Major spoilers for Bioshock Infinite and Burial at Sea: Episode 1. Didn’t watch/play? DON’T READ!
Hi all! I hope everyone is blazing away at BaS: Episode 2. I’ll definitely blog about it in the upcoming weeks, but in celebration of more Elizabeth (and apparently Booker), here’s a Doppleganger post about their relationship:
One of the most interesting aspects of Infinite is the Booker-Elizabeth relationship. They (and we) start off with no idea about their relationship, and then we all get walloped over the head with it in the end.
I’m not going to lie: I pegged Booker as her father pretty early on. (And then I got blindsided by the Bookerstock revelation.) I had vaguely remembered being spoilered about it, and then the “AD” on his hand fit the names “Anna” and “DeWitt” together pretty nicely and I figured it out. Besides, there was definitely a Last of Us Joel-Ellie vibe between the two by the time we broke into dear old Lady Comstock’s tomb.
But there’s definitely more to it than the “Luke! I am your Father!” element. Booker and Elizabeth go on concurrent, opposite character arcs.
We all know about Booker’s Redemption arc in Infinite (we can argue about its effectiveness, but we can’t deny its there) but on the other hand we also have Elizabeth’s ‘Fall.’ Infinite is not just about Booker regaining feeling in his heart (and brain), it’s also about Elizabeth getting her hands dirty.
As mentioned in my Burial at Sea post, one of the game and the first DLC’s themes is growing up. She starts off as an adorably sheltered young girl and by BaS she’s a femme fatale who has people skewered with Big Daddy drills. There’s definitely some lost innocence in there.
At the start of the game, Elizabeth holds to ideals of pacifism and justice. When first confronted with Booker’s violence, she is equal parts horrified and bewildered:
“You killed those people,” she tells him, “I can’t believe you did that… they’re all dead… You killed those people!”
The problem is, with the way the Bioshock universe is constructed, there is no room for decent morality.
“What did you think was going to happen, hm?” Booker challenges after Elizabeth calls him a ‘monster.’ “Do you understand the expense people went through to keep you locked up in that tower? Do you think people like that are just gonna let you walk away? You are an investment. And you will not be safe until you are far away from here.”
And so she Falls: Elizabeth murders Daisy Fitzroy in order to protect Fink’s son. Traumatized to the point she cuts off her hair in penance, she comments: “I guess it runs in the family.” Elizabeth refers to Comstock, but the act reflects on her blood from Booker’s side.
So this first murder goes back to the idea that evil acts are the only things that can combat even eviler acts. To save the child, she must commit an atrocity against another human being. (Yes, I know, it’s Fitzroy, but still.)
Elizabeth demonstrates a rather keen understanding of this principle by the time Booker frees her from Comstock House.
“Is this where you start moralizing, Booker?” she retorts after he objects to her plan to murder Comstock (which is pretty funny in its own right). “You forget, I know you.” And Elizabeth now knows herself too: blood on her hands is a price she is willing to pay in order to prevent “what he turns [her] into.” And, you know, revenge.
But, as Booker never quite obtains Belle!Elizabeth’s goodness, Elizabeth never fully adopts Booker’s ‘Fallen’ point of view. When we look at Infinite from a game perspective, Elizabeth always acts as the character who challenges Booker’s pessimistic acceptance of Columbia and its violence with questions about morality, judgment and redemption – even after her ‘Fall.’
“Do you think… it’s possible to redeem the kind of things that we’ve done?” she asks Booker as they head to Comstock’s ship.
That said, Elizabeth’s compass does shift. At the end of Infinite and in episode 1 of BaS, good and evil are recalibrated into judgment of intent rather than actions. Nobody’s a monster for killing terrible people. Now you’re a monster if you want to oppress and abuse a large population of people. (In other words, we’re really lowering our standards here.)
Instead of concluding the act of murder is evvvvvil, she asks Booker questions such as:
“Are you afraid of God?”
“Do you ever get used to it?… The killing?”
Her questions shift from the inherent right and wrong of the action to the ‘goodness’ or ‘evilness’ of the person who commits those acts. There has to be a difference between what she and Booker do and what Comstock does… right?
But what Elizabeth gets at isn’t solely a concern about redemption for these acts: it’s also fear of what these acts will turn her into. Booker grapples with (and ultimately accepts) a chance of redemption, but he doesn’t fear what these acts do to himself. It’s a little late for that.
When we look at an even older Elizabeth in BaS, she is more like Booker in this aspect. The judgment of ‘Booker’ is all about intent. She doesn’t even hesitate when she turns up the vent heat to an unbearable level in order to flush Sally out. The act is undeniably cruel, but it’s also necessary in order to save Sally.
On the other hand, when ‘Booker’ grabs the little girl, he shouts at her: “Sally! Come out here right now!”
While this act isn’t any more evil than Elizabeth’s (you could probably argue it’s much less) the objective is different: ‘Booker’s’ screaming isn’t about saving Sally. It’s about grasping for a possession. As the scene flashes back to when he stole Anna, it shows that the search for Sally isn’t about saving her; it’s about what ‘Booker’ wants and ultimately about making him feel better. It’s that difference in intent that makes Elizabeth decide to kill him. That’s a long way to go from being a wanna-be Disney character who just wants to get to Paris.
There’s definitely much more to be said about Booker and Elizabeth’s relationship. Sound off in the comments with any and all thoughts, ideas or suggestions!