This post is entirely about the ending of Mass Effect 3, so read no further if you don’t want to be spoiled…
While I didn’t buy the Indoctrination Theory– to me it reeks of entitlement and speculation of the worst kind, second guessing authorial intent and dreaming up motivations for characters- it did lead me to really think hard about the end of the game. I chose Synthesis– the Catalyst’s notion of the ultimate evolution of life in the galaxy, as well as one of three possible solutions to using the Reapers as a way to maintain peace between synthetic and organic life. In many ways, it felt like the choice ‘my’ Shepard would make. She has always sought to prove that synthetic life has as much a right to its own destiny as organic. She’s sided with the Geth and negotiated peace with their makers, she chose to unshackle her ships’ AI (an extremely illegal and dangerous choice in this universe) and then encourage it to explore a humanoid body, and even a relationship with a human. Hell, my Shep was more machine than human by the end of Mass Effect 2. Even without the Six Million Dollar Man scenario that started the game, Shepard was augmented with cybernetics throughout the entire game.
With that said, she also fought for the right of many other species in the galaxy to live, and to determine their own future. Aligning herself with the Catalyst, choosing a path for the entirety of life in the galaxy, just doesn’t seem like something my Shepard would do. She was capable of talking down the indoctrinated, talking anyone out of anything, she was a persuader. Rather than force ‘evolution’ upon all life in the galaxy, why wouldn’t she try to persuade the Catalyst that this cycle was different? By all accounts, Shepard’s cycle was truly different. They had managed to learn from the mistakes and the triumphs of those in previous cycles, and through Shepard’s efforts synthetic and organic sentients were making progress towards real peace. That was not an option though. The Rejection ending was.
The article I linked to makes an incredibly persuasive, even poetic argument for the Rejection ending. But that article too drives home something I don’t think my Shepard would be capable of doing- the utter destruction of her loved ones, her galaxy, simply to prove the point of self determination. The other two choices were never choices for me. Peryn Shepard would never allow the solution to include the destruction of the synthetic life she fought so hard to preserve, nor would she simply choose to control the Reapers. (Sidenote- although the Extended Cut has the Shepard controlled Reapers helping to repair the damage of war, I’d love to have seen a Shepard/Reaper AI watching life from afar, and having a decidedlyÂ different perspective on the value of life than the one she had before she ‘ascended.’)
Ultimately, I’m disappointed by the choices laid out for me. The endings themselves were neverÂ that bad. Sure they reused assets but they all told very different stories, and those stories made enough sense as anything else in the Mass Effect universe- that is to say theirÂ plausibilityÂ was a stretch at best. I don’t think I could chose anythingÂ but Synthesis, as it truly does seem to be the ultimate peaceful end for the events laid out in the Mass Effect stories. I would liked to have seen an ending that allowed Shepard to convince the Catalyst to give this cycle a chance, and let life figure itself out.
(Sidenote 2- I don’t remember this in the original ending but the Extended Cut features a scene where a Husk stops fighting and slowly stands up, gaining recognition as do the soldiers around him. Taking that a step further, Synthesis means that not only do husks, but all of the other Reaper abominations including banshees and cannibals, gain ‘understanding.’ That is some freaky shit.)