ME3 Ending Conspiracy: Shepard Indoctrinated?

I commented in my review of Mass Effect 3 that I intended to write a piece about the backlash from the ending & my interpretation of it.  But while I was doing research on the subject, I came across a very interesting article.  Posted on Forbes, no less.  In this article, the author discusses the theory that the final moments of the game were in fact a hallucination brought on by the Reapers trying to indoctrinate Shepard & prevent their destruction!

Just in case it’s not obvious, this article will contain spoilers to the ending of ME3.  If you haven’t reached the end & don’t want to ruin it for yourself, read at your own caution.

Before I really get into it, let me expand on my opinion of the ending.  I mentioned in my review that, while I won’t go so far as to say that ending was a debacle, I was very disappointed.  For me, the ending just seemed to come out of nowhere, particularly with the Catalyst & the explanation of where the Reapers came from.  BioWare has always been good about crafting a tightly-packed narrative, & more or less answering all questions.  But to just say the Reapers were created to destroy advanced organic life because it would always conflict with non-organic life just seemed ridiculous.  Not so much the motive, but that that sentence pretty much sums up the whole explanation of what the Reapers are.  No where did they come from.  No who made them.  Nothing.  That explanation especially burned me because in my playthrough I’d gotten the Quarians & Geth to join forces, thus proving the cycle didn’t have to continue.

So what did I expect from the ending?  Despite what supporters of the ending say, I did not expect everything to be all sunshine & roses by the end.  What I expected was:

  1. A choice between destroying the Reapers & controlling them.
  2. An explanation of where the Reapers came from.
  3. A confrontation with the Illusive Man.
  4. An ending cinematic showing both loss & triumph.
  5. Some idea of what happened after the ending.
  6. And I fully expected Shepard to die in the end.

I got 1, 3 & 6, but not so much the others.  In the end, there were more questions than answers.

But back to the article.  It was actually not the first time I’ve heard the hallucination argument before.  Many people have pointed out how this would explain a lot of the plot holes in the ending.  Proponents believe that the entire scene from reaching the Citadel on are all in Shepard’s mind & didn’t actually happen.  They point out questions like:

  • How did Anderson reach the center first?
  • How did Hackett call Shepard when a previous radio transmission said no one made it inside?
  • Why did the Catalyst look like the child Shepard kept seeing?
  • Why did Joker leave the battle (out of character)?
  • Why is one of the squadmates you take into the final battle seen in the ending cutscene getting off the Normandy?
  • Why is Shepard only covered in rocks if they survive, rather than Citadel debris?

The Forbes article goes one step further & talks about how not only was the ending a hallucination, but it was brought on by a last-ditch effort of the Reapers to indoctrinate Shepard.  I’ve since found several videos discussing this possibility, but I’ll just post the one the article looks at.  It’s pretty long, but I think it does a good job putting the pieces together.

Thought-provoking, isn’t it?

Basically, the idea is that the Reapers have been slowly indoctrinating Shepard since their first contact with them.  After all, Shepard has encountered Reaper tech multiple times, even when it’s shown to corrupt everyone it touches.  Due to the increased stress Shepard comes under in the final game, they’ve been able to get a strong hold on their mind.  But when they finally get close to defeating the Reapers, the Reapers try one last time to trick Shepard into helping them.  I’m not going to go into detail about everything in the video, but it does point out a lot of things I never thought of before.  Like why Shepard keeps seeing the child (which may be a Reaper hallucination from the beginning), or what the shadows in the dreams mean, or why the destroy/control station colors are mismatched.  It also explains why Shepard only survives in the Destroy ending.  Previously, I thought it was because Shepard either merged with the Reapers or their synthetics were used to merge all beings together, but now it may be that it’s because the other two options are tricks & result in the Reapers destroying everything.  In fact, the Synthesis choice would actually accomplish the Reapers’ goal for them, harvesting all life into a new hybrid.  This also explains why the Catalyst urges Shepard that it’s the only way to truly end the cycle, despite the fact that flat-out destroying the Reapers means they can never come back.

Officially, BioWare hasn’t said anything more than they’re working on both DLC content & full games.  They’ve made cryptic comments about “if they knew what we were planning” we wouldn’t be so upset (which I obviously don’t because I’m not psychic!).  Recently co-founder Ray Muzyki commented that the developers have heard the fans & are “hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey.”

While I do think this is an interesting theory, the cynic in me has several problems with this whole indoctrination scenario.  For one, if DLC is released saying that this basically is what the ending meant, how will we ever know if that’s true?  Maybe BioWare meant for the ending to be taken at face value, but realized they goofed & used this as a valid excuse.  Secondly, & more importantly, assuming that this is what the developers were trying to get across, they went about it in a poor manner.  I’d give them a gold star for an original twist, but then I have to turn around & take it away for poor storytelling.  I don’t care how clever your story is, if you have to explain it then you didn’t tell it properly.

Honestly, my biggest fear is that greed is behind all of these problems.  I fear that, because ME3 is the last one (at least for Shepard’s story), BioWare deliberately cut out parts of the story to wring more money out of gamers.  That would mean they knowingly released an incomplete game!  BioWare already took some fire for this with their Day 1 DLC “From Ashes,” the argument reasonably being that if it’s available on the release day, it was ready in time to be added to the original disc.  Even if the ending was literal, I fear that it was an effort to promote future Mass Effect games.  Either a Mass Effect 4 — in which case don’t pity BioWare for the massive backlash at having the gall to continue Shepard’s story after saying it’s the end — or an upcoming MMO.  With the inclusion of multiplayer in ME3, I’m leaning more towards the MMO option.

According to Muzyki, we should know something more definitive in April.

Article cited “Did the Real Mass Effect 3 Ending Go Over Everyone’s Heads?” by Paul Tassi,

– GamerDame



Filed under News

10 responses to “ME3 Ending Conspiracy: Shepard Indoctrinated?

  1. There’s a litany of problems with the ME3 ending, but the main beef I have with the indoctrination theory is that it means there WAS no ending. If we assume that theory to be true, and you choose the one path that lets Shepard live, then … what? You wake back up in London and the battle is still ongoing? That’s the ending of a blockbuster trilogy?

    It kinda ties in with your other point about a DLC ending, but if the real ending of the game is paid DLC, well…that’s bush league.

    • I think the basic assumption is that the battle is won if you choose Destroy, since the scene with Shepard breathing doesn’t look like there’s a battle going on. But yeah, even if you go with that assumption, it doesn’t answer what really happened in the end. If Shepard never made it to the beam to go to the Citadel, how was the Crucible activated?

  2. I love the indoctrination thoery but leaving the game on that point if its true does mean that there is no real ending. It woudl have ben really cool if you could make shepard realise he’she was under the effects of indoctrination. sa few little call backs to oiley shadows the Rachni Queen speaks of that you then see in teh dream sequences.
    Shame thats unlikely and if thats actually the case then we’ll probably be paying for Epilogue DLC liek PRince of Persia.. though that didn’t seem as forced for more money.

  3. john begley

    you clearly did not do a good enough job
    1 Shepherd does not die of war assets are past 5k
    2 it did explain it if you have 5000 war assets and galaxy at war at 100%
    3 geth and quarinanes agree to coexist
    4 if a really big if you do all three of theses then a third option appears
    i will not give any more spoilers but you suck if you cant even do that so
    beat a game all the way before you start to complain and realize that a lot of people worked on this game have respect for them they’ve worked hard to deliver this so you should try once more to beat this okay then you can right a blog and all requirements of yours will be mt

    • Anonymous

      …And you have terrible grammar and spelling.

    • Obviously you didn’t read the article or are just trying to troll me, but I’m taking it upon myself to educate the ignorant. So in regard to your “criticisms”:
      1) I’m well aware that Shepard survives if you have enough War Assets, assuming you choose the Destroy ending. However, if you’d read my actual review of the game, you’d know that a major complaint of mine is that it’s impossible to achieve this amount on straight single-player. Galaxy at War can only be improved during multiplayer, & you need this to use all of your Assets. So while I gathered over 5000 Assets, I could only use half. On single-player alone the Effective Military Strength will only get to around 3500, although I have heard if you make all the right choices you can get enough to get the Perfect Destroy option. But I’m stubborn & refuse to pay money just to have multiplayer.
      2) Regardless of what ending you earn, it doesn’t explain anything. Only the end scene is changed in the Perfect ending that shows Shepard drawing a breath.
      3) What do the Quarians & Geth have to do with anything in my article? I know you can convince them to coexist, as that’s the option I chose. It was one of the best parts of the game.
      4) Obviously I know about the third option as I mentioned it specifically by name. And I had enough EMS to have that option during my ending, I just didn’t pick it.
      5) Again, if you’d bother to actually read any of my articles, you’d know that despite being disappointed in the ending I loved the game. It will forever be one of my favorite series of all time, & I do respect BioWare for all of their games. However, I don’t pity them either, because they should’ve known how some people would react to their choices in ending the series.
      For future reference, please try to remember that as with other forms of entertainment, people’s opinions on video games will vary. All points of view are valid. If you enjoyed the ending, then that’s fine. But if you want to have people respect your right to voice your opinion, then you have to do the same for others. I encourage people to post opinions that disagree with my own, so long as your defending your views & not passing value judgements on others. Especially when it comes to making assumption about my gaming abilities.

      Oh… & if you want people to take your comments seriously, try to have better spelling & grammar.

  4. jen

    So essentially, the fight isn’t over, and there are more decisions to be made. I’ve had these similar thought provoking discussions with family members and friends on different series, like Matrix, or Harry Potter, where guessing the ending was mind-boggling, yet the end wasn’t always what I thought. The indoctrination twist is a real mind-bleep drawing from Total Recall. You could even go back to some of the old Twilight Zone episodes where you are left to wonder. If that was truly BioWare’s aim, and the story isn’t done being told, then I can see two out of the three choices are a ‘You Lose’ ending, and the third bridges to either another game…or the DLC.

    Remember the outrage when Spock sacrificed himself? The response was, ‘Don’t worry, faithful fans. You will be appeased in the next movie.’ I am not getting that from BioWare. We got, ‘oh crap, they are angry. quick throw something together or change something to make them happy.’ I’ve held my breath in the past and anticipated greatness, only to have mixed feelings about a final installment of a given series, and my experience cautions me to not anticipate so much from BioWare at this juncture. I blindly went utopic, ran down the middle and poof, green peace for everyone. Hindsight, I’m laughing at myself, since you never put the right answer in the middle. It’s always hidden, in plain sight. I wanted the geth to survive alongside the organics and bit off on that option. If the indoctrination element was eating at Shepard’s willpower the entire series and culminated into a fight at the end…hoooooly @#$#% in a hand basket, because that is THE best kept secret ever in the history of movie/book/game whatever! Or maybe ‘I am your father’ trumps that. But that’s not the point. And double helpings of slap me stupid because I STILL haven’t figured out Shepard is being indoctrinated after all 3 endings are seen.

    If that’s the case, and BioWare makes a DLC bridging that theory to an incredible ending and explains that the only way to bring all of us, you me, ranting trolls that have bad grammar, and yes, even the geth (I apologize for runon sentences, that’s how my mind works) was to purposely hide the indoctrination until everyone has had the chance to play through and experience it…..inhale…..and then lands us into the final final leg of the journey. Then yes, I will be BioWare’s indoctrinated little husk because I am in awe of them. I have to say, though, that’s a very tall order. It’s doable, and assuming the above is what’s going on, BioWare has a terrible poker face. You don’t stare straight ahead, tell the table you have junk, and slide a crapload of chips in front. Then again, maybe that IS poker. The bottom line is they aren’t playing with chips. They are playing with customer loyalty, and ultimately our money if we choose to support their artistic visions. I will wait and see if future installments make all of the above discussion worthwhile.

    You know, they inadvertently created two more choices, not in the game but in our own RL society. The white choice (purity of intent and thus the indoctrination angle to give us the greatest ending to the most spectacular story of all time) will get them my green money. The green choice (greed, compromise by giving into fan outcry rather than holding firm to their vision, even if those 3 choices are all they wanted the game to have) will get them my red tongue, as I stick it out and blow a big fat raspberry at them.

    That video does fill me with hope again. I was truly bothered by the endings when I got to them the whole next day. The game series and my Shep character meant that much to me. The ending should have that same….reverence? Most of my disappointment will be because I remember the week endings. Again, I will wait and see, and BioWare’s been asked to lay down their cards for us to see.

  5. jen

    God, I spelled ‘weak’ wrong. Apparently indoctrination has started.

  6. chris

    I have to disagree with the entire indoctrination theory and here’s why:
    There is one particular scene in the game that everyone who defends the indoctrination theory conveniently leaves out. Do you all remember the ending of the mission on Thessia? The Prothean VI agrees to help Commander Shepard and tell him what the catalyst is. Just as he is about to do so, he declares that he senses an indoctrinated presence (Kai Leng) and enables security mode. The Protheans were very serious about preserving information about the Reapers for the next cycle, and they understood all too well how to detect indoctrination as they had been fighting it for 300 years. If Shepard was indoctrinated, even a little bit, the Prothean VI would have shut itself down before Kai Leng showed up and never agree to help Shepard. If you have feedback to add to this, something I missed, please do so. Until someone can successfully rebut this argument, I will continue to believe the Indoctrination theory to be completely invalid, in spite of attempts to build its case through bullet point presentation.

    • I did some research on that specific point after your comment. It seems to be a major issue of debate. Because every part of this theory is speculation, there’s no solid answer, but I’ll summarize the argument as best I can:

      Technically speaking Shepard isn’t indoctrinated. The Reapers are trying to indoctrinate them, slowly wearing down Shepard’s resistance. The scene on the Citadel was the final battle for Shepard’s mind to fully indoctrinate them. Although indoctrinated individuals usually don’t know they’re indoctrinated, they’re still working for the Reapers. Look at Kai Leng, using the example you gave. The Reapers placed the idea in his mind that they can control the Reapers without destroying them. Although he believes he’s doing what’s best for humanity, it’s actually the Reapers planting this idea in his mind for their own benefit. Shepard, however, continues to actively fight against them. Thus suggesting they are still above the influence. For these reasons, it’s argued, the Prothean VI didn’t detect Shepard as being indoctrinated because it can only detect fully indoctrinated people.

      But something others haven’t pointed out yet is that perhaps the VI did detect Shepard. If you’re going to say that the final scene on the Citadel was a hallucination, then it could be argued that the Illusive Man was not actually indoctrinated. Just stupid. What Shepard saw was the Reaper influence personified. That would imply that Kai Leng wasn’t indoctrinated, & therefore couldn’t be who the VI detected. VI’s are still limited by programing, & conceivably the Protheans weren’t too great at detecting people in the process of being indoctrinated, or else they would’ve done better in the war. Using this logic, it was Shepard the VI detected in the end, but because they weren’t fully indoctrinated, it took some time.

      I hope I explained it well enough. Personally, while I really like this theory, I don’t think that’s what BioWare intended. They’ve done some clever plot twists, but they’ve always explained things. But if this upcoming clarification DLC doesn’t clear things up in a satisfactory manner, I may just delude myself into think this is the truth.

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