This is the last week of posts on the Mass Effect Trilogy. All this week we’re breaking down the epic finale in Mass Effect 3. This is perhaps the closest a review on this site has been written to the release of a game, so expect serious SPOILERS. In this last ME:3 post we’ll take a critical look at Commander Shepard’s role in the climax of this story.
The cycle of synthetics destroying and assimilating organics has continued for unknown generations. Commander Shepard, the hero of humanity, is the first organic to breech the chamber where the Catalyst resides. Because the Crucible has finally been made and joined with the Catalyst, there is finally a chance to break the cycle. Humanity’s persistence and determination has earned them a chance to change the destiny of the galaxy.
The Catalyst states that Shepard’s presence has opened up new options for how to alter the cycle from this point forward. He alone is given the final say in the matter. Shepard is given three options- Continuation, Destruction, or Synthesis. These three options have parallels in other stories and works of fiction.
Below is a chart outlining how these three options appear in other stories. The first example is Neo from The Matrix. The second example comes from an older PC game called Deus Ex where JC Denton is the protagonist that has to choose between three options. This game is in the chart to add some flavor and contrast. And finally we have Commander Shepard and Jesus.
The choice that is “best” is purely a matter of opinion for the first three protagonists. Indeed, this is one reason why these decision-based endings are so compelling. We are forced to think through a moral dilemma and then we are given the power to affect an entire civilization. For the sake of Mass Effect 3, the Synthesis option seems to be regarded as the “best” option (again, only the opinion of some) and that same category is considered ideal in the other stories being compared. The Continuity and Destruction categories seem to represent two extremes- do nothing or change everything. The Synthesis choice is the third option that attempts to gain the best of two extremes.
In all of these cases, the person making the decision is the functional savior of that situation. The three fictions represented utilize protagonist names that allude to Jesus, the actual savior. Neo’s real name, Anderson, means “son of man”, which just so happens to be a name commonly used by Jesus to describe himself. JC Denton’s initials could be a not-so-subtle reference to Jesus Christ. So what about Commander Shepard?
Shepard is a derivation of the occupational name “shepherd.” This is really just a fancy abbreviated way of saying “sheep herder”, which is a person who tends to sheep. A shepherd is one who guides the sheep to water and food, protects them from harm, and directs their path from place to place. The shepherd leads the flock through the gate and into the pen where they will be protected. The shepherd acts as the gatekeeper who determines the fate of the sheep. This name is very fitting for Commander Shepard considering all that he has done to lead and protect the galaxy. This title is also applied to Jesus who refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. Both Jesus and Commander Shepard act as singular figures who are placed in a pivotal “gatekeeper” moment that will determine the fate of those in their care.
If you stick around past the credits, you get a little mini cinematic that provides a glimpse from thousands of years in the future. A man is telling a little boy about “The Shepard” that saved them and changed the course of the galaxy many years ago. We live in that future time now. We can look back on a time when a hero rose up in a time of dire need when we were still lost in our sin. Jesus, God’s own son, was given the decision to abandon his rescue mission and leave us to our own destruction, or give up his life for the salvation of many. When God stood at a crossroads and was given those three familiar options, God chose Synthesis. Our Creator chose to sacrifice his own flesh so that he could reconcile us to himself and make us new creations.
If you choose the Synthesis ending, the Normandy crash lands on a green, idyllic planet. Joker walks out followed closely by EDI. They are both showing signs of the new organic/synthetic DNA resulting from Shepard’s choice. This man and woman walking into a lush green environment is reminiscent of the image of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Joker and EDI in their changed state represent a new beginning made possible by Shepard’s sacrifice.
Jesus’ choice will change us into a new form of life. Our broken, mortal existence will be synthesized with the holiness of God. We will be given new bodies when all things are redeemed and made new at the end of time. This renewal will usher us into a new reality where heaven comes down to dwell on Earth and we return to a Garden of Eden environment that was intended for us all along.
If you choose the Synthesis ending, Mass Effect 3 is really about Jesus.