WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR: BioShock Infinite
Read at your own discretion
“He’s Zachary Comstock … He’s Booker DeWitt.
No … I’m both.”
Few games can boast to have had even half as much of an impact as 2013’s BioShock Infinite. Praised as the pinnacle, perfect hybrid of narrative and first person shooter game-play BioShock Infinite was released to widespread critical acclaim. Anyone who remotely connected to the internet around the time of its release, and not defiantly situated underneath an insulated lead-lined rock, will certainly remember the frantic buzz that surrounded anything, and everything, BioShock. YouTube was flooded with playthroughs and forums were drenched in discussion; “was this the best game ever made?”, “where can the series go from here”, “how does this connect to the first game?” and so on. There was however one topic of discussion far more prevalent than any other: the ending. Innocent gamers were advised to barricade themselves inside, stay away from forum posts and avoid YouTube comment section all in fear of having that beautiful and poignant ending. And that’s exactly what I did. Exactly what I did for five long years.
Here in 2018, it’s safe to say that almost all the hype around Infinite has dissipated. You will still however still to this day see the occasional forum, blog or YouTube post from someone who’s recently played the game trying to confusedly rationalise the ending. Having recently finished the game myself, and stayed well away from the countless explanation videos and articles, I firstly want to to put in my two-penny worth and try and explain what the ending meant to me – perhaps providing a different interpretation in the process – and secondly I want to write this as a form of catharsis; as a way for me to get rid of all the niggling little ideas that filled my head as soon as those credits began to roll.
Now, I will make the assumption that if you are reading this you have actually finished BioShock Infinite (and if you are reading this and haven’t, you’ve really missed out) and only explain the aspects of the plot completely necessary to explaining those final scenes.
First, it is important to acknowledge that, from a purely story perspective the majority of the plot in Bioshock Infinite primarily takes place in two universes (or universes very very similar to two different timelines) although many others are referred to and a couple more are entered in to and experienced by the player. Now with the groundwork out of the way, it’s time to explore the events of the game.
In the late 19th century, cavalry officer Booker Dewitt seeks spiritual guidance after committing many atrocities at the Battle of Wounded Knee, and is offered a baptism; a chance to be reborn, with a new name, new past and new future – a way to escape the guilt he harbours over the acts he committed. In one universe; Booker Dewitt refuses the offer of rebirth instead returning home and continuing his life, getting married and having a child, Anna, unfortunately leading to the death of his wife in childbirth. In the other universe Dewitt accepts his baptism and takes on a new name; Zachary Comstock.
With newfound religious zeal, Comstock rises through the ranks of his religious order and eventually becomes prominent and powerful enough to found the flying American state of Columbia as a sort of “New Eden” for his fellow worshippers. Comstock employs the scientist Rosalind Letuce who has been working on projects involving traversing alternate universes. An alternate version of Rosalind, Robert Letuce is working on the same technology in his own respective universe, presumably progressing at the same rate and eventually making contact with each other. Robert Letuce enters Rosalind’s universe and the pair masquerade as brother and sister. Unfortunately, Comstock is rendered infertile by his close proximity to the site of such a large amount of trans-dimensional travel.
Comstock’s prophesy requires him to have a child, so he orders the Letuce pair to get him a child by any means necessary. The Letuces oblige, and travel to Booker’s universe (the universe without Comstock or his Columbia) and manipulate Dewitt into becoming indebted to them. Eventually he is offered a deal, to give them the girl and wipe away the debt. Dewitt hands over his child to Robert Letuce but doesn’t keep his end of the deal and chases Robert, who is accompanied by Comstock, to a transdimensional portal which leads into Comstock’s universe. A struggle ensues and Anna’s pinkie finger is cut off as the portal closes leaving DeWitt stranded in his universe, now minus one child.20 years of regret pass for Dewitt until he is once again contacted by Robert Letuce. Things haven’t gone well for the Letuce pair, both of whom had their deaths ordered by Comstock – who is desperately trying to cover up the origin of his daughter (Anna who he has now renamed Elizabeth). One way or another, the Letuces have managed to evade death and establish contact with Dewitt, who is transported to Comstock’s universe (onto the boat at the start of the game) where his mind immediately begins frantically creating an explanation for his existence in this universe.
The debt scenario, which is the initial set-up of the plot of the game has merely been created in his head – the only “debt” being paid here is by the Letuce pair to Dewitt for taking his daughter.
At the end of the game, the player destroys the siphon, Monument Island, which was sapping Anna’s (Elizabeth’s) power. This allows her to fully utilise her ability to control inter-dimensional portals (an ability presumably given to her by some aspect of Letuce’s research). Anna explains the existence of constants and variables, a city and a lighthouse. Dewitt agrees with Anna that comstock must be stopped – “smothered in his crib” so Anna takes him to the “birthplace” of Comstock – the point of Dewitt’s baptism. Alternate universe incarnations of Anna gather round Dewitt and in unison drown him. This seals the divide between the two main universes, and creates a singular timeline. A timeline with Booker and Anna together, and one where Comstock never existed.
The final image of the game, a Schrodinger’s cat allusion with Anna’s cot, serves almost as a choice for the player; to accept that the cot does indeed contain Anna and Dewitt will now live a fresh new happy life together, or for the player to think the cot is empty, the damage has been done. Comstock may be dead, but the timeline is broken.