Burial at Sea: The Cycle Ends

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

I suppose it's fitting that it ends where it all began.
I suppose it’s fitting that it ends where it all began.

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.

Daisy's Retcon is horrible in Burial at Sea Part 2.
I don’t think even the Luteces understand what the fuck was supposed to be going on here.

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.

They might as well have made the McGuffin this doll head for all the impact it had on the story.
They might as well have made the McGuffin this doll head for all the impact it had on the story.

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.

She gave them the father, the childhood and the future she never had.
She gave them the father, the childhood and the future she never had.

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.

Goodbye Elizabeth, you were one of the finest characters ever featured in a video game.
Goodbye Elizabeth, you were one of the finest characters ever featured in a video game.

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.

 

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Bioshock Infinite: What the Hell Just Happened?

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

Heads or Tails?
There is Method to their Madness.

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.

Wow, that got real weird, real fast. God I love this game.
Wow, that got real weird real fast. God I love this game.

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.

The end of one story, and the start of another.
The end of one story, and the start of another.

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?

Of course you are, because this is the part that makes sense.
Of course you are, because this is the part that makes sense.

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.

Symbolism

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.