Interpreting the Catalyst: A Mass Effect Analysis, Part 2
What Happens Now
When Shepard arrives on the Citadel, the Catalyst acknowledges our prowess and explains its most basic premise and mandate — and then straight-up lies about what it’s really doing in presenting us with three hugely divergent options in the final moments of Mass Effect 3. (video 1)
Option 1: Destroy the Reapers and all other synthetic life. This option puts us back at square one, resetting the entire “game,” in a sense, with organic life still capable of creating new synthetic life, but without the Reapers to stop them from killing each other. Why would the Catalyst think this could possibly be a good idea? Since the Catalyst’s mandate is to preserve life by stopping organic and synthetic life from destroying one another, allowing itself to be destroyed is risky, but meeting the cooperation benchmark through the Reaper War indicates the present civilization has the right perspective and is equipped to avoid the recurring mistakes that led the Catalyst’s initial creation.
The Catalyst tells Shepard this option won’t work and that the same problems will later arise once organics build new synthetic organisms, but this is one last measure of psychological control it tries to exercise over him, in the form of a challenge. Remember, too, that Shepard survives this option and can carry forth the Catalyst’s warning, encouraging those that come after to prove the Catalyst wrong.
And this isn’t going to create utopia. Winning the Reaper War doesn’t mean there will never be war again in the galaxy. But in meeting the Catalyst’s benchmark, the core of galactic civilization proves itself to be capable of — although there’s no guarantee — of defeating any future adversary it faces, no matter its form. Or at least, that’s the thought. Judging by Admiral Hackett’s monologue that accompanies this option, the sort of extreme variables I reference above, such as the krogan being being free of the genophage and led by a bloodthirsty Wreav, don’t change this outlook. (video 4)
Option 2: Control the Reapers. In this option, Shepard takes the Catalyst’s place as the Reapers’ handler, using that power as he sees fit. This one is quite intriguing, as it follows that Virtual Shepard would have all the same archived knowledge from the harvested species the Catalyst did, but without its original bias, and with Shepard’s innate personality traits.
In the Extended Cut epilogue for the Control ending (video 5), God Shepard talks about using the Reapers to protect his civilization from whatever threats they might face — which you have to think is the same mindset the Catalyst had back in the day, minus whatever giving-a-shit factor Shepard carried through his transition to godhood. But essentially, God Shepard and the Catalyst have the same ultimate goals — the preservation of life.
Option 3: All life becomes a combination of synthetic and organic, or organic life achieves physical perfection of sorts and synthetics understand what it means to be alive, finally. This is the Catalyst’s most ideal solution, and one it even tried to enact, unsuccessfully, a few times in the past (video 1). Those civilizations weren’t ready, it says, a fact that likely was the reason for creating the Crucible benchmark. That Synthesis “can’t be forced” on a civilization is why it’s one of three options, and the one that requires the highest Galactic Readiness score to achieve — it is a fate that must be earned, but also chosen.
So: Why doesn’t the Catalyst just explain what is really going on?
Because doing so would not produce the desired effect.