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BioShock Infinite’s Ending, Explained – What It All Means

WARNING – HORRIFICALLY DETAILED SPOILERS BELOW. READ ONLY AFTER YOU’VE COMPLETED THE GAME.
One of the best, most complete, most thematically satisfying endings to anything I’ve ever seen, BioShock Infinite’s conclusion more or less consumed my brain for hours after it was finished. With my head still reeling, I got online to pore over comments and explore facets about the ending that I missed, or perhaps get clued into one of the four recordings that I failed to find.
Turns out, I saw that a lot of people actually didn’t quite understand the ending. Some people had questions about what it all meant. Others were disappointed about what they perceived was a “sad” ending, when, in fact, the ending is (mostly) happy. Some missed the boat and have no clue what’s going on.
So, to hopefully amend these errant interpretations, I’m going to do my best to go over the ending, explaining what happened, and what it all meant in that last scene after the credits.
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Across the multiverse

The first aspect to wrap your head around is the “infinite” in “BioShock Infinite” – namely, the multiverse theory, in which there is an infinite amount of parallel universes that exist, each with constants and variables, that represent every choice we do or do not make.
Some of these are very small, like did you order Pizza Hut or Papa Johns for dinner. Others are a bit more varied, like if Abraham Lincoln never got assassinated. An infinite amount of possibilities, covering an infinite amount of scenarios.
BioShock Infinite follows the exploits of Booker Dewitt, a guy trying to find a girl locked in a tower to erase debt. Sounds simple, but the basic story archetype provides you with an anchor to try to wrap your mind around the more straining segments.

“The Decision”

The best place to start at is the “Decision at Wounded Knee.”
After living a life butchering people and being full of regret and guilt, Dewitt is given the choice to undergo a baptism and “cleanse away the sins.” He has two choices:
  • Be baptized, and emerge from the waters a new man
  • Refuse baptism, and continue living with the guilt
When Booker was first faced with the choice of baptism, he refused. He returned to New York, and while we don’t have a clear idea of the exact events, we know he had a baby girl.
On the other side of the coin is the other option I went over above, another universe created for if he had gone through with the baptism. In this reality, Booker changes his identity, creates a persona of Zachary Comstock, and continues on to craft the city in the sky, Columbia. Dewitt and Comstock are just two version of the same man, existing in different universes.
So, some time passes after the “The Decision.” In Columbia, Comstock is planning something foul to rid the world of its sin – he sees Columbia as a sort of Ark, and intends to provide the world its “flood.” However, he does not yet have the means nor the time to see this plot through – he needs an heir.
Unfortunately, due to his exposure to all of the Lutece experiments, Comstock went sterile (a recording goes over why exactly this happened, but basically, the exposure to so many different universes distilled him to the point of nothingness. Another interesting side effect – the exposure also aged him considerably , explaining why Comstock appears much older than Dewitt, despite them being identical ages.)
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This is where things really get interesting. To satisfy his desire of obtaining an heir, Comstock uses the Lutece machine to enter Booker’s universe, and take his child. Since Comstock and Dewitt are the same person, Anna is, for all intents and purposes, biologically as much Comstock’s daughter as she is Dewitt’s.
This is the first instance in where Dewitt’s world is affected and altered by a parallel dimension. Presumably still haunted by his guilt (and also possibly by the death of his wife in childbirth, which is mentioned but never confirmed), in a moment of darkness, sells his daughter to wipe his slate clean. However, at the last second, he changes his mind, and tries to stop Comstock from taking his daughter. Comstock escapes, but Anna’s finger is severed through the gate between dimensions, which is the assumed birth of her powers.

Enter the Lutece

In the years that would follow, Dewitt would fall into a state of depression and self-loathing, until the Luteces enter the picture.
Ah, the Luteces. By and large my favorite characters in this game, they are key to everything, and in a way, the true heroes of Infinite.
Allow me to explain. The “Lutece Twins,” who are not twins at all but actually male and female version of the same person existing in alternate dimensions, created the machines that could create “tears” between the dimensions. Comstock, in his mission to kill everyone who knew the truth about him, sabotaged the twins, but instead of dying, they essentially transcended metaphysical bounds, existing outside of the universes in a “closed loop.”
The Luteces have three motivations:
  • One – to break out of this closed loop (although Rosalind admits she doesn’t much mind it, Robert does – two sides of the same coin)
  • Two – Stop the multiverse apocalypse, as delivered by Elizabeth if allowed to be shepherded by Comstock unfettered.
  • Three – Although I can’t recall if it’s directly stated, the twins assisted Comstock in the trade/abduction of Anna/Elizabeth, and might want to see a father and daughter reunited as atonement.

Ending the loop

To accomplish these tasks, the Luteces put the gears in motion on a plan. They enter into Dewitt’s universe, while he’s mopey and depressed over selling his daughter, and drag him into Comstock’s. They inform him he’s on a new mission – find Elizabeth and bring her to New York. Dewitt’s sort of insane mind fills in the gaps to reconcile this.
As the Lutece’s initial conversation on the boat at the beginning of the game informs us, this is not the first time this experiment has been tried. In fact, a coin toss tally later on indicates that this has been tried over a hundred times before.
Dewitt has been caught in a never-ending cycle of trying to save his daughter. He had already been to Columbia, tried, and failed, various times. One outcome we learn about is one in which he becomes a martyr for the Vox Populi. Dewitt was a constant in a never ending-loop. He always ends up back at the baptism, and he always makes one choice or the other, ensuring another Comstock or Dewitt.
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Except this time. This time, he makes a third choice. The twins experiment finally yields success, and Booker has the revelation he finally needs to close the loop. Why did he get this revelation? It’s unclear – it could be that his journey has finally clued him in on how to be a real father, allowing him to make the sacrifice necessary. Or perhaps the future Elizabeth providing the key about controlling the Song Bird altered the events. Regardless, Dewitt accepts that he needs to die. Rather than emerge from the waters of baptism as a sinner or a saint, he realizes that to fix things, he needs to not emerge at all.
By killing himself at the point in time where he accepted the baptism, Dewitt kills off ANY universal possibilities of Comstock. By dying, Dewitt ensures that Comstock never exists. Comstock never builds Columbia. Comstock never enters Dewitt’s reality and takes Anna. In short, the events of BioShock Infinite are erased.

A happy ending

Now, I need to clarify why I think this is actually a happy ending. A lot of people assume that everyone dies or is erased from existence because of this decision. That, as far as I can tell, is false. When Dewitt killed himself at that juncture at the baptism at Wounded Knee, he didn’t erase himself from existence – he simply killed off every version of Comstock that could exist in the other universes.
Yay, everyone's happy!
Yay, everyone’s happy!
In the scene after the credits, Dewitt awakens in his apartment, and goes to check on baby Anna crying in the bedroom. This scene is the universe reacting to Dewitt’s colossal alteration of the timeline, and returning him back to the point right before any of Comstock’s tampering. As the calendar in the scene informs us, this is the day that Comstock WOULD have carried out the deal, and taken Anna. However, now, there is no Comstock. Anna will not be taken and used to carry out an apocalypse. Dewitt and his daughter finally have a reality where they get to be together, and, it’s implied, the Dewitt in this scene is the one who has been transformed into a better man, not the one who was so depressed and lost that he sold his daughter in the first place.
This is the part where the ending really shines – behind all the complexity and sci-fi nonsense, this is a tale of a man who learned about the meaning of being a father, and earned a second chance with his daughter to do things the right way. Yes, it means that the version of Elizabeth that we came to know throughout the course of the game no longer exists, technically speaking, but she now has a chance to live a normal life with a loving father, and grow into the strong woman that she’s destined to be – the woman that we’ve seen her be.  While it’s sad that the relationship we cultivated with Anna/Elizabeth has essentially been converted back to square one, let’s keep in mind the existences of Elizabeth where she was locked in a tower for her whole life, and especially the ones where she was TORTURED, INDOCTRINATED, AND LED AN ASSAULT ON MANKIND, have been reset.
In short – now, in all universes, Comstock never exists, Columbia is never built, and Dewitt and Anna can live their normal lives together. Like I said, happy.
The end

BioShock connection

As a post-end caveat, I thought I’d touch on the Rapture connection. While some fans are clamoring for direct links between Dewitt/Andrew Ryan (like the fact that Dewitt can manipulate the Bathyspheres that were genetically locked out by all those except Ryan and his son/clone, Jack), I think it’s simply another layer in the themes, and an example of the different versions reality can take.
Although it is worth mentioning that the events in BioShock 2 directly mirror those in Infinite, with a father figure on a mission to save his daughter, whose powers are being abused. Then there’s the fact that the abbreviation of Booker Dewitt, BD, is also for “Big Daddy.” And let’s not forget that Elizabeth is referred to as the Lamb, while the daughter in BioShock 2 is named…Eleanor Lamb.

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