Home Editorial The increasingly plausible theory that may just save the ending of Mass...

WARNING: This article contains massive spoilers for the Mass Effect series and the ending of Mass Effect 3.

Look, I’m on the same train as everyone else. Namely, the one-way train to a little village I like to call The Ending of Mass Effect 3 Was Bullshit.

Did it ruin the entire story? Not for me, no… but I can easily see how it would leave a sour taste in many gamers’ previously agape mouths. In a literal act of deus ex machina, the entire struggle against the Reapers is reduced to a single, bizarre choice posited by a heretofore unseen god-child.

For unexplained, unfathomable reasons, Commander Shepard fails to activate the Crucible superweapon and is ascended to an inexplicable room where the ghost of a boy he failed to save on Earth claims to be the Creator of the galaxy’s organic/synthetic cycle. The boy ghost god thing then tells Shepard she has three choices:

  • Control the Reapers, as the Illusive man wanted
  • Destroy the Reapers, as the Alliance wanted
  • Mix DNA with the Reapers, ending the war through magical interbreeding

None of these choices made any sense for dozens of reasons. Why was “God” letting Shepard decide the fate of the galaxy? Why did God create a room on the Citadel with giant, galaxy-altering laser beams? And why did God take the form of a boy that got blown to bits at the beginning of the story? The logic just isn’t there, unless… unless none of it was real.

 

The indoctrination theory

This may sound crazy, and I thought it was, too, but the increasingly popular theory that Commander Shepard is actually indoctrinated by the Reapers is the only reason the ending could be what it is.

  • Why don’t the speeches of Anderson, the Illusive Man, and God make sense at the end?
    They’re only happening in Shepard’s mind.
  • Why would the Citadel have giant lasers that perfectly align with the game’s main conflict?
    They only exist in Shepard’s conflicted mind.
  • Why would Bioware, the masters of storytelling, create an ending that’s less than brilliant?
    They fucking didn’t.

Everything that takes place after the final push to the Citadel Conduit isn’t real; it all represents Shepard’s internal conflict against the Reaper indoctrination fighting her willpower. The bizarre underbelly of the Citadel is a figment of Shepard’s mind, as is the battle with the Illusive Man and the death of Anderson. And that godlike boy offering Shepard an easy way out (or three)? Fucking Reapers, every time.

I won’t claim to have come up with this theory, but I wouldn’t have brought it up without significant evidence. Watch the video below or read this insightful essay and just try to tell me they’re wrong. Argue all you want, but the only possibilities are:

  • Bioware fucked up their biggest franchise’s final plot point
  • Bioware ingeniously sowed seeds that will blossom into an amazing ending

There’s nothing left to say; the real Commander Shepard would keep fighting against impossible odds for the best outcome!

Watch the proof below and start getting ready for the real conclusion of Mass Effect.


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48 replies to this post
  1. Bioware ingeniously sowed seeds that will blossom into customers having to pay extra for the “real” ending

    FTFY

    • Bioware wrote and developed an ingenious ending, then EA cut it from the main game and sowed seeds that will blossom into customers having to pay extra for it

      FTFY

    • I like this theory that everything after the final push to the teleporter was all in shepards head, and that was him fighting the indoctrination. It would make the last part of the game make sense. I truly think that the reapers are attempting to indoctrinate him throughout the entire game. The catalyst is the proof. Every time you see the boy its merely a hallucination of the indoctrination. There is no other legit explanation for why the catalyst takes the form of that boy. Some want to say that the catalyst takes that form because the kids death was hard on shepard and was a prominent thought in his mind, but in 100% of previous encounters of an alien entity taking form of someone from the viewers mind in any other plot the entity explains that they took that form because its easiest for the viewer to process. this however does not apply to ME3 shepard seems to accept the impossible fact that this ancient AI looks exactly like the boy that he seen playing on the roof of a skyscraper and also told him he couldnt be saved and helplessly watch die in the beginning of the game. Another indicator that everything after the final push is in shepards head is Anderson. if you notice Anderson doesnt have a scratch on him, there can be no other explanation for this other than its all in shepards head. Shepards battle armor was nearly completely blown off from by the reapers while running to the telepoter and yet Anderson gets to the teleporter without a scratch wearing only a regular military uniform, bullshit, the entire hammer force was wiped out so no one was left to have taken out the reapers guarding the teleporter so how could anderson all by himself get past the reapers without a scratch and get on the citadel AFTER shepard, yet comeout ahead of shepard on the citadel. The only way this can be justified is that the last part of the game is in shepards head otherwise Anderson would have been injured just as Shepard was since he followed shepard into the teleporter. I expect another game to come out with shepard coming out of acoma, and whatever ending you choose in ME3 only impacts your mental state and paragon. It would also be nice if they make the game an actual war with the reapers with actual space battles aboard the Normandy seeing as how The entirety of ME3 is of you gathering forces for a battle that you never get to really see or participate in, and out of 3 games they still failed to deliver any space battles that let you control the Normandy in battle, I mean after getting a glimpse of the thousands maybe even millions of reapers at the end of ME2 I was expecting a grander scale of war and to be able to fight against hundreds of reapers not the few rare encounters like it was. Bioware please get your artisticly ignorant thumb out your butt and Make us the Game that we have been waiting for, since ME1 we have been waiting for a FULL OUT WAR with the extremely ancient and IMMENSE forces of the reapers the ACTUAL REAPERS not just their ground forces and bottom line ME3 DID NOT DELIVER THAT. I have faith Bioware dont let us down, and Im not buying any other games made by you or EA untill you have made the Mass Effect game we have been waiting for since we learned of the reapers in ME1. DONT LET US DOWN BIOWARE!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Pretty gutsy move, if true.
    I had thought of a false ending before, but discounted it… hasn’t been done before, amirite?

  3. The ending is real and there is nothing that can prove otherwise. As far as the indoctrination thing is concerned, it does apply. Shepard and Anderson get indoctrinated by TIM. Later on when shepard passes out he then gets indoctrinated by the reapers. According to the codex during indroctrination the victim hear a buzz and lose control of their limbs (TIM’s indoc.). Another form of indoctrination is when the victim experiences and hears ghostly hallucinations (reaper child indoc.). These are the only means of indoctrination. So according to the codexs’ lore the ghost child is merely a reaper hallucination that wants to alter his perception on how to use the crucible. That however does not change the fact that the final choices are real.

  4. I don’t really think that the ending was meant to be indoctrination. Especially considering that the co-founder of Bioware Ray Muzyka thought that the ending was an artistic decision and director Casey Hudson thought the ending was victorious and uplifting. Makes it sound as if the original was the intended, not this reinterpretation.

    I mean its a good way to help those who didn’t like the ending to convince themselves that it was all Bioware’s masterful crafting, but it seems that Bioware legitly thought the ending non-Indoctrination style was good.

  5. There is a underlying theme of indoctrination and the state of Shepard’s will throughout ME3. The theory makes complete sense, even down to some of the tiny details. One thing that I picked up on, is the first conversation that you have with Javik aboard the Normandy. when Shepard asks if he is going to be a problem, Javik responds with ‘That depends on you’, he then holds Shepard and read’s his/her thoughts etc. Then follows with ‘You are anxious, worried (along those lines) The Reapers are winning.’ The whole statement was directed at Shepard alone, not the current situation with the war. Here’s to hoping!

  6. The indoctrination theory is interesting however I loved the ending of ME3. I feel it tied things up nicely. The way I saw it the Catalyst (which I believe only looked like that little kid that died in the beginning because that incident was weighing heavily on Shepard’s mind and so the Catalyst took that form since it was so prominent a thought) who had created the Reapers and the Cycle as the only way it could see to save organics from total annihilation, was presented with new program choices once the Crucible was attached to the Citadel.

    The choices were for Shepard to control ALL Synthetics (not just the Reapers but the Geth and others such as EDI) which would prevent them from ever rebelling and destroying the organics.
    Destroy ALL synthetics (again not JUST the reapers) which would stop the synthetics from destroying the organics, though as the Catalyst pointed out this would only solve the problem temporarily.
    Combine his energy as an organic with the synthetic energy of the Citadel and then change all lifeforms into a combination of both, thus removing the cause of the fighting between the two.

    I don’t think the “underbelly” of the Citadel was an illusion. We know that the Keepers move around the Citadel through places nobody knew about and could generate or change anything they needed to in order to keep the station running. That hallway was part of that.

    As far as the War Assets, it could have been handled better but as far as it having no impact on the game, I would bet the final assault to take back earth wouldn’t have been NEARLY as impressive if someone went in with only the bare minimum.

    I like that it ended with Shepard making a HUGE sacrifice in order to save the galaxy. Heroes often have to sacrifice to accomplish their goals.

    The multiplayer portion was fun but I don’t think it should have counted for half of the final War Asset effectiveness.

    Overall I would love to see some DLC that provides more to the story, however I don’t believe they need to change the ending.

  7. As a “theory,” this sets out with a conclusion and then tries to find a bunch of evidence to support that conclusion. There’s no subtext here – there’s a blatant textual reason for the dark lines appearing around the screen and other such things. It’s fun that it actually makes more sense than the current terrible ending, but there’s basically no way that it was intended. It creates plenty of holes – why would Harbinger indoctrinate Shepard at the last moment rather than just shoot him? It accomplishes nothing – either he symbolically gives into the indoctrination and they go about their plans as before, or they actually used him to do something-or-other in the control and synthesis endings, meaning they really gave Shepard the opportunity to destroy the reapers for no reason other than to see whether or not they could trick him into not doing it. Come on. Ultimately, we have to apply occam’s razor to this. Of the two possibilities – that everything in the ending is explained by a conspiracy with its own little problems, or that everything is simply the result of poor writing – I know which is the simplest.

    • What do you think is the explanation for the vent boy who, upon reflection, is clearly not real throughout the entire plot? Should it just be assumed that Shepard created him out of stress-induced hallucination?

      • There’s nothing too weird here: Shepard sees a boy in a vent,he disappears conveniently because the scene was over (senseless convenience isn’t new to Mass Effect, see ME2′s scene where all the combatants leave the ship for no reason just so the crew can get kidnapped,) he dies, Shepard has stress-related dreams about the kid and he’s established as a symbol, then the catalyst takes that form the same way the aliens in Contact took the form of Jodie Foster’s dad.

        Do we need an extra layer of explanation for a psychic overmind in the Mass Effect universe, really? Just look at Javik’s magic touch memory for one example of how the catalyst could have known Shepard’s memories about that kid.

      • I don’t know. It seems more… postured than that. Shepard first sees the boy on top of a skyscraper playing by himself. As I pointed out in my demo impressions, it seems implausible the child could even get there and/or that his parents would let him play unsupervised on top of a skyscraper.

        The next time you see the boy, he briefly runs through a combat area through a door that later turns out to be red-key locked. Shepard cannot access this door with his omnitool hacks yet this 8 year old can?

        Then when he’s in the vent, Anderson doesn’t hear him, even though he’s about 8 feet away. The words the boy says are also a LITTLE too ominous for an 8-year old, don’t you think? Something like “You can’t help me. Nobody can.”

        This is a boy who was carefree and playing on rooftops less than 7 minutes prior?

        Then he climbs into the shuttle unassissted and ignored by the shuttle crews who are there solely to help people get into the shuttles.

        I know it doesn’t prove indoctrination is true but I think it is quite clear the little boy does not exist. Whether it is Reapers or PTSD or something else, I think it was very intentional that the boy is a figment of Shepard’s imagination.

      • Yea, Wingspan, I was pretty hesitant to subscribe to IT…but for God’s sake, that kid just acted way too weird to be real.

        What I’m curious about is whether the god-child’s dialogue changes if you made generally anti-Geth decisions. I chose synthesis and that was based mostly on the fact that I couldn’t justify wiping out an entire species or robbing Joker of EDI, so the god-child’s statement that choosing to destroy the reapers would annihilate all artificial life clearly turned me away from that choice. However, I wonder if the child would still say that if the player chose not to side with the Geth at Rannoch. If the Reaper is truly manipulating Shepard, it would take that into consideration and not tell Shepard that destroying the Reapers would destroy the Geth. Perhaps even the choices you make concerning EDI could affect this dialogue option as well.

    • Thank you I agree completly the principle of Okrams Razor explains it best. The Correct answer is usually the simplest.

  8. Here is the main problem I have with any theory, shepard hasn’t made it to the citadel. The reapers haven’t been stopped. Even with the indoctrination theory, he wakes up in the rubble. Doesn’t matter where that is, what matters is that its BEFORE he gets to the citadel.

    • I just wonder if the whole point around that is that the way that organics defeated the reapers is by Shepherd rallying them together. The final victory or fight to save earth is accomplished in subtext (organic forces outnumbering the reapers) and Shepherds final conflict is for himself.

  9. I don’t know if anyone has noticed this, but at the end of the game The Illusion Man has the strange black markings around his face, and yet just when we talked to him on his base the mission before, he did not have this. My point being that he had the surgery to give him Reaper like abilities–before we even talked to him at the base. I don’t know what to make of it, just throwing it out there. :)
    P.S. You can check the 3rd video recording of the last terminal just before you reach the room where you will talk to The Ilusion Man and kill Kei Lang so you can see what that it’s true.

  10. Indocrination theory? really? that has to be one of the most ridiculous “theories” fans of the series can conceive, because Shepard was undoubtely “indocrinated” since the ending of the first game… oh wait and then he died and was recostructed from scratch by the Illusive Man. Oh yeah, and clearly he is suffering “hallucinations” from this indocrination that’s been happening since 2 games before or some years in the story, maybe at some beacon at ME2? Clearly the kid he sees is indocrination, not a resemblance of Shepard’s fear, past encounters with the reapers, the invasion of Earth, and psychological and trauma’s Shepard has seen in all his military career, all the people he has seen die, all his dificult choices and so on. Yeah, not quite, let’s sum it up he is “indocrinated” the kid is a hallucination and Shepard is trying to free himself from it, something that is truly impossible if you follow the Codex entries in all the ME games. But oh well, fans do have a lot of imagination when it comes to things they really like.

    • So, how did Anderson beat Shepard to the Conduit, yet was nowhere to be seen? And why was the child invisible to everyone except Shepard, and found in places that couldn’t be accessible?

    • I agree, besides even if this theory was right it wouldn’t make for a good ending whatsoever, the reapers are still killing everything while you just take a breath in the concrete……. that is something so stupid and even worse than the ending we have at the moment…..

      • People like the IT because it’s the only way (the ONLY way) the ending made any sense at all. Good, bad, happy, sad… the ending as-is is completely nonsensical. The IT may not be ideal but it was a way to think of the ending that made Bioware seem like thoughtful artists instead of bumbling idiots.

  11. In me 2 ending destroy (collector base) is paragon ending with red explosion and save (kinda control) is renegade ending with blue explosion .Could this be a hint and also Normandy outrunning the wave of explosion is similar.

  12. anyone that thinks the current (fake) ending is the actual ending is an idiot. how could Bioware, the masters of story-telling in gaming, come up with a lackluster ending with their most prized franchise.answer: they didn’t. They mind fucked everyone.

    To those that deny the indoctrination theory, have you even learned about the theory at all? if you think that the theory states shepard as ALREADY indoctrinated, you sir are an idiot. The theory states the endgame (after you get hit by the laser) is a dream sequence. If you think this is how BW mean’t to end shepards story, in a nonsensical plothole filled ending (doesn’t sound like BW at all), you might as well say tali fucking a grapefruit makes sense as well.

    THE REAL ENDING DLC IS FREE SO FUCK YEA

  13. I don’t think the DLC coming out in the summer is going to be the real ending at all. I do believe the DLC will just sum up the endings that they gave us, allowing for us to see how life will be for some of the loved characters of the franchise (Tali = FTW!!). I do agree with you on some parts especially that it is not the real ending at all because Bioware wouldn’t (nearly) ruin their reputation for being so stupid. Because Bioware claims to have “ended” Shepard’s story, I believe the REAL ending will be described in another trilogy set after ME3 (probably a few 100 years). Until then, Bioware will begin pouring out a bunch of games holding the ME title that have no significance to the original trilogy at all. I just hope they don’t do prequels. History = Yes but Prequels = No.

  14. The way I see it, this is the only avenue BioWare can go to make any of this make sense. The final stretch was far too surreal to even theoretically fit into what is possible in the ME universe. Most of the part where Shepard is in the Citadel has hints to something “not quite right”, this is reinforced by the moment of unconsciousness by being shot.

    In my eyes it is further reinforced by one of the endings. If you have very high readiness/war assets, and choose to destroy the Reapers, the very last part of the cinematic ending is very telling – Shepard waking up surrounded by rubble (presumably after having caught a blast or graze from a Reaper beam).

    I hope this is the BioWare ploy to keep interest in ME ticking with DLC (they may think people won’t pay for DLC when the story has well and truly finished?).

    I also hope this is the case because of the far-fetched nature of the final stretch – the Citadel, apparently built by the Reapers as the conduit into the galaxy (then onto the Relays) and also likely to house galactic government is also suddenly a massive laser amplifier…

  15. The only way that sheperd could be indoctrnated is if you fail to hail his scares in the 2nd. If you did heal his/her scares early on then I have no idea if the mappack would even be worth downloading. The reason that I know this is because as progress in the compeighn of the 2nd your scares get worth and your eyes turn orange. Now you don’t any special code to get this to happen you just need to not heal your shepards scares.

  16. The paragon ending in the Indoctrination theory ending is symbolized by Adm. David Anderson. Given what we’re talking about – a complete mind fuck – that is a VERY interesting name. What’s in a name, you ask? Ask yourself this:

    Who was the most famous, original David? The one from the Bible.
    What did he do? He is the one who slew Goliath, the unbeatable giant with a slingshot.

    What is it that you see David Anderson do during his cutscene?
    He destroys the unbeatable Reapers with a pistol shot.

    What about his last name, Anderson?
    Ander is derived from Andro. Andro is greek for Man. A literal translation of Anderson is “Son of Man”. The Son of Man is none other than the savior of humanity, Jesus Christ.

    Put it together

    David Anderson is the savior of humanity. He destroys the Reapers with a pistol shot.

    Mind = completely blown

  17. Ok, if this seems like it is not true then please look closely.
    When you choose something other than destruction, look at Shepard’s face and eyes. He has the eyes with the 3 lights and glowing circle, kinda like Seren, The Illusive man, and husks right? And his face….can you not make out the same pattern as it is on husks? Think about this.

  18. I like this theory that everything after the final push to the teleporter was all in shepards head, and that was him fighting the indoctrination. It would make the last part of the game make sense. I truly think that the reapers are attempting to indoctrinate him throughout the entire game. The catalyst is the proof. Every time you see the boy its merely a hallucination of the indoctrination. There is no other legit explanation for why the catalyst takes the form of that boy. Some want to say that the catalyst takes that form because the kids death was hard on shepard and was a prominent thought in his mind, but in 100% of previous encounters of an alien entity taking form of someone from the viewers mind in any other plot the entity explains that they took that form because its easiest for the viewer to process. this however does not apply to ME3 shepard seems to accept the impossible fact that this ancient AI looks exactly like the boy that he seen playing on the roof of a skyscraper and also told him he couldnt be saved and helplessly watch die in the beginning of the game. Another indicator that everything after the final push is in shepards head is Anderson. if you notice Anderson doesnt have a scratch on him, there can be no other explanation for this other than its all in shepards head. Shepards battle armor was nearly completely blown off from by the reapers while running to the telepoter and yet Anderson gets to the teleporter without a scratch wearing only a regular military uniform, bullshit, the entire hammer force was wiped out so no one was left to have taken out the reapers guarding the teleporter so how could anderson all by himself get past the reapers without a scratch and get on the citadel AFTER shepard, yet comeout ahead of shepard on the citadel. The only way this can be justified is that the last part of the game is in shepards head otherwise Anderson would have been injured just as Shepard was since he followed shepard into the teleporter. I expect another game to come out with shepard coming out of acoma, and whatever ending you choose in ME3 only impacts your mental state and paragon. It would also be nice if they make the game an actual war with the reapers with actual space battles aboard the Normandy seeing as how The entirety of ME3 is of you gathering forces for a battle that you never get to really see or participate in, and out of 3 games they still failed to deliver any space battles that let you control the Normandy in battle, I mean after getting a glimpse of the thousands maybe even millions of reapers at the end of ME2 I was expecting a grander scale of war and to be able to fight against hundreds of reapers not the few rare encounters like it was. Bioware please get your artisticly ignorant thumb out your butt and Make us the Game that we have been waiting for, since ME1 we have been waiting for a FULL OUT WAR with the extremely ancient and IMMENSE forces of the reapers the ACTUAL REAPERS not just their ground forces and bottom line ME3 DID NOT DELIVER THAT. I have faith Bioware dont let us down, and Im not buying any other games made by you or EA untill you have made the Mass Effect game we have been waiting for since we learned of the reapers in ME1. DONT LET US DOWN BIOWARE!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Indoctrination theory is impossible. All the prothean VI are designed to resist reapers, they detect indoctrination and shut themselves down when they detect it. Re-play the Thessia mission in ME3 to see what I mean. Shepard’s last encounter with a prothean VI is after the Cerberus raid, so we know he couldn’t possibly have been indoctrinated at any point in the trilogy prior to the assault to take back Earth.

    If he was indoctrinated on Earth, then why did the reapers keep resisting? Sovereign didn’t fight Saren every time Saren wanted on board. Illusive Man didn’t have to battle his way onto the Citadel. If you’re indoctrinated the reapers want you around to do their work for them, they don’t keep fighting you tooth and nail right down to the last bad guy hiding behind the rock and your last couple pistol bullets.

    Sometimes bad endings are just bad endings. Impossible theories don’t save this one. Just enjoy how awesome the rest of the series was, and be glad the ending left everyone in such vague situations that you can imagine any ending you want and nobody can deny you. But as far as in game events, Shepard was definitely never indoctrinated.

  20. Oh, also, watch the ending again, where Shepard responds to the control option and says “So Illusive Man was right after all.”

    Godboy: Yes, but he could never control us, because we already controlled him.

    Control isn’t an option for the indoctrinated but is an option for Shepard.

  21. http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/355/index/9872108&lf=8
    https://twitter.com/masseffect/status/179687674049867776

    Did Bioware fuck up? Nope. Is Bioware trolling us with this ending? Yes!

    Leaves the question, well, then the Reapers are still there. I believe that this is how it went down (as opposed to that Youtube video):

    http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/355/index/10034971/1

    You did destroy the Reapers, and set off the Crucible at the same time. The ending is not a dream per say, like the Youtube video states, but a virtual reality world constructed by Harbinger using Shepard’s memories. Like the Geth Consensus level, shooting the tube will set off the Crucible and destroy the Reapers at the same time. The tube is the same kind of tube you shot during ME2 Human Reaper fight. So, when you shoot the tube, the Reapers get destroyed.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MasterOfIllusion <— Harbinger
    Chapter that talks about the ending in the Final Hours App? The Perfect Illusion, chapter 11.

    The control ending? Shepard becomes a Reaper, betrays allies, becomes loyal to Reapers.
    Synthesis? Everyone in the galaxy gets Reaper DNA (as per Final Hours App, chapter 11). EDI becomes loyal to Reapers as she said during the game, if you don't destroy the Reapers.
    Destroy? Reapers destroyed, Earth OK, Shepard alive.
    Destroy low EMS? Reapers harvest everyone, still alive, and use your squadmates for slave labor. Everyone else is either turned into husks, or indoctrinated to serve as slave labor. (as per secondary codex entry Harvesting)
    Refuse ending was sort of hinted by Saren. Submission to the Reapers. Shepard gives up, everyone gets harvested or used for slave labor.

    Bioware never planned to give people a simple easy explanation to this ending. Indoctrination has been subtle since the first game, and it remained subtle through to the ending. This is a very complex ending that only a few can decipher. They did say they wanted something people could talk about and come up with theories and not force a canon ending on us. Or just spoon feed us all the answers. Some of the best stories are ones which keep you guessing and talking about it after it's long over.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jI1yekAjJls&t=2m3s

  22. Something is in my mind. Let’s suppose this theory is correct.
    After Shepard been hit by the Harbinger’s beam is about his imagination, when we choose to destroy the reaper is everything happening in his mind. I meant… Ok. When he get back to the real life, those reapers will still there. Right?

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