To say that the ending to Mass Effect 3 was polarizing is an understatement. From what I’ve seen, either you don’t care about the conclusion because you weren’t invested in the series, or you were immensely disappointed because you put so much time into the trilogy only for it to have a seemingly lazy pay-off. The key word there being: seemingly.
It took me a while for the ending to hit me. While I was experiencing it I kept expecting more to come but it just…ends. I wasn’t depressed about it until later, when I remembered how much time and care I put into ME1 and ME2. All the planets I explored in the Mako, all the resources I collected, all the allies I made, the decisions I chose. In the end, it all comes down to three choices, all of which have incredibly similar consequences.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about and are reading this for some reason, allow me to display what happens in the ending to Mass Effect 3 in a nice and simple way.
- Reapers are killing people.
- The galaxy’s forces construct ‘The Crucible’; a massive device, that once attached to The Citadel will do something to destroy the reapers, apparently.
- Shepard and the rest of the Galaxy fight the Reapers on Earth.
- A conduit is made on Earth’s surface that will transport people to the citadel to stop the reapers in some way.
- Shepard runs for the conduit’s beam, but is knocked out by Harbinger’s laser.
- Shepard wakes up and limps to the conduit.
- Shepard teleports to the citadel. Admiral Anderson apparently follows him in.
- Shepard makes his way to a terminal to find Anderson.
- The Illusive Man shows up, somehow. All three have a chat about destroying or controlling the Reapers.
- Ultimately, Shepard shoots the Illusive man.
- Shepard almost makes it to the terminal but faints.
- The Floor beneath him rises and he is sent to a large room.
- A ghostly child instructs him to make 3 choices.
1. Destroy the Reapers and all synthetic life (Including Shepard himself).
2. Control the reapers, but die.
3. Activate ‘synthesis’ which melds organics and synthetics together…or something…I didn’t really get that one.
- No matter what choice is made, three things happen.
1. Shepard dies (Except for one thing, I’ll get to that later)
2. All the Mass Relays explode in the colour corresponding to the choice you made.
3. The Normandy gets caught in the coloured explosion and crashes on an alien world.
That’s pretty much it. To put it kindly; this conclusion to a 5 year-running franchise left me cold. No character gets closure on anything, no other story is finished, very definitive events happen and the results of your decisions aren’t that different from each other and don’t have much meaning. Am I supposed to feel morally sound by controlling the Reapers instead of destroying them? Did they earn it?
The Mass Effect Relays explode for some reason, so that raises the question: ”How is the enormous fleet that travelled to Earth going to get anywhere now?” They can’t ‘jump to light speed’ like in Star Wars, they need the relays to travel far distances. So, the Reapers are gone, but everyone is going to starve to death in space or on a barren Earth, so, what has been solved?
Most confusingly is why Joker is fleeing the coloured explosions, even the green and blue ones which do not destroy synthetic or electrical material. Did Joker just leave the battle for no reason and was then forced to flee the explosion? Or did Joker use a Mass Relay to fly away from the fight before they exploded? Either way, he’s a coward. And if you get a different ending to me, which was just the Normandy door opening before cutting to black as if to say “Oooooh, they’re still alive!!!”, Joker and some of your crew members get out of the ship and just stand there, looking weirdly happy. Not only is it very hard to believe that Joker was able to crash-land the Normandy after it got ripped apart, went through re-entry and smashed into a planet, but some of the crew from the mission on Earth appear in that cinematic. How the hell did they get there?!
Many people have already said more than enough about this subject so I won’t delve deeper. I’m mainly here to give my thoughts on the Shepard Indoctrination Theory. I’ve surprised myself by how much research I’ve done on this idea, and even after just watching a few YouTube videos I have to say that the evidence is monumentally convincing.
The Shepard Indoctrination Theory explains that Commander Shepard has slowly been indoctrinated over the course of the entire series, primarily in Mass Effect 2 and especially The Arrival DLC in which he gets hit by a wave of energy radiating off a Reaper artifact. Because of this, EVERYTHING that happens after Shepard is knocked out by Harbinger is a hallucination, or even a Reaper projection in his mind. And what follows are surprisingly subtle images that represent his mind resisting the Indoctrination.
I find this theory more interesting than anything I have ever experienced in a game, yet it still is just a theory. Let’s not give BioWare too much credit. The ending to Mass Effect 3 could very likely be the definitive ending to the entire series. Although, there have been some pretty big hints towards some DLC, or at the very least another Mass Effect related story coming soon. Honestly, even if BioWare didn’t intend to do all of this, they may as well now, it’s basically the only way their ending makes any damn sense.
So, to simplify (again) my thoughts on this idea; I’ve compiled a list of very specific things that occur in all the Mass Effect games (mainly ME3) that hold very weighty evidence to this intriguing theory.
- Before reaching the Terminal on The Citadel, Shepard stops and gets stunned into place. The Illusive Man then enters, says “I underestimated you Shepard” and controls Shepard in some way, forcing him to shoot Admiral Anderson in the side. After shooting The Illusive Man, Shepard lies down and the camera makes it very clear that he is bleeding from his side, the EXACT same place where he shot Anderson. Deeper analysis of the scene involving the three has extrapolated that Anderson and The Illusive Man both represent Shepard fighting the Reapers indoctrination inside his own mind. Anderson represents the decision to destroy the Reapers, an idea they don’t want to exist in Shepard’s head. While The Illusive Man represents the decision to control the Reapers, a trick to let the Reapers live and continue their objective. Anderson himself literally says “Listen to yourself, you’re indoctrinated”. Since it’s Anderson who says that, that may be Shepard fighting the Indoctrination by trying to become aware of it. If you don’t make the first Renegade choice of shooting The Illusive Man, he shoots Anderson, representing the indoctrination getting stronger and weakening your resolve. The blood wound on Shepard symbolizes a psychological wound. He was ‘forced’ to ‘shoot’ a part of his mind.
- While fleeing Earth, Shepard encounters a child hiding in a vent in a destroyed house. The child himself is given a confusingly large amount of focus. The very first thing you see in the game is him playing with a toy space ship. He also appears in three separate dreams you have, and the ‘god child’ thingy in The Citadel looks exactly like him. So, it’s either a crudely poignant way of making us feel sad and wonder about…something, or it’s a way of putting focus on an image for it be revealed as something more important than we could have imagined. The same thing happened with Revan in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, another BioWare game. Anyway, back on topic. Shepard finds the child hiding in a vent and tells him to come out. Anderson then calls Shepard away and when he looks back into the vent, the child is gone. I instinctively thought this was just a generic and moody thing for ME3 to do, but two things happen in that scene that I didn’t pick up on when I first saw it. Firstly, Anderson doesn’t appear to see or hear the conversation. Even when the child is getting onto a rescue shuttle no one seems to notice him or even help him onto the ship. He just climbs on by himself and stares right at Shepard. When the boy and Shepard are talking a few metres away from Anderson, you’d think that anyone in the room would be able to hear them. Secondly, when Anderson calls Shepard away, the sound of a roaring Reaper plays. Again, I wasn’t paying attention. It is the exact same kind of roar that plays as The Illusive Man forces you to shoot Anderson on The Citadel. That’s pretty distinct to just be a coincidence. It’s possible that since the boy is part of the indoctrination, any distraction from it causes the effect to react slightly. It’s all in Shepards mind. The child dying in the shuttle later weakens Shepards spirit. The child isn’t there.
- When searching for the Prothean Beacon on Thessia, Shepard and his crew encounter a Prothean Virtual Intelligence, like Vigil on Ilos from ME1. Pretty much as soon as it becomes aware of its surroundings and explains a few things it pauses and says “Indoctrinated presence detected” before Kai Leng shows up. I submit that it wasn’t talking about Kai Leng, it was talking about Shepard. That’s pretty much all I’ve got. As far as I can tell, I haven’t seen anyone else bring this up. I guess I just wanted to feel special. Moving swiftly along.
- When Shepard gets hit by Harbinger’s laser, the image fades into a very soft white. After getting back up, he moves very slowly like he does in the dream sequences, and very interestingly; a few trees from the dreams appear behind and around him. The situation itself is very dream-like and may be the first of the final steps to Shepard being completely indoctrinated.
1. ‘Waking up’ after being knocked out by Harbinger.
2. Aboard The Citadel in which Anderson and Shepards positioning doesn’t make any physical sense.
3. Getting shot by The Illusive Man. Indoctrination complete.
Some have used the pistol having infinite ammo and a lack of enemies as evidence to the theory, but I find them less than convincing. The end of Call of Duty 4 was just like that but it wasn’t a hallucination…OR WAS IT!?
- All the way back in Mass Effect 1 it was established that the Rachni, a race of insect-like aliens, were indoctrinated by Reapers. When you talk to the Queen on Noveria she explains how the Reapers voices were whispers in their heads and mentions “Oily shadows”. In every one of Shepard’s three dreams, everyone except the child is represented by figures made up of a thick black fog. Very oily and very shadowy. I’m surprised by how much throw away information Mass Effect carries throughout its series so this consistently fits with BioWare’s behavior.
- If you take the ‘Destroy Reapers’ choice and you have enough ‘Military Strength’ there is a short scene showing rubble, and what looks like Shepard lying under. He takes a quick breath in before the game cuts to credits. This is only shown to players who chose to ‘destroys the Reapers’. If the Shepard Indoctrination Theory is correct, it means Shepard broke free of the indoctrination and has now awoken back on Earth, under the rubble caused by Harbinger’s laser. The rubble itself looks like stone, steel and concrete. The Citadel is made out of slick chrome material. Even if that is Citadel rubble we’re seeing; how did Shephard survive that explosion? Or, if he did survive, did he then plummet back to Earth and survive like the end of Crank? I find this to be the most convincing evidence to the theory. In a way, it’s pretty much just saying that this theory is true. If not, it’s just a lame and impossibly stupid pseudo-cliffhanger that won’t do anything. But why would BioWare put that in? Even if they were rushed for time, you’d think they would just take it out and keep the franchise-shattering ending to its own devices.
I’ve left a few things out like the boy and Shepard burning at the end of the third and final dream, the ‘god child’ thingy having a combination of female and male Shepard’s voices, the ‘god child’ smiling slightly if you let The Reapers live, Shepard’s glowing eyes, and even something as un-noticeable as Admiral Hackett being able to contact you aboard The Citadel, despite the fact that he said that all forces were destroyed, and he doesn’t even know that Shepard is even alive and made it to The Citadel and then to the terminal. But all these don’t carry much weight, but still can be evidence to something yet to come.
Again, it is very likely that every single thing that has constructed this theory is just the fans clutching at straws to try and drown out the ending Mass Effect 3 gave us. Many points people have made just come down to ‘the ending made no sense so INDOCTRINATION!!!‘, such as Shepard’s uncharacteristic acceptance of the ‘god child’s’ stupid logic.
And even if we get DLC or even another game where Shepard being indoctrinated is true, the ending to Mass Effect 3 is still bad. Why? Because it still happened, technically. If the theory is correct, this is a very devious thing for BioWare to do. Sure, it makes the surprise of the reveal more…surprising, but it still could have just been a part of Mass Effect 3. BioWare still would have gotten praise for this GENIUS idea, just sooner.
It’s like if someone punched you in the face, but had chocolate clenched in his fist. He then runs somewhere else, holds out his hand, offering the chocolate. You may enjoy the chocolate, but your face will still hurt and maybe some blood from your nose will drip onto the chocolate and it’ll leave this bad taste in your mouth. And while you’re eating the chocolate you’ll wonder if it was even worth getting punched in the face to get the chocolate. This is getting tortured so I’ll end it here.
Be sure to check out my FLAWLESS review of Mass Effect 3 here: