Explaining the Ending to “Bioshock Infinite”

So you’ve beaten Bioshock Infinite, and your mind has been bent so far with mystery that it’ll be difficult, but let’s try and bend it back with some facts. I’ve seen a few full explanations of the plot and ending to Bioshock Infinite, around the web, but I want to do my best to recap what occurred during the final minutes of the game. Many of the details that explain the finer aspects of the plot come from Voxophones that you can find throughout the game, and sometimes you have to work off some assumptions based on what’s implied. Part of the beauty in Bioshock Infinite is that the ending is a clustercuss of complications that are left largely up to interpretation. So here’s a step-by-step breakdown of everything that happens and what it means:

Booker and Elizabeth Have the Songbird Destroy the Siphon

After the final confrontation in which you awesomely get to command the Songbird, Booker and Elizabeth use their feathered friend to destroy the Siphon. With it gone, Elizabeth’s power then becomes basically limitless. Unfortunately, this somehow destroys the little birdie whistle, causing the Songbird to rush at Booker and Elizabeth. With a flick of her hand, Elizabeth is able to drag them all into an alternate universe that is immediately recognizable: that of the first two Bioshock games. Now on a random platform in Rapture instead of in the clouds of Columbia, you watch as the Songbird is crushed by the deep sea pressure, leaving you and Elizabeth to navigate a world that you, as the player, know that you should not be in at all. You take the hydrosphere up to the surface of the water and walk through another familiar lighthouse door and suddenly: there are an infinite number of mirrored lighthouses glistening in the sky like stars.

Look at All the Lighthouses!

Elizabeth: “There is always a lighthouse. There is always a man. There is always a city.”

Each lighthouse represents a different universe, each one containing certain constants: a lighthouse, a man, a city (could be Rapture or Columbia). In each universe a multitude of variables cause slight changes and ripples in time that make each universe distinct. It could be a simple coin toss that goes differently. Or perhaps you chose a different necklace pendant for Elizabeth? Perhaps you got stabbed in the hand or didn’t at that station relatively early in the game? A million different subtleties weave into the fabric of each universe. Certain things have to happen, but there are many ways in which they could happen. If you have any interest in the legitimate theoretical science behind this idea, look into Multiverse Theory. It’s nauseating. This multiverse perspective is also something that this super-powered Elizabeth can see and feel all at once. The Lighthouses seem to be her way of simplifying this complex idea to show it to Booker. Bound to physical limitations by remaining with him, Elizabeth uses the Lighthouse as a symbolic means of explaining what they are observing: gateways into all these worlds. In much the same way, she begins to utilize regular doors instead of tears now, a skill that she must have picked up from becoming an omniscient god and all that.

One such doorway takes them to a place familiar to Booker but unfamiliar to the player:

After the Battle at Wounded Knee

Booker and Elizabeth materialize in a stream just after the Battle at Wounded Knee. In this battle, a young Booker went on a ferocious rampage and slaughtered countless Native Americans. This is why Slate praises Booker so much earlier in the game when you are on the hunt for Shock Jockey; he remembers Bookers deeds. It’s important to note that beginning in this scene and continuing on, the player has become something of an “All-Booker” and begins controlling Booker at different, significant points throughout his life. Elizabeth essentially brings him along on this little journey to reveal the story’s deepest secrets.

After the Battle at Wounded Knee (more commonly referred to as the Massacre at Wounded Knee, historically), a preacher offers up baptisms. This is in fact, the very same priest that baptises/nearly drowns Booker before he enters Columbia. After Wounded Knee, Preacher Witting was looking to cleanse Booker DeWitt of his sins. In one variable Booker rejects the baptism, assuming that nothing can wash away the horrors that he’s done. Here, Booker reaffirms that decision before entering another door into memory, through time, and/or into another dimension.

Booker Gives His Baby Daughter, Anna, Up to Wipe Away His Debts

The origin of the phrase “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt” is revealed from the mouth of Robert Lutece to a drunk Booker some twenty odd years prior to the major events of the game. Robert is the “man who hired Booker to find Elizabeth”. What unfolds is a scene in which Booker relives the ordeal of giving away his baby girl, Anna, in order to wipe away his excessive gambling debts. Another door, another memory: while reliving the opening to the game where Booker is on the rowboat and enters the lighthouse, Elizabeth explains that although Comstock is dead in one world, he lives on in a million, million other worlds, saying that it will only be over when he, “Never even lived in the first place.”

Booker Changes His Mind and Chases Down Robert Lutece

Booker quickly realizes how terrible it was to give up his daughter and pursues Robert Lutece down an alleyway where he finds a much younger Comstock holding the baby while the Lutece twins stand on either side of a tear hollering at one another. Booker tries to restrain Comstock and take Anna back but can’t manage it. Just as the tear closes, Anna reaches out for her father. Most of her pinky is severed in the process. Sound familiar?

Elizabeth is Booker’s DAUGHTER!? No wonder why there was a curious absence of sexual tension.

What this means for Elizabeth: Because of this little incident, Elizabeth technically exists in two universes simultaneously. By some sort of incomprehensible mechanism, this lends her powers over space and time. Rosalind Lutece explains it away as the Universe preferring not to mix its peas with its porridge (wtf?).

The Luteces Offer(ed) Booker a Chance at Redemption

Reeling in the loss of his daughter, Booker spent another twenty years or so getting even more drunk than he was before, and he winds up carving the initials AD (Anna DeWitt’s initials – and the mark of the False Shepherd) into his right hand. After all that time, the Luteces show up again, this time with Booker’s one shot at redemption: bringing him into that parallel world where he can go to Columbia and save Anna – now named Elizabeth. But in going through the portal, Booker has something of a seizure as his brain begins to collide contradicting memories to explain his current existence, focusing on the mantra of “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” Remember that quote in the very beginning of the game?

“The mind of the subject will desperately struggle to create memories where none exist…” -R. Lutece, 1889, Barriers to Trans-Dimensional Travel

The Luteces pulled Booker into this dimension so that he could rescue Elizabeth. Fueled from years of self-torment and emotional trauma, Booker creates a story for himself in which he has to go to Columbia and bring the girl back to New York (his and her home) so that he might wipe away the “debt” (his guilt at giving her away).

Curiously enough, once Booker has realized all of this, he is able to have a conversation with Elizabeth and the Luteces. Previously in this sequence, they had just appeared as part of the memories, but now they play an active role and respond directly to Booker’s words. While their “powers” are considerably different than Elizabeth’s, it’s interesting to note their participation here.

Booker angrily decides that the only way to fix everything is to kill Comstock at birth. Elizabeth asks if he’s sure. He is. Then Elizabeth gives us our “would you kindly?” caliber of a shocking twist:

Comstock Is Born If Booker Accepts the Baptism at Wounded Knee

Elizabeth takes you back to the baptism at Wounded Knee but in a different timeline in which Booker is supposed to accept the baptism. You realize that upon rising from the waters, Booker would rename himself Zachary Comstock and go on to use Rosalind Lutece’s technology to build Columbia and “predict the future” by looking through tears. And from there? You know the story. Like Booker says, the only way to fix it all is to smother Comstock in his crib.

Eight or so different versions of Elizabeth find their way to the stream and they drown a willing Booker so as to prevent Comstock from ever being born. Then one by one, the Elizabeths disappear as you drift into the sky until the camera jolts to black with your Elizabeth still standing in the waters.

You come to, years younger, back in your apartment as a nursery rhyme chimes in the bathroom. Booker opens the door to Anna’s room, whispering her name to see a crib before the camera again cuts to black.

What it All Means

The makers of Bioshock Infinite obviously wanted to keep things a bit open-ended for players. The beauty of it is that the player can really decide what happens to Booker and Elizabeth. Barring the interference of any time-related paradoxes that are unknown to me, here is what I think happens.

  • The All-Booker that you control in the final sequences clearly dies to rewrite a previously fixed point in time in which Comstock is born out of the baptism. While this does overwrite all Comstock timelines – which prevents Elizabeth from ever being created – it does not mean that every version of Booker dies. This is supported by the very final scene where we see Booker going into Anna’s room to comfort her. Perhaps this is his salvation after his journey to redemption? Maybe this is Booker’s own personal heaven? He did drift up into the clouds after being drowned… Or perhaps even this is the only possibility left for any Booker. In the enacted rewriting of the Comstock plot-line, Booker accepts the baptism and is drowned. In the other branch, he denies it and comes to have a child named Anna whose mother dies in childbirth, thus leaving the only possible future for any Booker to be the one we see at the very end.
  • The Elizabeth that led the player to the final moments remains in existence when the camera cuts whereas the other versions of herself vanished into nothingness. Drowning Booker before he became Comstock erased all of them from existence. If Booker never became Comstock, then Comstock never made Columbia and needed to steal an heir from Booker, therefore preventing Anna’s abduction from ever happening. Theoretically, this ought to erase every Elizabeth. My question here, however, is can the time-space continuum affect something that essentially exists outside of it, transcends it even? Of course, this presupposes something different and special about our Elizabeth, because what makes her different from all of the other Elizabeths that did vanish? Regardless, does it matter? What kind of existence is there for something who can comprehend all of existence at once? Not very conducive to goals or any quality of life, huh?

What do you think of Bioshock Infinite‘s ending? Did you notice something I didn’t? Comment below!