Michael De Santa is a millionaire loser, the oxymoronic end result of an American Dream turned night-terror. Look past the mansion, the suits and the cars, and you'll see a man confused by his own master plan. The chandelier's lights are always on, but Michael is rarely home, both figuratively and literally.
Instead, he's usually to be found sitting in an alley, head against the steering wheel, or gazing listlessly out onto the horizon. GTA 5's narrative - and its marketing - has striven to make this plain, of course. From the first trailer it's been obvious that the money is all for show, and Michael is really just an interloper in a world he thinks is his.
Most indicative of Michael's plight, however, are the various CPU-dictated vignettes that occur when you switch back to him from another character - and how the player responds to them. In the early game, he'll be hiding in his car around the corner from his house, or sitting on a park bench in the small patch of greenery left in Los Santos. In one, he's seen leaving a motel after declaring "he couldn't go through with it."
In my playthrough, at least, he still has a veneer of respectability here: suit on, sober, behind the wheel of an expensive if mundane saloon car. Another tired rich guy in a town full of them.
Later on, you're more likely to find him shirtless, sitting on the hood of a vehicle with a beer in hand and no shirt on his back. He'll probably be out in the sticks somewhere, away from the city, no doubt thinking about blowing his head off. A lot of times I thought it would make for a pretty decent - and fitting - ending if he just went the whole Cobain and did it.
Never did this seem more plausible than when I switched back to Michael to find him looking like he was about to head to a Trevor Phillips-themed fancy dress party: poorly, maybe even inappropriately, dressed; knackered-looking, like his car. Just finishing a beer. Some light rain, too, like a 90s music video.
In a similar vein to Trevor's little adventure last week, this was the nudge that I needed to go for a drive and see what happened. Not one of those 'rampage, drive-by drives', more 'man on the edge but unable to do anything about it' sort of things: the Falling Down video game that never was. Unshaven, vested, and driving a car with spinning, dollar-sign hubcaps, I'm throwing the car around wet corners on winding roads with an increasing speed, daring myself to just smash it off the side of a mountain, but somehow keeping it together. It's not long, however, until I'm roof-down in a canyon on the east side of town.
Soon, however, I'm back on the road, eventually picking up a runaway bride who wants me to take her home. If I was Trevor I probably would have sent her up the mountain to the cult, but here I acquiesce to her demand. On the way to her home in the Vinewood Hills, she's bleating about entitlement, her dad, her dad's money, getting pregnant by a Greek waiter out of spite, all this noise. It's at this moment that I realise that Michael is a punk. A driver. A chauffeur. An errand boy. Always has been. The game had been telling me that for hours now, but it wasn't the absent wife and kids - written off as selfish hangers-on by myself - or the constant donkey work for friends and accomplices - rationalised as the price of doing business.
Some Hills brat who I randomly saw running out of a church and pulled over to help, however? The actions of a textbook mug.
At the start of Michael's narrative I was always well-dressed for missions, but now, like the man himself, I couldn't care less as I'm barrelling towards the mission marker, attempting to start another raid with my FIB masters. But in doing so, I've totally wrecked the car and left it on the freeway. Worse, there's a mountain range in the way of Michael and his destination, and I foolishly try and scale it.
The mountain is endless. About halfway up Michael is exhausted, now reduced to trudging up the remainder while the sun beats down on his back. I accidentally hit LB and Michael pulls out his gun. It may be the most impotent gesture of all time. His reaction, usually, is violence. But what is he - or I, also frustrated - going to do here? Shoot the mountain to death? He looks like John McClane would if the Die Hard sequels were honest: a loser out of time.
There is, of course, no turning back. At the top of the mountain, Los Santos glinting behind him, Michael starts his descent into another argument, another life-threatening piece of action, another act of thuggery that only serves to delve him deeper into the river of shit he's trying to escape.
GTA 5's story has problems. It's sometimes too keen to beat you over the head with the points it's trying to make, often reaching for a sincerity it can't quite achieve. But it also gives the characters enough rope that, sooner rather than later, the world and the player may very well hang them.