that he thinks the character is a "horrible man".
While voicing lines that involved the Illusive Man smoking in cinematics, Sheen would suck on a pen to simulate smoking since he doesn't smoke.
According to The Art of the Mass Effect Universe, the Illusive Man was first intended to turn into a Reaper creature during the final battle in Mass Effect 3. Eventually, this plan was scrapped since the developers wanted to give players the satisfaction of fighting a character they know rather than a random creature, highlighting the fact that the Illusive Man's weapon is his intelligence, not his physical strength.