roycalbeck (roycalbeck) wrote,

The Three Shells (Mass Effect 3 Ending, SPOILERS)

Yes, yes, by now you've all heard the ranting and raving from the Mass Effect fanbase about the ending of ME3. I couldn't possibly have anything new to say, could I? Well if I didn't, I wouldn't be writing this. Because I'm lazy enough that if someone else said it, I don't need to repeat it. Why bother?

First, let me note that I am VERY MUCH a latecomer to Mass Effect fandom. I purchased, and played through, ME1 and ME2 in the weeks preceding the launch of ME3. I have NOT been deeply invested in the game or its characters for years and years and years. I have not explored every nook and cranny of the decision trees or even done more than a single playthrough of any of them. I DID purchase the DLCs and enjoyed them thoroughly, as I did the rest of the series right up until The Last Ten Minutes.

So. Without getting into any of the rest of it? Let's just point out the logical non-working-ness of the three main ME3 ending choices. And in case you missed it, the title of this blog includes the word SPOILERS, so no whining about that now.

God-Child tells you that the Illusive Man could not control the Reapers, because they already controlled him.

And guess who the Illusive Man demonstrated HE had control over previous to this statement? No points if you didn't answer "YOU, THE PLAYER". The Illusive Man forces you to shoot one of your oldest friends, you get to see all kinds of wavy black indicators on the screen that your mind is not entirely your own, and the only reason you can kill him is because he briefly stops controlling you, in order to concentrate on murdering Anderson himself.

If the Illusive Man can't control the Reapers because THEY control HIM, then there's no logical reason YOU should be able to control the Reapers. And even if you did, it wouldn't deal with the central reason the God-Child has for giving you the decision to make in the first place: the need for "a new solution" to the "problem" of organics creating synthetics.

Just because YOU are now in control of the Reapers doesn't mean new races will magically refrain from creating synthetics --- and if you do anything differently to influence that fact one way or the other, it begs the question of why God-Child didn't think of it first, over the millions of years it's been exterminating trillions of sentient beings. The implication is either that you just became the galaxy's new mass-murdering god-being, or that the original God-Child was just a bloodthirsty moron.

You are told that this option will cause all life in the galaxy --- organic and synthetic --- to fuse "at the molecular level" into a single form of life. The entire reason for this is to eliminate the basis of the argument that synthetics (the created) will always rebel against organics (their creators), by making them one and the same.

This is not "at the atomic level" or "at the quark level" or "at the quantum-entanglement level". It's molecular. Molecules are what you get when you combine atoms. If you are combining all life into a new form of life with combined molecules, YOU WILL NOT GET SOMETHING THAT LOOKS DAMN-NEAR IDENTICAL TO WHAT IT WAS BEFORE. Yet Joker and EDI look like they merely swapped a little flesh here and some circuitry there.

Worse, as with Control, Synthesis does NOTHING to prevent anyone from creating NEW synthetics. It just merges the existing ones with existing organic life.

All of this also, of course, entirely ignores the fact that the Geth (the created) did NOT rebel against the Quarians (their creators). Quite the opposite; the Geth tried to reason, begged, held back, and rarely engaged in violence except in self-defense. Almost all the violence was instigated and maintained by the Quarians. And in the end, there is an ending to that particular conflict where both sides resolve to co-exist peacefully --- completely blowing out the God-Child's argument from top to bottom.

Synthesis solves nothing, and is conducted solely to "solve" a problem that has a clear alternate solution --- which you are not allowed to even MENTION in your dialogue with the God-Child. By railroading your character into acting like an idiot, in order to avoid a simple and obvious question from potentially derailing the central plot device, Bioware introduced a horribly bad deus ex machina at the worst possible point in the series. This was simply BAD WRITING.

It's made clear that this works by destroying ALL synthetic life in the galaxy, thus offing the Reapers into the bargain. And it's pointed out that, due to the extensive rebuild on your body Cerberus and the Illusive Man sprung for, you yourself are substantially synthetic at this point. You're Darth Vader as a good guy; kill the machine part and the rest of you will (nobly, of course) follow.

But it's ONLY in the Destruction ending, and then ONLY if you raised your Effective Military Strength above 4000, that we get treated to the sight of a suit of "N7" armor whose occupant takes a single breath before we cut to the credits. IF this is Shepard, then the premise of the Destruction option killing off your synthetic parts was a flat-out lie. It could be argued that the God-Child (which, itself, created and controls the Reapers) was lying to you in order to get you to spare them through either of the other (utterly illogical and inconsistent) options.

Then again, if it's NOT Shepard the cutscene has no function or context in the story. You've already been treated to a visual of other soldiers, Earthside, surviving the blast. Why show us a no-name N7, and why only show the scene as the result of a highly successful main-game Effective Strength score? If not Shepard, the whole scene becomes a non-sequitur (or, worse, an elaborate "PSYCHE!" guaranteed to piss off the fan base even further).

In terms of being able to bullshit something out, the Destruction option at least has some wiggle room by drawing the conclusion that God-Child was lying. But it still falls afoul of the same core issue the other endings had: nothing prevents the creation of new synthetics.

None of the choices reflect the objective the God-Child has in giving you the choices to begin with. None stand up to dispassionate examination. At best, we have ONE that could be considered consistent in and of itself --- but only if you make certain assumptions. If the ending is supposed to have been taken at face value, it also falls apart under the weight of its own nonsense.

Finally, here's why I call this little article "The Three Shells".

First, all three endings are essentially a shell game. No matter which you pick, it is logically and internally inconsistent with not only the rest of the game, but also the decision itself. You cannot make a "right" decision; the pea is not actually under any of the shells at all.

Second, you might recall a fun little moviegoing romp called "Demolition Man". In it, two fresh-faced cops from the future are laughing at Sylvester Stallone because, after he goes to do his business on the crapper, he doesn't know what "the three shells" are for. Toilet paper doesn't exist in the future. It's never explained how "the three shells" are actually used, but their function is clear:


Thanks for reading.
Tags: mass effect
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