That’s the question on everyone’s mind. Or at least it was the question on my mind when I finally finished Bioshock Infinite, and if your mind doesn’t work like mine then frankly I don’t want to know you.
Since understanding what the hell is going on is integral to being able to understand the narrative and the wonderful nuances behind it, I’ve decided to make that the first article in this series. I’m going into this assuming you played through the game, it helps if you’ve played through it twice but isn’t obligatory. Since Bioshock: Infinite gives no definitive answers to anything, almost everything is open to interpretation, so the following includes a lot of speculation on my part but I’ve pieced together the story as accurately as I can.
Lutece and the Beginning
The first time I played through Bioshock Infinite the Lutece twins didn’t appear that important to the story, and in fact I thought they were a bit of a deus ex machina when they revealed the trick to controlling Songbird. Upon a second playthrough though, and after much reflection on the story, the Lutece twins are actually critical to the story. Much of the action that unfolds during the game is a direct result of their actions and there’s a reason they’re the first characters we meet in the game: they are the ones who began this story.
The beginning of Bioshock Infinite isn’t really the beginning of the story and part of the reason the game’s narrative is so hard to follow at first is because we’re only seeing a small piece of the story. The true beginning revolves entirely around Lutece and her discovery of quantum particles, the theoretical technology that allows Columbia to float and allows the interdimensional travel that dominates the game’s setting. From what I’ve been able to piece together, Lutece’s discovery and subsequent harnessing of the quantum particles is the inciting incident that sets off the entire story. After all, without a floating Columbia and the ability to see into future realities, Comstock would have been just another cult leader that would have faded into obscurity.
The actual sequence of events is more difficult to piece together, was this before or after the Wounded Knee massacre, did Comstock find her first or did she find him. There are countless questions, but regardless of the answers, it’s clear that eventually Lutece needed further funding in order to continue her work. Either Comstock or the US government grants her that funding, leading her to a practical application for her quantum particles and the creation of Columbia. Whether it’s Comstock that directs Lutece to begin research into opening interdimensional windows, or it was Lutece’s idea and Comstock just later found a way to corrupt it, I don’t know. Regardless, it’s while experimenting with this technology that Lutece meets her brother.
Except it’s not her brother in the traditional sense, but rather herself from a different reality where the sperm that impregnated her mother’s egg carried a Y chromosome instead another X.
Eventually Lutece succeeds in bringing her “brother” from the other universe and the two begin their strange love-affair with quantum physics, completely uncaring that they’re working for a monster so long as their scientific curiosity is sated. As we all know, this comes to bite them in the ass later down the road.
Comstock uses Lutece’s experiments to see “visions” of the future and cement his god-like position as The Prophet of Columbia. Much like Marie Curie when she discovered radium, though, neither Comstock nor the Luteces understand the dangers of the radiation being produced by their experiments. Comstock becomes sterilized and stricken with malignant cancer, spurning him on to find an heir to carry on his legacy.
Comstock turns his floating paradise into a floating war machine and destroys his political enemies while the Luteces are forced to frantically find a way to obtain Comstock an heir. That’s when they stumble onto our friend and protagonist Booker Dewitt, a Comstock who did not take the baptism and who never pursued research in theoretical physics, and who fathered a daughter. Even better, Booker is a broken man, an alcoholic gambler who is so bent on self-destruction that it seems there’s no end to the depth he’s willing to fall into. They offer a deal: Give us the girl and wash away the debt.
He does, and Comstock raises her as his own. The Lutece twins continue to do research on the girl, who has been given amazing powers since her transferal from one universe to another. As Lutece comments in one of her tapes, perhaps this is the universe’s way of correcting itself. I’ll touch on that later down the road, so keep it in mind. Comstock succeeds in raising Anna as his daughter, but in doing so he becomes more power hungry and more sadistic in his treatment of his enemies. Everyone who knows the truth about Anna is eventually killed in order to secure Comstock’s legacy, and ultimately the Luteces end up buried side by side after being executed by Comstock.
Anna becomes the Seed who Sits Upon the Throne, and Drowns in Fire the Cities of Men. New York burns and the world is left in a state of chaos.
Death is Only the Beginning
The Luteces, though dead, are alive. As they repeatedly tell us during the course of the game: Lived, Live, Will Live. Dead, Died, Will Die. Yes, they are dead, but they are also still alive in the past. The Luteces experiments have made them much more perceptive to the changes in time and history than the other characters, and knowing where their fate lies, endeavor to change it. Lutece speculates in one tape that continually moving through universes dilutes and eventually erases a persons individuality. Which is why, by the time we run across them, they act and speak almost identically.
Anyway, they need to stop Comstock from completely wrecking the timeline and the universe with their technology, but much like Booker they can’t change the choices they’ve already made. It has happened and it will happen. The only thing left to do is fling someone else into the equation, a variable that will allow them to change the events of their lives. Booker DeWitt is their variable. Their dialogue suggests that they’ve used Booker countless times already (you can collect audiologs from a universe where he failed), throwing him into different universes trying to find one where he succeeds and undoes the damage they unwittingly inflicted. In a way the Luteces are much like Anna at the end of the game, only far less powerful. Whereas Anna can move through every universe with ease, and see every strand of history and time as a single tapestry, the Luteces are far more limited. They can only see one string at a time, and they’ve been patiently pulling each one with Booker DeWitt, hoping to find the one that will unravel the whole mess. Obviously I can’t answer how exactly this works, and an explanation would likely just ruin the whole story, so in the end just accept that the Luteces have somehow learned to shift through dimensions and enjoy the story.
We finally arrive at the beginning of the game: Booker DeWitt being rowed to yet another lighthouse containing yet another universe. With this context you understand why the two Luteces are arguing during the opening moments, they’ve tried this experiment countless times before and it’s never worked, but like the male Lutece says “Just because an experiment has failed, doesn’t necessarily mean it will fail.”
They drop Booker off at his latest destination and Bioshock Infinite officially begins.
You still with me?
Booker DeWitt, Elizabeth and The Universe
I’ll be covering the events of the actual game in another article, but for the purposes of this article I’m assuming everyone has already played through the game, so I’ll be skipping to the ending that boggled everyone’s mind.
Comstock is dead, Songbird is a scrapheap at the bottom of the ocean, and the Siphon that was limiting Elizabeth’s power is gone. With her powers fully unlocked Elizabeth brings us to the Lighthouse Forest (hey shut up, you come up with a better name for it) representing the infinite entrances to infinite realities. So first of all, how the hell does Elizabeth know how to get here?
Well now we need to go back to one of Lutece’s audiologs, the one where she speculates that the origin of Elizabeth’s powers are the result of the universe attempting to correct itself. Comstock has royally pissed off time and space by fucking with things that were not meant to be fucked with. Perhaps the Luteces are also an attempt by the universe to repair the damage wrought by Comstock’s insanity, allowing them to pull DeWitt from his native universe and using him as a wildcard to try and repair everything. Regardless, something draws Elizabeth to a very specific point in time and space: the river where Booker DeWitt and Comstock both arrived to try and wash away their sins. Comstock went through with it while DeWitt refused. This is a focal point in history where Elizabeth has the chance to eliminate Comstock forever. As Comstock speculates in one of his audiologs:
“Who is the man under the water? Perhaps he is both Sinner and Saint.”
From this point history diverges: thousands of universes are created as Comstocks go on to create the nightmarish dystopias in countless Columbias and thousands of Dewitts go on to rescue thousands of Annas/Elizabeths. Our DeWitt succeeded but the other Elizabeths that appear here seem to indicate that countless others failed. Too many Annas to save, too many Comstocks to stop, and too much pain to erase. They can’t fix all of the infinite universes one at a time.
But here, in this river at this moment in time, they can stop this entire chain of events before they unfold.
And so DeWitt makes the ultimate sacrifice. He allows himself to drown.
Comstock is never reborn, he never crosses the barrier between worlds and Elizabeth is spared a life of pain and isolation.
And that’s what the hell happened.
And why Bioshock: Infinite is awesome.
If you liked this article you should read about:
Bioshock: Columbia vs Rapture
On the philosophical and sociopolitical themes explored by the original Bioshock compared to Bioshock: Infinite.
Bioshock: Forgive my Infinite Sins
My personal interpretation of the main theme of Bioshock: Infinite; why forgiveness is key to living a healthy life.
Drowning in Columbia
AKA: Why Booker Could Drown in a Cup of Water.
absolutely loved this game
Indeed, it’ll probably my game of the year and its only May.
You a legend John. If your gonna do another article for this game, i’d love to here about the symbolism (drowning and such) or better yet the commentary on society that Bioshock 1 was filled with. I didn’t see much Andrew Ryan vs. Fontaine style questions on society in Infinite, or maybe it was just a bit vague, like the whole game.
Thanks! Yeah I’m already working on another post about the symbolism. I might have to replay the original BioShock in order to compare Columbia to Rapture, its been a while since I played it. I definitely want to examine the society of Columbia though.
Awesome!! I just played through infinite a second time, and when going through rapture at the end i realised what would have been a BADASS piece of fan service. You remember when you get the first plasmid in Bioshock 1 and you pass out on the ground for a bit right where Booker and Elizabeth show up? You should have seen Jack’s body lying there unconscious and have Booker make a sly remark like, “what happened to this poor sod?”, that would have been great, and since you can’t use weapons there you can’t shoot Jack! So the next time you play Bioshock 1 you can count Bookers brief presence there as canon!
First of all, I would like to sorry for my English.
>>They can’t fix all of the infinite universes one at a time.
One question. How?
The game doesn’t give any explanations about how this “drowning sequence” actually works and how does it deal with the infinite universes theory.
One way or another that sacrifice doesn’t solve anything at all.
In the final scene we can see DeWitt from the past, who has just faced Wounded Knee events, and some number of Elizabeths from future of different universes where Siphon was destroyed (it may be considered that each Elizabeth metaphorically drowns her own DeWitt). If so, the first question – what about the universes where Siphon hadn’t been destroyed for various reasons (Booker died, Elizabeth died, Booker was born as a girl, etc)? And what about the universes where Booker became Comstock whitout baptism? There can be infinite causes… But that’s not so important at all. Why?
If Elizabeth comes back to the past to kill her own father, she wouldn’t be born at all, therefore she couldn’t come back to the past and kill her father. TIME PARADOX.
So there is a meaning of the scene following credits: nothing changed at all. There is always heads, never tails.
I don’t want to сompare the ending to the one in Mass Effect 3… But if in ME3 the player actually had a choice (anyway, he might like that choices, he might not), in Bioshock Infinite player is doomed to make one stupid decision time after time, with no possibility to change anything.
Well the universes were Booker DeWitt failed all took place after the baptism of Comstock, so if you accept that killing Booker in the river is the pivotal moment in the his life then none of the other universes matter because without that one Baptism there is no Comstock.
Obviously in a story like this you need to just take a few things on faith. Obviously in a truly infinite universe, nothing would ever really matter. In this one story though, Booker can’t become Comstock without that baptism. Without the Baptism, Booker turns to booze rather than religion and never becomes Comstock.
Think of it like this, you
-> -> -> -> -> -> -> ->
->-> -> -> -> -> ->
-> -> -> -> -> -> -> ->
The center line is Booker DeWitt’s life, the upper line is Booker’s life following Wounded Knee and the lower line is Comstock’s life. That point in the middle is the baptism, where all his lives converged into a single heads or tails moment. A binary choice. From that choice countless other choices are born, but when Elizabeth kills Booker then his life ends at that singular point and the events of the game never come to pass.
Of course you’re right that it creates a time paradox. Unfortunately that’s just a consequence of any story that uses time travel as a story element. It’s the classic cause->effect->cause loop. In Terminator, if Kyle Reese is John Connor’s father then how can John Connor even exist to destroy skynet, because Kyle Reese can’t go back without Skynet creating a time machine, which it only does because John Connor is about to beat it.
You have the same paradox with Looper, and really it comes down to the same conversation that Willis and Gordon-Levitt have in the restaraunt. Either you spend all your time picking it apart for inconsistencies, or you accept the story and let it take you where it wants to go.
In the end, the time travel/interdimensional jumping in the game is really just a vehicle for the story. At its core it’s a story about forgiveness and redemption. If you can’t get past the logical inconsistencies though, I can’t really blame you because it does get really sloppy if you try to analyze it too much.
In Looper, by the way, there is no time paradoxes like in Terminator or Infinite. The original Rainmaker in old Joe’s timeline appeared not because of Joe’s and his loop’s actions, but because of some other reasons (maybe, in that timeline Sarah was a bad mother). There rather social and existential loop than time loop is shown in the film.
About Infinite. I can accept the metaphorical meaning of the ending (and i do accept it), but in that case all this multi-universe and time-travel stuff became unnecessary tools for moving the plot. The social and philosophical themes of the game are interesting, but the great setting and plot are falling apart at the end. It’s like you watch (for example) “The Matrix” with alternate ending where Neo and agent Smith were killed by small ghost old couple from hobo’s box.
Sorry it took so long to get back to you. You’ve actually brought up a lot of interesting points, and instead of trying to fit it into the comments section, I think I’m going to do another article on the ending examining its storytelling (both its successes and failures.) Thanks so much for writing in and giving me a new perspective on the ending!
I’m glad my point might be useful in some way.
Speaking of themes of forgiveness and redemption. I would dare to recommend you to try Metro Last Light. It’s a great example of performing this themes on both story and gameplay levels.
Great breakdown of the story. From my understanding, all they needed (they being Elizabeth and the Lutece siblings) was for just one DeWitt to make it to that point and allow himself to be killed at the baptism, thus preventing Comstock from ever existing and thus correcting the various timelines.
In regards to how Elizabeth has control over these dimension tears: I believe she has this ability because she is existing in multiple dimensions at the same time. If you recall during the ending sequence, when DeWitt tries to retrieve baby Anna before Comstock takes her away through a dimension tear, the tear closes and cuts off Anna’s pinky finger. This means that the exact same Anna/Elizabeth is existing in two different dimensions at the same time and through sciencey, quantum mechanical mumbo jumbo, she can now control these tears. True, it’s only her pinky finger but it’s definitely enough for her to technically be in multiple places (and more importantly, multiple dimensions) at once. For every other character, they wholly exist and/or are fully brought into one dimension or another, so they don’t get to have timelord powers. Just my two cents. 🙂
I actually completely forgot about Elizabeth’s pinkie finger, so you’re right she is existing in two universes. That’s pretty cool, I’d overlooked that as a possible cause of her powers!
About the pinkie finger. One of Lutece’s voxophones gives us presumption that losing the pinkie finger could be a source of Elizabeth’s powers (“another part of her was left behind in other universe” or something like that), but remember Elizabeths in the ending – not all of them had a finger missing (or maybe none of them, I’m not sure). I think this abilities is something she has got on gene level. Remember the first time Booker got to Columbia – he had to pass the Baptism ritual to be allowed to enter the city. And when the priest (the same one as in the end) had Booker drown, Booker had a vision of the future, he saw Columbia attack New York in 1984.
So, what if Comstock was a real prophet, and the Baptism was only a catalyst for waking up his powers?
You guys are all sheep – this story sucks. They introduce us to a compelling setting that gives us a new context on racial inequality, and completely throws it all away for a poorly written episode of Sliders. The second you cross the first tear, your actions and their consequences up to that point and going forward become completely meaningless. Consider this, if the Elizabeths kill you at the end, “preventing the chain of events”, then how does she ever get born in the first place? DeWitt had his daughter after the baptism, do she would never be born. Also, isn’t their an infinite other baptisms going on? Why do all the universes diverge from after that point? How is this changing the outcome of an infinite number of simultaneous universes? This entire story is a jumbled mess that only seems “awesome” and smart because it is overly complicated. There are no underlying themes or messages that get fully explored – the whole race dynamic just hangs there and never fully develops. It’s the worst story Irrational Games has ever told.
I think your being a bit hard on the story, but actually I’ve come to see a lot of the flaws of the story over the last couple of weeks. I think I initially liked the story because of its underlying theme of forgiveness, which resonated with me just because of where I was at in my life at the time. I’m actually writing a follow up article on the flaws of the story, I’d be interested in hearing your opinion on it once its finished.
I think you guys forgot about the fact that all of the Elizabeth’s disappeared right after killing Booker at the baptism. Which ultimately means that after that event in the baptism, the story of the game never existed past the baptism; Booker didn’t become a drunkard and Comstock never became a prophet because Booker Dewitt died. This also means that Elizabeth ceased to exist because she technically killed her father, thus eliminating her existence forever. The only person that would have continued to exist was a Lutice who might or might not be able to discover and utilize quantum particles.
oh wait…it sort of reminds me of Back to the Future. If Marty never got his parents to hook up, he would cease to exist, as he does slowly so during the movie until they do hook up. So if Elizabeth/Anna kills her father, then she would cease to exist as well because she killed a parent that would have helped make her. So if we think about this, there is only one dimension that’s perfect where everything turns out right, which happens in both stories. Granted, there will always be infinite dimensions where our characters lives’ have totally different results, that is if they existed at one point. Time travel is only meant for God and Doctors… they understand this shit
Excellent analysis , but this is still blowing my mind though. I don’t get it , does our Booker even knew about Anna before he met Elizabeth, or he did forget everything. Elizabeth said that each universe’s Booker live lived in anna’s room and sobbed with regret for 20 years. If so, does our Booker come from one of these universes, and did he got the job of saving Elizabeth after these 20 years. What about that other debt , the one he had to exchange for taking Elizabeth to New york. What did letice duo meant that how Elizabeth’s power is an attempt of the universe to correct itself. And at the end , did Booker died from all universes. if so , doesn’t that mean there would be no more annas and floating Columbias . What about the credit scene , the one where Booker enters the room to check on Anna , does that mean the universe has corrected itself and that Booker has no debt to pay and Anna and he can now live happily. I didn’t like the ending because I never Wanted Booker Dewitt to die. Can You PLEASEE answer my questions.
The end credit is what explains everything for me. Dewitt goes to check on Anna, which technically takes place after he drowned. What I honestly believe happened is that after his “death” when he placed the universe back into equilibrium, his consciousness was moved to a different reality where he never went to the baptism but was still able to have Anna as his own daughter. Unfortunately, he clearly doesn’t know what the hell is going on and rushes to the cradle to check on her. So, he probably remembers all of the crazy bull shit that just happened, but not so much how he got Anna. But, there had to be balance somewhere.
Either that, or he woke up from a heroine induced dream. Either or.