I've just finished BioShock Infinite for the third time. That's note an idle claim, either: I'm serious. And I've listened to every vox recording, poured over every clue, and even taken fastidious notes. And whilst the ending of the game is unnervingly superb, it's also a lot to process. Here, then, is my explanation for those of you who've finished the game. If you haven't gotten to the end yet, for the love of GOD, back away until then. You won't regret it.
EPIC SPOILERS AHEAD.
SERIOUSLY. TURN BACK NOW UNLESS YOU’VE FINISHED THE GAME.
We know that in every universe, after Little Big Horn, Booker comes to a crossroads, and heads to the river to be baptised. In universes where he accepts, he becomes ashamed of his past and his sins, and becomes Comstock, to hide his crimes and start anew. At some point he meets Lutec, who helps create Columbia. years of experiments, however, render him infertile, so he goes back in time to steal his daughter from a universe in which he actually had one - i.e., one in which he REFUSED baptism, had a relationship (which presumably failed and left him alone with child), and was in debt and desperate enough to actually sell his daughter.
In these universes, the ones where he makes the sale, he also tries to get his daughter, Anna, back, hence the finger. He then basically (somehow) rewires his memories and, eventually, is pulled through time by the Lutece twins to rescue his daughter. The twins do this in a desperate move to close off the cycle; every universe is in danger thanks to Comstock, who brings about Armageddon with the help of his daughter, whose powers have been amplified through years of torture and augmentation. There are also recordings that reveal that Comstock intended to kill Lutece. DeWitt is a long shot, but he’s all they’ve got.
Comstock knows DeWitt is coming, and knows how to prepare; by creating the False Shepard prophecy, down to images of the AD mark on DeWitt’s hand (Anna DeWitt; his ‘hair coat’, as the twins put it). And in every universe, over and over and over, the rescue is undertaken but never actually ‘takes’.
The whole journey, for Booker, is basically a journey in which a wreck of a man learns how to be a father. He learns how to make up for selling his baby girl, and as a result, after the credits, wakes up in a world where he can raise her properly, now the right man to do so. After my third play-through, with worryingly vigorous note-taking, there are explicit references to the following things:
- This entire thing being a chance to finally unite father and daughter (as stated by the twins, to DeWitt).
- Father and daughter united, as illustrated beautifully when Booker and Elizabeth are at the arcade. Behind a backdrop of parents and kids, many vocally arguing, we have Booker following around his giddy, unknowing daughter. Throughout the game, the only choices we make (which pendant to choose, whether or not to veer towards a violent or passive/merciful action), Elizabeth is there. These aren’t arbitrary choices, they’re Booker making pivotal fatherly decisions. He’s getting a chance to be a father, and he doesn’t even know it. Which makes every choice doubly vital.
- Ending the cycle. Repeated in three very deliberate iterations throughout the game is the song ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’.
At the end, in a selfless act, now ready to make amends and make a truly noble fatherly sacrifice, he allows himself to drown at the core moment where he will become Comstock. All his daughters disappear, apart from Elizabeth, implying she survives, perhaps thanks to her powers.
Then, after the credits, Booker awakes. Unlike all the dream sequences set inside his room on the day he gives away Anna/Elizabeth, the table is different; the calendar page on it states that it’s the day he was to give her away. There is no knocking at the door. There is no ambient music. Suddenly, Booker hears crying, heads into the next room, says ‘Anna?’, and we cut to black.
Booker ends the cycle, and as a result, as the twins predicted, is finally, properly united with his daughter. And after what he learned throughout the game, he’s now the perfect man for the job.