Thoughts on the Ending including Extended Cut:
My full thoughts on this matter are available here.
If you want to know only what I think post-Extended Cut, continue to the massive wall of text below. Enough people have written about the majority of the problems that the Extended Cut doesn’t solve, such as the completely laughable scene where Harbinger and the Normandy face down each other without either of them firing or the fact that in the original ending the Normandy’s engines are blown apart in the Crucible blast regardless of your EMS but in the Extended Cut higher EMS shows the ship surviving intact. Of course, if it survived intact, why did it land on the jungle planet at all?
These are not the issues I’m going to address. I’m going to focus on how the Extended Cut and the Crucible work, and essentially, why they do not work.
Here be Spoilers
We’re going to use the words of the Catalyst here and assume for the moment that all of this is true, and that the Catalyst is not deceiving us.
“The device you refer to as the Crucible is little more than a power source. However, in combination with the Citadel and the relays, it is capable of releasing tremendous amounts of energy throughout the galaxy. It is crude, but effective and adaptive in its design…We first noted the concept for this design several cycles ago. With each passing cycle, the design has no doubt evolved…We believed the concept had been eradicated. Clearly organics are more resourceful than we realized.”
We already know that the mechanism to initiate Control, Synthesis, and Destroy are located on the Citadel itself and not part of the Crucible. Which means if the Crucible is nothing more than the power source, the Citadel was designed specifically with these possibilities in mind. The likelihood that docking interface where Shepard and the Catalyst have their conversation was added later is almost non-existent, since the Catalyst indicates the design originated several cycles ago but not during the first cycle. The Catalyst also does not take credit for the Crucible’s design, which indicates it was not developed by it in preparation for a day like this coming.
In all prior cycles, we are led to believe that the Reapers entered the galaxy through the Citadel relay itself and then immediately took control of the Citadel. We are also led to believe that only the creation of the Conduit on Ilos and the subsequent tampering on the part of the Prothean survivors after the Reapers left (see conversation with Vigil: Mass Effect 1) prevented this from happening in the current cycle. It is therefore highly unlikely that any of the previous cycles would have been able to construct the docking interface after the Reapers arrived, and they would probably have had little reason to do so prior to their arrival.
So, again, I have to ask why do the mechanisms for Control and Destroy currently exist on the Citadel? An argument can now be made for the Synthesis mechanism, despite the fact that apparently all one needs to do is jump into the Crucible’s beam, as the Catalyst explains later that Synthesis has always been their goal and it has always failed. But why would the Catalyst or its predecessor race (who seemingly became the first Reaper against their will) have built a mechanism specifically to allow an organic to replace it or destroy its creations, one that is essentially useless without an independently designed organic device to give it sufficient power? What purpose did they serve, or were they intended to serve prior to the inception of the Crucible?
Furthermore, how did the previous cycles know how and where to dock the Crucible for these mechanisms to interface with it? If the mechanisms were, like the Crucible, built independent of the Catalyst and the Reapers, why do they all appear in one place? It’s doubtful any one cycle would have constructed all three of them, much less more than one of them. It’s also unlikely that Catalyst, who now admits to being aware of the Crucible’s existence prior to this cycle, would have allowed them to remain on the Citadel at all if it felt the mechanisms could one day threaten it.
We are now given the option to refuse the three main choices. Refusing to select a choice, or shooting at the Catalyst, will now end the game in the Reaper’s favor. At that point, the Catalyst either shuts the Crucible down entirely or it calls upon its forces to destroy it. We’re not shown exactly what happens, save that we do see the energy beam connecting the Citadel to the Crucible dissipating.
Which now returns us back to the heart of the problem: why does the Catalyst speak to us at all? There’s a throwaway line that the Crucible “changed” the Catalyst, and during the original ending, many people interpreted that as though the Catalyst was forced by the Crucible to offer these option to Shepard. Clearly, this isn’t the case. When Shepard refuses to cooperate, the Catalyst become angry and storms off, resulting in the eventual destruction of the allied forces.
Since the Catalyst isn’t being forced to speak to Shepard, why does it speak to Shepard at all? It was the one that activated the elevator that called Shepard to it. It could have easily left Shepard there to bleed out and die next to Anderson, thus allowing the current cycle to end as it had originally ended it to. Why does it even offer the Control or Destroy options to us? It doesn’t have to. It doesn’t serve its purpose. If Synthesis is its ultimate goal, why doesn’t it just state that this is all the Crucible can do and hide the other possibilities?
None of this makes any sense at all from the perspective of the Catalyst. There’s no need to find a new solution, as it tells us earlier, as the old solution would have worked fine had it not brought Shepard up to the docking area.
Which means, essentially, that nothing we did in preparation for the final battle means anything at all. The entire survival of the galaxy rests in our ability to please a malevolent god who for reasons we will never be allowed to know, deigns to speak with us and gift us three means of removing him from the galaxy. Should we refuse its generosity, we will instead feel its terrible wrath.
Yes, we had to build the Crucible. Yes, we had to get it to the Citadel intact or mostly intact, if you have low EMS. Yes, we had to get the Citadel’s arms open. But why do any of these things matter to the Catalyst, who can refuse to deal with us? Why, after all this time, does it feel the need to negotiate with organics after untold millennia of harvesting them?
We must ask these questions, because after the time invested in allowing the cycle of destruction to continue, the logical and easier path for the Catalyst is to let Shepard die, destroy the Crucible, and then comb the galaxy for any trace of evidence of the Crucible and eliminate it prior to leaving for dark space again. Or, the easier path, just remove the mechanisms from the Citadel that would enable the Destroy or Control options, especially if Synthesis is the ultimate goal.