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ME3 Indoctrination Theory

We briefly touched on the indoctrination theory in episode one, but gave it short shrift. I’ve ruminated on it further, and I have THOUGHTS! Giant spoilers ahead, matey!

A day or so after we recorded the podcast I watched the complete indoctrination theory video, and It’s pretty compelling. If you’re not aware of this, there’s one possible ending where Shepard gasps, and conclusively isn’t dead. Before watching the video, I was under the impression that the gasp was related to one’s “galactic readiness” rating. It turns out that the only gasp ending is the one where you choose to destroy the reapers. That seems like the clincher if this theory is right.

The idea is that Shepard, while doing her best to destroy reapers all across the galaxy, has naturally spent a lot of time around them. Thus, they’ve had a chance to, and in fact have been able to indoctrinate her. The three final choices aren’t real, they’re just in Shepard’s mind.

The one thing that isn’t clear is why, if Shepard is indoctrinated, do the reapers need her to make any sort of choice at all? If everything after the beam blast takes place in her mind, is she inventing the three choices for herself? (If this, what difference how she chooses?) Are the reapers putting the choices in her mind? (If this, why? She’s already unconscious on the battlefield of a ravaged earth; out of commission. Are they just playing a weird game?) If she is physically on the citadel/crucible/catalyst, why do they need her up there? Why teleport her to the one place where she could have a chance to disrupt their plans?

The only way out of this problem that I can think of is this: Everything after the beam blast is the fever dream of an almost-but-not-quite-all-the-way-indoctrinated Shepard. It has no bearing on reality, none of it happens. (This sidesteps all the “plot hole” questions about why Joker would leave the fight, why blowing up the mass effect relays doesn’t kill/strand everyone in the galaxy, blah blah blah.) It’s only a fight between Shepard’s will and the reaper indoctrination, contextualized by her mind as the battle for the galaxy. Choosing to “destroy the reapers” is actually the triumph of Shepard’s will over indoctrination, and the gasp is her waking up, fully herself again. (She might be waking up moments later, still in the midst of the battle, or long after it, we don’t know. This also has the neat effect of meaning that choice doesn’t kill Edi and the Geth.) Choosing to “control the reapers” would be to succumb to the indoctrination fully. (No gasp because Shepard is basically a husk now.)

What it means to choose “synthesis” in this context is unclear. It could be another false choice that represents giving in, or whatever the god-child said about “new options” is true and there is a way for synthetics and organics to “become something greater.” (So no gasp either because Shepard is a husk, or because she’s now a Synthetic/Human hybrid.)

As we said in the show, there’s no way to know if this is true, but it is fun to think about, and it actually makes the ending more cohesive, in my view. Personally, I don’t hold out any hope that the developers will make this clear in the DLC, and it’s probably better that way.


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