Mass Effect 3 Ending: Analyzing The Indoctrination Theory
An Explanation of the Indoctrination Theory
What if Shepard is indoctrinated? It’s the central tenet of the theory that the endings of Mass Effect 3 are not what they appear to be, and it makes sense in terms of the lore of the universe. Shepard has had almost as much contact with the Reapers and their technology as any other character in the trilogy, and as we’ve been told numerous times before, exposure to Reaper tech eventually allows the machines to work their ways into a person’s brain and exact manipulation and control over them.
Shepard has shown remarkable resistance, but like Frodo and the One Ring, he’s not immune — he’s Smeagoling out slowly the whole time. In fact, we actually see indoctrination at play on Shepard in his confrontation with The Illusive Man on the Citadel, when he’s unable to control himself during the conversation. Black tendrils can be seen creeping in on the sides of the screen, a further indication that Shepard is feeling some kind of manipulation.
There are a lot more clues that what Shepard’s experiencing on the Citadel might not be real, primarily centering around the interaction with the Guardian AI at the close of those events. Fans have reacted vehemently to these moments because they seem to fail to explain key aspects of the ending solution, and seem diametrically opposed to Shepard’s goals.
Thus the speculation is that Shepard’s time in the Citadel is, in fact, some kind of hallucination. Some feel that choosing the Blue or Green endings represent Shepard succumbing to Reaper influence, giving them what they want: either to “control” the Reapers, which numerous bits of dialog have suggested is impossible and only presented as a possibility to The Illusive Man because the Reapers are manipulating him; or “synthesis” with synthetic life, which sounds awfully akin to the goal of the Reapers anyway. Meanwhile, the Red ending is suggested by the theory as Shepard fighting off indoctrination. The hallucination/dream theory is further supported by the “Perfect” ending cutscene that’s only available with the Red option, in which it appears that Shepard wakes up — non-dead — among a bunch of rubble.
Trying to assume that Shepard rode a Keeper through Earth’s atmosphere and landed on Earth like the damn Master Chief is really hard to imagine (though, I guess, not really all that far misaligned from the physics we’ve seen in the endings). It makes some degree of sense to figure that Shep never left earth to begin with. Naturally, the full body of evidence would take quite a while to write down, but the video embedded below does a pretty solid job of hitting most of the relevant points.