This column is a excerpt from Unwinnable Monthly #103, the Mass Effect issue. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
When we first met Cerberus in 2007, they seemed like any other high minded if wrongheaded fanatical organization. They wanted nothing but the advancement of humanity at all costs. They didn’t care about rules, red tape or politics. If extreme experimentation would have helped, they did it. It’s simple, really: no cost is too great when the ends justify the means. A judge, jury, your peers, the media or the government might never acquit you, but history is only vindicator one needs when the advancement of the species is at stake.
A Cerberus to protect us. To keep us safe from the aliens, from the dangers that lurked beyond the Charon Relay. To harden our hearts against forces outside and within that might seek to control and manipulate us. To steel us against those who would impede us from taking our bright and shining place amongst the stars. A Cerberus to stand firm against the ceaselessly beating tide of war, politics and diplomacy and lead humanity forward.
It sounds almost reasonable when you put it that way, but the promise was far from the reality. Cerberus was ethnonationalism long before ethnonational policy had reclaimed space on the world stage. Like most terrorists, they saw themselves as a force for good, a force that would act in the ultimate best interests of the people it sought to protect, even if that meant hurting them.
This is why Cerberus is the ultimate antagonist of Mass Effect. While it was the Reapers blasting planets and devastating all sentient life, it was Cerberus that sought to wield the Reapers as a sword for themselves. A Cerberus to protect us is one thing. A Cerberus to dominate us is another.
Mass Effect is a series about refuting purity and accepting the strength of working with those ultimately different from you. By the end of Mass Effect 1, it’s impossible to have an all-human squad. As the games progress, we increasingly are shown how it is people unlike ourselves who are essential to the cause of saving all life in the galaxy.
Although Shepard’s crew is originally mostly human, it’s quickly diversified with the recruitment of Liara, Wrex and Garrus. Contrast this with the faux meritocracy at play in Mass Effect 2. The Illusive Man supplies files on a crew he believes will help Shepard accomplish their mission but only views this as a means to an end. Organization wide, where are all the other aliens? If the Illusive Man was truly hiring the best people, why don’t we ever see any aliens when clearly, they were necessary to beat the Collectors?
David Shimomura is a writer and critic who relishes nothing more than tearing down things on pedestals. Actually, he relishes petting all the dogs more. To recap, first dogs, then irreverent critique. To hear more about those things follow him on Twitter @DHShimomura.