And so we come to the end of the journey, in more ways than one. With the death of Irrational Games, this is truly the end of the Bioshock series as we know it. In a way I’m glad they had time to wrap up the storyline of Infinite, but in other ways I wish they’d had more time to give us a more satisfying ending. One filled with more closure and understanding, and less with random retcons and useless scenes.
Burial At Sea: Part 2
A Storyteller’s Review
When we last left our heroes Zachariah Comstock had just suffered a heart bypass via pneumatic drill while Elizabeth solemnly watched in an attempt to satisfy her hunger for vengeance. Of course we all know that’s a hunger Elizabeth will never satisfy, so Part 2 of Burial At Sea begins with us waking up as Elizabeth and staring into the face of Comstock’s corpse. Having achieved nothing beyond petty vengeance and ruining the life of one little girl, Elizabeth is tasked by Atlas to find a way off his prison in order to save the girl she just screwed over.
Like Bioshock Infinite, you spend most of your time trying to figure out what the hell just happened but somehow this plot didn’t seem as coherent as Infinite’s. Infinite was a complex plot filled with time travel and multiple dimensions, but I always felt the plot knew where it was going and the great character interactions kept me invested in the story even when I had no idea what was happening. Part 2 of Burial at sea, by contrast, sort of meanders around for most of its story and I felt like it didn’t quite know what it wanted to do with itself. It doesn’t help that Elizabeth is suffering amnesia, making her just as confused as the player. And like the first part of Burial at Sea, I felt that the majority of our time was spent just killing time and waiting for the story to resume. I liked the conversations Elizabeth had with her hallucination of Booker, but again, these were too sparse to fill the hours of vent crawling and sneaking around. When the story is present, and not just taunting you from the other side of a locked door, it’s pretty good but also filled with strangely unnecessary scenes and plots.
There are a handful of absolutely baffling scenes that seem to serve no purpose to either the story, the characters or even for the sake of entertainment. The one that really sticks out is Daisy Fitzroy’s retcon. At one point you have to use a tear to go back to Columbia to retrieve a McGuffin in order to progress through the story and while crawling through the vents of an airship you meet the Lutece siblings convincing Daisy to kill Fink’s son so that Elizabeth will become “the person she needs to be”. I really hate this scene because it’s utterly unnecessary, killing Daisy Fitzroy wasn’t the pivotal moment that turned Elizabeth into a vengeful killer, it was an important step along the way but not the pivotal moment. It also ruins Daisy Fitzroy’s character and the motivation of the Vox Populi, first of all why should she even take orders from the Lutece siblings? For one, they’re supposed to be dead, and two they were Comstock’s henchmen for most of their lives, so why would Daisy trust them? Is she also a time traveling, dimension-hopping demigod that just somehow knows that’s what she needs to do? You could remove this scene from the game and it wouldn’t change anything in the story. Nothing. I still don’t know why it was included.
At another point in the game you explore a bit of Songbird’s backstory, but that too retcons the previous storyline and explores things no one was interested in. Instead of exploring Songbird’s origins and creation, the game focuses on why and how it bonded with Elizabeth, which would have been fine if it had something to do with Songbird’s personality or had anything to do with the story at all. The game takes us tantalizingly close to some answers regarding the enigmatic Songbird, only to then totally disappoint by showing us that it bonded with Elizabeth because she plugged a hose back into its beak. “The lion with the thorn in its paw” is the analogy imaginary-Booker uses. They then use this completely anticlimactic reveal to show how the Big Daddies bonded with the Little Sisters, which I’m pretty sure Retcons the original Bioshock since I think the Little Sisters used pheromones to command the Daddies. Not to mention this retcons the previous chapter since Sally called for Mr. Bubbles before they were supposedly bonded. Again, removing these scenes from the game wouldn’t have changed the ending or the overall story of the game one iota.
Those are the two most egregious scenes in the game but there are plenty of other quests and plots that just seem to hang there like the frayed ends of a broken rope. For instance, the McGuffin I mentioned earlier turns out to be locks of Elizabeth’s hair. Again I thought this was another important part of the story at the time, like the Little Sisters are all clones of Elizabeth or something like that, but no it’s just another obstacle slowing down the story’s pace.
So after an interminable amount of time crawling through ducts and tranquilizing more bad guys than Solid Snake, we finally get to the meat of the story. After raising the prison and setting in motion Atlas’s war for Rapture, Elizabeth has to find the ‘Ace in the Hole’ in order to free Sally. Long story short, after more meandering around, you find the Ace in the Hole is “Would you Kindly?” the phrase that will set in motion the events of the original Bioshock. And we finally reach the end: Elizabeth gives Atlas the phrase and allows herself to be killed.
“It’s like a wheel of blood constantly turning…”
That’s how Elizabeth describes her existence and it’s what I’ve been saying through all the different writings I’ve done on this game. Fortunately in this ending Elizabeth finds the same strength her father showed in the ending of Bioshock Infinite. Elizabeth’s life, like Booker’s before her, is a constant cycle of betrayal, pain and revenge. She could have spent the rest of eternity trying to satisfy her lust for vengeance, but it wouldn’t have helped. And as she realized during this episode, she was fast becoming the very monster she was hunting. She took Sally away from the only person she could call a father in order to use her as bait. Ruining a child’s life in order to achieve your goals, gee, that sounds somewhat familiar. Yet it was this realization that made her return to this time, to set aside the rage and the pain, to achieve something that was truly worthwhile. In her omniscience she saw all the doors, all the paths of rage and hate that had been laid out for her, the never ending cycle of blood.
But behind one the doors, she found hope. She found a place where she could do something good.
Elizabeth couldn’t save herself, no matter how hard she tried. She would never be able to just live a normal life, never experience life with her real father, never dance in the streets of Paris. What Elizabeth could do, was prevent the same thing from happening to five other innocent girls like her. Saving Sally was about more than simply rescuing her from Atlas, it was about saving her from living the same life Elizabeth led. It was about giving them the life she never had the chance to live. It was about giving those five girls the life that twisted monsters like Andrew Ryan, Atlas (Fontaine), and Comstock sought to steal from them.
Elizabeth couldn’t right all the wrongs that had been inflicted on her, she could never go back to the girl she was, but here in this moment in time, she could save five little girls. And she was willing to make the sacrifice, the same sacrifice her father made, only this time it worked.
It was a bittersweet goodbye, but overall I think this was a great ending for the Bioshock series. In her final moments Elizabeth defies Andrew Ryan (and Ayn Rand) by sacrificing her own life to save the life of five strangers, altruism at its finest. She defies Comstock by choosing to accept responsibility for her actions and not hide them behind a cloak of rationalization and excuses. And she defies Atlas-Fontaine by showing him… he’s not nearly as clever as he thinks he is.
I found this ending to be incredibly emotionally gratifying, it let us say goodbye to the Elizabeth we all knew and loved: the one who was kind at heart and generous of spirit. The cold, detached Elizabeth that drowned her father and used Sally as bait to kill Comstock died the moment Elizabeth realized what she was becoming. Elizabeth dies as the person we all grew to love, and sets aside the rage and anger that had haunted her for so long.
All that said, what holds this ending back from becoming the greatest video game ending ever, is all the sloppy writing that comes before the ending. The unnecessary scenes and retcons, the unanswered questions, the endless padding that killed the pacing. It was a brilliant ending for the series, but everything leading up to that ending…just didn’t work.
I love the ending…I just wish everything that had come before had been as touching and as memorable.
beautiful game… I’m gonna miss it so much!
It was indeed a beautiful game, and the bittersweet ending I think really reflected how we all felt about the company closing down.
It is always enjoyable reading through your posts. Even if I don’t have the game I can enjoy the story and your comments Mr. Stevenson… Let’s just say hats off to you sir!.
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Also, is that a reference to Angry Beavers? Because if so, my hat’s off to you now!
I actually hated Elizabeth’s death. It felt needlessly grim and unearned.
I have to agree that it was unearned, Elizabeth certainly didn’t deserve such a violent death. I did appreciate the reason behind her death though, it was a sacrifice she made to do some good rather than continue her eternal quest for vengeance.
I think it wouldn’t have felt quite so grim had the preceding 4 hours of gameplay done more to build up to that ending and death. Instead, like I said in reviews of part 1 and 2, most of it just felt like filler. I basically filled in the many, many blanks in the story with my own story.
I liked the ending, but if you didn’t, I totally understand where you’re coming from.
Thanks, and I can totally understand people who liked the ending are coming from and its good to hear some people were happy with it. The idea that she has to sacrifice herself to save others is perfectly fine and fitting for that character, but the brutal and lonely way it concluded, along with the unnecessary retcons and plot holes that came before, is what leaves me feeling unsatisfied, even though some good will come out of her death – though she is responsible for setting the fall of Rapture into motion which will lead to hundreds of innocent deaths and the deaths of the passengers on that plane Jack hijacks in the beginning of Bio 1, so do the ends justify the means?
I also felt that this conclusion made Booker’s sacrifice the more hollow. Guided by the will to undo the wrong done to his daughter, Booker sacrificed himself to rid off Comstock from all possible dimensions. I doubt he would have been happy to hear that Elizabeth will turn into the monster we see in part one and die horrifically anyway, first through a lobotomy and then having her head caved in. I then have to ask from a conflict resolution standpoint what was achieved in Bioshock Infinite?
Nevertheless, Elizabeth was able to give the little sisters the life that she never had and thats a great thing (even though I personally never cared for the little sisters). The ending is bittersweet, but for me, for the reasons I stated above ( and a few other), it was more bitter than sweet.
I only discovered your blog recently, hence why I’m replying years after your post. In regards to the Daisy Fitzroy retcon, I can answer why they did that. Ken Levine got a lot of flak from left-wing gamers who viewed Daisy as a heroine and the Vox movement as a good anti-capitalist cause. They hated that Daisy (and also the Vox) was portrayed as someone capable of doing bad things also (which was Levine’s whole point – things are not always so black and white but often “grey”) and he relented to pressure and tried to awkwardly explain Daisy’s actions in a more positive light. I was disappointed with this decision as it doesn’t make sense (as you explained well) and his original presentation of the story made sense to me (the world is indeed “grey”).
Hi Keith, thanks for reading, it’s always cool to see people find my articles years later, so I appreciate the comment! I’d never heard that story, but that makes sense. It’s unfortunate he caved, because it undermines one of the core messages: either you forgive your enemies or become the enemy you’re fighting. It also had historical parallels to other uprisings like the Vox Populi, where the oppressed quickly become the oppressors when the tables are turned.