I DON'T THINK I REALLY HAVE TO MENTION THIS BUT THERE ARE ALOT OF SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE, SO IF YOU READ THIS AND HAVEN'T PLAYED THE GAME YET, YOU'LL HAVE RUINED ALOT OF STUFF FOR YOURSELF
I have a problem that I want to look into as to whether Bioshock Infinite's strange insistence on having a happy ending (in the post credits sequence) fundamentally ruins the plot, or instead it makes it darker and more interesting.
I want to look into Bioshock Infinite's ending and determine whether it is simply a happy ending, in which case I will argue it is nonsensical and cheapens the plot and all its rules. I will also argue that it fails to make coherent sense regardless of this also. However, I will also examine whether or not the ending is instead intended as a dark ending that hints towards the futility of what Booker and Elizabeth attempted to achieve with Booker's death and so re-enforce the ideas of inevitability and fatalism that the story has weaved throughout.
I'm not going to explore any other elements of the game's story except for the final few segments that occur just after Comstock's murder at the hands of Booker, because for the purposes of this review they're not strictly relevant and enough of the rules of the world are basically clarified and set up during this latter part of the game. I also want to clarify the ending, so my understanding of the events can also be scrutinised by you, so that you can verify that I actually understood the main events and ideas that were taking place during the end, just for both our clarification.
I've dumped in the final section of the game just so you can check my synopsis with the actual series of events
So moving on from that I'll jump straight into it just at the moment where Comstock is getting his head caved in by an angry Booker who then continues to put him out of his misery by giving him an extended baptism in the font. After this Booker and Elizabeth go on to destroy the siphon which has been holding back Elizabeth's powers by hypnotising the songbird to destroy it for them. During it's attack on the siphon, Booker drops the musical instrument which they were controlling it with and so the songbird, now free of its objective to destroy the siphon, comes for Elizabeth once more. Elizabeth, with the siphon's debilitating effect on her powers now gone, is able to open a massive tear into post 1960s Rapture, from the first Bioshock, and drown the songbird. Elizabeth is now enlightened to the extent of her powers and asks Booker to follow her into a Bathysphere up to the lighthouse from the first Bioshock, where Jack entered Rapture from. Elizabeth struggles to open its locked door at first, but then a key appears in her hand, a key which she says has “been there all along” but she “just couldn't see it”. They then open the lighthouse door onto a sea filled with infinite lighthouses, which Elizabeth says are all tears to different worlds, and that now she can see through all of their doors (tears), and the doors behind those doors, and so fully understanding the extent to which the multiple universes in the game stem.
For every action Booker has taken in his life, there has been a new universe that has been created. Another alternate universe which Elizabeth in theory could tear her way into and observe. These universes are only governed by “constants and variables”, which is a very important aspect of my criticism of the ending.
Constants and variables is first demonstrated in the game earlier when the Lutece twins flip Booker a coin and ask him what it landed on. Booker responds that it's a head and Robert says that he thought it'd be different this time, though Rosalind is confused as to why he would think so. One theory I've read which I had not thought about before is that each heads roll is from another Booker who has come to Columbia before to kill Comstock in a different universe, all of whom have failed to do so. Our Booker however is different because we know he succeeds, but in succeeding it demonstrates that regardless of what Booker or anyone else does during a universe where Booker comes to Columbia and tosses a coin, the result will always be the same and Booker will always flip a heads for the Lutece twins. The coin flip is important because it demonstrates the existence of constants and variables very clearly within the multitude of Infinite's universes. The coin flip is a “constant” and will always exist throughout universes where this event happens, but since every Booker before our Booker has died or failed in some way to kill Comstock, this means that Booker being alive in each universe is a “variable” and so can change between each universe.
So the rules have been set as to how the existence of multiple universes work. They are governed by constants and variables and this becomes a problem later on. The two continue to walk between lighthouses and Elizabeth explains the nature of parallel universes before opening a door to Booker's past in which he was being baptised after the battle of Wounded Knee 20 years earlier. Booker says that he refused a baptism because it wouldn't change anything. Elizabeth then goes on to say that Comstock has been here as well. Then we go on a series of cutscenes which demonstrate that Elizabeth is Booker's daughter from another universe from the one we've been playing in , a universe which I'll call the black and white (BW) universe because that's the colour palette which it's displayed in the game. We then learn that Comstock is in fact Booker who exists in another universe and using Rosalind Lutece's tearing technology has travelled to the BW universe from his colourful Columbia (CC) universe in order to have a blood related heir for his city, because he's infertile. The major difference between Comstock and Booker is that back at the end of the battle of Wounded Knee, Comstock received a baptism where Booker didn't and so this created an alternate universe where Booker went on to become a ferocious religious leader, with strong nationalist values who went on to secede from the USA and build his free, floating state of Columbia. Booker had been pulled from his BW universe, into the CC universe by the Lutece twins in order to save Elizabeth due to their guilt of the whole situation.
At this point Booker and Elizabeth, in their anger at what Comstock has done, make a plan that they need to kill Comstock. Elizabeth points out that killing him now won't make a difference as he's already set out what he will do in motion, and so will always exist, even if one Comstock is killed. Booker says that he'll go back then to when he was a baby and smother him in the crib. Booker then finds himself back at the baptism area in the past when he was about to make his decision, before there was the split of the BW and CC universe. Then lots of Elizabeths from multiple universes appear and say that Comstock must be killed when he was born, or reborn into Comstock from Booker through his baptism. They then hold Booker under the water and drown him. As he dies, the Elizabeths all disappear out of existence.
Well now that I'm through all that, I'll say my problem with the ending of Bioshock Infinite as a whole. It is demonstrated that the multiple universes work on a system of constants and variables. We learn that certain events will always be the same in universes which are spawned by events in one universe, and that others will vary. We also learn that Booker living or dying is a variable since it is not constant throughout the universes which he is involved in. Therefore if Booker is killed during his baptism, surely this wouldn't change anything because there will be another universe in which Booker did not die during his baptism and therefore it was possible for Comstock to come into existence. It doesn't matter how far back you go, you could go and kill Booker/Comstock in their mother's womb, and still there would be another universe where it would have occurred that Booker/Comstock had not died.
If Booker dying at the baptism is a variable then we have the problem which I've stated above. That problem being that regardless of whether Booker does die in the past at his baptism before Comstock could come into existence, it doesn't matter that he died, because a universe where he doesn't die and then gets baptised so Comstock can exist, could happen.
Alternatively if Booker dying at his baptism is a constant, then this means Comstock wouldn't exist in that universe or any other because it could never come to pass, but this would be a paradox because if it was always the case that Booker should die before his baptism can create Comstock, then the game we just played surely could not have occurred. As Rosalind Lutece says when they first drag Booker into the CC universe, “what's done is done, what's done will be done”. Any changing of what is occur is impossible. Somewhere, in some universe, at some time, there will be a Columbia, and there will be a Comstock. Therefore this renders killing Booker in the past absolutely pointless.
Now onto my problems with the post credits sequence, which differ regardless of the earlier problem I have with the plot anyway. If the post credits sequence is meant to be a happy ending, in that Comstock never came to pass and so Booker was able to raise his daughter Anna, then this makes no sense. If Booker is able to live in a universe where he was presented with the choice of being baptised but refused it and lived, then there is also a universe where Booker was baptised and became Comstock, because Comstock not existing is a variable and not a constant.
A happy ending basically screws over anything the two tried to achieve by killing Booker in the first place. If the plan did succeed, which I've tried to argue that it wouldn't given the rules of Infinite's multiple universes, then this post credits sequence is either the dying thoughts and wishes of Booker as he is drowned, or heaven. The dying thoughts thing is fine and doesn't affect the plot's coherence. The heaven theory is just pointless and not really relevant to the game at all, aside from promoting that the religious beliefs in the game's world is taken as a fact, which is kind of just a strange thing to throw in at the end. Also why is heaven in black and white?
I like to think then and can't really find any other way for the ending to work aside from the fact that the game's ending where Booker is living with Anna is simply a dark ending. An ending where Elizabeth and Booker kill Booker in order to stop Comstock, but because of the rules of the multiple universes, they change nothing. Booker dies for no reason and Comstock is alive somewhere torturing Elizabeth somewhere behind the doors of an infinite number of lighthouses. This satisfies Rosalind's earlier statement that what's done is done and what's done will be done.
This would also be even creepier because we take as a certain that Elizabeth can see how the universes work, and so therefore she must’ve known this was the case and it would change nothing Yet still killed Booker anyway. Which is pretty messed up.
Or maybe Booker has just woken up in his chair and the whole thing was a dream, ending on a cutscene which could just as easily be a reconstruction of how Ken Levine came up with the idea in the first. This would be shit.
So yeah that's my criticism of Bioshock Infinite's ending and an argument of how the ending can only have the darker interpretation that I put forward to make any sense.
Obviously if you think I've misunderstood the plot and have an alternate idea for how I'm wrong then this would be really interesting and I'd appreciate your comments because in this case I really loved this game and would love to be wrong about what I see as a messy ending.