M: Are we to call this "civilian oversight"?
MALLORY: No, we're to call this "retirement planning." Your country has only the highest respect for you and your many years of service. When your current posting is completed, you'll be awarded GCMG with full honors.
By being forced into retirement, M feels as if she's been put out to pasture. She may be old, but she isn't tired, and she will never go down without a fight.
M: You know the rules of the game. You've been playing it long enough. We both have.
BOND: Maybe too long.
M: Speak for yourself.
M may be old, but she's not giving up. She's not going down without a fight. And she and Bond have that in common.
MALLORY: Why not stay dead? You have the perfect way out. Go and live quietly somewhere. Not many field agents get to leave this cleanly. […] It's a young man's game. Look, you've been seriously injured. There's no shame in saying you've lost a step. The only shame would be not admitting it until it's too late.
Is Mallory insulting Bond here, calling him long in the tooth? Or is he challenging him, letting him know how much harder the job will get with every year Bond gets older—if he lives that long?
Q: Always makes me feel a little melancholy. A grand old warship being ignominiously hauled away for scrap. [sigh] The inevitability of time, don't you think? What do you see?
BOND: A bloody big ship.
The ship in the painting is a pretty strong metaphor for Bond, and for how Q views Bond's role in MI6. Do you think the metaphor Q makes is sailing over Bond's head? Or does he get it and fail to acknowledge it on purpose?
Q: My complexion is hardly relevant.
BOND: Well, your competence is.
Q: Age is no guarantee of efficiency.
BOND: And youth is no guarantee of innovation.
Q and Bond get into a brief but heated debate about age vs. experience. Q thinks Bond is old and tired, while Bond thinks Q is young and incompetent. Both men may be right in their own narrow-minded ways: Bond couldn't hack into a computer system any more than Q could accurately fire a gun. The mutual ageism isn't winning either man any points with the other.
BOND: A gun...and a radio. Not exactly Christmas, is it?
Q: Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don't really go in for that anymore.
Oddly, as much as Bond and Q talk about innovation, Bond's "gadgets" in this film are two of the lowest-tech of them all. Maybe Q doesn't trust Grandpa Bond with anything more advanced?
BOND: Well, I like to do some things the old-fashioned way. Sometimes the old ways are the best.
Bond shaves with a straight razor, which would be pretty hipstery if Bond hadn't proved himself to be so old-fashioned already. He probably listens only to vinyl and makes his own mayonnaise, too.
M: Oh, standing in the stocks at midday? Who's antiquated now?
M is also dealing with being a person of a certain age in a modern world. However, just because people spend 17 hours a day staring at screens, that doesn't mean we've moved away from tried-and-true forms of punishment, like public humiliation.
M: Take the shot. [pause] I said take the shot.
EVE: I can't! I may hit Bond.
M: Take the bloody shot!
For Bond, M's order is a double betrayal. Not only did M put his life in danger by ordering Eve to take a risky shot, but also, by ordering Eve to take the shot, M is showing a lack of confidence in Bond's abilities. She doesn't think he can recover the data on his own.
M: Oh, we've sold your flat, put your things into storage. Standard procedure on the death of an unmarried employee with no next of kin. You should have called.
M comes across as petty here, but she really did think Bond was dead. She didn't sell his stuff just to spite him.
TANNER: I didn't know Bond passed the tests.
M: He didn't.
M's response comes off as a moment of levity here, breaking the tension after a serious situation. But we'll later learn that her lying is no laughing matter: she may have thought she was helping Bond, but her actions almost get him killed.
BOND: I made my own choices.
SILVA: [laughs] You think you did. That's her genius.
Silva wants to convince Bond that M has been manipulating him from the beginning. Do you think he has a point? Technically, M is Bond's boss, so she does make his choices for him. But does that mean Bond's not thinking for himself at all?
SILVA: You're still clinging to your faith in that old woman. When all she does is lie to you. […] What is this if not betrayal? She sent you after me knowing you're not ready, knowing you'll likely die. Mommy was very bad!
Now we see why Silva is playing the betrayal angle. He feels betrayed himself, and he thinks that if he can convince Bond that he was betrayed, too, then Bond will help him and turn against M. He makes the mistake of thinking that Bond is like him, when the two men couldn't be more different in some important ways.
SILVA: They kept me for five months in a room with no air. They tortured me. And I protected your secrets. I protected you. But they made me suffer. And suffer. And suffer. Until I realized it was you who betrayed me. You betrayed me. So, I had only one thing left. My cyanide capsule in my back left molar. You remember, right? So I broke the tooth and bit into the capsule. And it...it burned all my insides. But I didn't die. Life clung to me like a disease. And then I understood why I had survived. I needed to look in your eyes one last time.
Now we get a clear picture as to why Silva feels betrayed, and we almost feel sorry for the guy. What he went through was harrowing and painful, and that's not even counting the emotional turmoil caused by his feelings of betrayal by M. We'd like to say that it wasn't personal, just like it wasn't personal when M ordered Eve to shoot and possibly kill Bond. But M actually did turn Silva in, because she didn't trust him anymore. It was personal. Maybe he has a reason for hurt feelings.
M: Your name is on the memorial wall of the very building you attacked. I will have it struck off. Soon your past will be as nonexistent as your future. I'll never see you again.
Silva feels betrayed, and M makes no effort to make it up to him. Instead, she sticks her finger in his wound and twists when she tells him that she will erase any memory of him. To cause someone not exist is the ultimate betrayal of that person. It's another irony, too, considering how much effort Silva has made to live off the grid. But he doesn't see it that way.
BOND: I'm stabilizing Ronson.
M: We don't have the time.
BOND: I have to stop the bleeding!
M: Leave him!
This exchange gives us our first glimpse at M's priorities—the data, and her country, over the lives of individual agents. The agents who live, like Bond and Silva, resent M for her decisions. Bond is able to get over it, but Silva cannot, and the entire plot of this movie revolves around his attempt at payback.
M: I made a judgment call.
BOND: You should have trusted me to finish the job.
M: It was the possibility of losing you or the certainty of losing all those other agents. I made the only decision I could and you know it.
BOND: I think you lost your nerve.
M: What do you expect, a bloody apology?
M and Bond argue over who they should be loyal to—the country or the agents. As an agent, Bond wants to be on the side of his comrades. But M has the bigger picture to think of, and sometimes she must sacrifice her agents in the name of loyalty to her country.
M: Because we're under attack. And you know we need you.
Even though Bond was almost killed because of M's decision, he returns to work for MI6. Why? It isn't because he needs the paycheck. He returns to work out of loyalty to his country.
M: Find out who he works for and who has the list. Then terminate him, for Ronson.
Here M demonstrates that she isn't the heartless old bat some may have thought her to be. Even Bond may have thought that, temporarily. She has sacrificed an agent for the greater cause, but she feels a sense of loyalty to that agent's memory.
M: I fucked this up, didn't I?
BOND: No. You did your job.
Bond and M come to a point of forgiveness when Bond realizes that M's loyalty to England is greater than anything else in her life. Bond knows he can't take it personally if he's second banana to Mother England.
MALLORY: Are you ready to get back to work?
BOND: With pleasure, M. With pleasure.
After M's death, her Union Jack-covered dog is passed to Bond. This gift—and the memory of M in general—is an incentive for Bond to take up her mantle and fight for England at any cost…as if he weren't doing enough already.
M: I'm not an idiot, Mallory. I know I can't do this job forever, but I'll be damned if I'm going to leave the department in worse shape than I found it.
M's national pride bleeds over into her job as protector of her nation. She knows she has done a wonderful job keeping her country secure for years, and she isn't going to let anyone take her down for one mistake.
MALLORY: M, you've had a great run. You should leave with dignity.
M: Oh, to hell with dignity. I'll leave when the job's done.
This line is heavier than M could ever have imagined. The "job" in this case is done when Silva is dead. And soon after Silva dies at the end of the movie, M also dies. It's not exactly the exit she was planning, but did she end up going out with dignity, after all?
M: Chairman, Ministers. Today I've repeatedly heard how irrelevant my department has become. Why do we need agents? The Double-O section? Isn't it all rather quaint? Well, I suppose I see a different world than you do. And the truth is that what I see frightens me. I'm frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map. They're not nations. They are individuals. Look around you. Who do you fear? Can you see a face? A uniform? A flag? No. Our world is not more transparent now. It's more opaque. It's in the shadows. That's where we must do battle. So, before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves, how safe do you feel?
M feels confident that her department can keep the country safe. Unfortunately, Silva shows up a few minutes after this brave speech to pop her pride, and to pop a cap in her. How safe do you feel, indeed?
M: I've just one more thing to say. My late husband was a great lover of poetry. And, um...I suppose some of it sunk in, despite my best intentions. And here today I remember this, I think from Tennyson: "We are not now that strength, which in old days moved earth and heaven. That which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield."
In one of the boldest moments in the film, M delivers a patriotic and passionate speech about her country, using a quote from one of England's greatest poets. She admires England's bravery, and she plans on standing up for it. Within a few seconds, Silva breaks in with a gun, and M has to walk the walk after talking the rhyming talk. And she does it: she totally stares Silva down.
M: Too many people are dying because of me.
However patriotic and prideful M may be, she still feels a bit of personal guilt over her actions. She has realized that maybe she's been a little too ruthless in her quest to keep England a world power. It takes a lot for M to admit that perhaps she did something wrong.
BOND: You hurt?
M: Only my pride. I never was a good shot.
Marksmanship is often shown as a source of pride—sometimes injured pride—during Skyfall. Earlier in the film, Bond also has difficulty making a few key shots, and a key factor in his regaining of his own pride is becoming a sharper shot.
M: I did get one thing right.
In the end, it seems that M's pride may have all been a façade. She expresses a lot of shame right before her death, implying that yes, she is proud of Bond, but she also believes that everything else in her career may have been one huge mistake. It's a sad way to go.