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"All Were Thematically Revolting". My Lit Professor's take on the Endings. (UPDATED)


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#1
Made Nightwing

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So, my lit professor and I are nerds. I throw in 'but the prize' references on my essays about Odysseus and Achilles, he throws in Firefly references in his lectures, we get on great. Now, I've previously mentioned that he disliked the endings EDIT: He dropped in on the forum to correct my paraphrasing of our conversation, so I'm updating the OP to have his infinitely superior original words replace my own feeble attempts:

Drayfish, p.13:

I've never posted on this forum before, so I hope I don't embarrass myself or this discussion entirely – and I apologise for the wall of text that is to follow, but I'm an academic, and tedious tracts of self-important linguistic gymnastics is what we do.

My name is Dr. Dray, and I should start by saying: oh, dear, I've been cited for my nerd indignation. I'm surprised Made Nightwing didn't mention that my little fists were shaking with rage. But they were. They did. With feeble, pointless nerd rage.

I must point out though, that as flattered as I am to be referenced, were I still marking Made Nightwing's work I would have to circle this passage and remind him that these words are not in fact directly attributable to me: his phrasing is a paraphrase of our conversation rather than a quotation. ...However, he has an attentive mind, and I must admit that he has captured the majority of my issues with the ending, my penchant for hyperbole, and the general dislocation of the thematic threads that I felt violated the larger narrative arc of the trilogy. And I'm sad to say I did use the words 'thematically revolting' – although I've watched both the Matrix sequels and Godfather 3, so I've probably said that phrase quite a lot.

If you'll permit me then, I did just want to write quickly in my own words to clarify some of my issues with these endings, and why I thought that they erode the themes heretofore at the core of their series. Of course, all of these arguments have no doubt been stated numerous times by voices far more worthy than mine over the past few weeks, but as someone intrigued by the production and reception of literature in all its forms this has been a fascinating – if disheartening – time to be an enormous fan of this fiction. I'd also like to particularly commend Strange Aeons for the fantastic post. And that analogy: 'It’s like ending Pinocchio with Geppetto stuffing him into a wood chipper'. What an exquisite image!

So, putting aside all of the hanging plot threads that rankled me (where was the Normandy going? why did my squad mates live? Anderson is where now? wait, the catalyst was Haley Joel Osment? etc), I would like to explain why, when I was offered those three repellent choices, I turned and tried to unload my now infinite pistol into the whispy-space-ghost's face. It was not because I was unhappy that my Shepard would not get to drink Garrus under the table one last time, or get to help Tali build a back-porch on her new homestead, nor that I was pretty sure no one was going to remember to feed my space fish – it was because those three ideological options were so structurally indefensible that they broke the suspension of disbelief that Bioware had (up until that point) so spectacularly crafted for over a hundred hours of narrative. Suddenly Shepard was not simply being asked to sacrifice a race or a friend or him/herself for the greater good (all of which was no doubt expected by any player paying attention to the tone of the series), Shepard was being compelled, without even the chance to offer a counterpoint, to perform one of three actions that to my reading each fundamentally undermined the narrative foundations upon which the series seemed to rest.

In the Control ending, Shepard is invited to pursue the previously impossible path of attempting to dominate the reapers and bend them to his will. Momentarily putting aside the vulgarity of dominating a species to achieve one's own ends (and I will get to complaining about that premise soon enough), this has proved to be the failed modus operandi of every antagonist in this fiction up until this point – including the Illusive Man and Saren – all of whom have been chewed up and destroyed by their blind ambition, incapable of controlling forces beyond their comprehension. Nothing in the vague prognostication of the exposition-ghost offers any tangible justification for why Shepard's plunge into Reaper-control should play out any differently. In fact, as many people have already pointed out, Shepard has literally not five minutes before this moment watched the Illusive Man die as a consequence of this arrogant misconception.

The Destroy ending, however, seems even more perverse. One of the constants of the Mass Effect universe (and indeed much quality science fiction) has been an exploration of the notion that life is not simplistically bound to biology, that existence expands beyond the narrow parameters of blood and bone. That is why synthetic characters like Legion and EDI are so compelling in this context, why their quests to understand self-awareness – not simply to ape human behaviours – is so dramatic and compelling. Indeed, we even get glimpses of the Reapers having more sprawling and unknowable motivations that we puny mortals can comprehend...

To then end the tale by forcing the player to obliterate several now-proven-legitimate forms of life in order to 'save' the traditional definition of fleshy existence is not only genocidal, it actually devolves Shephard's ideological growth, undermining his ascent toward a more enlightened conception of existence, something that the fiction has been steadily advancing no matter how Renegadishably you wanted to play. This is particularly evident when the preceding actions of all three games entirely disprove the premise that synthetic will inevitably destroy organic: the Geth were the persecuted victims, trying their best to save the Quarians from themselves; EDI, given autonomy, immediately sought to aid her crew, even taking physical form in order to experience life from their perspective and finally learning that she too feared the implications of death.

And finally Synthesis, the ending that I suspect (unless we are to believe the Indoctrination Theory) is the 'good' option, proves to be the most distasteful of all. Shepard, up until this point has been an instrument though which change is achieved in this universe, and dependent upon your individual Renegade or Paragon choices, this may have resulted in siding with one species or another, letting this person live or that person die, even condemning races to extinction through your actions. But these decisions were always the result of a mediation of disparate opinions, and a consequence of the natural escalation of these disputes – Shepard was merely the fork in the path that decided which way the lava would run. His/her actions had an impact, but was responding to events in the universe that were already in motion before he/she arrived.

To belabour the point: Shepard is an agent for arbitration, the tipping point of dialogues that have, at times, root causes that reach back across generations. Up until this moment in the game the narrative, and Shepard's role within it, has been about the negotiation of diversity, testing the validity of opposing viewpoints and selecting a path through which to evolve on to another layer of questioning. Suddenly with the Synthesis ending, Shepard's capacity to make decisions elevates from offering a moral tipping point to arbitrarily wiping such disparity from the world. Shepard imposes his/her will upon every species, every form of life within the galaxy, making them all a dreary homogenous oneness. At such a point, wiping negotiation and multiplicity from the universe, Shepard moves from being an influential voice amongst a biodiversity of thought to sacrificing him/herself in an omnipotent imposition of will.

(And lest we forget that the entire character arc of Javik (the 'bonus' paid-DLC character that gives unique context to the entire cycle of destruction upon which this fiction is based) is utilised to reveal that a lack of diversity, the failure to continue adapting to new circumstances, was the primary reason that his race was decimated. ...So I guess we have that to look forward to.)

And this was the analogy I made to Made Nightwing in our discussion (and which I have bored people with elsewhere): this bewildering finale felt as if you had been listening to a soaring orchestral movement that ended in a cacophonous blast, the musicians tossing down their instruments and walking away. I find it hard to conceive how the creators of such a magnificent franchise could have made such a mess of their own universe. The plot holes, thematic inconsistencies and a deus ex machina that was unforgivable in ancient Greek theatre, let alone in any modern narrative, all combine to erode the foundations upon which the rest of the experience resides. (It's a disturbing sign when apologists for such an ending have to literally hope that what they witnessed was just a bad dream in the central character's head.)

I'm sure in my diatribe with Made Nightwing I would have cited Charles Dickens being alert to, and adapting his writing in response to the floods of letters he received from his fans in the serialised delivery of stories such as The Old Curiosity Shop. And I know I mentioned F.Scott Fitzgerald extensively redrafting Tender is the Night for a second publishing after receiving negative critical feedback. Indeed, whatever you think of the final result, Ridley Scott was able to reassert a definitive vision of Blade Runner in spite of its original theatrical release. Despite what critics might burble about artistic vision there is innumerable precedent for such reshaping, even beyond fundamental industry practices such as play-testings and film test-screenings. If a work of art has failed in its communicative purpose (and unless angering and bewildering its most invested fans was the goal, then Mass Effect 3 has done so), then it cannot be considered a success, and is not worthy of regard.

And for those who would respond that I, and fans like myself, are simply upset because the endings do not offer some irrefutable 'clarity' that would mar the poetic mysteries of the ending, I would point out that I am in no way against obscure or bewildering endings: if they are earned. In contrast to a majority of viewers, I happen to love the ending of The Sopranos for precisely this reason – because, despite the momentary jolt of surprise it engendered, that audacious blank screen was wholly thematically supportable. The driving premise of that program was a man seeking therapy (a mobster, yes, but a psychologically damaged man) – indeed, the very first beat in that narrative was Tony Soprano walking into a psychiatrist's office. The principle thematic tie of the entire series was therefore revealed to be a mediation upon the underlying psychological stimuli that produces identity: whether the capacity to interpret and understand one's impulses can impact upon the experience of one's life; whether one can attain agency over one's life.

That ending might have been agonising, but it was entirely fitting that the series ended with a loaded ambiguity, inviting a myriad of interpretations in which we the audience were now placed into the role of the psychiatrist, suddenly compelled to reason out the ending of those final thirty seconds with the cumulative experience of the preceding six years of imagery. Did Tony die? Did he have a second plate of onion rings and enjoy his family's company? Did Meadow ever park that car? In its final act The Sopranos gives over the interpretive, descriptive function of its narrative to its audience, intimately binding the viewer to Tony Soprano's own (perhaps failed) attempts to comprehend himself and attain authorship over his life. ...But the only reason that they could even try this is because every minute of every episode to this point has been propagated upon the notion that Tony Soprano was a man with a subconscious that could be explored, and that motivated his actions whether as a loving father or brutal criminal.

The obscurities in the ending of Mass Effect 3 have not been similarly earned by its prior narrative. This narrative has not until this point been about dominance, extermination, and the imposition of uniformity – indeed, Shepard has spent over a hundred hours of narrative fighting against precisely these three themes. And if one of these three (and only these three) options must be selected in order to sustain life in the universe, then that life has been so devalued by that act as to make the sacrifice meaningless.

And that is why I shall continue to go on shooting Haley-Joel-Osment-ghost in the face.

...Sorry again for the length of this post.

Edited by Made Nightwing, 19 April 2012 - 01:08 AM.


#2
sporeian

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I wanna go to your college...NOW!

#3
RvB SPARTAN038

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Like a boss. I want a professor like yours man.

#4
Mr.House

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Smart man.

#5
Athlonis1

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Your professor is awesome by the way.

I'd also like to say that he makes well articulated arguments against the ends. We really do need to get them changed....

#6
Riion

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He sounds like my Philosophy teacher... He's pretty chill too xP

#7
Sohlito

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Man....can we trade professors?

#8
EnvyTB075

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I like this guy.

#9
ReaperMAC

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Made Nightwing wrote...

he throws in Firefly references in his lectures


Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal! That is freaking awesome. I would so love that class. :D

#10
EndrzGame

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I like this human.

#11
Made Nightwing

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sporeian wrote...

I wanna go to your college...NOW!


And now would be an excellent time for me to advertise Campion College in Toongabbie, NSW, Australia.  A Liberal Arts Degree for Thinkers and Leaders! We also have Chess Club, Fencing Club, Boxing Club and Latin Club.

#12
Sc2mashimaro

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 Absolutely right OP, that is one of the biggest problems with the ending is that thematically and rhetorically it does not match the entire story up until that point. Agree, agree, agree.

#13
ShepnTali

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He's an entitled whiner who doesn't get it.

#14
sth88

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Awesome, well thought-out response!

#15
EnvyTB075

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Made Nightwing wrote...

sporeian wrote...

I wanna go to your college...NOW!


And now would be an excellent time for me to advertise Campion College in Toongabbie, NSW, Australia..


THAT.......was unexpected.....

#16
TheGreenLion

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A good analysis, among a few others I find pretty spot on. With the cash they raked in such a short amount of time I think they ought to reconstruct the ending, it may even save them future problems with sales if they did so. But will they? One can only hope that they finally admit the failure, and choose to do it right.

#17
Made Nightwing

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ShepnTali wrote...

He's an entitled whiner who doesn't get it.


He also had something to say about that.

"If I go to a concert, and pay top dollar to be entertained by the beautiful music of the orchestra therein, why would I be called a whiner when at the very end the musicians throw away their instruments and start playing death metal? Am I not entitled to expect the end to the concert to be what I have paid for?"

#18
Voods07

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Bioware disapproves of this logic.

#19
The Wumpus

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To be fair, developers don't "allow" publishers to set their deadlines, any more than any other sort of professional craftsman does. Hell, the reason the first Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book ended so abruptly is because the publishers told Douglas Adams, "We're sending a guy over to pick up whatever you have. Finish the page you're on now."

Now, a lot of publishers do set unreasonable deadlines, and you can sometimes persuade a publisher to push theirs back -- which, in fact, someone did once for ME3, since the release date got pushed back from November to March -- but they're never happy about it, and you can't usually get a publisher to delay the same game twice. (Well, you can if you're 3DRealms, but that ended in tears.)

#20
pipemaster9000

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I wish BW (Casey & Mac) would read this. I wish they would correct their blatant mistakes. I am fully aware of the team of writers' abilities. It's the 2 that did the ending that need to own up to it and not hide behind "artistic integrity," a complete lie.

Sadly though, for EA & BW, DLC occurring before the assault on TIM's base will not sell. Specifically because it will not affect the "ending."

Edited by pipemaster9000, 16 April 2012 - 05:13 AM.


#21
The RPGenius

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He's a professor for a reason, he is. Not that it will make a difference if Bioware is ignoring us as much as their actions and PR indicates that they are.

#22
TODD9999

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Yep, the same points I've thought of and/or seen raised on other occasions. Well spoken.

#23
EnvyTB075

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Made Nightwing wrote...

ShepnTali wrote...

He's an entitled whiner who doesn't get it.


He also had something to say about that.

"If I go to a concert, and pay top dollar to be entertained by the beautiful music of the orchestra therein, why would I be called a whiner when at the very end the musicians throw away their instruments and start playing death metal? Am I not entitled to expect the end to the concert to be what I have paid for?"


Even more approval

Edited by EnvyTB075, 16 April 2012 - 05:14 AM.


#24
AdmLancel

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I like it when the crazy notions I come up with are independently verified by college professors.

#25
Oakenshield1

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Made Nightwing wrote...

sporeian wrote...

I wanna go to your college...NOW!


And now would be an excellent time for me to advertise Campion College in Toongabbie, NSW, Australia.  A Liberal Arts Degree for Thinkers and Leaders! We also have Chess Club, Fencing Club, Boxing Club and Latin Club.


My college has a medival melee weapon club. Not even kidding.