Losing my religion

Okay so on reflection I had more thoughts to share on the ME3 ending. There are spoilers behind the cut. Also, it’s worth reading through a friend and colleague’s comments on my previous post which are also insightful (spoilers there too, natch).

Right. So I gave some thought to this while I was talking it out with my friend Nate Dutton last night, and talking about my process of what to pick in the end. For me, it was a risk/reward/cost scenario:

  • The “Control” ending has massive potential rewards in terms of a docile Reaper workforce, especially since the mass relays just blew up. The cost is also relatively low: the life of Commander Shepard, basically. However, the risk is enormous. What if it doesn’t work? What if it doesn’t last? Then the Reaper nonsense starts all over again.
  • The “Destroy” ending has reasonable rewards. The relays are toast but the Reapers are gone. There will be a long period of suffering while people rebuild, but life goes on. Also, the risk is really low: you see the Reapers blow up so you know it works. They’re probably not coming back. On the flip side, the cost is tremendous in scale: genocide of at least one race (the geth, and if you ‘saved’ them with the ‘best’ Priority: Rannoch ending, a newly sentient and friendly geth) and one significant companion in the form of EDI. There’s also the unexpected side benefit: Shepard may (emphasis may) still be alive somewhere. So, that’s a thing. If you’re able to come to grips with the sacrifice, it seems like a better alternative than Control.
  • And then there’s the Synthesis ending. Other than the Child’s enigmatic description of the result as “the pinnacle of evolution” and a “synthesis of organic and synthetic,” the real problem with this choice is we have no information about it whatsoever other than part of the cost. We don’t know if it will work, we don’t know what it will really do, and other than a certainty that Shepard will be no more, we don’t know what it’s going to cost.

I came to the same conclusion that the aforementioned friend did: this is a leap of faith. If you think of a faith-based decision as one that you make without having all the evidence, but are making because something non-logic-based like emotions or morality or trust in other people compels you to make it, then the Synthesis ending IS a leap of faith in the purest terms.

Now, granted, for those who haven’t seen the Synthesis ending, someone pointed out something interesting to me: the leaves on the trees, as well as Joker’s body, have traces of “synthetics” to them in the Normandy crash scene if you watch in HD and look closely. Observe:

Now, sidebar: this is dumb. Their way of showing “synthesis” was to overlay circuitboard-esque glow onto anything organic (although I noticed EDI has it too) and to mess with Joker’s eyes. I understand they were trying to do this without text or dialogue so they had to rely on a visual cue, but come on. There’s got to be something better than “visibly not touching the skin layer of circuit paths.” But it does show that the Synthesis ending does have some impact, even with a minor variation compared to the other two Normandy crash scenes.

Anyhow: Yeah. Leap of faith. Things changed for the future. Shepard demonstrably gone. Certainly, if you buy the notion of Shepard as a messianic figure, and the plot arc of ME as a series being about how humanity adapts to a posthuman universe (recall EDI’s story about her discussion with Mordin regarding the salarian equivalent of “posthumans”), then this is a perfectly sensible ending with decent closure. On the flip side, it’s an ending that benefits most from the game telling you what happens next, and it’s clear that they wanted to leave that ambiguous and open-ended in all three endings.

What interests me is that there are things left behind to ‘ease your pain’ in the Synthesis and Destroy endings. In the Synthesis ending, you can be secure in the notion that you didn’t kill off EDI or the geth just to save the universe, so these people you cared about can live on (MAYBE) even though you (well, “you”) are clearly gone.

But the Destroy ending? This is where the contested scene of Shepard’s (MAYBE) potential survival comes into play:

23 seconds, give or take. Obviously no face shot because it’s pre-rendered and you can change Shep’s appearance (though I will note, this scene is different if you played Fem!Shep; the shape of the body lying there is more “feminine”). Interestingly, everyone who’s ever mentioned this scene to me says that it’s London, though I don’t see a thing that suggests that other than “was recently blasted to dust.” And we don’t even know if it’s really Shepard, though it probably is; Shepard has long been associated with the N7 logo, and the game uses it as her “icon” in status screens in place of the face portraits used for squadmates. So most people read this as “somehow, Shepard lives.”

Of course, this is also considered one of the biggest plot holes by the conspiracy theory wing, since the argument goes: how did a heavily-wounded Shepard who wasn’t in full N7 armor survive the point-blank explosion of the Citadel and Crucible, survive re-entry a second time (it killed her in the opening of ME2 after all), and then land somewhere amid Earth rubble ready to walk it all off? I’m kind of with them on this one, as even if you assume that Shepard was on a large-enough chunk of the Citadel to protect her from burning up in re-entry there’s plenty of other things that would do her in.

Yet on the flip side, this scene is what gives indoctrination theory people in particular a kind if hope. It doesn’t hurt that, apparently, the file for it in the PC version is labelled “perfect ending” or something similar (can someone confirm or deny this?). They mention the implausibility of this scenario, and of the Normandy fleeing, as examples that something strange is going on. Maybe they’re right.

If you ask me, though, this is a carrot, and it’s specifically a carrot for people (like me!) who just threw away a friend and committed genocide to save the universe. As I said to Nate last night, I think they could have omitted it with no real problem. It raises more questions than it provides answers.

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