Ah yes. Reapers.
In my review of Mass Effect 3, I wanted to address the villainous Reapers as I understand them, but there simply wasn’t time. The time is now. I’m going to attempt to understand the ultimately unknowable Reapers and discuss what I believe to be their motivations. I am the vanguard of your spoiler warning.
Throughout the Mass Effect series, the Reapers have been portrayed as beings beyond our comprehension, not unlike the Cthulhu mythos and H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism philosophy.
Lovecraft said of this philosophy, “the human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure ‘Victorian fictions’. Only egotism exists.”
Or, as Sovereign put it, “We are eternal. The pinnacle of evolution and existence. Before us, you are nothing. Your extinction is inevitable. We are the end of everything.”
The Reapers largely symbolize cosmic indifference. The universe doesn’t care what I had for breakfast this morning, how nice I am to my neighbor, or how many people I might have murdered on the way to work. Neither do the Reapers. They will show the human race no empathy because, to them, our existence is equally as inconsequential as a collection of bacteria in a discarded piece of chewing gum. We are that bacteria. Worse: we are a virus.
The Reapers were built to be cosmic extinction machines. When intelligent life gas evolved to the point where it becomes a threat to other life (organic and synthetic), it also has evolved to a point where we can make use of the mass relays. The Reapers built the mass relays to signal that our time has come. Returning to Sovereign, “Your civilization is based on the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using it, your civilization develops along the paths we desire. We impose order on the chaos of organic life. You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it.”
So when organic life is too powerful, it’s time to harvest. This distinction is important. The Reapers harvest the ripest life. It’s reached it’s point in evolution where continuing to let it exist would be harmful to the universe as a whole. Think of the Drell and how they overpopulated their home planet, leading to the destruction of their planet and near extinction of their race.
Or, think of where the various races were right before the Reapers finally attacked in Mass Effect 3. The quarians and geth were ready to wipe each other out, and many other races were just as ready to fight to the death, such as humans versus batarians, krogan versus salarians and turians. All these warring factions, both organic and synthetic, eventually would have caused irreparable damage to the galaxy had the Reapers not stepping in to hit the reset button.
Because these “ripe” races are harvested, there is room for life to continue. We would not be here if not for the extinction of the dinosaurs and the Protheans. The cycle must continue. The cycles of creation, destruction, and rebirth are seen in many myths, such as the Aztec and Hindu religions. It’s nasty, necessary work, but the Reapers exist to make sure the cycle continues. As the Catalyst said, they are the solution to chaos.
Speaking of the Catalyst, he narrowed this view of the cycle to creators and created, organics versus synthetics. “Without us to stop it, synthetics would destroy all organics.” While this appears to only be the case with the geth and quarians, after the quarians are defeated by the geth, the rest of the galaxy would recognize the geth as a huge threat, and every other race would join in this war.
“But wait!” I hear my dear reader cry, “Shepard stopped the wars between all the races! S/he proved that synthetic and organic life can get along!”
To this I reply, “Exactly!”
Again, I feel the need to stress the fact that the Reapers are harvesting us. They aren’t killing us. They view themselves as our salvation. Without the Reapers, we’d all die out. They harvest us and preserve us in Reaper form, the human type of which was seen in the final battle of Mass Effect 2. While the Reapers display cosmic indifference, they are also intelligent creatures that wish to preserve us in some way so that we do not disappear from the universe all together. As these massive machines see it, they are helping us by saving bits of our genetic material. Our souls.
But what if the intelligent life of this cycle is worth keeping around in its present form? What if this cycle was the one where everyone finally learned to get along?
Gee, if only there was a way for the Reapers to find out. Perhaps some sort of rigorous test, or… CRUCIBLE??
- A ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures.
- A place or occasion of severe test or trial: “the crucible of combat”.
The Crucible is not Prothean, remember. It is a Reaper design and, like the mass relays, it is a test. The mass relay signals that its time for a reaping. The Crucible signals that its time to stop. There is enough time during the Reaping to construct it. Everyone else who has attempted to do so has failed, even the Protheans as Javik explains.
The Crucible is impossible to complete unless every race in the galaxy works together. By completing the Crucible we have proven to the Reapers that, in the words of the Catalyst, the solution will no longer work. “The fact that you are standing here, the first organic ever, proves it.” Chaos can coexist with order, synthetics can get along with organics. Because of Shepard, we’ve succeeded and earned the right to choose our own fate.