The Problem with the Synthesis Ending

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An analysis of the supposed "best ending" of Mass Effect 3.

Submitted: May 16, 2015

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Submitted: May 16, 2015











The Problem with the Synthesis Ending




Why the Green One isn’t so Great


(From the perspective of someone who prefers to play the Mass Effect Trilogy as a FemShep, with the DLC content, and enough EMS to unlock the best possible outcomes of each ending)





There a plenty of people out there who say that the synthesis ending to Mass Effect 3 is the best ending out of the lot. I disagree. This ending, for me, is so far removed from being the best ending that it should be blatantly obvious to most people who have played through this great trilogy of games to steer clear of it.


The Synthesis ending is the worse choice at the end of this trilogy because of a few reasons. I will list them first and then go into depth. The reasons are:


  1. It completely undermines and contradicts what everyone (excluding the Illusive Man) has set out and resolved to do since the start of ME1.
  2. It makes no sense and has no bases in science.
  3. Like cake, it is a lie.

For number one I’m sure most people will agree with me on this because it is literally the whole point of Shepard uniting all of the races in the galaxy. She spends the entire game doing this with the sole purpose of destroying the Reapers and therefore ridding the galaxy of their regular genocidal harvests so that everyone can get on with their lives.

So Shepard, going through all that she goes through, watching as so many people die and suffer, to get to the moment when she can end it, only to be given a last minute option of fusing everything in the galaxy into a new kind of life? No, no! That is just not on, and it is something that she would not do at such a moment.

But what about it bringing peace to everything because now everyone understands each other? This, frankly, is one of the worse counter arguments to picking this choice that there is. If you truly believe that simply understanding another person, or race, or belief, or culture will somehow, miraculously, make them not hate you or want to kill you then you are grossly naive. Scholars try to convey to other people that they understand them through their studies and questioning and such all the time, but has this stopped conflict en masse? Simple answer: No. Peace is, as saddening as it may seem, impossible, especially in the Mass Effect universe.



I have quite a bit to say about number two.

Now, I know that Mass Effect is science fiction and that I shouldn’t be too hard on it for its use of “space magic” to explain away its seeming impossibilities. On this I will agree with you. All good science fiction has, at its core, a certain explanation for how humans and other intelligent aliens are capable of intergalactic travel, exploration, and colonisation. This explanation usually takes the form of some kind of futuristic or alien technology that somehow makes it possible to bend time and space so that easy and fast travel between star systems and galaxies is possible (and in some cases has become an everyday occurrence like in Mass Effect, or say, Cowboy Bebob). This explanation is, ironically, never really explained in full. We are given sometimes detailed descriptions as to what it is capable of achieving, but are never given an in depth scientific explanation as to how it actually does this. Mass Effect is a colossal offender of this. However, this is of course because Mass Effect, and other science fiction, is written by writers and not scientists, so it’s fine to let this go. Nevertheless this certain explanation, no matter how farfetched it may seem, does, for the most part, stay within the boundaries of our own understanding of the laws of physics. Science fiction that does not adhere to this ends up, for me at least, being terrible, as I cannot tear my mind away from the ridiculousness of what I am seeing, playing, or reading.

In the first Mass Effect game we are told that the mass effect is what enables travel around the galaxy, is what is used for weapons and other technology, and of course biotics. These are all explained away rather nicely in some of the codexes and I have no problem with them.

So what’s my problem with the synthesis ending then? Well, let me explain.

The catalyst, hereafter to be referred to as the Reaper AI (as this is what it is) tells Shepard that synthesis is the final stage of evolution for organics and synthetics. I have a very huge problem accepting this as fact because it is quite assuredly nonsense.

The first issue I have with this ludicrous statement is that the Reaper AI says that evolution has a final stage, which it does not. Evolution is a constant in the universe; it never stops, it just keeps on going until the end of time, until there is nothing left in the universe but empty space and black holes. To us now it doesn’t seem as if evolution is going anywhere, it’s as if it has stopped. That is only because evolution is a very slow process and it takes hundreds of thousands to millions of years for life to develop to our level. We are still evolving; we just cannot sense it because it is so bloody slow. Since Mass Effect is quite firmly our own universe with just a little “space magic” sprinkled in makes this absurd. So the Reaper AI claiming that the fusion of organic and synthetic life is the “final” stage of evolution is just fallacy.

My second issue with this is the “evolution” of synthetics. If Shepard, post Mass Effect 2, gave birth to a biological child then that child would just be born human with none of its mother’s cybernetic (synthetic) upgrades. It’s the same in our universe; if a woman who has an artificial foot give birth to a child then that child would not be born with an artificial foot. It’s the same thing, just enhanced a little by Mass Effects standards. Synthetics in Mass Effect do “evolve” but in their own way by upgrading and modifying their programming. They do it this way because that can’t propagate and it is a lot faster which suites them. Synthetic material is, as Javik says, outside of nature, and therefore cannot be passed on through evolution, and no amount of “space magic” should change that irrefutable fact. This is where the synthesis ending really lost me, it changing, in one moment, the whole conception of the laws of physics in the Mass Effect universe. This is something that is impossible in our universe and was seemingly impossible in the Mass Effect one until the ridiculous revelation a few minutes before the end on the game. 



I may have made you laugh a bit with “the cake is a lie” thing but I think what I have to say next about the green ending should be thought about (at the very least for a little while).

Throughout the Mass Effect Trilogy, Shepard and her comrades have had a singular goal; to stop the Reapers. Which everyone pretty much unanimously agrees can only be done by destroying them. When we get to Mass Effect 3 the Illusive Man reveals, very early on, that another solution is preferable; control of the Reapers. To this Shepard, and everyone else, flat out says is crazy due to all the horror and suffering and pain the Reapers have caused not just to the present cycle, but all the others cycles that preceded them. They all are resolved that the only way to end the Reaper nightmare is to destroy them.

And then we get to the end and are confronted by the Reaper AI who gives Shepard a choice. To do what she set out to do from the start and destroy the Reapers, give in to insanity and control them, or jump into a pillar of energy and splice every living thing in the galaxy together.

For me the choice seems obvious but that is because I thought about the endings after doing them all.

I think the synthesis ending is a lie of omission on part of the Reaper AI.

I think the Reaper AI takes on the role that is similar to that of an unreliable narrator, in that it tells Shepard things and she doesn’t know whether or not it is lying. Personally I think that most of what it says about this choice is true but leaves out some information that it thinks would make Shepard not take this option.

Here is how I think it going inside the Reaper AI’s mind:

After being created by the Leviathans millions of years ago, it creates its solution of harvesting advanced species so they won’t wipe themselves out with synthetics by converting them into Reapers. Okay so far so good. But then after say a few million year of doing this is realises that its solution does not work. Evolution just keeps on going and replacing the civilisations it harvests. It eventually tires of doing this every fifty thousand years and actually wants to stop but it cannot since its original purpose has not been fulfilled. Therefore, since the Reaper AI is quite clearly the most advance and most intelligent AI that has ever existed in the galaxy, it thinks up a new solution to free itself and it ends up with synthesis. If it could find a way to force organics and synthetics to understand one another and become literally the same then there would be no more use for it and the Reapers. Its purpose with be complete and it would escape its own never ending cycle.

I also think if fears death (or the synthetic equivalent). It does not want Shepard to destroy the Reapers because it will result in its own destruction. That is way it offers her it first and says that it is the worse solution since peace will not last. It basically says, Yeah you could destroy me, but it’s a stupid idea and you’d be better off doing something else.

It then moves onto the Control choice, saying that it would be possible for Shepard to take control when the Illusive Man could not. I think it fears this ending too since, although it wouldn’t be destroyed per say, it would definitely be erased like a virus program by Shepard’s consciousness, because there is no way Shepard’s influence to the Reaper AI would allow it to continue floating around in the collective Reaper consciousness. No, far too risky in case it takes control again. With this choice it wouldn’t “die” but it couldn’t continue to “live” either.

So, with these two options we have our choice to make, and we have known about these two for almost the entire game. But then the Reaper AI suddenly springs this third option on us; synthesis.

When Shepard enquires about this choice the Reaper AI essentially tells her that it is the “best” solution and that it is the “final” stage of evolution (which I’ve already gone over) and that with it all conflict between organics and synthetics will end and render it redundant. I think this is the lie of omission. I think what it’s not telling Shepard is that by choosing this option it has the highest chance of survival and the highest probability of accomplishing is original purpose. All life will be the same and never chance. Evolution will effectively be halted and will no longer require its intervention.

What I think the Reaper AI is trying to do with this choice is coax Shepard into doing precisely what it wants. This sounds like, yes, indoctrination, but I do not believe the infamous theory that surrounds this tool of the Reapers. No, in fact I think that Shepard, of all the living things in the galaxy, is actually immune to it (or at the very least has a high tolerance of it, enough so that it affects her briefly before she wills her way out of it). When the Reaper AI realises that it is incapable of indoctrinating Shepard into doing what it wants it resorts to simple manipulation, which, ultimately, if you choose correctly and choose the destroy ending, it fails in doing.



The naiveté of the Reaper AI is also interesting and rather integral to its character. It has a very black and white outlook on the galaxy and it had the mind of a child (which makes it pretty poetic that it takes on the form of a child when confronted my Shepard). It assumes that all organics and synthetics are destined to destroy one another for all time but has never just let them play out the live without it interfering with the harvest. I’m willing to bet that if it did it would see the inevitable strife and war and death, but then it would see understanding and acceptance and eventual peace (or the nearest living beings can get to such an unattainable state). It is still so childish that it chooses to ignore that fact that against it all the life in the galaxy has put aside its differences to survive rather than acknowledge what has happened.



So there you go. This is what I thought u and I was wondering what other fans of the Trilogy think? Do you agree (mostly I predict not)? Do you think it’s at least plausible (hopefully yes)?

Thats enough rambling, tell me what you think.





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