When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills, he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”
If the Übermensch rejects the meaning of life, while the Redeemer hopes to preserve that life by grabbing control, is there a way to reconcile the two? Theology and ancient history provide some insight that attempt to show how these divisions can not only coexist but feed off each other through a moral framework. This framework is what provides us salvation in the eyes of God, and through sacrifice, to some Christians, we can be saved.
This is the third in a four part series looking at Mass Effect characters Garrus, Mordin, Legion, and Commander Shepard. With Character Select, the goal is to showcase some of the best video game characters ever made and dissect why they are memorable. You can find more of them here.
The most prominent example is the use of the "messiah" in Abrahamic theology. Originating in Judaism, the messiah is seen as a savior, often a king or high priest, anointed with the title that would bring their chosen people through times of tribulation. Most of their actions are predetermined, such as the unification of the tribes of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the declaration of a savior to come. Messiahs in theology are an important part of not only religious dogma, but historically, titles bestowed on important individuals.
Mass Effect is filled with important individuals. While the most important character, Commander Shepard, will be discussed next time, there is at least one character in the game that can easily be given the messiah title for their actions, the robotic AI known as Legion. Legion, aptly named from the book of Mark in the New Testament, is an AI platform known as a Geth. Geth, meaning "to serve" in the language of their creators, the Quarians, are advanced AI created over 200 years before the trilogy begins. What happens between the Quarians and the Geth becomes the primary theme for the Mass Effect trilogy: the conflict of organic and synthetic life.
Shepard's relationship with the Geth arguably provides the players with one of the most complex motivations for an antagonist force of all time. In the first game, the Geth provide the bulk of the general “grunts” throughout the main story, allying themselves with Saren and the Reaper Sovereign in attacking parts of the galaxy to guarantee the Reapers success.
The Geth are a cautionary tale for AI intelligence if you are to believe the Quarians. Fan favorite character Tali describes the war that the Quarians lost when their creations rebelled against them, talking about how her people were massacred as they underestimated the intelligence and tactical skill of the Geth platforms they created. It is a common sci-fi cliché recycled from Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot to the Wachowskis' Martix trilogy, and to see a similar fate play out in Mass Effect is not surprising.
What is unique, however, is how the trilogy utilizes the Geth through Legion. First seen in a mission towards the end of Mass Effect 2, he seemingly helps Commander Shepard and their crew throughout their investigations of a derelict reaper. If brought on board and re-activated, we learn that Legion is a singular platform of the Geth consensus, a cluster of 1183 individual Geth in one body. It wishes to fight the “heretics” and the “Old Machines," referring to the previous antagonistic Geth under the thrall of the Reapers. This surprises Shepard, who presumed Legion, as an AI, would be aligned with the Reapers because of their synthetic kinship.
Historically, this division can be a reference to a movement during the 1st century, the Jewish Zealot movement that hoped to purge Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judea from Roman control. The movement culminated in a series of conflicts known as the Great Revolt, where Jews would be in open rebellion against the Roman Empire before it was quelled by 73 CE. Years prior, Jewish Zealots would be divided on how to combat the Romans, some pushing for open rebellion, others waiting for a messiah to bring forth their destruction.
It is through this much of the context of the Gospels is framed. Historians are still unsure if Jesus even existed, but they acknowledge that his role in the New Testament serves as a backdrop to this Great Conflict between the Jews and the Romans. With this, the conversations with Legion take on greater weight; their own internal struggle for their future becomes a fight for survival against a synthetic religious war.
The misconceptions of the Geth and their alien perceptions of the galaxy around them are perfect fodder for Shepard to see their perspective. The Geth consensus and Legion, at first, seems wholly logical and mathematical. Their discussions about Sovereign, known as Nazara (an ancient term referring to Nazareth, the birthplace of Jesus, and also a reference to Nazarite, an Israelite who is in the service of God found in the Old Testament), the promises of salvation, the speed of their consensus process—even their discussions about the Quarians, their creators—add insight into the faceless mobs of enemies the player has fought for two games.
A major theme with the Geth is their growing understanding of their creators. One poignant moment in Mass Effect 2 highlights the changing relationship between the two races, where a recording hears a Geth ask if they have a soul. The importance of the soul is rampant in theological texts, and per Legion, it was the first time the Quarians became afraid of the Geth questioning their place. While this theme comes into play more with Shepard’s ultimate choice, for Legion, it is a significant point as it represents their changing perspectives of their creators. The Geth gain an understanding of their position in Quarian society that will ultimately lead them towards new messiahs in the Old Machines.
Their conflict with the Heretics, the Geth loyal to the Reapers, is also important because it leads to an ethical problem regarding submission to ideology. Much like the Zealots of old, the Geth Heretics hope to destroy outsiders from their collective consensus by implementing a virus that rewrites their thinking. Shepard is offered a choice of destroying the Geth or using the virus on the Heretics, either brainwashing or committing a genocide over a specific point of view.
The position of Shepard in all of this is significant. Shepard, in the eyes of the Geth, is an important figure to their consensus. The atypical non-answer of "no data available" as to why Legion holds onto a piece of Shepard’s armor, for example, hints at him being something more. True, the armor motif was originally just a cool image for the teaser trailer, but it carries heavier weight when Legion asks Shepard to provide an outsider’s perspective against the Heretics. Legion and its Geth see Shepard as their messiah.
By the third game, the fighting with the Geth has come to a head. The Quarians, long since planning to retake their homeworld Rannoch after being driven from it by the Geth, wage war as the Reapers begin to return. Much like the Hebrews fighting for the Promised Land, the Quarians are pigeon-holed into the same role as the Geth; ironically, their own brand of Zealots fighting for their cause. Much like the Zealots of the 1st century, only a total victory or death will see the Quarians satisfied.
Yet, the truth is much more complicated, as Shepard learns when they interface into the Geth consensus. Shepard sees the gradual birth of the Geth as a thinking intelligence, the fact that some Quarians wished to protect them from destruction, and the mercy of not committing a genocide on the Quarians as they retreated. The Geth, in their earliest moments, logically process their decisions to simply remain isolationists to the greater galaxy. That is, until the onset of Nazara and the Geth Heretics.
Ironically, the Geth in Mass Effect 3 are not Heretics per se, although the presence of a Reaper controlling their actions transforms many of them to fight against Shepard. Many of them become enticed by something they cannot fully comprehend, achieving true intelligence like the Old Machines thanks to Reaper code. The Geth Heretics worshipping the Reapers like Gods can also be a reference to the false idolatry found in the Bible, but it takes on another form thanks to Legion. See, Legion wishes to also preserve his people, but feels the upgrades by the Reapers, without their control, is the only way to do so.
The climax of the Quarian and Geth conflict is a massive moment in Mass Effect 3. After destroying a Reaper, the Geth and Quarians are ready to continue their fight, with Tali and Legion, provided they have survived to this point, arguing why each side deserves a right to live. The outcome is heavily dependent on many factors found in Mass Effect 2 and 3, with two of the endings leading to the destruction of the Quarians or the Geth, while another wipes both out completely. Much like Legion’s loyalty mission, the choice of genocide once more can be selected.
The best outcome, however, is when Shepard can stand down the Quarians while Legion uploads the Reaper code. Part of the reason this is the best outcome is the symbolic significance it has for Shepard and their arc for the climax of the trilogy. For Legion, however, it transitions him into the messianic role he was playing throughout the game. Legion serves the role of the messiah for the Geth as the bridge between an AI and sentient intelligence.
The growth of Christianity and the New Testament, born out of Jewish traditions and the Old Testament, also treat their messiahs differently in theology. Jesus, as a figure, was purposefully framed as the Son of God, and that his death and rebirth, rising from the dead three days later to ascend to heaven, was an act of benevolent salvation to all Christians. For the Catholic church and many Christians, the messiah is a physical representation of God on Earth—Christ himself, the future king who ushers in the Messianic Age.
Since each Abrahamic religion has their own interpretation of a messiah, the final transition between the Old and New Testaments fits squarely into the hands of Christian theology. For the Geth, their messiahs were external throughout the trilogy. The Old Machines, their herald Nazara, The Creators in the Quarians, Shepard—each of them have become messianic figures to the Geth, forming different streams of belief. Each of them in a way represents the Old Testament, the Jewish tradition of anointed kings heralding important change.
Legion, by contrast, becomes the son of God—Christ the messiah in the Catholic sense. By willingly sacrificing himself to allow his soul to spread across all Geth, Legion makes the same choice as Jesus without hesitation towards their death, knowing the ultimate reward is the salvation they now bestow upon their people. They take the words of the Old Machines and bring new perspective, new hope to the Geth, offering them true sentience and, more importantly, salvation. The culmination of this is a scene of hope for the Geth and the Quarians, them both coming to an understanding over the sacrifice of the life that was given to them. Tali sorrowfully answers Legion's inquiry, that he does have a soul, and in his final moments he processes what he always knew for himself before ascending.
The best ending for the Geth and Quarians is also the best ending for the character arc of Legion. Like many AI characters before him, the quest for understanding the world goes through turns and trials that come into conflict with the chaos of organic life. Yet, the outcome of uncovering that truth is more than just an unshackled AI; it is a theological framework that further elevates a possible fate for synthetic life.
Legion and the Geth serve one more purpose: proof that the Reapers, for all their complex motivations, can also be wrong in their presumptions. Throughout the trilogy, the Reapers see themselves as the Gods of the Galaxy, the salvation for all organics and the vengeful hammer for their sins, all because of the cycle of violence that is inevitable between organic and synthetic life. Yet the actions of a single being can change the destiny of all mankind. The question, then, is will that single being also be a messiah for organic life…