Spoilers! Do not read if you have not finished ME3 or wish to avoid spoilers for the ending.
Alright. I’ve been toying with the idea of the Indoctrination theory for the ending of Mass Effect 3 that has been floating around the internet. And I have discussed many points with my housemate, who has also studied literature extensively. She knows how invested I am in the story, and has given me a seed of hope that has blossomed into a razor-sharp flower of abject disbelief. She has also been researching this purely to ease my troubled mind, because living with me when I am in the throes of anguish or the grips of rage is pure hell.
And I can safely say that this is either the most dick move that Bioware could have pulled, or pure. Fucking. Genius.
So, yes. I have been won over to the indoctrination theory, and I’ll share with you some of the reasons why.
A few things of note…
First are several hints dropped through the game that indicate that something is not quite right. Several people have mentioned them, and I believe them. Here are the things from the end game that I noticed from the ending scene on a second playthrough, combined with some of the things I have heard.
- Why is the means to end the game (destroy, control, synthesis) built into the Citadel, a device that was created by the Reapers to trap the organic civilisations in each cycle?
- Why does the ‘creator’ of the Reapers simply allow you to choose the fate of their ‘solution’, which also defies all logic, when this is a creature of pure logic?
- If the Reapers knew that the organics would use the beam to get to the Citadel… why didn’t they just turn it off? And why the hell would the beam take you directly to the room right outside the control for the Crucible?
- Why can’t you kill the Keeper that you find?
- How does Hackett know that you’re on the Citadel? As far as everyone knows, you are dead, slain by Harbinger, as reported by Coates on the ground. Even if he knew that someone was on the Crucible, he wouldn’t know it was Shepard, and wouldn’t know to contact him/her when nothing happened with the Crucible.
- How did Anderson get to the room before you, when there was only one visible entrance, and he was not ahead of you? He even admits to getting to the Citadel after you. Where did the beam send him? Moreover, how did he know you were in the Citadel?
- How did the ‘creator’ know to appear as the child? Even if you’d told someone about the boy, you never told them what he looked like. How old he was. What he was wearing. How he sounded.
- And why is Shepard bleeding from his/her left side? He/she was shot by the Marauder in the RIGHT shoulder/chest. Coincidentally, this is where the Illusive Man forces Shepard to shoot Anderson.
These may seem like design oversights, but I very sincerely doubt it. It’s a lot to get wrong in a final scene, especially for what is arguably one of the most notable and reputable game series in history.
So if these things are deliberately wrong… the question is why.
How about this?
As quoted from the ‘indoctrination’ codex in Mass Effect 1,
“Organics undergoing indoctrination may complain of headaches and buzzing or ringing in their ears. As time passes they have feelings of being watched ‘watched’ and hallucinations of ‘ghostly’ presences. Ultimately the Reaper gains the ability to use the victim’s body to amplify its signals, manifesting as ‘alien’ voices in the mind.”
The first thing this brings to mind is the obligatory dream sequence we are forced to experience, without any chance to skip or bypass. During this time, we chase the spectral image of the boy we watched die on Earth, fleeing from some unknown terror. When we finally reach the boy, the world is shattered by the roar of Reapers - perhaps a memory of a traumatized Shepard, or perhaps a sound of frustration that the indoctrination process is not complete - and the child burns. The second and third sequence are accompanied by shadowy figures, and the whispers of the fallen, the people we have lost. When we finally catch up to the boy in the third sequence, the boy is embraced by Commander Shepard, and both burn. But neither scream. Neither struggle. Neither are afraid. Both just stare at Commander Shepard. And before anyone objects, a face’s expression isn’t just what it is in a video game. It is a conscious decision of what it is not. If you embrace the child, you burn.
Also, there is a moment where James Vega wonders, when Commander Shepard is standing near him, where a buzzing sound is coming from…
There is also a service announcement on the Citadel (late in Act 2 for me), for all people experiencing headaches and hearing voices to go see their local C-Sec office.
How about the very final decisions you have to make? We have been trained to observe the ‘blue’ option as being paragon, good and virtuous, whereas red is ruthless and practical. Whilst this might not seem like a big deal, do you wonder why each side is coloured the way it is? Why is the Illusive Man’s option blue, when we always rejected his claims, and Anderson, who we have always supported, is suddenly red when he represents destroy?
Why does Shepard simply accept the fact that ‘the Illusive Man was right’? And why does he or she believe that they can control the Reapers when the Illusive Man couldn’t? And how the HELL could the Illusive Man control Shepard if Shepard is NOT indoctrinated? The power he used was Reaper indoctrination ability to begin with.
And why does the god child make sure to stress that in destroying the Reapers, Shepard destroys all technology upon which the galaxy relies, all synthetics, including the geth, and his or herself, too. And that Shepard does not ‘need hope’, but should simply accept the solutions that the creator presents.
And, I beg of you, go back and replay that final scene we all hate. With the choice we must make. Walk right to the middle of the walkway between the three choices and, several times, begin to walk in each direction.
Listen to the music change.
The ‘control’ option is sinister, with a quiet humming dissidence. So is the synthesis. And the ‘destroy’ option rings brightly, a pleasant sound of uplifting hope and then fades away. It’s barely noticeable, broken by the jarring drumming sound, and it is only right at the start. But it’s there.
What about the synthesis option, you ask?
I have one word.
Allow me to reiterate something Saren says during his speech on Virmire.
“The Reapers are too powerful. The only hope of survival is to join with them. I am forming an alliance between us and the Reapers, between organics and machines.”
As we all know, Saren was indoctrinated. He was completely under the thrall of Sovereign. But the important part was he had no idea. He believed that what he was doing really was the only way to save the organics of the galaxy. He was truly trying to save everyone, and do his duty as a Spectre, to fulfil his vows. But because of his indoctrination, Sovereign steered him down a different path.
With the geth as his allies.
The geth, who are likely the main reason that people don’t chose the ‘destroy’ option.
The wrench in the cogs. The geth have defied what everyone has thought of synthetics; they never attack the quarians, they never instigate wars, they are your allies, and they are the only race that has never backstabbed, lied, betrayed or tried to kill you once you have gained their loyalty (Reaper-brainwashing aside). The MOMENT the geth break out of Reaper hold, they are your stalwart and staunch allies. Legion was a friend, in fact, and it scoured the galaxy searching for you. Hell. Legion is the Shepard of the Geth. It gave its life to give the geth sentience, making the sentience of the race all the more important due to your loss.
The geth are a sympathetic race. It is hard to hate them. You can destroy them, but they are specifically designed – by Bioware – to be a figure of sympathy and understanding. They just want to find their own way. Be their own people. Victims.
And the Catalyst says, quite pointedly, that choosing the destroy option will kill the geth.
So that makes me wonder. In the ‘survival’ outcome of choosing ‘destroy’… why does Shepard take a breath?
Speaking of that breath
A lot of people have already mentioned this, but I’ll say it for the sake of this; examine the rubble around Shepard during that breath. It is rock. Concrete. Stone. And I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see a single slab on the Citadel. It is all metal. Shining metal.
So where is it that you are taking your breath?
Perhaps you never left?
And another thing of note for the ‘destroy’ option
Followers of my blog may know this, but for new people, I asked about the companions that step out of the Normandy when the ‘destroy’ option is chosen, and it turns out that there is no possible way for at least one of those characters to step out of the ship in every single individual’s playthrough. It’s not a scripted scene where Garrus steps out with Joker, or occasionally Tali. It appears that every single time, there is at least one person who was on the ground with you, at that beam, and therefore could not be flying away with Joker on the Normandy. It is also possible (and this is more speculative since people may bring their LI’s everywhere), that one of the people that steps out is a companion, and the other is the romanced character (if they are one of the 5 possible LI’s aboard). These are people who would not leave Shepard behind to die (again) and neither would your LI. None of your team would. It is an ending that is not possible.
Is it possible that this is an ending that is meant to scream this is not right, this could not have happened? With a heavy dose of what about this person you love, Shepard! Don’t forget them. Something’s wrong here! Or maybe it’s just me?
Why indoctrinate Shepard and not simply kill him/her?
After all, it failed for Saren, right? Actually, no. It took someone extraordinarily strong-willed and charismatic to break Saren out of indoctrination juuust long enough for him to cap himself. In the exact same way that the Illusive Man does himself in, btw.
But Saren’s mistake was standing against the Council races, and creating an enemy of himself. People fought him, resisted him. Eventually, Shepard defeated him. So perhaps the Reapers tried a new tact. Miranda says it herself. Shepard’s an icon. People will fall in behind the Commander and follow him or her to death. Which they did in the closing of ME3, flying their vast fleets into the mouth of hell to fight and get Earth back.
In doing so, Shepard did the one thing Saren failed to do; deliver the galaxy right to the Reapers. By being indoctrinated, Shepard has led everyone to their doom.
I think I raged about the fact that Bioware gave us a crappy ending without actually thinking about why Bioware gave us a crappy ending. People are saying that Bioware has a right to end their franchise as they choose. Which is true. But why would Bioware choose to end it this way? Why would they allow billions of dollars, years of development, and a million plus fans go down the drain for an ending like this?
The bottom line is, they wouldn’t.
How many trailers were released to make us want to destroy the Reapers? How many times did you sit back and think ‘6th/8th/9th of March, I’m going to kill them’? It was always Shepard’s doctrine; we will find a way. We will destroy you.
Never was an option to control accepted. You rejected that from the moment the Illusive Man mentioned it. Never was the option of synthesis accepted. You rejected that in Mass Effect 1 with Saren. So why, at the 11th hour. No. The 12th hour, would Bioware give us these options? And why do we have to choose one? Why doesn’t Bioware let us argue with the deus ex machina? It’s not a matter of forgetting to record the lines for a sloppy ending. This was a deliberate decision made by people who have created sensational games. Do you really think this is how they would end it?
Shepard can’t be indoctrinated.
Bullshit. Indoctrination can happen to anyone. From the Illusive Man, to Saren, to Udina. And Shepard is partially cybernetic due to being brought back from the dead. Hell. He or she doubts his or her own existence in the Cerberus base, wondering if they are, in fact, a very smart VI that thinks they are Commander Shepard. Even then they are worried about their own existence.
And again, let me remind you of Saren, who allowed Sovereign to implant him, ‘improve him’, and through those implants was controlled and ultimately dominated, mind and body, even after he was dead. And Shepard has a few snazzy implants and cybernetics, too. Which Chakwas very pointedly mentions during the opening couple of hours of the game.
Indoctrination isn’t purely about turning people into husks. It’s not about controlling their minds. It’s about steering them. Directing them. Pointing them toward a conclusion that they appear to want, that appears to be their only option, even though it plays right into the Reaper’s hands… tentacles… matter-deconstruction laser eyes. Whatever.
The Reapers wouldn’t brainwash Shepard into simply giving up. No one would fall in behind. But if they push him or her, if they make them think of the Reapers being too powerful, and that there are ‘acceptable’ costs to destroying creatures as vast and almighty as the Reapers, and cost was Shepard’s life… wouldn’t you choose that?
Wait. You did.
And finally, why would the Illusive Man not put a chip in your head if he knew you would turn against him? If he was indoctrinated the whole time? Why would the Reapers not want this to happen?
Because Shepard has to submit. Shepard had to stop fighting. And for people to believe that Shepard was not indoctrinated, Shepard had to behave like Shepard.
What blew my goddamn mind…
The point of the ending of Mass Effect 3 isn’t to show that Shepard has been indoctrinated, at least, that’s no longer how I see it. And it isn’t some quasai-intellectual, pseudo-philosophical moment where we are prompted to contemplate the future of the galaxy, and make up our own ending. Bioware does not do that. We were literally meant to sit back, stare at the screen, and go ‘why would Bioware do this?’ Not ‘Bioware a fucking assholes who deserve to burn’, but ‘why would a company so renowned for loving its fans, and who make such wonderful stories, do this to us?’ We’re meant to wonder the reason why we were deliberately handed this ending.
You see, what we forget as we play through is that the only perspective we have is Commander Shepard’s. Some of us may not think of it that way, but that is the case. We only see what he or she sees, and we only perceive as he or she perceives. And Shepard would only know something was wrong with his or her own mind if we saw it.
What is the point of having an indoctrinated character if the person directing them knows they are indoctrinated? Shepard isn’t the only person that has been indoctrinated. We have. We didn’t see the subtle hints. Shepard didn’t notice the signs, and so we didn’t notice them. We were too caught up in saving Earth, just like Shepard. If Shepard had said, “Something’s wrong”, we would have noticed. We might have guessed. We would have gone straight for the ‘right’ option, regardless of what Bioware may have intended for the end. But because we were left with the idea that the control and synthesis options were the best options, we blindly moved towards them. Directed Shepard toward them.
And the Reapers win.
We, the players, were indoctrinated right alongside Shepard. And by sitting here and demanding that we have a different ending, we acknowledging that something is wrong. Something is broken. Something is not right. But instead of thinking that Bioware has done this deliberately to us, we swung immediately into rage and hate and slammed them for the decision.
We are raging that Bioware betrayed our trust.
But we didn’t trust them.
I, myself, am guilty of this. And now that I sit back and think about it, about the games, about Bioware, all I can say is if that this is right, if this is what Bioware intended… If the true ending is yet to come…
…. Bra. Fucking. Vo. Take my goddamn money.
Just make sure the real end game is free. Kay?