Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bioshock Infinite's Ending: A Discussion

(While I don’t think it needs to be said, I’m going to say it anyway: If you have not completed Bioshock Infinite yet, or do not want anything about the game spoiled for you in any way, then turn back right now!)

I think the best place to begin describing all I can about the events that unfold in Bioshock Infinite’s ending, would be to start with Booker DeWitt’s pursuit of Elizabeth, right after she gets captured by Songbird. Some of the stranger events of the game begin to unravel from this point moving forward. It was already interesting to see the effects of Elizabeth finding tears in the time/space continuum, but we didn’t really understand any significance of it up to this point. When Booker finally raids Father Zachary Hale Comstock’s mansion (where Elizabeth is being held), he discovers an Elizabeth from the future, who has apparently been tortured for years, due to the Songbird always failing Booker’s attempts at rescuing her. You see shots of city buildings (also from this future) being fired down upon by zeppelins in a wave of destruction. Elizabeth then advises that years of brainwashing have caused her to develop Comstock’s mentality and overall cause. Comstock’s entire goal was to make Elizabeth become an heir of his, after he took her on as his adoptive daughter. Elizabeth gives Booker a piece of paper with instructions on how to control Songbird. She then asks him to prevent this future from ever happening.

After returning to the present, Booker rescues Elizabeth, and they make their way to finally confront Comstock at the top of his zeppelin. As Elizabeth and Comstock begin to talk, he suddenly turns to Booker and asks him to tell Elizabeth why part of her finger is missing. This actually wasn’t brought up much at all until this point in the game; you simply got a glimpse of Elizabeth’s pinky finger with a thimble over it earlier on, and that was it. Booker claimed he had no idea what Comstock was talking about, and eventually became so enraged that he drowned him. Booker continues to say that he has no idea what Comstock was talking about. Elizabeth proceeds to making an enigmatic comment, along the lines of implying he does know, but can’t remember at the same time.

After a large amount of fighting on top of the airship (now with the aid of Songbird, thanks to the sheet of paper that future Elizabeth gave Booker), the two make their way to the Siphon. They order Songbird to destroy it, in order to take off Elizabeth’s remaining limitations, and search for the truth about… well, everything. Booker orders Songbird to destroy the Siphon, which also destroys the instrument he was using to control Songbird with. As Songbird is about to attack them both, Elizabeth opens up another tear, bringing them inside a building, while Songbird is trapped outside underwater, and eventually dies of the air pressure.

If you didn’t already figure it out, the two are now in Rapture, the underwater city from the first two Bioshock games. They slowly approach the surface while Elizabeth explains that she now sees this is simply one of many realities and possibilities. This is talked about further as they enter through other doorways and begin to see other versions of themselves. Elizabeth continues to say that each reality that they see are part of an infinite number of realities they can enter based on choices made in life.

The two eventually come to a door to Booker’s past, and we finally get to learn the real meaning behind the sentence that’s been haunting and confusing us from the beginning “Give us the girl and wipe away the debt.” Robert Lutece comes back into the picture once again, uttering this sentence to Booker in his apartment. We now see that this sentence is actually Robert asking Booker to give up a baby girl (Anna DeWitt) in order to repay some type of debt (which is never explained, though horse race ticket stubs around the desk in his apartment suggest it was gambling). He is of course reluctant to do this, but eventually gives in. He almost immediately changes his mind, however, and goes after Robert. In an alleyway, he finds Robert, Rosalind, and Comstock (who is now holding Anna in his arms). Booker attempts to stop him, but Comstock and the others begin to escape through a tear themselves. Booker almost manages to pull Anna away from Comstock, but falls short as the tear closes, and severs a part of Anna’s finger. If it wasn’t clear by this point, Anna and Elizabeth are one in the same. Comstock took Anna and adopted her as his daughter, Elizabeth. The fact that Elizabeth’s finger was severed is implied to be the reason she is able to create and open these tears in the fabric of time, as her severed finger was a sign that she was a part of two worlds instead of just one by that point. This also finally explains why Booker had the initials “AD” carved into his hand, and why Comstock created “false prophet” propaganda in his own world. He was preparing for the day that Booker would once again try to take back what was his.

By this point, we are told that Robert was angry at the way Comstock treated Elizabeth, and worked with Rosalind to get Booker into to the world that Comstock took her to, all so Booker could rescue her. This moment changed a lot of the game’s perspective for me, because I immediately remembered all of the instances in the game where you would see both Robert and Rosalind talking to each other in very odd and cryptic ways, all from when they first brought you in on the boat during the game’s introduction. The biggest stand-out moment was easily when they asked Booker to flip a coin early on, with a chart to show how many counts of heads and tails were made. The game hinted that this was not the first time Robert and Rosalind had sent a Booker in to get Elizabeth back. The number of times the coin was flipped on their chart was the biggest giveaway to this notion, implying they were all flipped by other Bookers of different realities.

Following these events, it is now revealed that the reason all of the Bookers of the past were unsuccessful is because no matter what Booker does to Comstock, he will continue to exist in other realities. Booker then makes the determination that in order to finally stop Comstock once and for all, he has stop Comstock from ever being born. Elizabeth remains silent after hearing Booker propose this, and simply follows him. We visited a memory of Booker’s where he went to be baptized after the murders he committed during the Battle of Wounded Knee. Just before the baptism, Booker backed out at the last second. In another reality, however, Booker accepted the baptism. After this, he found religion, and as probably the biggest shocker in the entire game, became Comstock. Comstock had become sterile after being over-exposed to the Lucete technology that we’ve seen in various uses throughout the floating city of Columbia. He decided that he wanted an heir related by blood, and chose to abduct Anna from Booker’s world.

After witnessing the baptism in Comstock’s reality, Booker is now made clear of what he has to do. Different versions of Elizabeth all come to this same spot to help Booker carry out his mission. In order to prevent Comstock’s reign from ever occurring, he allows the Elizabeth’s to drown him. After this occurs, the other Elizabeth’s all fade away one by one, leaving the original, of whom the screen fades to black on, right before the credits roll.

Post-credits, we are given one final scene. Booker is back in his apartment once more, and cries out to Anna in the other room. He opens the door to see if she is there, and everything is back to normal. Just as the door opens, the screen fades to black once again.

I think some people believed that the drowning scene meant that Booker supposedly killed himself and everyone around him, but the scene after the credits pointed out that this was not the case. It was simply the Booker of the reality where he became Comstock, being put to an end. This also now implied that the Elizabeth that you traveled the entire game with never existed, now that all traces of Comstock were eliminated. We were also shown that while Booker could relive any of the moments in his life they were coming across through the doorways; these events could not actually be changed despite. Booker would have likely gone back and never given Anna away again if this were the case. This made me confused about how Elizabeth was still able to drown Booker, but then I went back and noticed that when she and Booker were visiting other past memories, they were still able to interact with each other, despite everything else still moving in its proper motion. This sort of explains how she was able to intervene in this particular case, since they had been doing so from the start.

Starting the game after knowing all of this, I guarantee you’ll immediately start seeing other things you didn’t before. The whole starting sequence about climbing to the top of the lighthouse, for example, was in Booker’s head up until the point where he recovered from allegedly drowning early on. You also will immediately notice Robert and Rosalind carrying you to the lighthouse by boat. In the beginning, you probably didn’t think twice about them or if they had any relevance. The dead man that Booker found in the beginning with the “Do not disappoint us” note, was likely from either Robert, Rosalind, or maybe even Booker himself, from one of the other attempts on saving Elizabeth in the past. I also heard somewhere that the 1-2-2 sequence of the bell ringing in this scene was supposed to represent the number of times Booker attempted this in the past.

I have to say, I’m still trying to piece everything together, even now. There are so many details about the game that I’m sure I haven’t yet realized, and so many I have theories about, but also can’t confirm. One of the first thoughts that came to mind (especially after seeing Elizabeth and Rapture once again), was the fact that Elizabeth looks a lot like the Little Sisters from the first game. I believe if I were to go back to the first Bioshock game and compare it with this new entry, I would find a bunch of similar qualities. What if Jack (the main character in the first game) was another version of Booker, and Comstock was Andrew Ryan (the first game’s antagonist)? After Elizabeth revealing the secrets of the space/time continuum and the lighthouse portals, anything seems possible!

One thing that definitely confused me then (and still does even now), is why these vigors (the powers you use in the game) are sold and advertised constantly throughout the game; and yet it seems Booker is the only one to take advantage of them the entire time. It also seems a little less believable that we’d see ammunition sold (and placed in garbage cans, alongside money and other random things), in almost every vending machine in the city. Once again, the citizens of Columbia do not appear to get any usage out of these items, despite them being scattered all throughout. But it didn’t really take away from the experience, so these were minor gripes of confusion at best.

One thing I felt a little off about (and I have other friends who can back me up on this), is that I felt that the world inside the game felt slightly limiting due to this being a first-person shooter. I think that if this was a third-person action adventure, we may have been able to get even more out of the story and gameplay itself. The shooter violence felt a little over-the-top and even unnecessary to me at times; feel free to disagree.

If Ken Levine were to make another Bioshock game after this, things would clearly never be the same. To put it bluntly, we now know too much about the game’s universe(s). There would have be one hell of a twist within a twist, within a twist. Though I suppose if anyone could do it at this point, it’d be Ken Levine.

And that’s about everything I had on my mind up until this point about the game’s ending and its effects on other Bioshock entries. Feel free to add on, agree, or disagree with anything I wrote up here. I’d love to keep talking about this ending, as I’m also really glad that there are still great writers out there who can make something this deep and thought-provoking possible in the first place.