Will the circle be broken…
Hopefully by now some of you have finished the excellent Bioshock infinite, and if you’re anything like me you will have been left with a lot of things to think about. After the break I’ve posted my thoughts, gathered from around the internet as well as my own ideas, about what everything meant/ how things happened. If you haven’t finished the game yet, don’t spoil it for yourself.
(I am updating this as time goes on thanks to comments and advice, so it will keep changing!)
Spoilers after the break
Edit 1: Updated the section on the Boxer Rebellion and the Hall of Heroes thanks to ‘flyersboys3’ on Reddit.
Edit 2: Changed a mistake from ‘Comstock’ being pulled through to the future when it should have been ‘Booker’ thanks to Sam in the comments.
Edit 3: Many changes thanks to SpyVSHorse on Reddit including: Details of when Booker was a Pinkerton, Comstocks involvement in the Boxer rebellion, Comstock’s beliefs, Comstock’s illness, the Lutece field and the beliefs of Comstock’s wife.
Booker Dewitt/ Zachary Comstock
The big revelation at the end of the game is that you are both Booker Dewitt and Zachary Comstock. At first I passed this off as a dramatic but essentially meaningless reveal, that didn’t really change anything. But in fact it ties into the themes and social commentary at the heart of Bioshock Infinite’s plot.
Your character was born Booker Dewitt. He was a soldier, and fought alongside Cornelius Slate at the Battle of Wounded Knee.
The Battle of Wounded Knee was the last battle of the American-Indian war and involved an American force surrounding a Native American camp with heavy weapons, and then moving in to accept their weapons as a sign of surrender. During the handover, something went wrong and shots were fired (Wikipedia suggests that it was due to an elderly deaf man not wanting to hand over his gun as he had paid a lot for it) and this led to the American regiment opening fire and massacring everyone in the village. The few who escaped were chased down and killed, and even 25 of the American regiment had been killed, apparently from friendly fire. As we hear from Slate in Bioshock Infinite, soldiers were given the Medal of Honour for that massacre, at least twenty of them.
Now it’s easy to see how this event could affect the sanity of anyone involved. We see this with Slate at Comstock’s disgusting theme park-style attraction (the Hall of Heroes) based on the propaganda that followed. Slate has come destroy the park which has seemingly turned it into something that could be considered heroic, when they both know it was anything but. Booker dealt with it in a different way.
How Booker deals with the battle of Wounded Knee (which is confusingly before the Boxer Rebellion, but that doesn’t seem to make sense with the Bioshock Infinite storyline so we’ll assume they happened the other way round for the sake of the plot) is key to how the rest of the plot continues. After the battle we see he was offered a new start, by way of a baptism. When you are baptised, it is symbolically washing away your sins, and letting you be born anew. In the final cutscenes we hear the vicar ask what Booker’s new name will be if he accepts. If Booker accepts the baptism, he washes away his guilt, placing his faith above social responsibility, and becomes Zachary Comstock.
In Comstock’s reality, he no longer feels any guilt for his moral actions and beliefs. He suggests plans for Columbia to the US government, which are accepted, and he receives the funds to build it. With the help of Lutece, he uses quantum mechanics to get Columbia up into the air, and invites some of the richest Americans who share his political ideals (those of the Southern States and many of the founding fathers) to join him in Columbia, accepting a percentage of their money as a tithe. This money allows him to run Columbia in the extravagant way we see. His focus on religion and baptism as a way for putting his past behind him is evident throughout Columbia, as is his worship of the founding fathers who themselves committed some dubious acts which some would say can be forgiven based on their later actions. Columbia is about a mixture of redemption and avoiding responsibility, and this comes out not only in the writings and sculptures, but the way Shantytown is all but ignored and the brutalities in the factory. In a recording Comstock argues that sometimes the Lord’s lessons are painful, so he does accept that some of what he is doing is difficult, but he believes he can justify his actions as long as they work to the right ends.
Comstock also takes part in the Boxer rebellion as shown in the Hall of Heroes. For those of you not up to date on your Chinese and American history, the Boxer Rebellion was an uprising by a political Chinese group, in China, who stood against the interference of foreign nationals. At the time, China’s government was reasonably weak and the Boxers managed to hold considerable sway and take hold of the country. An alliance of eight nations (including the US and Britain) sent soldiers to put down the rebellion. The soldiers were successful, but the campaign has been noted in history for the atrocities the soldiers from many countries committed afterwards. Anyone accused of being a Boxer would be executed, and this often involved women and children. China was essentially occupied after the rebellion had been defeated, and the soldiers acted in bloodthirsty and barbaric ways. This was at the beginning of the twentieth century by the way, not too long ago. So used Columbia and in the narrative he was chiefly responsible for many of the atrocities, although he never fought himself (to the annoyance of Slate as Comstock claims to be a hero of the battle) which led to Columbia being recalled and the eventual split from the United States.
Unfortunately his exposure to the technology supporting Columbia leads to him being sterile, and aging prematurely. He is well aware of this, and works with Lutece to take advantage of the tears into alternate dimensions. Discovering he has a child in an alternate dimension, he offers to use his considerable resources to pay of Booker (his alternate self)’s debt in exchange for Anna, his daughter. The Luteces (we’ll get to how that name becomes plural in a bit) organise the deal and Comstock himself (who has aged due to his maladies) takers Anna. At the last moment, Booker tries to stop the deal, but Comstock gets through the tear, with it just severing Anna’s finger. In Columbia, Comstock changes Anna’s name to Elizabeth (possibly after his wife, but I’m not 100% sure about this) and discovers the child has powers to control the Lutece field, possibly due to her interaction with it when she lost her finger as a baby. Comstock capitalises on this, and while Elizabeth has been locked in the tower due to Comstock’s wife believing her to be an illegitimate child, he builds and uses the Siphon to harness some of her energy. Through tears even shown to him by Elizabeth inadvertently or by Lutece, Comstock can predict the future and becomes known as the Prophet. From this point he knows everything that will happen in the course of the game, as we see on metal plates just before the last battle, he knows Elizabeth will escape and that she will be the one to kill Fitzroy.
After the Boxer Rebellion Columbia seceded from the USA as Americans followed Abraham Lincoln’s ideas to the abolishing of slavery and a more democratic way of life. (We have to play with the real historical dates here as Lincoln should have been dead before Booker was born, unless it’s just his ideals that led to the split). This led to Comstock becoming increasingly alienated from society, and he wished to turn Elizabeth into his true heir to punish the USA for its sins. This we see when Elizabeth is brainwashed at Comstock manor and becomes the elderly Elizabeth, raining down fire on New York.
At the end of his life, Comstock drowns, as he expected to (it is the final metal engraving on his ship), killed by Booker Dewitt. Just before he dies he starts to explain about Elizabeth’s finger, something he clearly remembers as he hasn’t been shifted into another universe.
Booker continues with his own name if he refuses the baptism. However, he then has to live with the guilt of war and ends up becoming an alcoholic and a gambler. He goes to work for the Pinkertons. A real US government group who were famous for being sent in to quell worker’s strikes, often using heavy-handed methods and intimidation. This implies even after Wounded Knee he is not necessarily a good person, something he alludes to himself many times throughout the game. He does fall in love, but she dies in childbirth, giving birth to Anna. Heavily in debt to the wrong people, he finds a way out when Lutece offers him a solution in exchange for his daughter. He makes that decision (as stated earlier, he was never a nice person) and although he later regrets it, he can’t save her, only causing her little finger to be severed as the tear closes. After this his life gets worse (possibly for twenty years) until the Luteces appear again, through his wall. They carry him through a tear, and this causes him to pass out. As we start the game, we have just come through that tear, and his supposed mission of ‘Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt’ is really just a created memory based on the deal he felt so guilty about. The Luteces comment that it is just his brain making new memories to explain to himself why he’s in a different universe, a traumatic experience that leads to many characters in the game having nosebleeds or ending up in a dazed, confused state.
As Booker proceeds through the game he doesn’t really understand why he’s doing the things he’s doing. There’s a beautiful moment when Elizabeth asks if he was married, Booker tells her that his wife died during childbirth, then when asked if he has a child, he pauses a little before saying ‘no’. This shows his memory is not where it should be as what he has repressed conflicts with the new story he has created for himself.
Booker ends up ‘rescuing’ Elizabeth, but we soon realise that it was just in this universe, and the pain of the twenty missing years has not been undone. The Luteces introduce us to the idea that time is meaningless in infinite universes, and while you may have finally rescued Elizabeth in one universe, there are infinite more, all represented by a lighthouse, and it will always happen that way. Until they find a solution.
Booker and Elizabeth travel to the site of the baptism, in the universe where he accepts it (and we are led to believe by all the other Elizabeths, every universe where this happens) and the Elizabeths drown Booker so he cannot accept the Baptism, avoid responsibility, and become Comstock. This in theory should prevent anyone from ever becoming Comstock, and therefore never giving Booker a way to give Anna away. In a final scene after the credits we see Booker in his office, just as tatty as ever, going to check on his child, but we never find out if she’s there.
This isn’t exactly a happy ending, but it means the crimes of Columbia never come to pass. It also means that ‘Comstock’ drowns, whatever happens.
From Elizabeth’s perspective, she has been brought up in the tower, unaware that anyone was ever watching her. Her only friend was the mysterious ‘Songbird’ who later becomes her jailer as she realises she cannot leave. She has powers, inexplicable to her but caused by the loss of her finger when she was a child (Lutece says the universe doesn’t like its peas mixed with its porridge), that are being siphoned off and gradually making her weaker. These powers are possibly what are being used to create the Vigors in Columbia. When Booker arrives, she sees him as her rescuer until she realises his mission is just to give her away to someone else (neither of them realise he’s actually just carrying out the same action and choice that got him into this situation in the first place).
We see that she has been experimented on and in some ways tortured, and then when she gives herself up to save Booker near the end of the game, she is brainwashed over a period of time and becomes Comstock’s new heir. Twisted by her abandonment, she becomes worse than Comstock, and leads an attack on New York in 1980 before she realises what she has become and pulls Booker through to her time to warn him and allow him to rescue her former self.
Throughout the game she has the ability to open ‘tears’ into other universes, and once the siphon is destroyed she can see all of the other possibilities and how they link together, bringing them to Rapture before showing the multitude of doorways and lighthouses. Without the siphon she can clearly see the only solution,which is to prevent Booker from ever becoming Comstock.
Rosalind and Robert Lutece
Rosalind Lutece is a scientist working for Comstock, who perfects the technology required to keep Columbia in the air, using ‘fixed points’ and quantum mechanics. This experimentation leads to the tears to other dimensions, similar to the powers of Elizabeth. Through one of these fields she discovers Robert, and pulls him through to her dimension. They are the same person, but in different universes where she was born a boy. They introduce Robert to society as her brother, although no-one knew she had any family. This explains why they are so alike, because they are fundamentally exactly the same, moreso than twins.
Comstock wants to tie up any loose ends after he secures Anna, and so he arranges for the Luteces to be killed by sabotaging their equipment. This leads to an unusual tear, that sort of kills them but also traps them between (and outside of) universes. This gives them their uncanny ability to appear wherever they like. As they suggest about Lady Comstock, being in this state of not quite death is quite ‘disagreeable’ and so they endeavour to sort the whole mess out. They engineer the whole plan which involves taking Booker from his universe, seeing him as the only person who could fix his own problems (they could potentially see every possibility and realise this is the only one that works, and exactly when they need ot help him like giving him the shield).
We see many hints of their existentially confused existence such as the coin being flipped again and again, and them digging their own graves in the graveyard scene. Thanks to their superior intellects and understanding, they can cope with these peculiarities (they have perception and understanding) and almost make a joke of it throughout your adventure.
Rapture’s part in the story is minimal, but it throws up lots of interesting parallels. Obviously Rapture itself is an idealist city created by an egotistical and amoral genius (Andrew Ryan) who is willingly murdered by his own son/clone (Jack) who also defeats a working class hero turned madman (Atlas) who has been manipulating him all along. Sound familiar? There’s even biomechanical guardians (Big Daddies) protecting girls in blue dresses with special powers (little sisters) and a female scientist who allows for all this to happen (Tenenbaum). These coincidences are a little bit too obvious to be accidental and implies that as Elizabeth says, there’s always a man, always a city, leading us to think that maybe Booker could have even become Andrew Ryan in another universe.
Songbird is still somewhat of a mystery and I hope that we’ll see more of it through DLC. The best idea I’ve heard so far is that Songbird is another version of Booker, possibly injured in one of the battles and converted Handyman style, into Songbird. This would explain the connection to Elizabeth as well as having a fitting link to Bioshock 2.
Fitzroy is a fairly simple character in the end, she aspired to be a working class hero, fighting for the rights of the workers, but like so many revolutionaries, her blind hatred for the ruling classes led to her being just as terrible as those she replaced. We see this clearly when she prefers to have Booker as a martyr rather than alive, and sets out to have him killed so that she can keep her story simple. She represents the dangers of violent revolution and a different but equally poisonous kind of idealism.
I hope this cleared up some of the major plot points for you, but much of this is conjecture and speculation based on sound recordings in game and a little imagination. If you disagree or I’ve missed something, please let us know in the comments!
If you enjoyed this article check out our thoughts on what the DLC could be at our DLC speculation post.