Interpreting the Catalyst: A Mass Effect Analysis, Part 3
Destroy the Reapers and Other Synthetics
The Leviathans, as they have done for a billion years since the first harvest, watch galactic events from afar. They see the Crucible fire and destroy the Reapers and geth, if the latter lasted that long, and they wait. After a time, they become sure the Catalyst is no longer in play. Organics create new synthetic beings as they do, but the dynamic is very different now, as organics are happy to have these robots fill crucial roles in society not as slaves or servants but as people — equals — who are able to do certain things far more easily than organic beings could.
The Leviathans notice the change, but do not trust it. They are stubborn and stuck with the biases of their ancestors, and they still believe they are infinitely superior to these other organics. So for the first time since they ruled the galaxy they take an active role in galactic affairs, as they seek to once again exert control over the Milky Way. First they act subtly, without revealing themselves, and then more and more openly and directly act out over time.
Because of Shepard’s search for the Leviathans in Mass Effect 3, the higher-ups in galactic society are aware they exist. And when the Leviathans begin making waves, a few people recognize the patterns and attempt to fight back in whatever way is possible.
Shepard Controls the Reapers
The most fascinating aspect of Shepard uploading himself into the Citadel and becoming the new guiding force behind the Reapers is the whole system’s newfound unpredictability. This Catalyst Shepard is not the Shepard you once knew and controlled. It has now left behind the immediate and mortal concerns it had as a human, with input from all the Reaper intelligences informing its policy. In the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut, Catalyst Shepard promises to safeguard the surviving civilization, but we cannot predict how its position will change over a thousand years. Shepard has, in a very real sense, become something of a god.
With the Reapers acting as protectors for longer than people knew them as destroyers, a religion treating the unknowable Reapers as gods will spring up, essentially forming a fundamentalist splinter in galactic society. This odd dynamic — the detached Reapers over here, regular folk over there and Reaper worshippers in between — develops into a volatile situation in which the fundamentalists attempt to push their beliefs on the others while God Shepard resents them for being domineering and perhaps, eventually, intervenes.
EDI’s narration for the Synthesis ending, in which all life becomes an advanced blend of organic and synthetic pieces, implies that in moving forward society’s goal will be to transcend further, perhaps even into immortality.
Asimov’s assumed endgame (which he never reached) is contact with an extragalactic aliens species, either because they come to our galaxy or we go to theirs. Running with the Asimov influence, the Citadel government decides to attempt a voyage through the void to another galaxy (perhaps the Andromeda galaxy, pictured above, for name recognition) as part of its quest for transcendence. There, they must face true conflict for the first time since the Reaper War as they encounter intelligent societies who are not synthesized as the Milky Way residents were, and who are wary of this incursion.
After a time, however, the immigrants from the Milky Way realize this new galaxy is built on the same sort of guiding infrastructure the Catalyst had engineered back home, though it’s decidedly not familiar. This new galaxy is run from the shadows by its own Catalyst, which is enacting its own “solution.” The galactic immigrants would eventually discover that Leviathans, the self-proclaimed “apex race” unbounded by the limitations of the lesser species, had long ago spread through the entire universe, deploying other Intelligences charged with solving the synthetic-organic conflicts, with each galaxy serving as self-contained test cases.
In an ideal world, we would get to experience all three of these in an anthology trilogy of sorts, or even Call of Duty-style sub-franchises.
In making this realization, the Milky Way excursion is forced to work to prevent all-out war with the locals of this new galaxy, while simultaneously attempting to learn this new Catalyst’s methods for maintaining order. An ethical debate over whether to stop this Catalyst’s machinations would also occur.
In an ideal world, we would get to experience all three of these in an anthology trilogy of sorts, or even Call of Duty-style sub-franchises, if EA wanted to really exploit the brand. That, more than going in any single direction, could provide redemption for the original ending of Mass Effect 3 that so many people found to be a disservice to its fans and the property itself.
Thanks for making it through all 8 million words of this analysis. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable few weeks putting this together, and I want to reiterate that this work is not intended to shut down debate or be the end of all Mass Effect discussion. My conclusions are not — and could never be — perfect. Regardless of what you think of how the trilogy ended, this universe is full of surprises around every corner, and with BioWare having more of it in the oven means there’s plenty of reason to continue to explore it.
As Ellie Goulding would assert, “Anything could happen.”
Follow Phil Owen on Twitter: @philrowen.