I hesitated to undertake this project as I knew that it would eat up loads of time and energy and would likely be ridiculed and scorned far more than it was lauded and praised. However, since playing through the Extended Cut DLC I haven’t been able to get the endings out of my head. They are like an itch that no matter how much I scratch will not go away. Ironically, the more I think about them and examine the details to gain insight to the ending choices the less and less sense they make. This has the circular effect of causing me to think about them more and ending up with less sense than before, a vicious cycle that seems to be slowly bleeding my intelligence away. Since I am required at some point to work in my life to survive I realize that I will need full control of my cognitive powers. In an effort to regain this I am writing the following review as catharsis and therapy.
Part 1: Nothing the Catalyst says makes any sense at all.
The first thing that I want to address is this talk about the catalyst being an insane AI and thus he will not think like humans. Basically this is people justifying any contradiction the catalyst makes on the basis that it is insane. Insanity, while unhealthy and unstable, does not defy basic motivations. You cannot say that someone or something is insane and then use that to justify whatever action the writer wants the character to make no matter how contradictory it is. Look at some of the greatest “insane” villains such as Hannibal Lector. He had a specific and identifiable personality that allowed the audience to connect his actions with his motivations no matter how horrible they were. If a character lacks this type of grounding then it gives the writer free reign to have the character do anything for any reason which violates an implicit agreement between the writer and the player: that the story will maintain coherence (credit to mrBtongue for fleshing out the idea of narrative coherence for me).
This will likely be the most intensive section and I freely admit that at some point I might just give up and simply stop because of the sheer volume of things that need to be addressed, fortunately long before that happens I will have made my point abundantly clear. I will start off by taking on a few small bits of fore knowledge; the catalyst controls the reapers and created them. This is evidenced by the quote, “Perhaps. I control the reapers. They are my solution.” We also learn that the citadel is subservient in some meaningful way to the catalyst. This is evidenced by, “No, the citadel is part of me.” This implies that he in fact has power over the citadel in some way.
With this in mind let us examine the second line that the catalyst says to Shepard, that being, “The citadel, it’s my home.” Right off the bat we start with a line of dialogue that has implications that strongly derail the overall plot to Mass Effect. With those small bits of foreknowledge, the contradictions and contrivances that develop from any analysis of this line compound upon themselves at such an alarming rate that the story becomes broken. We can literally set this line as the point at which the Mass Effect story has stopped.
The main point to show this here is: What was the catalyst doing during Mass Effect 1 (ME1)?! We already established that he controls the reapers and that he has at the very minimum a modicum of control over the citadel. In fact, as he later neatly shows us three convenient configurations of the citadel that he explicitly set up for us (and that he lowers an elevator for us) we can assume that he has much control over the citadel. Then why would Sovereign need to take control of the citadel in order to activate its mass relay and bring on the reaper invasion? The catalyst already controls the citadel and the catalyst controls the reapers thus the reapers controlled the citadel the whole time. There was no need for any geth attack and there was no need for Sovereign to do anything. The plot of ME1 has, in one line of dialogue, been rendered absurd.
Sure we could try to explain away the catalyst’s inaction, but this is where the contradictions begin to further compound on themselves as there is no internally consistent explanation for his inaction. Are we to believe that the creator of such large and complex beings as the reapers who is capable of designing an organized plan for the extinction of advanced races every 50,000 years would just set his plan in motion then close his eyes and hope that it would be carried out properly with no oversight (must be insane count: 1)? Are we to believe that he would have no fail safe mechanism in case something like what happened in ME1 happens (must be insane count: 2)? Perhaps he was awake and aware of what was going on and he just did not want to get caught or something. So wait, you are telling me that an AI with his type of control over the citadel would not be able to avoid detection from the relatively primitive races that use the citadel (must be insane count: 3)? Those races do not even fully understand the technology of the citadel. We established in ME1 that they need the keepers to even run the citadel and that local laws explicitly forbids people from trying to learn too much of the keepers and citadel technology. The species of the citadel are willfully ignorant about its technology and the catalyst could not hide from them (must be insane count: 4)? That does not make any sense. One might say that they reapers were coming anyway and that he knew that. But as we established before, he was on the citadel and he knew that the races of the citadel did not believe in the reapers. There is no reason not to go forward with his original plan (must be insane count: 5). The mere fact that we have to try to explain away the catalyst’s inaction is a testament to the poor conception of the character’s presentation. In one swoop we have called into question the character’s motivations, history, and integration into the Mass Effect lore. The only conclusion that makes any logical sense is that the catalyst did nothing because it was convenient for the writers; which is not even true as it clearly breaks the plot of Mass Effect 1 (must be insane count: oh gosh, do I need one of these for the writers too?).
Next line of relevant catalyst dialogue: “The created will always rebel against their creators.” He is saying this in reference to synthetics exterminating organics…What?...How do you know that? Hey transparent pre-adolescent, how do you know that? Did the writers show you something that they did not show the player? Are you able to see into the future to know that all synthetic societies will actively seek out and hunt down organic ones? That seems odd because I just got done showing EDI what it means to be alive. This was after she tried to kill us all on luna when she was still a VI. I also just got done forming a peace between the geth and the quarians. This was only after the minor conflicts of Mass Effect 1 in which the geth tried to kill us all. So in a sense we have already seen exactly what the catalyst is talking about. Then we avoided it. In fact, as he controls the reapers, he witnessed us changing it on Rannoch but still maintains this stance (must be insane count: 6) which we have proven incorrect. This is one of two things, either the writing of the character is flawed as they are relying on him being insane to justify him being able to say anything they want no matter how contradictory, or they were intending to broadcast the idea that the conflict between organics and synthetics was inevitable and they failed to write that into the story. In fact they show the exact opposite of this idea. Keep in mind that the point of a story is to show the players these types of themes through the plot, not tell them at some random point when you feel like it. This is a very basic mistake that professional writers should never make. The point is to show the audience, not tell them…and certainly do not show them the exact opposite of what you want to tell them.
So next we discover that the reapers are his solution to a problem that we have already fixed no less than two times throughout the series. His solution for keeping organics from being recklessly wiped out by synthetics is to systematically wipe them out (must be insane count: 7). I suppose technically he did succeed but I feel like emphasizing semantics to that degree is cheating. This is apparently the solution you get when you use a synthetic AI to solve a problem of conflict between synthetics and organics…ahhhh I see what they did there…deep irony is deeply deep.
(I realize that I am glossing over some things right now but I am becoming wary with exponentially growing number of contradictions that I have to address after each point.)
Ah yes next is the famous fire analogy. “When fire burns, is it at war? Is it in conflict? Or is it simply doing what it was created to do?” Let us be clear here: he just compared the purposeful, deliberate, systematic extermination of entire civilizations by a semi-sentient (at the very least) race of giant metallic space squids to a random natural disaster. He says himself that he gave the reapers purpose and allowed them to impose that will upon the rest of the galaxy…that seems like war like belligerence to me, not some natural disaster arising out of a natural reaction. Their intent is to attain resources and propagate themselves by “storing” civilizations in reaper form. If that is not militaristically violating the status quo of nations then I must have been fooled by my social studies teachers and I want my online college tuition back. I think Shepard’s description was accurate, they were at war. I think the point the catalyst was trying to get to was that reapers are nothing but a tool. That seems to be a good way of castrating a previously imposing villain. It needs to be emphasized though that the reapers are in any conventional definition, a tool of war.
I think one of the main points is that the reapers are killing you to “preserve” you somehow but it never is really elaborated on…and I don’t mean give me more dialogue options I mean show me what you mean exactly with a developed plotline and story and motivations…Any way In this process you lose your society, culture, individuality, and all other defining aspects that make up your civilization. So really they are not preserving much of you at all. At least not anything the organics would care about…oh wait he is a synthetic right? Oh… it’s the irony thing again I get it.
Next relevant line: “Reapers harvest all life-organic and synthetic- preserving them before they are forever lost to conflict”. Um…I thought that we learned in ME1 and ME2 that the reapers were only interested in harvesting organics as synthetics were not suitable. In fact, didn’t Sovereign hold the geth in complete contempt hardly worthy of his attention? And wasn’t the whole point of this originally to preserve organics? He presented the problem as though synthetics were never at risk, only organics but now all of a sudden they are at risk too?(All right fine I will start this count finally, writers must be insane count: I am not sure but I think we are at least 4, this is hard to keep track of.)
We then learn that the catalyst believes that this solution is somehow flawed now. I suppose this is comforting. “The fact that you are standing here, the first organic ever, proves it. But it also proves my solution won’t work anymore.” Again…what? How does the presence of an organic on the citadel show that his solution no longer works? Haven’t organics been on the citadel the whole time (must be insane count: 8)? It is also obvious that Shepard is either severely wounded or fatally wounded. If he does not get medical attention soon he will likely die. Why would he need to change the solution then? He could just let Shepard die and continue with the one he already has. In fact this is exactly what he does if you refuse his choices; some of those choices he does not even want you to take, but we will get to that in a moment (must be insane count: 9+10, yes there were two in there). The point is that there is no need for a new solution based on any of the dialogue or actions shown, so why is he even presenting these choices (must be insane count: 11)? The motivations of the catalyst are ambiguous at best and contradictory at worst.
What is his motivation for destroy? You kill all of his creation and then some and this will castrate what power he had. He even says that what peace you have will not last so it literally is not even a solution by his definition (must be insane count: 12) as synthetics will be created again and they will destroy again.
When asking about control he reveals that you would essentially be replacing him. Upon further inquiry he reveals that he does not want to be replaced as commander of the reapers. Why would he offer a solution that replaces him when he does not want to be replaced (must be insane count: 13)?
The catalyst makes it abundantly clear that synthesis is the best choice in his view as to him it would solve the divide that he perceives causes the conflict between synthetics and organics. If this is the best solution why even present the other ones (must be insane count: 14)? Further, the catalyst indicated that he had tried this in the past and it failed for some reason. He said that organics were not ready. Apparently now they are? Wait, you have been harvesting organics on a regular basis for countless years. Each time you harvest them they are at roughly the same stage in cultural and societal development. Why would the organics in this cycle be any more or less ready than the ones that you harvested in the last cycle (must be insane count: 15)? You seem to cut them off before they can even evolved to the point where they might be ready for this. Further, the organics have no choice in the matter. Shepard is making the choice for them and forcing that choice on everyone. How does that indicate that any of them are ready? Whatever, just shoot the little bastard and get it over with.
As I thought would happen I am simply running out of energy to continue this section. I managed to at least gloss over the major points that should have been attended to but in the process of writing this I have come up with about 3 additional contradictions that pile on top of each of the ones that I listed. Since it would require too much energy to go back and address each one I will use the lame quantitative mechanic I have been using throughout this section. Taking into account that I am likely exaggerating (though given the recurring patterns I don’t see how) I will estimate that the “must be insane count” has reached eleventy billion by now. I am sure the writers score is less so the catalyst wins the competition I suppose.
The best explanation I can come up for the catalyst is that he is not even intended to be a character but intended as a plot device to guide the player through their final choices. If this is the case, why replace the primary antagonist (the reapers) with him? Why give him a personality and motivations and attempt to integrate him into the lore somehow? None of this was necessary. There was some thoughts put out on the forums that Avina should have taken the place of the catalyst. I could have seen this working to some extent as she could just have been a VI designed to tell you impartially what is happening. No need for a greater scheme. The problem is that they present the catalyst as a character and attempt to give him such things as motivations and personality so we can only assume that he was intended to be a character; but he has no grounding or consistency that the player can discern which would allow him to be an engaging character and the writers did not take the time to develop him in such a way that he would. What we end up with is a poorly thought out plot device/character that can say or do anything for any reason and this disconnects the final scene with the rest of the series leaving the player feeling cheated.
*Disclaimer: I may make some editions and additions to this section in the very near future but I wanted to at least get these thoughts out there.
Meat in the Buns: Therapy for those who still need it part 1
Blog entry posted by LateNightSalami, Jul 9, 2012.