(Note: There are spoilers, due to the nature of this blog, so avoid if you haven't played through the trilogy) One of the things I admire about the Mass Effect series is its plethora of well-developed characters. I've already cited a couple of them so far in this blog series, and another character I find myself drawn to is the leader of Cerberus, The Illusive Man. TIM is a tragic, compelling, and inspiring character with a rich backstory and motives simultaneously clear and nebulous. It's a shame that his downfall was so predictable.

"Predictable, you say?" Certainly. In fact, I'll prove it to you. TIM, in all his depth and nuance, was merely the spiritual successor of Saren, sans a few key differences, and by the time I'm finished with this blog, you'll believe it too.

The first key similarity I've noticed between Saren and TIM is that they both enter the narrative as enemies, although their histories suggest otherwise. Some would say this is a rather pedantic comparison, but establishing an understanding of how character relationships first begin and evolve is central to unveiling any possible ties they may have. We'll begin with the character that started it all: Saren himself.

Now, we'll cover each character more generally. Saren, to begin, is a relatively tragic villain. On the surface, he seems cold and heartless, without any redeeming qualities. His manipulation of Matriarch Benezia, the Geth, and even Krogan scientists underscore this perfectly. Yet, Saren has a much deeper history, as a well-renowned Turian Spectre with a prestigious military history despite his noticeably harsh method. His dislike of humans due to a brother he lost in the First Contact War would inevitably become the catalyst driving his motives once he discovered Sovereign and learned of the Reaper threat: a desire to save the galaxy from the Reapers by proving the worth of organics as servants of the Reapers. Saren posited that this feat would also elevate his race to the forefront and leave humanity in its shadow.

TIM also had considerable military experience, being involved in the infamous First Contact War himself. As the founder of Cerberus, an organization devoted to Human superiority regardless of any possible costs, TIM's methods also were brutal, attested by the vicious experiments and motives that Cerberus operatives regularly practiced mostly on unwilling victims. His zealotry for humanity eventually led him to believe that he could use the technology of the Reapers to defeat them and secure human dominance in the galaxy. As we can see here, while the two have varying methods, thematically the goals of Saren and TIM remain respectively similar, in addition to the nature of their history.

Perhaps the strongest concession in this discussion is the nature of the relationship Saren has with Shepard. Saren, despite his history with Anderson, remains Shepard's enemy during the entire narrative, with players chasing him throughout the galaxy as he searches for the tools needed to bring the Reapers into the galaxy. TIM, on the other hand, becomes Shepard's temporary ally - he financed the Lazarus Project that revived Shepard after the fatal Collector attack - and even assists the Commander in the destruction of the Collectors, an indoctrinated race that's been collecting humans in order to create a new Reaper. It isn't until after this feat is accomplished that the two eventually become enemies, and with respect to Cerberus, one of the primary threats to the galaxy's survival against the Reapers.

One thing that is clear in both characters is that they remain mysterious and unknowable to some extent; both commit evil, yet apparently in their twisted beliefs, for the sake of a rather selfish and unrealistic greater cause. These causes also become their very undoing; Saren's only leads him to commit atrocities that conflict with his beliefs - such as the murder of Nihlus. Saren however, begins to recognize the weaknesses he has and attempts to correct them; hence, the study on indoctrination he begins in an attempt to free himself from Sovereign's corrupting influence. However, the implants that Sovereign forces Saren to implement so that he can be "improved" only strengthen the Reaper's hold on Saren until he becomes a mere shell of himself and the cause he once sought is all but abandoned.

TIM, on the other hand, becomes so obsessed with human dominance that all he does, no matter how contradictory it seems in retrospect, ultimately hinders the goals he sought to achieve. He instead chooses to research indoctrination to control the Reapers and even undergoes experimentation on his troops and also himself with Reaper technology. TIM later decides to warn the Reapers of Shepard's plan, information that he would never have released to the enemy if he were truly concerned with Humanity's uplifting as well as the defeat of the Reapers currently ravaging Earth. This development betrays all that Cerberus truly stands for and his inability to realize how far he's strayed from his ideals proves that TIM is indoctrinated. The horrific state that he's fallen into underscores just how inhuman TIM has become in his desire to elevate the status of humanity. It isn't until TIM dies glimpsing the Earth while inside the Citadel that we see his true vision manifest in all its poetic minimalism.

As can be seen from the available information, both characters are incredibly similar thematically, and it's hard to dismiss the influence Saren's characteristics seem to have in respect to TIM. Character-wise, TIM has far more depth than Saren ever did, who in retrospect feels like a rough draft at times, considering TIM's had one - possibly two if you take his influence in Mass Effect 3 into consideration - entire game to evolve. Yet, both have an unmistakably strong drive, influenced heavily by the same conflict; the same motives, albeit from different perspectives and methodologies; the same influence and charisma; finally, the same tragic downfall. Whereas Saren was the basic framework, The Illusive Man was the figure realized and expanded into an entire spectrum of personality. We could banter over the two till kingdom come about their subtleties and any possible differences, yet both of their lives are defined by one transcending philosophy: the road to Hell is paved by good intentions.

In closing, I've hopefully convinced you that Saren and TIM are far more similar than you expected. At the very least, I've stimulated your brain a bit and given you something to debate the next time you have a discussion with fellow Mass Effect acolytes. It's always important to give credit where credit's due, so I thought I'd set the record straight with this blog. Yet, both characters remain equally appealing and intriguing in their own ways.