I know I've been talking about doing these for a while now, but I finally got the chance to sit down and write for myself a few days ago. I'm glad, too...because I've really missed it! I hope you enjoy these. ~Sky
Over the next few weeks, I will be posting a blog series about my analysis of the ending options in Mass Effect 3 in terms of why I did or did not choose that ending for my canon Shepard. I will take a look at what the choice was like in the original ending, and how it was edited in the Extended Cut DLC. Then, I will proceed to explain the benefits and drawbacks of this particular choice. Then I will go on to explain why this ending is not my chosen “canon” ending. I hope you enjoy reading this blog series, whether you like the ending or not!
Throwback: The Original Version
In the original endings, the Catalyst offers you a third option alternative to destroying the Reapers - and subsequently, all synthetic life - or Controlling them, as the Illusive Man wanted to do. The Catalyst said that if you added your energy to the Crucible’s beam, you could transform all life into hybrids. Because you are partially synthetic, only your physiology can make this happen. He explains that the cycle of synthetics rebelling against their creators could finally end through this fusion, because synthetics and organics would understand each other. This choice would kill Shepard regardless of EMS or previous decisions made. It wasn’t clear how this synthesis actually happens, just that Shepard’s atoms are spread to the wind and it somehow transforms everyone in the galaxy via the Crucible’s energy surging through the mass relays. You see the consequence of your action in the form of a green energy wave washing over the galaxy; the Reapers leave of their own accord, and the Normandy survivors sport glowing green veins and eyes. Joker and EDI share a meaningful cuddle. That’s about it.
After the Extended Cut
The first most noticeable change/addition to this ending in the Extended Cut DLC was that you could challenge the Catalyst on the ethics of making such an enormous choice for the rest of the galaxy. He counters with, “Synthetics are a part of you, could you imagine your life without them?” (Uh, yeah...it was called Mass Effect 1.) This was the same comment he made in a similar vein in the original endings, though I don’t believe it was in reference to Synthesis, it was in reference to Destroy when you are told wiping out the Reapers would also wipe out all synthetics. The Catalyst also explains the choice in more detail, as he does with all the others in the Extended Cut.
What was added, which I found interesting and will discuss in a later segment, was the fact the Catalyst admits to trying this solution before, but it didn’t work because “organics weren’t ready.” He believes this is the final and ultimate evolutionary state for all life, the final end to the cycle.
The Extended Cut DLC still does not adequately explain how Shepard and the Crucible’s energy are employed to actually make synthesis work, though. It is still “space magic,” as the popularly-coined phrase goes. However, in the epilogue, EDI explains that the Reaper code has begun to change everyone’s RNA, making the fusion possible. Again, it’s not explained very well, but there is at least more to it...there’s even a cool little animation showing a strand of RNA changing things up as it “evolves.”
EDI explains how the fusion has allowed a greater understanding, a level of awareness that wasn’t there before for either synthetics or organics. She claims that not only can they rebuild, they can surpass the apex of their own previous civilizations. EDI herself shows real - not simulated - emotion over the death of Shepard, a loss no one will ever forget.
Synthesis, it seems, is the perfect solution. Or is it?
Strengths of Both
It is pretty obvious from the get-go that this is BioWare’s idea of the ultimate paragon ending for the Mass Effect franchise. The Catalyst tries to sell you this choice like he’s selling ketchup popsicles to a woman in white gloves. You get the survival of as many people as possible, and they seem to be very happy moving forward. This is the only ending that seems like it will break the cycle the Reapers were made to prevent. It all feels like the right thing to do: sacrifice yourself for the good of the many. Bring life to a final stage of evolution that wouldn’t be possible without you.
But as Mike Alvarez (Awesomologist) says on the HTL podcasts, often what you feel is the right thing to do is not what you actually should do.
Weaknesses of Neither
There are a lot of questions that go along with this ending. How in the hell does it even work? How can we be sure this will actually work in the long run? How does this affect the way we reproduce? Does this require genetic homogenization? Will we all be linked together in some kind of hive mind? Who the hell am I to make that kind of decision for people?
In short, we just don’t know a lot about how this choice will affect the future of the galaxy. It’s a total gray area, both ethically and just in general. It’s a leap of faith (quite literally for Shepard), and it requires complete trust in the Catalyst. Uncertainty is the biggest weakness of this choice.
This Is Not My Ending: Here’s Why
This is not my decision to make
In Control, you make a decision that affects the Reapers and the Catalyst. In Destroy, you make a decision that affects the geth and EDI. In Synthesis, you make a decision that affects everyone, down to the last man, woman, child, and bot in the galaxy. Everyone. It is the only choice that affects non-combatants, and affects them on an absolutely unprecedented level. As a soldier (or Marine/sailor/airman) in the real military, you are trained to not involve non-combatants whenever possible. I imagine that Shepard would have had the same training. It doesn’t matter if some powerful being comes down from on high and says, “This is what is best for everyone.” If it involves non-combatants, your military discipline and training kicks in and says, “No.” You shield your non-combatants, you don’t expose them to high-risk situations. I would count attempting to change all life in the galaxy as a “high-risk situation.”
Now, not everyone understands the military mindset, so I’ll put it this way. No person or being, no matter how prolific or legendary, has the right to play God. This is why creating synthetics comes back to bite us in the ass in the first place: we got cocky enough to think we could create life and bend it to our will. Now, Shepard has the opportunity to bend evolution itself to his will, as well. Who says that won’t come back and bite us in the ass, too?
My Shepard isn’t gullible
Now, ignoring the whole aftermath of making the choice to jump into the beam, put yourself in Shepard’s shoes talking to the Catalyst. You have no idea what could happen if you chose any of the three options. The Catalyst presents the Synthesis option to you. He basically tells you that you have to die to make this work.
Remember that point I made earlier where you have to trust the Catalyst completely in order to make this decision? This is what I’m talking about.
This is the solution that makes the least amount of sense because it will most definitely kill you, and you know it won’t kill the Reapers. If you’re Shepard, and you have any amount of skepticism at all, you’ll only have one response to the Catalyst at this point. “Pffffft. Yeah, right.”
You have no reason to trust the Catalyst. He is literally the face of the enemy. He holds your life and the lives of everyone else in very little regard. (This is especially obvious in the Extended Cut, where he compares the Reapers’ devastation to a wildfire, which is a flimsy comparison at best.) Yet, he is asking you, Shepard, to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. You die, and your only reassurance anything will actually happen after you’re dead is the word of the being that is expunging all life in the galaxy.
...How about no?
Welcome to the Twilight Zone
Now, this is more a matter of personal taste than anything else, but I got a very eerie “Stepfordesque” vibe from the Synthesis ending. Mixed with a bit of the Borg Collective. EDI touts, “[The Reapers] now bring us the collective knowledge of the cultures that came before” and “unlimited access to knowledge.” This heavily implies a sort of collective consciousness, and EDI’s mentions of peace and perfection in the world hold strong overtones of themes you hear from the Borg Queen.
You’ve got to wonder how Javik is handling this...or David, since the poor kid was forced to be hooked up to synthetics by his brother, Dr. Archer. To think that everyone’s preconceptions would melt away just because of this transformation is severely overestimating its ability to change attitudes with space magic. Does a switch suddenly flip in everyone’s brains and they’re okay with it? I have a hard time believing that Javik wouldn’t just off himself...he says he’s going to off himself anyway if you have him use his memory shard. I can’t believe that he’d be okay with being merged with synthetics.
Speaking of Javik: anyone remember when he said that the Protheans were easily taken advantage of strategically because they all adhered to the same doctrine? Since everyone is now of one mind, that could become a real problem if an outside threat decided to descend upon our galaxy.
And, it may just be me, but does this sound a bit too good to be true to you? I certainly think so.
The universe, as a general rule, always tends towards chaos. Okay, so maybe we solved one problem with Synthesis. This doesn’t mean new problems won’t arise, either independent of the choice made by Shepard or because of it. Synthesis is a new state of being with infinite possibilities; EDI even says it herself. It’s foolish to assume that all these possibilities are good. Problems in this life are like a hydra monster: cut off one head, three take its place.
There is also the Law of Unintended Consequences to consider. EDI talks about possibly transcending mortality, and the problems associated with that have been the topic of many a philosophical (and even medical) discussion. Who knows what other unintended consequences may arise out of changing everyone on the genetic level? For now, it seems the benefits of the transformation outweigh any potential cost, but all of that remains to be seen.
This Is What the Enemy Wants
In the end, this is my final justification for why Synthesis is not a viable ending for me. This is the choice of the enemy.
This was the choice of Saren in Mass Effect 1. The Reapers had Indoctrinated him to a point where he believed that joining with the Reapers would be our salvation. He even let them fuse their own tech with his body. The Reapers themselves are a forced fusion of synthetic and organic life: it would make sense for them to say it is the “final stage of evolution.” That is what they’ve been trying to do the entire time they’ve been around.
This is the choice of the Catalyst. As mentioned before, he said he tried to implement a similar solution before. This should give Synthesis away as the preferred choice of the enemy. Which begs the question...why would you choose it if that’s what your enemy wants?
“But the Catalyst really isn’t our enemy! It just wanted to save us from the cycle!”
I have three words for that - “So be it.” (Further insight will be provided later in this blog series.)
UPDATE: (Leviathan spoilers ahead) All I will say, if you still trust the Catalyst after Leviathan, you are way too trusting. The Leviathans pretty much tell you outright the Catalyst is rogue and insane.
When All Is Said and Done
In my own humble opinion, Synthesis should not be necessary to break the cycle and keep the peace. I believe Commander Bailey when he says that the Reaper War is the war to end all wars. As long as everyone remembers their history, they should be able to avert the continuous cycle of destruction. It (supposedly) worked in Battlestar Galactica, after all. We shouldn’t have to rely on being in each others’ heads to do that; all it takes is showing respect for all life, no matter if it’s organic or synthetic.
But, if in the end the cycle does continue, then it continues. Either way, civilization has the right to forge its own path, make its own mistakes, and either learn from or be destroyed by them. Civilization shouldn’t have to bow to the will of an AI that thinks it knows what is best. The Catalyst isn’t all-knowing: if the lessons of Mass Effect 3 taught us anything, it’s that synthetics can be just as flawed as organics. The Catalyst is no exception.
If this is your ending, then more power to you... you are capable of putting much more faith in the Catalyst than I could ever imagine. Perhaps that’s what you need to select this option: a little faith.
Thank you for reading. Stay tuned next week for my analysis of the Control ending!
I Am Alive: Synthesis (Ending Analysis Series, Part 1)
Blog entry posted by SkyShep, Sep 15, 2012.
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About the Author
I am a Professional Aeronautics major with a concentration on Aviation Safety, and minors in Weather and Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. My interests beyond aviation and aerospace include writing, science fiction, video games, community service, the military and nerd culture. Most of the time, my blogs will be about aforementioned topics, but not always! I speak a fair bit of French and a little bit of Chinese, so don't be surprised if you see either of these languages. 懂了吗？