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AngryFrozenWater

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Synopsis: In this ME3 ending theory I'll have a look at in-game evidence that supports the reasoning behind the three main options, without the need to use "plot holes" and "bad writing" as an excuse. At least I try to. I also look at the Intelligence's search for a solution and how the Crucible came to be.

That doesn't mean it is free from criticism, though. BW has chosen to destroy the Milky Way setting in the ending and ME:A was the only way to get out of this mess, although I wont get into that. Another point of criticism is the inevitability of the organic/synthetic conflict, which doesn't seem to be inevitable at all. I do get into that one, but I leave it at that, otherwise the whole theory of the Intelligence falls apart. In some parts of this post hand waving is required, if we want to take the Intelligence seriously. Also, ME is a space opera and not hard science fiction. So some suspension of disbelieve is required.

In the conclusion I note why the ending feels tacked onto the rest of the story. If you remove the game parts that obviously feel like they were added later to make the ending work, then the "artistic integrity" falls apart.


-----

0. Introduction.

The ME3-ending is without a doubt the most controversial title in the Mass Effect series. That ending feels totally detached from the rest of the story. The result is that most fans were not prepared to look at it in-depth.

I've tried to look at it more seriously several times. The EC didn't make that easier, though. The EC is just more of the same and doesn't address the criticism of the detachment. BW's refuse option in the ending looks like a middle finger to the fans, who wanted the ending to integrate with the story.

The Leviathan DLC was BW's attempt to give a background to the ending. For many it came too late and it felt much like damage control to make sense of the ending. Besides that, it was hidden behind a pay wall. However, to me it succeeded to make at least some sense of the ending. More about that later.

For those who have the From Ashes DLC, Javik's view added more to make the ending a bit more believable. At least he repeats the Intelligence rhetoric over and over again. At the same time he also made the player doubt the Catalyst's intentions and thus he gave more fuel to the fire. Again, more about that later.

My thoughts about the ending changed several times over the years. Now that the dust has settled after BW decided to let BSN go up in flames to get rid of the criticism they've caused themselves, I think it's time to revisit the ending once more.

The idea is to use in-game evidence to make sense of the ending. Proof cannot be found, because the game is designed to allow multiple interpretations. However, a long string of in-game evidence can make a believable rationale that's better than "plot holes" and "bad writing". In this thread I try to prevent using those last two to make sense of the ending.

That doesn't mean that I'm OK with the genocide and eugenics themes that run throughout the games. No matter how well the stories around individual squad members and NPCs were, and no matter how well some of the missions were, those themes were emphasized in the ending. It resulted in that I just shoot the tube, no matter how the ending is supposed to make sense. Although I won't mention it again here, bad writing is just that and it cannot be overlooked. BW's days of writing great ME stories seem to be over.

I like to give credit to Vigilant111, who over the years kept criticizing my previous attempts (by playing the devil's advocate) and was supportive to help creating fantastic screenshots to find in-game evidence for the latest theory. On many occasions he added to it. Thanks. I appreciate it.

And last but not least, a special thanks to BansheeOwnage, who created a brilliant illustration.


-----

1. Finding a solution to the organic/synthetic conflict.

In ME3 we are confronted with the alleged organic/synthetic conflict.

Shepard: I need to stop the reapers. Do you know how I can do that?

Child: Perhaps. I control the reapers. They are my solution.

Shepard: Solution? To what?

Child: Chaos. The created will always rebel against their creators.


Note: Whenever I mention the "organic/synthetic conflict" in this post then I refer to the above.

It then continues to explain that somehow cyclical genocide is beneficial to its cause.

If you examine what happens to the known synthetic species then that conflict is not so obvious and certainly not inevitable. I'll return to that in section 4. For now, let's forget it.

Often those who criticize the ending mention that the cyclical harvests were the solution to the organic/synthetic conflict and that therefor having the control and destroy options don't make sense. I was one of them, but if you look at what is actually given in the game then these two options do make sense. To see that I first have to look at some "history".

The leviathans created an intelligence that was supposed to solve their problem.

Leviathan: Before the cycles, our kind was the apex of life in the galaxy. The lesser species were in our thrall, serving our needs. We grew more powerful, and they were cared for. But we could not protect them from themselves. Over time, the species built machines that then destroyed them. Tribute does not flow from a dead race. To solve this problem, we created an intelligence with the mandate to preserve life at any cost. As the Intelligence evolved, it studied the development of civilizations. It's understanding grew until it found a solution. In that instant it betrayed us. It chose our kind as the first harvest. From our essence, the first reaper was created. You call it Harbinger.


There are some gems in the leviathan's statements above. The first is that the leviathans were not interested in the survival of the organics in general. Instead they were interested in the survival of those organics that could be used as thralls to pay tribute to them. The second is that the Intelligence was not given the task to execute the cyclical harvests. Instead it was given the task to study the problem. The above suggest that the harvest were the solution, but later we learn that this is not the case.

Leviathan: To find a solution, it required information - physical data drawn from organic life in the cosmos. It created an army of pawns that searched the galaxy, gathering this data. There was no warning, no reason given when they turned against us. Only slaughter. Only the harvest.


Again, it looks like the cyclical harvests were the solution that the Intelligence was looking for. However, the leviathan noticed that this appeared to be a temporary solution:

Shepard: But what's the point of all these harvests?

Leviathan: The Intelligence has one purpose: preservation of life. That purpose has not been fulfilled. It directed the reapers to create the mass relays - to speed the time between cycles for greatest efficiency. The galaxy itself became an experiment. Evolution its tool.

Shepard: Will it ever end?

Leviathan: Unknown. Until the Intelligence finds what it is looking for, the harvest will continue.


The above suggests that the Intelligence was still looking for another solution. According to the leviathan, the Intelligence considered the cyclical harvests nothing but an experiment and evolution a tool.

That the cyclical genocides have a purpose don't make them less cringeworthy.

-----

2. The ideal solution.

In the ME3 ending the Intelligence turned out to be the Catalyst, a.k.a. the Child, which is supposed to be one with the Citadel. When its hologram describes the three options, it recommends synthesis as the best one. In fact it views it to be "inevitable" and it would end the organic/synthetic conflict. As noted before, it was using the cycles as an on-going experiment to find a better solution. Synthesis is supposed to be the ideal solution.

Child: It is the ideal solution. Now that we know it is possible, it is inevitable we will reach synthesis.


That's probably the most important statement in the ending. It apparently found what it was looking for. Synthesis, the "ideal solution". The Intelligence doesn't know that some leviathans survived and are hiding somewhere in the galaxy. So it presents its finding to a member of the surviving species: Shepard.

Now the three choices make sense. It doesn't need the cyclical harvest any more, which was a duct tape solution, but also served as an experiment. The experiment is finished. An ideal solution has been found and Shepard can do with it what he or she wants.

The intelligence offers synthesis now. It's like "I think it's the best solution. Take it if you want to."

It is even willing to hand over control. It's much like "If you want to find a better solution then I'll offer you my resources. I don't need them anymore. Good luck."

It does not care if you select the destroy option, either. It found the ideal solution. So there is no reason for its existence anymore. It will warn you that the conflict between organics and synthetics will return eventually. It's a way of saying "Don't believe me? Good luck."

The Intelligence finished its task: That task was to find a solution for the conflict. It found the ideal one. So its job is done. There is no need for its existence anymore. It looks like the binary logic of a good ol' computer program. By finding the solution, the program ended.

The three options are explained by the Catalyst as if it knew all the ins and outs. It not only knows about its history, it also knows what each option is supposed to do. It acts like the perfect tour guide that shows Shepard around the three platforms.

The Intelligence claims that synthesis is the ideal solution because of the following:

Child: Organics seek perfection through technology. Synthetics seek perfection through understanding. Organics will be perfected by fully integrating with technology. Synthetics, in turn, will have full understanding of organics.


That sounds much like a solution that would work if all organics like to become more like synthetics and all synthetics would like to become more like organics. The "all" is the problem, because synthesis forces all organics and synthetics to fuse in that way. There is no "please, count me out" and why this would make anyone happy from one minute to the next is mind boggling. It's like Utopia in a tin can. Open it and the galaxy's organic/synthetic conflict disappears like snow in the sun, because we have become, without asking anybody for permission, hybrids. But I don't want to be a party pooper, so I let this one go.

It would help if there was some evidence that the Intelligence was looking for something like synthesis before. There is some. The Catalyst tells you that it did after explaining what synthesis is supposed to be:

Shepard: Why couldn't you do it sooner?

Child: We have tried... a similar solution in the past. But it has always failed.


It does not deny its involvement in synthesis. It merely tells Shepard that its eugenic experiments failed in the past.

-----

3. The Crucible.

The function of the Crucible is defined as a power source.

Shepard: What do you know about the Crucible?

Child: The device you refer to as the Crucible is little more than a power source. However, in combination with the Citadel and the relays, it is capable of releasing tremendous amounts of energy throughout the galaxy. It is crude but effective and adaptive in its design.

Shepard: Who designed it?

Child: You would not know them, and there is not enough time to explain. We first noticed the concept for the device several cycles ago. With each passing cycle, the design has no doubt evolved.


At this point Shepard asks a very important question:

Shepard: Why didn't you stop it?

Child: We believed that the concept had been eradicated. Clearly, organics are more resourceful than we realized.


There is a problem with the above answer. It appears that the Crucible had little to do with the platforms that contain the three options. Yet, the Catalyst claims that the Crucible, the Citadel and the mass relays were required to do its work. So, let's see what's going on with that in the rest of this section.

Vendetta seems to backup the claim that many cycles worked on it:

Prothean VI: The Crucible is not of prothean design. It is the work of countless galactic cycles stretching back millions of years. Each cycle adds to it. Each improves upon it. Thus far, none have successfully defeated the reapers with it.


We also know that the Crucible can generate three kinds of energy beams. One for destroy, one for control and one for synthesis. That's most likely the reason why the Catalyst calls it "effective and adaptive in its design".

We don't know who designed it, but we do know that many cycles added to its design. Vendetta says the following about it:

Prothean VI: The plans for the Crucible were passed down to us from the previous cycle, and countless cycles before that. At some point (it is difficult to pinpoint when) the Crucible plans adapted to incorporate the use of the Catalyst.


The above provides a major clue. In order to make the Crucible do its magic, as we learn later, it has to interface with the Citadel, which is part of the Catalyst.

From ME1 we know that the reapers plant technology to be found by species as a means to evolve civilizations along the paths they desire. There is no direct evidence that the Intelligence has planted (parts of) the design of the Crucible, but we do know that reapers are mainly designed for warfare and are not capable of using tools themselves and require others to do their work. They even require others to do the harvesting, like the collectors in ME2 show. There is also no evidence of the reapers boycotting the Crucible. In fact, if the Intelligence wanted to Crucible to be build, it required others to build it, because the reapers were not capable of creating it on their own. If the reapers really wanted the Crucible to be destroyed they all could simply join to blow it out of space like a flame of a candle.

The Catalyst continues to convince Shepard that whatever goes into that design, that it was intended to work the way it does and that it condones it:

Shepard: But you're taking away our future. Without a future, we have no hope. Without hope... we might as well be machines programmed to do as we're told.

Child: You have hope... More than you think. The fact that you're standing here, the first organic ever, proves it.


So, it clearly knows about the existence of the platforms. It not only condones the existence of the structures, it approves them. Whenever the Citadel has been damaged the keepers repair it, but they don't seem to object to the platforms. And because the Citadel is part of the Catalyst, it must know about any alterations made to it. If it didn't approve those then it would have them removed.

Child: Wake up.

Shepard: Shepard: What? Where am I?

Child: The Citadel. It's my home.

Shepard: Who are you?

Child: I am the Catalyst.

Shepard: I thought the Citadel was the Catalyst.

Child: No. The Citadel is part of me.


As a matter of fact, the three platforms seem to be build on the Citadel. The following screenshots (made by Vigilant111) show that:



Also, we know that the Crucible has to interface with the Citadel, before it can do its magic. That requires docking in such a way that the Crucible lines up perfectly with the Citadel. Here's a video which shows how that works:



Now notice the position of the Citadel. Not only has its beam towards the surface been turned off, the Citadel has turned. It aligned its position before the Crucible docked, in such a way that it allowed the Crucible to fire its beam to the mass relay.

I've never noticed that before, but BansheeOwnage saw that something was off when you look at the position of the Earth when Shepard stands on the platform. Here's her drawing:



She noticed that Shepard turned upside down on the platforms. However, that turned out to be not the case. Instead, the Citadel itself turned just before Shepard was lifted as a dead Jesus to the platforms. That little information gave birth to a clue that I didn't consider before:

The Catalyst must have known that the Citadel needed to be fired before the Crucible docked, otherwise the video doesn't make sense. So, now we know there is the intent to allow the use of the Crucible even before docking.

-----

4. Criticism.

For the player it is hard to swallow that there even is an organic/synthetic conflict.

When the quarians turned their VI robots into AI beings, the quarians didn't know how fast they could switch those beings off. When Shepard visited the geth consensus, Shepard could witness the events as told by the geth. That didn't contradict what Tali told us and what we know from the codex. The Morning War that followed was not initiated by the geth, so it wasn't an uprising, a revolt, nor a rebellion. They just defended themselves against genocide. The geth made sure that they didn't exterminate their creators and left behind the Perseus Veil in the Terminus Systems. They stayed there for three centuries.

The geth that we fought in ME turned out to be heretics, a group of geth, which were contaminated by a reaper virus that caused them to take the side of the reapers. Again these heretics were not rebelling against their creators. Instead they were forced against their will to fight organics.

Javik mentions the zha'til while at the geth dreadnought.

Shepard: Look, the signal's hitting all geth processes. The reapers have them completely under control.

Javik: In my cycle, a race called the zha used machines, the zha'til, as synthetic symbiotes. The reapers subjugated the zha'til as they have the geth. Their mechanical swarms blotted out the sky. They were brutal, merciless.

Liara: The protheans were the most advanced species of that era. How did your people counter that attack?

Javik: We sent their star into a supernova.

Liara: Oh.

Javik: My people did not rule the galaxy with pleasant words.


Once again, it was no rebellion of any kind. Instead, a synthetic species was brought under reaper control to make them fight against organics.

Those are the two synthetic species that we know of, which both fought organics against their will. That makes it very hard for those who pay attention to generalize the "inevitable" organic/synthetic conflict.

The third are the Intelligence and its pawns which created Harbinger, the very first reaper, in the image of their creators. This is the only instance that we know of where the synthetics turned against their creators en masse and betrayed them. Isn't that ironic?

The problem with the Intelligence believing in the inevitability of synthetics wanting to trump organics is the generalization. Our observations show that the inevitability is not there and it also shows that the Intelligence is even forcing synthetics to fight organics by infecting some of the geth with a virus that caused that behavior. It did something similar to the zha'til.

The Intelligence probably thinks that every civilization wants to rule over another, just like their creators did, or that they at least want to compete. However, we already know in real life by just looking at how nature works, that there is also a mechanism that supports the coexistence theory.

The geth are again a good example of that. They ended the Morning War and didn't exterminate the quarians. In fact, they didn't populate Rannoch and instead cleaned up the mess that was created by the war on that planet. Even if the geth didn't understand why they left the quarians alone, it would make sense. They're not using the same resources and don't have the same goals. So, the defeat was enough and there would be no reason to exterminate their creators.

In short: If that conflict is supposed to be inevitable and it doesn't match the observations then for all intents and purposes the conflict is not inevitable. However, when I would start with that, then there would be no need to write the article. So assume that I didn't write section 4. ;)

-----

5. Conclusion.

From all the above it seems that the cyclical genocides were just a duct tape solution until a permanent solution was found. These also turned out to be an evolution experiment and most likely were used to find the final solution. That ideal solution, synthesis, required several eugenic experiments, which all failed, to make the one presented to Shepard work.

I don't know about you, but I think this is a very sick story, and one which is not in line with the space opera heritage of anything that leads to the ending.

It all feels tacked on later in the development cycle: The kid at the start in the air ducts. The scene where it is supposed to die and Shepard's "emotional problem" with that. Shepard's dreams. The ending. The Leviathan DLC and the From Ashes DLC.

All those feel detached from the rest of the game. These do make the ending coherent, but without those the ending doesn't make any sense. So far the "artistic integrity".

-----

Note: If you're wondering what the edits are about then don't be alarmed: It's the work of the devil's advocate. ;)

-----

Currently, this is as far as I can go with a ME3 ending theory that is not based on head-canon.

What do you think?
Last edited by AngryFrozenWater on Sat Aug 27, 2016 6:28 am, edited 7 times in total.
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#2
To correct the ending of Mass Effect 3, you have to rewrite Mass Effect 2 entirely and major portions of Mass Effect 3. There really isn't another solution to this problem. The existing endings actually are fine when viewed in isolation from the rest of the trilogy, and the rest of the trilogy is fine when viewed without the endings, but to reconcile the two requires major rewrites of the second and third game. I suggest reading "Mass Effect Retrospective" by Shamus Young.
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Fexelea

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#3
Well it took me a while to get the time to read this, but I am honestly, sincerely, impressed by the depth of analysis. I know you had called the synthesis way before it happened (I remember our PMs from years ago!) and I love to see how you have tied it all together (or not).

I do think that the disappointment in the ending came from changes in the vision of the development team, and inevitably the realization that the series didn't have an "end" - as much as it needed one.
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Fexelea wrote:Well it took me a while to get the time to read this, but I am honestly, sincerely, impressed by the depth of analysis. I know you had called the synthesis way before it happened (I remember our PMs from years ago!) and I love to see how you have tied it all together (or not).

I do think that the disappointment in the ending came from changes in the vision of the development team, and inevitably the realization that the series didn't have an "end" - as much as it needed one.

Thanks for the praise. :)

And the rep. :>

Yes. I agree. It is as if the ending was written by a totally different team of writers, who forgot to read the rest of the ME scripts. That's why it feels tacked on, like I describe in the post.

The reapers were always a problem. Even in ME1. We initially saw only Sovereign, but that one was extremely hard to destroy by conventional means. Then just before the credits of ME2 we saw a swarm of them. Although that was a nice cinematic, it became clear there was no way that a fleet could defeat them. If, for the sake of argument, a cycle produces one reaper then their power would be unrealistically strong.

Because of the above, I think BW had a hard time dreaming up an ending. ME3 felt like it was heading toward a huge battle, involving all species, in the style of a space opera, but instead we got this, deus ex style ABC-ending, which we were promised not to get. Sigh.
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#5
I think your conclusion is fairly on the money. If we take the various things mentioned in the rest of your post to make sense in the way you describe, this is indeed a very dark and sickening twist that's extremely incongruous with the rest of the story.

I quite like your analysis of the Catalyst/Child in part 2. It never made sense to me why Shepard should trust this being when it could have stopped so much suffering and didn't. And it also never made sense to me that the being would arbitrarily hand over the choice to Shepard. But presenting it as it the Catalyst's job was to work out a solution in the abstract, rather than necessarily implement it practically, sort of helps with that.

Thanks for a very well thought out post.
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This is a pretty impressive analysis, would you have any interest putting content together for the blog? We could really use more from the Mass Effect universe.
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Emergence wrote:This is a pretty impressive analysis, would you have any interest putting content together for the blog? We could really use more from the Mass Effect universe.


Meet Emergence, our blog editor. He'll be nagging everyone to make things for the blog. Listen to him, he has cookies.
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Emergence wrote:This is a pretty impressive analysis, would you have any interest putting content together for the blog? We could really use more from the Mass Effect universe.

If this turns into a blog then
  • Can I make changes later (that happens often in my walls of text)?
  • Do I have control over the synopsis in the generated forum post?
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Here's the answer to your second question. If you create a custom excerpt for your article, WordPress will not create an excerpt from the first few dozen words. Your custom excerpt will then be the contents of the cross-post to here.
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Dion wrote:Here's the answer to your second question. If you create a custom excerpt for your article, WordPress will not create an excerpt from the first few dozen words. Your custom excerpt will then be the contents of the cross-post to here.

Cool. Thanks. :)

People often don't read more than an intro and if that is cut-off in the forum post then you'll get weird replies. ;)
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