BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 1 – A drooling analysis
Look, we’re all adults. Well, most of us are. And part of being an adult is admitting when you’re head-over-heels in love with something or someone. In this case, I’m utterly besotted with Ken Levine’s BioShock universe; you may recall that I (and, indeed, many of you) dedicated a great deal of emotional and mental energy to BioShock Infinite earlier this year. We all vented, theory-crafted and professed our love. We moved on.
The game, however, isn’t done with us yet. Burial at Sea is a two part adventure that returns us to… well, Rapture. You know, the underwater city where the first two BioShock titles were set. But before we continue, I should point out the following:
1) Burial at Sea Episode 1 is, if you don’t rush (and you really, really should not rush this), about three hours long.
2) From here on out, this article is going to contain EPIC SPOILERS. If you’ve not yet played this short, sharp hunk of DLC, this article can, and will, COMPLETELY RUIN IT FOR YOU. You have been warned.
Great. So Burial at Sea opens with Booker in a classic private detective’s office. It’s the 31st of December, 1958. New Year’s Eve. The tiny head of a doll sits next to his calendar, just in front of a bottle of some nameless spirit. Racing forms pepper the desk, hard nourish strips of light cutting the room to ribbons. A girl walks in and begins talking about a debt that needs to be repaid. That, right there, sums up the entire following three hours to come, and it does so brilliantly.
Booker, it turns out, has lost a girl that means something to him. Her name is Sally, and given the Little Sister programme that is now underway, odds are she’s in a whole mess of trouble. Elizabeth offers to help Booker get her back. Things get underway. We get a tour of Rapture at the height of its pre-fall hedonism; the traipse along the promenade of the richest area of town is, to say the least, a dense and revealing series of encounters. I highly recommend stopping at each person, soaking it all in. Listening to each conversation. Entering every shop and browsing.
Eventually, Booker and Elizabeth begin talking which, as someone who knows what happens in Infinite, is an intensely frustrating experience. You see, we want more reveals, more closure. But what becomes clear very quickly is that Booker doesn’t know about his ‘escape’ and redemption after the events of Infinite. Hell, maybe he’s forgotten. But Elizabeth? She knows exactly what’s going on. Booker asks her what brings her to Rapture. “A Man”, she says. “You don’t strike me as the romantic type”, Elizabeth replies. She then explains that he wasn’t that kind of man, and that this isn’t that kind of debt.
Of course, we find out that this Booker is, in fact, Comstock. A very particular Comstock. A Comstock from a universe where, during the struggle to get baby Elizabeth through the portal to his world, her head was lopped off. Grief-stricken, this Comstock turns to the Lutece twins and asks them to take him somewhere, anywhere, where he can escape what he’s done. They send him to the very place the tears in reality were peeking, the place where Columbia plundered its plasmid technology from: Rapture. Trauma, coupled with some judicious tinkering by the twins, wipes the memory of his deeds, and Booker assumes a new identity.
It’s the perfect inversion of BioShock Infinite. In Infinite, we have Booker learn how to be a father to Elizabeth, and make the ultimate sacrifice to save her and redeem himself. In Burial at Sea, we have a daughter wronged by a father who forces him to relive his mistake and pay the ultimate price for it. It’s a coin. On one side, a man who learns from his mistakes, breaks the cycle and fixes everything. On the other, a man incapable of letting go, but who, one way or another, will pay for what he did.
Booker later tells Elizabeth, after she helps con the masquerade mask from a shopkeeper, that she has a ‘bit of the grifter’ in her. “For that”, she replies, “you can thank my father. He was a man comfortable in a variety of roles”. She’s literally watching him the entire time, seeing just how deeply inured he is in his own bullshit, waiting for the penny to drop.
Incidentally, there can be no doubts that she’s ‘our’ Elizabeth; she’s wearing the pendant we gave her in Infinite, and when Booker tries to get her to call him Booker, she visibly flinches, saying “if it’s all the same to you… let’s leave it at Mister DeWitt’. This Booker, we now know, couldn’t be more different from hers, from the one who saved her, and who in turn she saved. She’s also wearing the thimble on the missing tip of her little finger.
The moment that finally triggers the reveal is when Booker finally finds Sally, who has been turned into a Little Sister. He snaps, violently seizing her arm and trying to wrench her from what is now her home (the duct system). Booker, with prodding from Elizabeth, relives the moment where he effectively killed her. He is then killed by a Big Daddy, and the debt that Elizabeth came to see repaid has been repaid in full.
Interestingly, after coming to Rapture, the not yet fully douched-up Comstock basically has a ‘Booker relapse’. He turns to drink and gambling (walking into the liquor store prompts a variety of sassy remarks from the shopkeeper, implying that Booker is quite the fixture there). His gambling, in fact, leads to him losing Sally, an orphan who took a liking to him. Our Elizabeth, in fact, grills him on his motives and reasoning throughout the story, looking for an excuse to let him off the hook. But when Booker becomes obsessed, and resorts to violence, she brings the hammer down.
Another interesting bit of brilliance: Suchong’s Vox recordings reveal that he didn’t actually have a way to get plasmids into the general populace comfortably. Up until that point, splicing was rare and painful, generally used by a select few at Ryan’s behest.
This is where it gets weird: Suchong sees a tear open up to Columbia, where he sees plasmids being treated to make them ingestible in a liquid form. Outraged at the theft of his idea, he copies what he sees, stating that two can play at intellectual theft. This leads to the explosion of the plasmid phenomenon in Rapture, a city where plasmids are taken like soft drinks. At this point, a portal opens and allows the scientists in Columbia to steal the idea for drinkable plasmids. You see? It’s a paradox. it’s a loop. Rapture and Columbia are twin cities, tethered together, both utterly doomed for daring to tinker with the powers of the gods.
Burial at Sea doesn’t contradict my theory about the ending of BioShock Infinite, which is a huge relief. Rather, it backs up my private theories; that after saving Booker, our Elizabeth remains intact, a godlike time-travelling figure who then hopes between universes mopping up loose ends. Booker, I maintain, is safe with his daughter, ready to be the father he couldn’t have been before. Elizabeth, however, seems determined to wipe out the one Booker who escaped to Rapture, to show him what he did, and to make him pay for it. It’s brilliant.