Wherein Bailey survives a gunshot wound by being TOO BUSY TO DIE. Also, Shepard is an owl and Cerberus attacks the center of galactic government with shuttles.
Welcome to the Stupid. Enjoy your stay.
So, spoilers, Udina wants to take over the Citadel and declare himself dictator so he can circumvent the bickering, useless council and actually save the galaxy. Not necessarily an ignoble goal, especially with how terribly useless the council has been, even if he’s using Cerberus to get what he needs.
Though why anyone would rely on Cerberus for anything is a completely different problem.
I didn’t necessarily have a problem with this turn for his character (aside from relying on Cerberus, which is just dumb), and it was even foreshadowed early on if you talk to him after the initial council meeting. He’ll mention how his political clout “can move mountains” but even that won’t be enough to save earth. It makes sense that he might attempt more drastic action given the apocalyptic circumstances. Of course Cerberus can’t run a hotdog stand without everyone dying so that still doesn’t make sense, but I actually rather liked the idea behind this development, even if the execution was lousy. In my mind, it made him a much grayer shade in what is otherwise a tsunami of black and white.
A bit like Saren, actually.
So of course, the game immediately discards these shades of gray as soon as the mission is over, with dialogue between Shepard and Kaiden/Ashley that not only made my head hurt, but also went something like this:
“Man, that Udina guy was really evil, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah, he was totally evil. Sometimes you can never tell when people will suddenly turn evil for no reason.”
“Yeah, being evil is bad. People shouldn’t be evil.”
Not only is this a terrible way to conclude this phase of the story, but it completely discards the entire characterization of Udina. He was never “evil” in the past games, but he was more politically savvy and more willing to play dirty than Anderson. He was the pragmatist to Anderson’s (and, often, Shepard’s) idealist. He wasn’t always right, but he was usually after the same thing you ultimately were; he just looked at things through a different lense than you did/were allowed to. (As an aside, this is what Renegade really should have been about; hell, a proper pragmatic Renegade might even want to support Udina’s coup. Instead, Renegade became “I am a space racist and/or a complete idiot, also I shoot people in cutscenes, but never when it would actually be useful.”)
Instead, the game flushes the whole theme – and the Udina character – out the airlock, and never looks back. Nobody reflects on whether Udina might’ve actually been right – or even argues that Udina had his heart in the right place, but that trusting Cerberus in the long run was just too dangerous. Of course, that would mean the game was actually aware of what a joke Cerberus is, and we can’t have that, can we? But when we talk about the game falling flat, this is the sort of stuff we’re referring to. There’s no reflection, no coherence of themes or characterization here. There’s no pathos to this chapter, but it would’ve been so easy to invoke it.
And that’s a damn shame.