Scott M. Sandridge

A Work in Progress

SpecMusicMuse – Mass Effect 3 Reflections, Part 2: Why I Chose “Synthesis” and why no Option is “Right” or “Wrong”

I like to first start out by saying that, unlike the IDers, I do not assume that my favorite option is the “right” option and thus, by default, the other two must mean Shepard got Indoctrinated. For one, it’s circular thinking, and I hate thinking in circles. I’d much rather keep it a relatively straight line, thank you very much.

Of course this also means that I won’t have to post a half hour long or longer vid trying to explain how the “Renegade” option of “Destroy All Synthetics” is actually the “Paragon” option in disguise. Mostly because, in Part I of my Reflections on Mass Effect 3, I showed how it can’t be Paragon. The Paragon Shepard wasn’t even willing to sabotage the Genophage cure (and thus doom the Krogan to eventual extinction) even when doing so could’ve given him the upper hand against the Reapers, so thinking that Paragon Shep at the end would be okay with the idea of committing a triple+ genocide just to kill the Reapers is way too much a stretch of logic to be sound. But Badass Renegade Shep? He would. Without thinking twice.  ‘Cause Badass Renegade Shep is all about revenge and “ruthless calculus,” even if he might feel bad about it later.

And if Badass Renegade Shepard was the type of character you were playing. If you had no trouble with backstabbing the Krogan, the Geth, or anyone else who got in your way, then Destroy is the “correct” option for your character–’cause that’s just how he rolls.

But my Shepard wasn’t a total Badass Renegade. Sure, she started out a little heavy on the Renegade end, but as I continued playing, my choices for her went more “middle of the road” by the end of Mass Effect 2, and by the end of Mass Effect 3 she was much more Paragon than Renegade. But despite the Control the Reapers option being the blue color, it didn’t exactly strike me as the Paragon thing to do – because Control destroys free will. And besides, the colors might reflect something more than just Paragon/Neutral/Renegade, as gamermd83 explains in her two-part “Beings of Light” theory:

Sure, the Reapers never had free will to begin with, but why continue the cycle?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. From this point on I’ll be getting a little esoteric on y’all’s asses, so be warned:

Anyone who can put 2+2 together and find out it equals 4 will have no doubt figured out why Commander Shepard’s last name is Shepard. In Mass Effect 2 he dies in a manner where there’s no mistake that he’s dead: by getting spaced out of an exploding Normandy SR1 in a damaged space suit to then get caught up by a nearby planet’s gravity well to end up a crispy critter upon re-entry as he plummets helplessly to the planet’s surface.

A later scene then shows Mr. Bac’n’Crisp getting rebuilt from scratch by Cerberus-modified Reaper tech courtesy of the LAZARUS Project ran by Miranda Lawson (an interesting set of names from an esoteric perspective, no?). It’s obvious that the story writers intended Shepard to be a Messianic archetype, hence why his name is Shepard (Duh!).  In fact, after a Death and Resurrection, the only thing missing for him to completely fulfill his Messianic fate is an Ascension.

So why, if “Control” and “Synthesis” means he got Indoctrinated, is “Destroy” the only option that either ends in him clearly dying, or surviving if you got the “perfect” ending, but not ascending? In the other two, he clearly undergoes some sort of energy-based transformation: either as a new “Catalyst” that now gets to Control the Reapers (who now has to figure out what to do with the damn things, but hey, he’s got eternity to figure that out now) or by becoming the very energy that synthesizes Organics with Synthetics at the molecular level, thus literally reshaping all life in the galaxy into something completely new – and in manner that doesn’t turn them into mind-controlled Reaper toys (As shown by the EDI and Joker scene at the end of the Synthesis, uh, ending).

So by that perspective, “Control” and “Synthesis” aren’t necessarily “wrong” choices. But neither is “Destroy.” In fact, there is no wrong or right choice, because all three come with some sort of sacrifice, and only one effectively breaks the cycle, hence why “Synthesis” only ends up as an option if your War Assets are high enough to get the “good” endings for either of the three choices–in other words, “Synthesis” is the only choice that doesn’t come with a “bad” ending.

“But yeah, but isn’t Synthesis what the Reapers were wanting all along?” you ask.

Except…the Reapers aren’t Synthetics….

Not really. The Reapers don’t “want” anything. They have no free will, remember? They only perform the function their creator(s) had created them to perform–to prevent the inevitability of Synthetics turning on their creators and destroying all organic life. They don’t care how it gets done so long as it gets done. Remember, the Reapers only harvest the species that have developed the means to create synthetic life, thus why they left the humans and other species alone in the last cycle, because 50,000 years ago Humans, Salarians, Asari, etc. were still far too primitive to do so.

And no, Shepard did not prove that synthetics and organics can coexist separately forever by his forging a peace with the Geth and Quarians. Organics have this bad habit of creating machines smarter and more powerful than they are and then assuming they can wipe said machines out (which, of course, is why the Reapers were created millions of years ago to begin with, remember?). So that damn annoying ghost kid was right that eventually the cycle would continue with or without the Reapers, only that in the “Destroy” option there’d no longer be any Reapers to stop the process before Organics get wiped out by their own creations (and not because Synthetics are evil, but because Organics are stupid enough to attack them).

And that’s why “Destroy” works best for Renegade Shep. After all, Renegade Shep doesn’t give a shit about ascending or moral quandaries or any of that trivial crap. As far as he’s concerned, the Reapers need destroyed, period. And if doing so requires sacrificing half the galaxy to do so, than that’s just “ruthless calculus.” The ends justify the means. In that way, Renegade Shep is no different than the Catalyst/Reapers, because to the Catalyst the ends justifies the means as well.

“But wasn’t the whole point from the beginning of the story about Shepard needing to destroy the Reapers?”

Yeah, at first. But have you ever heard the term plot twist?

And as for “Control”: my personal beef is the word, itself. It reflects a continuation of the Reapers remaining without free will. Also, that’s a whole lotta’ power for one person to control. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. And not even Paragon Shep will long resist that, especially now that he has an eternity to become corrupted by all the Reaper power. In other words, Control makes you no different than the Catalyst.

But at the end of the day, all philosophizing aside, there was essentially only one reason I picked “Synthesis”:

I loved EDI, I loved the romance between her and Joker, and I knew there’d be no way they could ever have cute little silver babies together without Synthesis. I knew that Shep’s time was over, whether he ascended or died. And surviving the “Destroy” ending doesn’t matter because once Joker discovered that Shep was responsible for the murder of the love of his life when other options had been available, then Shep was a dead man walking anyhow (“Hey Shepard! Long time no see! What? You did what!? Die, asshole!” *flies rebuilt Normandy into a star*).

But Joker and EDI? Their time had just begun. And their love for each other was a far better sign of hope than any peace of convenience forged between the Geth and Quarians. They deserved their chance. For they proved that love can conquer a problem that even the big bad Reapers with all their power could never completely solve.

They deserved Synthesis.

And more importantly, the cycle deserved to be broken.

The Reapers always went on and on about how the cycle can never be broken. And yet, with Synthesis, it was.

June 24, 2012 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SpecMusicMuse – Mass Effect 3 Reflections, Part I: My View on the “Indoctrination Theory” and why I Didn’t Choose Destruction

An article in my Elements of Storytelling column will soon go live that will give my take on where the ending went wrong on Mass Effect 3. What this blog post will instead be about is where I think the “Indoctrination Theory” is both right and wrong, and my own personal pet peeve over the IDers (as it were) insistence that the “Destroy All Synthetics” choice is the only “correct” choice.

For those not familiar with the ID theory, it is a theory that popped up on the Internet by Mass Effect fans who were trying to make sense out of a badly done ending to the storyline for the Mass Effect 3 video game. Basically, they were trying to explain, mostly to themselves, about how it really isn’t as big a screw up as had originally been thought.  Here is a video that provides the facts, in depth, that the theory is based on:

While there is certainly evidence to some amount of hallucinating going on during the ending scenes, and it’s likely that either the Reapers or perhaps the Illusive Man, himself, is attempting to “Indoctrinate” Commander Shepard before he reaches the Catalyst, I do not think the whole entire ending was just a bad dream or whatever.  It seemed to me, as I played through the ending, that what happened actually happened physically while an Indoctrination attempt was occurring. In other words, some parts are clearly hallucinations, but his confrontation with the Illusive Man and his encounter with the ghost child/Catalyst were physical, and the results of Shepard’s choice was also physical.

But I do have a bone to pick with the assumption that the “Destroy All Synthetics” option is the only “right” choice. Mainly because it is an assumption based off an assumption: that synthetics can’t have souls. Even though the storyline makes it quite clear, at least as pertaining to the Mass effect universe, that even though synthetics might not start out with souls, they can eventually develop one. The proof of this is in two highly lovable characters: Legion and EDI.

Legion is a Geth. Geth are basically colonies of AI software within a hardware chassis, and (if you manage to get the Geth and Quarians to stop trying to kill each other) you discover that the Geth are also capable of “installing” themselves into the Quarian’s (their organic creators) environmental suits, and even into the Quarian’s bodies to boost their otherwise fubarred immune systems.  There’s a reason I’m explaining that part as you’ll see later.

The thing about Legion is he sacrifices himself for his fellow Geth, but when he does so, at his last moment, he ceases to refer to himself as “we” and starts saying “I”. By doing so, he shows that even a collectivized set of software programs like the Geth can achieve individuality, or as EDI eloquently put it in a later scene: “He became a person.”

To become a person is to become a soul, because that is what a soul is: your self-awareness, your individuality, your personality.

And speaking of EDI, watch this scene and then tell me that EDI also hasn’t developed a soul of her own by this point:

Another thing that makes EDI so interesting is that she was created with Reaper technology…and yet she never ever displays any of the arrogant condescending attitude toward organics that the Reapers display in their quest to fulfill their creators’ wishes: to “save” organic life from the synthetics by, every 50,000 years, wiping out all organic civilizations that are technologically capable of creating advanced AIs.  (What brilliant person thought that silly solution up? Oh yeah….).

And now to another problem I have with the “Destroy All Synthetics” option. Considering the time period, just how many advanced life forms in the galaxy are at least partly if not half synthetic? What happens when your AI-ran pace-maker fries? Oh right….

Ya kinda just did the Reapers job for them, didn’t ya’?

Also, by killing off the Geth you just doomed (at minimum) the Quarians – unless you really screwed the pooch and ended up with either the Geth or the Quarians already wiped out. So yeah, you kill the Reapers, but also EDI, the Geth, and any Humans/Turians/Salarians/Asari with AI pace-makers/biotics enhancers/et., al. (at least in the “Bad” ending for the “Destroy” option).

Good going, you genocidal maniac. :/

And did anyone but me notice that the synthetic races were the only innocent ones out of the whole bunch? The Geth never did anything except in self defense. It was, after all, the Quarians who had started the war by trying to wipe them out. And the Geth fought defensively the whole entire time. Of the Geth “Heretics” who chose to serve the Reapers, even they did so only out of self-defense. What would you do if your own creators were attempting to genocide you and your whole kind and another more powerful group offered an alliance to save your ass?


Even the Reapers are innocent. Despite being a synthetic/organic hybrid, they have no free will of their own. Literally none. They only do what their creator(s) programmed them to do. That’s why there’s a “Control the Reapers” option (Duh!). It doesn’t matter if that is what the Illusive Man was trying to do. Because he clearly couldn’t. Why? Because you can’t control that which already has control of you. The whole reason “Control” is even an option for Shepard is because, unlike the Illusive Man, they couldn’t indoctrinate Shepard, they failed to. Hence why Shep got to meet the Catalyst – Shep being the only life form in millions of years to succeed at doing so – instead of the Illusive Man.

So congratulations: you chose to commit genocide on no less than three entire species (the Reapers, the Geth, and the Quarians) at minimum. And all while other, less genocidal options were available. Pat yourself on the back.

That’s it for Part 1. In Part 2 I’ll explain why I picked “Synthesis” over “Destroy” or “Control.” But for now, I’ll leave you with a little hint: it has to do with the name, Shepard. 😉

And here’s some ME music to enjoy:

Addendum: I just heard that the extended cut ending DLC for Mass effect 3 will be available this Tuesday.  So, pretty soon, we’ll all know what the “real” ending will be…hopefully….

June 23, 2012 Posted by | SpecMusicMuse | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments