Interpreting the Catalyst: A Mass Effect Analysis, Part 1
Eventually the Catalyst incorporates the Crucible into its experiment. Despite increased harvesting efficiency with the mass relays as mentioned above, it wasn’t getting where it needed to go, and so it established a benchmark that a galactic civilization would need to live up to in order to essentially prove its worth. We will discuss this benchmark in-depth later.
The Crucible was initially a seed of an idea, and over many iterations of the harvesting cycle various civilizations evolved the design until it was powerful enough that when docked with the Citadel it would have sufficient power to do … something, by shooting its energy through the mass relays (video 1). The stated objective in building the Crucible by the present civilization in the games, and the Prothean empire before it, was to destroy the Reapers.
However, through the course of Mass Effect 3, we see the rogue organization Cerberus and its leader, The Illusive Man, advocating to use the Crucible to control the Reapers. We also know that the same thing occurred during the Prothean empire’s cycle as it, too, attempted to build and utilize the Crucible. The Prothean virtual intelligence Vendetta tells Shepard on Thessia that this scenario — a civilization scrambling to build the Crucible while fighting a two-front war against the Reapers and the splinter group seeking to control the Reapers — has been a recurring theme during the Reaper harvests, and as such that is evidence that the situation must be instigated by the Catalyst.
The assumption by Shepard and his allies within Mass Effect 3 is that the Crucible was conceived by organic beings, and the Crucible apparently gives credit for the concept to someone other than itself (video 1) — so how do we know it’s part of the Catalyst’s solution and not just an external variable it would rather eliminate?
For one, the Catalyst is comically dishonest when Shepard asks why it didn’t stop the building of the Crucible: The Catalyst claims it had thought the idea had been eradicated, but its own words and actions prove this is untrue. The Catalyst goes as far as to state outright that it and the Reapers had indoctrinated the Illusive Man (video 1) — Vendetta says the splinter group of protheans seeking to control the Reapers were likewise indoctrinated (video 7) — and by the start of Mass Effect 3, when both Cerberus and humanity learn of the Crucible concept, Cerberus troops had already been implanted with Reaper technology.
And if the Catalyst is actively indoctrinating Cerberus into thinking they can use the Crucible for control — something the Crucible actually is capable of doing! — then the idea that the Catalyst didn’t know the Crucible is still around just doesn’t make sense.
It also makes little sense to think that in an experiment as controlled as the one the Catalyst is implementing it would allow a variable like the Crucible to persist. Even if it were an creation of organic beings, the Reapers aren’t so haphazard about the harvesting process that they would be completely unable to stamp out the concept if they wanted to.
The clincher for this line of thought is how the Crucible functions. The Crucible by itself can’t get the job done, and it needs the Citadel to amplify its power through the mass relays (video 1). And, say it with me, the Reapers made the Citadel and the mass relays. Whether an organic being or the Catalyst came up with the Crucible in the first place is immaterial; the Catalyst obviously made its intended use possible as a part of its experiment.
Part 2 of this analysis Is now up! In it, I’ll take this groundwork and apply it to the events of the games to discuss what might be the Catalyst’s true purpose in creating the harvest, why the Crucible could be part of its solution, and what the “cultural benchmark” I referred to above means for Shepard and the Citadel civilizations. If you made it this far, you’ll definitely want to keep taking this journey with us.
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Don’t forget to head over to part 2 for the next part of the analysis.