Why the Catalyst Was Right

I’ve been talking a lot about how the Reapers operated on imperfect logic, bestowed onto them by their imperfect creators. We’ve talked about the two different ways alien species have tried to influence organic society, one through gentle guidance (not the Reapers) and one through the threat of annihilation if you don’t obey (the Reapers).

So today I’m going to switch sides and talk about all the things the Catalyst said that were right and logical.

Meeting the Catalyst

When Shepard meets the Catalyst at the end of Mass Effect 3, bruised and battered, she has the opportunity to learn not only about catalyst, but to also gain a little more insight into the purpose of the Reapers. Unfortunately, the Catalyst is intent on dropping some tough information on the hero, and then asking her to make an even harder choice.

To sum up the discussion, the Catalyst believes that the Reapers are a solution to chaos, built on the conclusion that created will always rebel against creator. In order to stop organics from being annihilated by their synthetic creations, the Catalyst decides to elevate and preserve the organic consciousness within a perfect synthetic form: the Reapers.

Image result for human reaper
Humanity at its finest.

This is technically correct, as we’ll see in a moment. Humanity’s stories are filled with creations rebelling against their creators, and synthetic creations are physically perfect, as they do not feel fatigue (and are therefore stronger), and have processing speeds faster than humans (being better at mental calculations). Synthetics are not prone to poor decisions based on emotions or misunderstood information, and so the Catalyst’s solution perfectly fixes the problem. After all, organics are allowed to flourish and develop, and then are taken to rapture – for want of a better word – before they can create something that will ultimately destroy them.

Historical Background

Literature is full of stories about created overthrowing creators. A few examples would be that of Snow White overtaking her stepmother, the queen, in beauty and “desirability,” the Olympic gods who overthrew the titans, who in turn had been masters of their creators, and, of course, the monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

From 1831 edition of Frankenstein

Wherever there is a story of creation, stories of decay and destruction are soon to follow, if not already built into the creation story. This theme of new ideas, younger bodies, and fresh interpretations of society permeate our culture as we grapple with the idea of one day becoming “obsolete” as our children’s ideals begin to rule the world, just as our ideas overtook those that came before. So not only is this dynamic creation/destruction and created/creator thematic, it’s also very realistic. In this way, the Catalyst was correct. The new will always overtake the old.

Credit to Metalika Setiva for this clip of The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky, as illustrated by the fabulous artists at Disney.

Another interesting nod to the literature is the balance between ambition and destruction. The Leviathan tells Shepard [spoilers] that they claimed other species in thrall, believing themselves to be the apex of organic existence (read: gods). But, their thralls always would develop synthetics, only to be destroyed by them. In their arrogance, the Leviathan race decided to create an Intelligence (who Shepard knows as the Catalyst) to solve the problem cleanly. They didn’t realize that their ambition to find a perfect solution would result in the destruction of so many, including their own race. [end spoilers]

Likewise, in Frankenstein, ambition blinds Victor Frankenstein to his fallibility. And, of course, he is so far removed from the society that he doesn’t consider what the ramifications of his actions are, like [spoilers] Leviathan does when creating the Intelligence[end spoilers]. I’m going to stop hitting you over the head with parallels, but Dr. Frankenstein runs away from his creation and tries to hide. Unfortunately, his creation goes on a killing spree, destroying Frankenstein’s family and, ultimately, Victor himself.

Image result for no! star wars

Now, this book is not a spot-on match for the story of the Reapers, and I’ve grossly simplified the story and themes in Frankenstein. However, a creature made due to the believed-godlike status of the creator has not ended well in literature, and Mass Effect (and therefore the Catalyst) pull from these themes.

The Next Generation

From this angle, the Catalyst makes a compelling point. The Reapers overtook Leviathan, the geth rebelled against the quarians, and the [spoilers] Leviathan’s thralls were overtaken by their synthetic creations [end spoilers]. The new ideas (i.e., synthetics) were more physically and mentally capable. So far, so fitting with what literature shows us.

The new detail that the Reapers add to this mix is that they do not completely annihilate their masters. While the new overtakes the old, it also preserves the “best” of what came before, like organics preserve the best of their cultures and ideals from one generation to the next.

Seems legit

The Glitch in the Matrix

What the Catalyst doesn’t take into account is its actions to preserve the organics involves destroying a society in order to preserve it. Worse, when tested in a real-world setting, synthetics are willing to work alongside organics, but with one very important caveat: they are treated with respect and consideration.

Tali comments in Mass Effect that the geth were created as laborers, and were repressed when they began to develop consciousness, bascially because the quarians didn’t want to lose their free labor. It was too inconvenient to treat a thinking, reasoning creature with respect, and so those thinking, reasoning creatures fought for their freedom and respect.

Image result for geth and quarians

But what happens when the geth are shown respect and freed? They immediately turn around and begin helping not just organics, but the very species that enslaved them to begin with. This is in comparison to the Leviathan’s experience [spoiler] whose creations made synthetics primarily as servants so they could worship the Reapers better [end spoilers].

So it appears that there is a fourth option that the Catalyst did not fathom: synthetics and organics working together as equals. That is the key element: one is not an oppressor, and one is not oppressed. The oppressed will always rebel against their oppressors. And, in this case, aren’t the geth “overcoming” their creators? Even though it’s not via destruction, they are overthrowing an old way of thinking.

This cooperation between organic and synthetics is so far outside of the Catalyst’s calculations because, like Dr. Frankenstein, it exists outside of the world around it that it cannot conceive real-world implications of its actions, nor benefit from real-world data it can accrue. Or, bluntly, it wasn’t “programmed” with that data, because it was [spoiler] inconceivable to the Leviathans [end spoiler].

The final irony that the Catalyst resides in both the “created” [spoiler] (by Leviathan) [end spoiler] and “creator” (of the Reapers) camps. The Catalyst is also a “creator” as it has allowed organics to flourish, and “creates” the next cycle for the less-advanced organics to develop.

And thus Shepard, a product of this “creation,” now stands before the Catalyst, ready to destroy the creatures that made her cycle possible.

Image result for femshep kill the reapers

So it turns out that The Catalyst was right all along: as long as there is creation, there will be destruction, because no matter  what you choose, the created will permanently overcome their creators and create a new world.

What do you think of the Catalyst’s assessment of the situation? What about its solution? Are organics and synthetics doomed to fight each other until the end of time unless they are controlled or synthesized? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~ Athena

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  1. I think the catalyst is correct in respect to the Reapers, because Reapers were made for the sole purpose of destroying. To avoid being destroyed yourself, you have to take control or destroy them before they take you out. Otherwise I think middle grounds can be met. I did unite the Geth and the Quarians on common grounds to destroy the reapers. Since Geth were not intended for violence, it’s possible in those situations and I think the Catalysts take in regards to the Geth does necessarily hold true for that specific situation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good thoughts! I agree that the created don’t always need to *destroy* their creators in the usual sense. I think here, “overcoming” is a better word, like in the example you gave the geth needed to “overcome” what their creators made them for.

      But to step out of theory and step back into the game, I know that the Catalyst means DESTROY destroy, and I absolutely don’t agree that that is the only way for created/creators to interact with each other. Like you said, the geth and quarians are living proof of that.


  2. You just made sense of the original ending! *Mind Explodes* So it actually somewhat mattered in the end what you chose. Depending on the decision it would only determine how soon the cycle would repeat.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha glad you liked the article! Yeah, something like that, because eventually the more primitive organics would create synthetics, etc etc. But either way, whether Shepard decides to destroy, control, or synthesize, neither the Reapers nor organic life will be the same again!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I know that the Catalyst is technically correct, but it comes at the cost of what makes organic life worth preserving. The “ascension” (as Harbinger referred to it) of a civilization destroyed what made that civilization worth preserving.

    For instance, the humans were picked for ascension from the final extinction cycle because of the influence and drive that they had to explore and become the apex of civilization in the Milky Way. It’s what made the other galactic civilizations afraid of them after all. However, the Human-Reaper at the end of Mass Effect 2 didn’t have the characteristics of a human aside from general appearance. Rather, it had the characteristics of a Reaper: brute force, synthetic intelligence, and uncaring motives.

    The best parallel I could draw to society today would be that instead of the U.S. Civil War ending with Amendments to the U.S. Constitution in the effort to end slavery, outside powers chose to destroy both the Federal and Confederate governments and citizens, along with the slaves from the south; because they proved they were incapable of ending that oppression themselves without violence.

    I’m reminded of the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still (the original, not the crap remake), where Klaatu told the armed forces of the Earth that the only way to maintain civilization on Earth would be to put down their weapons and set aside their differences. With that in mind, the Mass Effect series could’ve ended very differently, with the Catalyst acknowledging that Shepard was able to broker peace between organics and synthetics, and actually stop the genocide. Seems like a missed opportunity to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, as always!

      Truth be told, I think the catalyst is a VI that thinks way too highly of itself, to the point that it thinks it’s an AI. But it doesn’t possess the processing capabilities of either EDI or the geth! So this was a fun thought experiment for me, too haha

      The fact that the Catalyst couldn’t conceive of peace between synthetics and organics showcases its shortcomings better than anything else, like we’ve agreed on before! But what I find interesting is that it is *because* of this shortcoming – this misplaced belief that the Catalyst and Reapers are so very advanced – and because the Reapers have so much more firepower than the organics that Shepard is forced to make such a terrible, awful choice.

      I think more could have been done to make the player question the Catalyst’s processing abilities, which would have made this point a lot clearer (and a lot more anger-inducing because now it’s just a computer – not an AI – that forces choices on to you), so yes I think that might have been fumbled a bit.

      Before the month is over I’ll have to post something about what I *actually* think about the endings, the Catalyst, and the Reapers, just so you all know that I’m not some crazy person who is relentlessly apologetic about the Reapers haha.

      But either way, I do think that whether the Reapers are destroyed, controlled, or synthesized, Shepard creates a new world. And either way, Shepard changes the Reapers – s/he “overcomes” their old way of being in order for the “new” way of existing (either without the Reapers, with controlled Reapers, or with synthesized organics and synthetics) to take over the galaxy.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. If there is any justification for the way the Catalyst forces those choices onto Shepard, it’s because it is a victim of the same railroading that the Reapers claim to have placed on the galaxy for countless cycles.

        Sovereign states that the galaxy develops along the technological paths that the Reapers want them to, and I think the Reapers have developed the way they have because of the influence of their creators. It’s a vicious cycle of influence.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It is!I always thought it was interesting that the Reapers set up the cycles to progress a certain way… They are, after all, only programmed for one thing, and aren’t quite the gods/guardians they style themselves to be! (article-ception??) But you’re right that it’s a vicious cycle, and I stand by my choice that the only way to truly end it is to… well… *end* the Reapers…

          Liked by 1 person

    2. I agree with what you say about the Catalyst. The Catalyst is a flawed AI/VI which is programmed to believe it is perfect. The Catalyst will do the some 1+1 and get 11, because that is what is programmed to believe.

      The Catalyst portrays some assumptions as fact, even though they are not proven. For example, the Catalyst says that AIs would destroy all organic life. But the neither the Reapers or anyone else can confirm this is the case, because it has never actually happened. There have been cases where AIs have destroyed their masters. But presumably, this has not led to the destruction of all organic life. So why should a logical thinking AI believe this? Because this assumption was hard-wired as fact into the Reapers programming to make the more effective in carrying out their purpose.

      Likewise, the the Catalyst claims that Synthesis is the pinnacle of evolution. But how can the Catalyst know this? The Catalyst has never witnessed Synthesis before and doesn’t know from observation or direct experience whether Synthesis is the ultimate evolutionary stage, or whether there is another step. Or indeed, whether Synthesis is an evolutionary dead end that will lead to decadence and extinction.

      It occurs to me that the Catalyst does not understand the concept of evolution. In reality, the is no pinnacle of evolution. It us forever changing. It does not stop. The Reapers seem to treat evolution like some sort of IT development which can lead to perfection. But there is no such thing as perfection in evolution. The fact that the reapers don’t understand evolution, means that they can’t understand organics. And if the don’t understand organics, the Catalyst cannot know if the Synthesis would be beneficial or not (even allowing for the fact that the Catalyst’s definition of beneficial may differ from that of organics).

      It occurs to me that we (humans) make the same mistake with awareness and intelligence. We assume that we are more highly evolved than other species because we are more intelligent. But we could be wrong. Perhaps intelligence is an evolutionary cul-de-sac which will lead to our extinction. After all, it appears intelligent species have more capacity for destruction and consumption. So it actually makes extinction more likely as we destroy ourselves and consume everything around us for the sake of chasing power and false dreams.

      We know of no other species that was intelligent line ourselves. So we are not capable of determining whether it will lead to further evolution, or will result in extinction. Just like the Reapers we have made an assumption on the basis that we are superior to everything else we know. But that does not mean that we will survive.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You make a fantastic point about evolution and intelligence. It’s actually a point I’ve seen made in The Expanse, where a man shows a group he’s with the Drake Equation. He states the mathematical likelihood that intelligent life would exist in the universe outside of ourselves, to which a Colonel responds that perhaps intelligent life might not exist elsewhere because it has the power to destroy itself.

        You’re onto something about intelligent life and its ability to affect change in their environment, thereby altering the path that nature takes and creating hazards that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Human beings may be more intelligent in a way we can perceive, but at the very least other organisms don’t carry with them the capability of understanding the multitude of ways in which they can destroy themselves, let alone actively exploring those paths.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. There’s a lot that the Catalyst talks about that doesn’t quite make complete sense. You’re right that it’s a flawed program, which is something I covered when I talked about finding gods in Mass Effect. At the end of it, each being interprets reality from its own perspective, and so I think for one to think that it “knows best” because it is so advanced is actually quite shallow. It’s shallow of us as humans, and it exposes the flawed programming of the Reapers.

        It’s an interesting point you’ve made about advanced species affected the world. To speak to that, and to what Mr. Falcon509 brings up, I wholeheartedly agree that anything, by its existence and actions, can change the course of nature. The more “powerful” the being, or the more technologically advance/how many “toys” it has available to play with, the more extreme the effect.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. As one of the odd people who hasn’t played Mass Effect yet, I really appreciated your efforts to hide those spoilers 🙂

    There is a similar synthetic vs organic thing going on in Fallout 4. I’m burnt out on that game at the moment so I’m not sure how that plays out, yet, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I’m trying! It’s hard because talking about the endings at all is pretty much one huge spoiler haha

      That’s interesting! I’d wondered about that, just from seeing some game highlights, but I haven’t played the game myself. Seems like that’s a topic many people are interested in!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “…created will always rebel against creator.” The number of examples of this are so enormous I can’t even fathom. I immediately thought of Paradise Lost where the created (Satan) rebels against the creator (god), and arguably humanity does to in being tempted to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Paradise Lost almost certainly inspired major motifs in FFVII, and the created rebelling against the creator is certainly there, too. Final Fantasy does this a lot, which is unsurprising since it’s rife with religious symbolism, as well (if I ever talk too much about FF, please let me know. I don’t want to be that annoying person!)

    I’m still working my way through ME3, but I read the spoilers, since I’ve seen the end. I think I’ll have more to say once I see it for myself. I did see the Leviathan DLC, but I need to do some more research on all the implications of that encounter. I do love the fact that it’s s a cycle no matter how you look at it. If the Reapers have their way, their own cycle will continue, but Shepherd being the key of destruction is just the continuation of creation rebelling against creator.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! There are *so* many examples of creator vs. created!

      While I don’t think the Catalyst was all-knowing enough to really imply that every choice Shepard makes is the created overcoming the creator, I do think that the endings have a lot of nuance in them that can imply this, which to me is incredibly fascinating (moreso if it was unintended!).

      And you are always welcome to talk about Final Fantasy! I babble on about Dragon Age: All of Them enough, so you’re certainly welcome to chime in with FF! Also, I think the FF series has a lot of religious symbolism. I actually saw a video on YouTube that made the argument that some of the symbolism actually points to FF being “anti-religion,” which was a very interesting concept, too. Hm…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve seen that video! I honestly think if people paid more attention to video game narratives FFX would’ve been boycotted by religious groups. It’s all about not blindly following religion and looking for the actual truth about what’s going on. I can’t wait to replay and review that one. The entire series is utterly filled with religious symbolism and VII a blatant religious allegory among other things.

        Once I finish watching ME3, I’ll be able to say more! I’m also probably going to give a play through of Mass Effect a try myself since I picked up the entire series for $5. Why not, I say?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Absolutely. That’s a curse and a blessing of video games; they’re not taken seriously so they can put this stuff in, but they’re not taken seriously so no one notices the really good social commentary in them.

          I’m interested to hear your thoughts once you’re done with ME3. And yes yes yes yes play through it!!!!

          Also, fun fact, my aunt was a born-again Christian for a while, and she actually recommended FFX to me, firstly because of the music, secondly because of the great religious themes… oops… haha

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Bahaha, did she not see how FFX was extremely critical of organized religion? That game reminded me a LOT of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman in terms of how it criticized the church (HDM also has a lot of similar themes to FFVII, too, but it’s not like VII is lacking major religious themes either just more Paradise Lost based).

            Oh I’ll have a lot to say about the Mass Effect series when I’m done, and I’m super excited for Andromeda. Some of the talk I’m hearing suggests that humans may be an invasive species, which would make complete sense since we did come from another galaxy and if Cerberus is still around, I’m sure they’re still as human centered as ever.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yeah I didn’t know much about FFX at the time so I just kind of rolled my eyes (I was a teenager) and was like, “Oh, wow. Okay, cool. Noted…”

              And where are these conversations happening???? I feel like I’m one of about three people talking about humans as invading species…

              Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting article. In terms of the Reapers’ primary purpose, I do not believe the Catalyst is correct as it’s assertions are based on false logic, unproven theories and a mistaken belief in it’s own infallibility.

    However, I believe that the Reapers may actually aid evolution for a completely different reason. As advanced species develop, they will interfere with less developed species and spread their technology throughout the world. The result of this interference is that they may impact on the of primitive species and worlds not inhabited by sentient beings. This means that much of the Galaxy will not evolve naturally as the advanced species spreads its influence around the galaxy. In many cases, many species may not evolve at all as their habitats are destroyed or changed by the advanced species. Indeed, this occurred in the Galaxy’s history. The Leviathan enthralled lesser species while the Protheans enslaved them.

    By wiping out the advanced species on a regular basis, the Reapers are perhaps providing an environmental service to the galaxy. As advanced civilisations are destroyed, it gives space and time for life in the galaxy to evolve naturally without the interference from a powerful race. In thus sense, the Reapers may be doing a favour to some living beings in the galaxy. There must be cases where primitive species have been able to live in peace, rather than being enslaved, killed or displaced by the actions of an advanced species. In some cases, the galaxy may be a more diverse and vibrant place, because the Reapers clear out the advanced species every so often.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting point! That also supports the idea that the Reapers want organics to evolve along a particular path, as stated in the game. This idea of the Reapers providing a service was also canned, as Tali’s work on Haestrom was supposed to (I think) tie in to why the Reapers were coming (with Element Zero making the galaxy unstable or something like that). It would have been an interesting path to travel down!

      You’re right, though. There are two sides to each argument, and you make a fair case that the Reapers may serve a deadly but important – and wholly unintended – purpose in the galaxy. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can definitively say that the catalyst was wrong. The idea that he believes he can ordain the future of the galaxy across hundreds of millennia is massively arrogant. If anyone met his creators the Leviathans. This comes to no suprise. The leviathans were arrogant as well believing all other life is beneath them and meant to be tools.

    Catalyst claims research was done but they were the first cycle. Leviathans built catalyst (A synthetic being) to stop synthetics for destroying all organic life. The catalyst decided to do this by wiping out all the leviathans (organics) to his knowledge. Great plan lol. Yeah he is a crazy AI with a god complex.

    Life needs to be free to self determine. The reapers are control, enslavement, and mass genocide. Nothing more. There is nothing about a reaper that preserves life. The beings they consume are turned into essentially spare parts for more reapers. They are used and abused and warped into a synthetic abomination

    Keep in mind the catalyst tells shepherd about his knowledge while the catalyst Is at shepherds mercy and is capable of killing him. I believe control and synthesis are reaper trick to save. Maybe synthetics and organics will kill each other hundreds of millennia from now but it ll be the fault of those involved. It certianly wont be because the reapers said that it would.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment!

      I agree that the catalyst was misguided at the very, very least. He completely ignores that the geth and quarians seem keen to get along and are, in fact, actively being friendly toward each other (following Shepard brokering peace). So right there, the argument goes out the window. The synthetics wiping out organics in an attempt to “save” them seems as old as science fiction itself, and it’s always because the synthetics can’t understand how the chaos of organics makes their evolution unpredictable to a computer, as information is gathered and processed differently than, presumably, in a purely synthetic being.

      The catalyst is definitely trying to self-preserve at that point. My canon run is destroy, every single time, as much as I hate to say goodbye to EDI and the geth.


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