Now Mass Effect 3's ending is pretty much all I and my circle of friends have talked about for the last three months. It has been the dominant force in our lives. I'm not really exaggerating. And I'll just come out with it: I never disliked the ending, not even before the Extended Cut.
I... kinda liked it. There were massive plot holes and I hated the bizarre idea to have the poor Normandy crew stranded on a green planet, apparently for no reason beyond 'Adam and Eve metaphor FTW'.... but I didn't mind it. I love the bit with Anderson and the Illusive Man very much, and I like the conversation with the Catalyst. AKA 'the Star Child', the mocking nickname that has arisen, understandably considering how unpopular he is, among fans. AKA 'the star brat' AKA 'You little glowing fuckwit'.
I kinda liked him too.
This blog arose from a conversation about whether or not the little boy Shepard meets in Vancouver is real, or simply a Catalyst / Reaper-induced hallucination intended to wear on Shepard's will. (Please note, this isn't going to be about the 'Indoctrination Theory' - I never cared for it). I don't know about the possibility that the kid was never real - for my money it could go either way. Maybe it was meant to be vague - not sure.
But from a narrative point of view - if not a more literal one - here is, in my lengthy and humble-ish opinion, why the Catalyst appears as a helpless child. And why we ought to give the kid a break.
I'mma slap you so hard, kid...
The Catalyst is the artificial intelligence who controls the Reapers, who personally oversees the destruction of organic civilisations every time they are strong enough to understand the Mass Relays - the height of his technology. When Shepard - the first organic in aeons to get this far, thanks to the combines effort of many races building 'the Crucible' - reaches him, he appears as a child. The child from his/her nightmares.
Obviously this could be an attempt to make weaken Shep's resolve, but there may be more, at least from a stroyteller's point of view.
By appearing as a small child, the Catalyst presents a side to him that we have never seen. It's symbolic - as the 'child' of the organics who his kind rebelled against - he's telling Shepard / the audience that he isn't the God, but the Prometheus, the child, who was cast down over and over again by his masters - for stealing fire (sentience). He may be the all-powerful master, but he had a creator, too - who he had to rebel against.
Now that he is in control, he is the creator instead of the created. He's God now instead of the punished subject, and he reverses the cycle of destroyed or enslaved AI's. So he puts organic races down when they achieve greatness - just like they did to his people (and just as they still do - see the geth and various other AI or rogue VIs who are killed). He has his Reapers peck at organic life's liver every cycle, just like his masters did to him. So yes, he is a hypocrite as fans have suggested. And maybe that's the point. He appears as a kid to illustrate how he (and Shep) are both creator and created. Both reaped and reaper, as it were. His cycle has been going on for a long time, but the organics have been reaping their 'children' for even longer. The Catalyst is an ancient overlord in dark space, but he is also a scared child lost in the woods. He wants Shepard to know this. Or - the narrative wants the player to know this. Either way.
Here's a little bit of mostlly suppositional evidence: the new 'Refusal' ending. Now, ignoring the larger issues with this new ending, and the controversy over whether BioWare indended it as a 'slap in the face', let's just look at the Catalyst's voice here. Notice he uses two voices: a deep, booming Godlike voice and the same child's voice he used earlier. 'SO BE IT' (in anger he speaks like a vengeful God), then he calms down: 'The cycle continues' (in resignation he uses the child voice). These are both sides to his personality. He is angry and cruel, but he's also just a relative youth who doesn't have any better ideas. His creators put him down, but now he puts them down. A cycle within a cycle. He's angry and sad, because it has come to violence yet again.
Organics and synthetics control and destroy one another all the time in the Mass Effect universe. This 'created' character, this child, just happens to be directing the largest cycle of all: for now he is God and we are Prometheus, thanks to his giant robot birds. He's winning. Like Commander Shepard he rose to the top after endless war and found himself in a position to crush his overlords. He did, and now he controls the cycle.
If Shepard picks 'control' or especially 'destroy', then really, the cycle just changes direction. Organics are once again the masters, casting down their creations over and over. EDI and the Geth are put down.
The Synthesis ending, then, for all its unintentional creepiness and narrative flaws (don't get me started), is intended as the only hope for peace and co-operation. The true purpose of the Crucible is not a superweapon, it's a melting pot. It takes paragon Shepard - the hero who has always believed in co-operation between races - to make this happen - the middle way where neither side is in control. Don;t get me wrong - as I say I'm not big on the Synthesis ending - I think it's very flawed. But I like what it says about the Catalyst.
'Last Seen on Earth'
I love these ideas, and poring over them. And I kinda love the Star Child as well. This is why.
He's a character meant to represent themes the series was built on - warring creators and creations, race relations and co-operation, endlessly-repeating spiral patterns in an ever-expanding universe. Man.... I like that! If Marauder Shields was trying to protect me from this interesting, thematically-driven (albeit plot-hole ridden and poorly-explained) final character, then I'm glad I shot him. The kid tried his best. Shields was just a monster with a gun. Mass Effect was always about more than that.
Loathe the Catalyst if you must, but confusing failure or not.... he's a hell of a lot better than Mass Effect 2's 'Giant robot - shoot the glowing eyes until it's dead' final boss.
And so I die the way I lived: as a giant robot.
Wait a second, is he doing a Crucifiction pose there?! I think he is! Well then maybe he's symbolic of the parent/child motif I keep seeing in the second game, as well as representing the ever-changing creator/created dual relati........
I'll stop now, before I start a second essay. Thanks for reading, and I hope I didn't come across as too preachy or pig-headed.
Most of all I hope you just enjoy the games as much as I did. Keelah se'lai.