If there’s something I’ve discovered through my re-playing of the Mass Effect trilogy with your friend and mine, Ellen R. Shepard, blowing everything up is always the best option when confronted with a choice. This isn’t just because cool guys don’t look at explosions, but because sometimes you just have to take off and nuke the place from orbit, as it’s the only way to be sure.
Spoilers after the link, so anyone who doesn’t want to know – or if you’re tired of hearing about this goddamn game – feel free to go look at kittens doing adorable things or something.
There’s been much ado about the three endings available in ME3, especially since doors numbered One through Three all let out into the same room, just in a different color, but the choice of Control, Synthesis, or Destruction actually leave you with just one viable option: blowing the ever-loving fuck out of everything.
While I’m not going to discuss BioWare/EA’s execution of the ending, as I’ve already done that, I am going to make a case that choosing to blow everything to Hell is the path to the “best” ending after realizing that the other two options are representations of the choices major antagonists in the series have tried and failed. The connection between The Illusive Man and the Control choice is obvious, as it’s indicated that TIM’s goals lie directly along that path explicitly by both The Catalyst and by TIM himself, but the Synthesis choice, which has been touted as the “best” ending because you can only access it if your Galactic Readiness rating is high enough, is nowhere near an ideal resolution upon a closer examination.
I’ve been playing through the first Mass Effect once again, where the control-or-destroy theme is solidly introduced and then reinforced through side missions like “Signal Tracking,” where you can discover an AI on the Citadel. Once confronted, the AI literally says that “organics will always seek to either control or destroy synthetics,” proving that at least someone on the Mass Effect 3 writing staff didn’t have their head up their ass, but more importantly leading to a discovery that the theme of seeking Synthesis between organics and synthetics is explored in the first game through the actions of Saren Arterius, the rogue Spectre that allies himself with Sovereign.
In the confrontation Shepard has with Saren on the planet Virmire, the turian explains that the Reapers cannot be stopped. “The only hope of survival is to join with them,” Saren says. Forging an alliance between synthetics and organics, or reaching a synthesis between the two, is the only way to save lives in the face of an invasion, he continues. Later on, during the final confrontation on the Citadel, Saren has gone full retard by allowing Sovereign to implant him with Reaper tech, reaching what he calls a”symbiotic” relationship where synthetic and organic are completely intertwined. “I am a vision of the future,” Saren proclaims, and I immediately think of the Synthesis ending for ME3 where all organic life in the galaxy is shown as having integrated circuitry within them, whether it be plant or animal life.
Is this what Sovereign showed Saren’s indoctrinated mind when he submitted himself to implantation? Does the turian look down and see himself as the first to break the cycle by uniting himself with the Reapers and working to extend that unification to the rest of the galaxy, whether or not they agree to it? How is this any different than Shepard pulling a Tron and jumping into the giant beam of green-tinged light in the Synthesis ending, forcing the entire galaxy into a “symbiotic” relationship with synthetics? Sure, Shepard isn’t indoctrinated like Saren (or is he? Tinfoil hatters disagree on this one), but he’s still making decisions for the entire god damned galaxy – just as Saren sought to do.
If Saren represents the Synthesis choice – a choice that was demonstrated in the first ME game to be doomed to fail – and with TIM representing the Control choice (another thumbs-down there, despite the blue-tinged ending that otherwise indicates a Paragon choice), the only remaining option is Destruction, represented by Admiral Anderson in the Catalyst’s vision, thus leading me to state that, once again, blowing everything up is the correct choice.
A lot of people have a serious problem with this choice, as it’s not just the Reapers that would be destroyed in this case, but all synthetic life – including EDI and the geth. For someone who played the game through making the kinds of choices that result in the geth and the quarians coming to a détente and bringing synthetics into the fold against the Reaper threat, this choice feels like anathema, which doubtlessly turn people off from it and leave them with two flavors of the same “bad” choice – but think about this: who says the Catalyst isn’t trying one last time to fuck with Shepard?
Regardless of where you stand on the whole Indoctrination Theory with ME3’s ending, there’s no reason for the Catalyst to work with Shepard in a straightforward manner. Remember, this is a force that has been in direct control of the Reapers for untold millions of years, working tirelessly to keep the cycle intact; why trust that it’s giving Shepard – and by extension, the player – honest answers? It’s in the Catalyst’s best interests to try one last time to throw a spanner in the works, and it could accomplish that by pulling a classic bait-and-switch on Shepard, leading players to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Why else would the Catalyst appear in the guise of the young boy that Shepard failed to rescue on Earth, a boy that has appeared in the protagonist’s dreams throughout ME3 as Shepard is wracked with guilt over those that he was unable to save, if not to keep him off-balance and make it easier to be manipulated?
Furthermore (and I realize that I’ve got my tinfoil hat on at this point) who says that the entity Shepard confronts within the Citadel is even the Catalyst? Should we believe it simply because that’s who it says it is? What if it’s Harbinger fucking with Shepard one last time in a last-ditch effort to win?
If you ask me, the one person that can truly be referred to as any kind of catalyst is Shepard himself – he’s the one who has been instrumental in changing the path of the galaxy, in disrupting the cycle once and for all, and if anyone deserves the title it’s him, not some Ghost Kid that claims to be King of the Reapers. I’ll be interested to see if this pans out once BioWare/EA releases their follow-up to ME3’s ending in the form of DLC – meanwhile, I’m fully planning to have Commander Ellen Shepard blow the fuck out of those synthetic bastards.