Indoctrination is a slow process, but by the comments from various characters in ME1, it seems like it's not that slow: as I recall, the Tholian hostage describes it as taking "days, even weeks" before you become "a willing slave." A period of weeks is slow enough for you yourself not to notice the change, but it's still fast enough that others might notice a shift in priorities or behavior.

Do we know when, in the storyline of Mass Effect 2/3, the Illusive Man became indoctrinated? Or, for that matter, how it happened (i.e. what Reaper or Reaper tech he encountered that began exerting that influence on him)?

He's always shown to be a shady character, but for most of ME2 he seems to be sincere in his desire to stop the Reapers. And, for example, his insistence (even overruling Miranda's objections) on rebuilding Shepard without a control chip would seem to indicate that he was, at least then, free from Reaper influence.

By the end of ME2 he is arguing to save Reaper tech for study, although for someone who built their empire by collecting data, that may not be out-of-character for him. But by the start of ME3 we find him husk-ifying his troops and that grey metallic substance creeping in around the edges of his face, which would indicate a strong level of indoctrination had already set in.

Are there any comics or novels (or game scenes that my choices didn't let me see), which expand on the Illusive Man's turn? Was it the Collector tech and the baby Reaper that he salvaged at the end of ME2 that started the process, or some other Cerberus initiative? Can we pinpoint the range of time where the changes started, or is it left unsaid?

  • I was wondering the same thing. My assumption was between the second & third games, or at least near the very end of ME2. It's never said in-game, and AFAIK I've played all paths & dialogue choices in both.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 19:46

4 Answers 4


There isn't a simple answer. Mostly because it varies. The official in-game codex states:

Rapid indoctrination is possible, but causes this decay in days or weeks. Slow, patient indoctrination allows the thrall to last for months or years.

So it is possible that different levels can be used depending on what their goal with the subject is.

The severity of indoctrination is supposed (by characters) that it is probably affected more or less by the length and strength of the exposure in some kind of proportion to the proximity to the indoctrination source, but this isn't confirmed.

Saren was indoctrinated within a matter of weeks, maybe less. The Monolith in Mass Effect:Evolution would convert people in seconds, but that was more of an enslavement than indoctrination. (Sort of like the husk conversion process in ME1, but not exactly.) If you subscribe to the Shepard indoctrination theory (which many do not—I personally do), that process would have taken years.

Regarding the Illusive Man specifically, it seems to have started in Mass Effect:Evolution when he was exposed to the device on Shanxi, when he was a young mercenary during the First Contact War. But seemed to get amped up a lot when he started using Reaper tech-based implants after the experiments at Sanctuary proved "successful" in others. At that point it proceeded much more rapidly until he was completely indoctrinated.

I assume by "baby reaper" you mean the "human form Reaper" that was in construction in ME1 and destroyed (mostly) at the end of ME2? As far as we know, Cerberus didn't turn it on, and it was broken and unfinished. It is unlikely that exposure to it is what indoctrinated him. Though he did have it stored at his main base where he spent most of his time, so it isn't out of the question either.

It should be noted in Mass Effect 2 that though his stated intentions when speaking with Shepard were to stop the reapers, the Illusive Man's MO was more of wanting control so he could save humanity from any source that might threaten humanity's dominance. There was never a hatred of the Reapers, but only the desire to keep the Reapers from destroying him. And to stop a galaxy of enemies, he figures he needs control and power. And if Reaper tech could help him achieve that all the better—especially when that thought is from a man already partially indoctrinated.

Related quotes:

...our technology has advanced more than the past 10,000 years combined. And the Reapers will do the same for us again. A thousand fold. But… only if we can harness their ability to control.

Where you see a means to destroy, I see a way to control– to dominate and harness the Reapers’ power.

The technology from that base could have secured human dominance in the galaxy. Against the Reapers and beyond.

There is no magic—only technology. Tools that we can master. Tools we must master. Not just to survive -- but for the betterment of mankind.


As stated in another answer, there are basically two different kinds of indoctrination used by the Reapers. There is a slow and subtle version and more rapid version. It seems that for high-value agents the slow version is used, which actually subtly influences the target over months or even years instead of simply enslaving their will. This basically leaves them free to act on their own while they are actually influenced to serve the Reapers purpose.

Saren Arterius and Jack Harper (aka Illusive Man) both were such agents. In both cases there is evidence that they were slowly indoctrinated over the course of a few years.

In case of the Illusive Man the indoctrination might have begun when he first came into contact with Reaper tech on Shanxi during the First Contact War (this story is told in the comic book Mass Effect: Evolution). This happened several years before the games.

I believe it's nowhere clearly stated when the Reapers began to influence him, so the following contains speculations. But I think this is a very plausible scenario, given what we know about the Reapers' methods.

Jack Harper fought as part of the resistance against the Turians. He and his friends managed to capture a Turian who turned out to be General Desolas Arterius (Saren's older brother). He was looking for an artefact on Shanxi. This artefact turned anyone who came close into a Reaper-augmented warriors who protects the artefact at all cost.

Desolas wanted to use this to create super soldiers called Meta-Turians. While fighting near the artefact, Jack's friend Ben comes into contact with it and is killed - only to return turned just like the Turians. Jack on the other hand, was only knocked unconscious and captured by the Turians.

The artefact left its mark on him, however. This is how he got is blue-glowing eyes. He could also feel the artefact and he started to have dreams about the impending doom of mankind. He knew that something terrible was coming.

It's unclear why he was only touched but not turned by the artefact. Maybe the contact was to short to turn him but enough to plant a seed.
His visions might have been part of his indoctrination. It were those visions, after all, that lead him to create Cerberus and to pursue technology in the believe that all technology can be mastered and used - even Reaper tech (although all attempts to do so backfired).

Some time after the events of Mass Effect 2 and after experimenting on Paul Grayson he began to use Reaper tech and thus sealed his own fate, turning quickly into a full Reaper slave.

But the horrible thing about the slow indoctrination is, that the agents are just influenced but not directly controlled by the Reapers. They start doing the wrong things for all the right reasons and until the end they believe that they are doing it for a good purpose. When they finally realize that they played into the Reapers hands, it's far to late for them to break away from their control.

The Illusive Man did really fight the Reapers and what he did was meant to make Cerberus (and mankind) ready to oppose them (including the revival of Shepard). But at the end he played into their hands when he became obsessed with the idea that he could control the Reapers and this lead to him opposing Shepard when he should have helped him instead.
And it's possible that the Reapers put the idea in his head years ago.

Saren was the same. He kept believing that helping the Reapers was the only way to save his race and others from total annihilation. He also kept believing that he did it all of his own free will and that he was not under Reaper influence.


He became indoctrinated after he had Cerberus operatives recover fragments of the destroyed (or the complete body, depending on player choices) human Proto-Reaper, after Commander Shepard dealt with the Collector Base in Mass Effect 2.

He and many Cerberus operatives spent a lot of time studying the Reaper fragments (hence the 'enhancements' they develop in Mass Effect 3), naturally exposing them to Reaper indoctrination.


See now if you looked into the detail of Saren eyes and Illusive Man eyes they're almost the same shade so i'm gonna say Illusive Man was indoctrinated for months atleast honestly and plus how badly he wanted the collector base to be saved for the "reaper tech"

  • 1
    Welcome to the site! Could you possibly expand on this answer, add some more context to explain your conclusion that he was indoctrinated for "months at least"?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 7:44

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