By now the subjects and themes of Bioshock Infinite have been discussed to death. Talks and articles have ranged from its presentation of religious zealotry, faith, class war, probability and even basic design choice; but one aspect of the world people have overlooked is the Songbird itself. Analysis have spoken about what it represents to Columbia, its role in Elizabeth’s life and the effectiveness of its brief appearances, but not what it resembles. Not its identity as a character.
The Bioshock universe has always made use of dark parallels and opposites to contrast with its preceding games. We saw this with Sofia Lamb and Andrew Ryan, the Great Chain and The Family and even the basic settings themselves in the first games. This was only taken further in Infinite with a new spin on the class war aspects of the original game which were only briefly covered, often with more emphasis placed upon the plasmids. Unlike Fontaine, Fitzroy believed whole heartedly in her cause and even despite her desires for improving life for the downtrodden was easily as much of a monster.
So what did the Songbird mirror? Many have said the Big Daddies. Due to its design, adaptation to its environment, sheer raw power and relationship with Elizabeth, it’s very easy to see parallels between the two. Especially when you take into account its role in protecting Elizabeth, someone vital to Columbia’s survival and special to the city’s ruler. Just as the Little Sisters were in Rapture. However, I don’t think it mirrors Big Daddies as a whole. I think it mirrored one specific member of their kind.
I think it mirrored Subject Delta.
Consider for a moment what Delta was in Bioshock 2. He was a genetically enhanced protector for a Little Sister, one who managed to retain his identity and sentience during the game’s events and had the one he was tasked to guard stolen from him. As an Alpha series he was intended to only protect one Little Sister, Eleanor, and guard her at every turn, to the death if need be. When he was separated from her during the course of the game, his advance could only be described as a rampage. Fighting his way through each district of Rapture, killing any splicer in his path and bringing (intentionally or otherwise) destruction to every area he entered, he relentlessly stormed through the city until he found Eleanor.
Compare this with the actions of the Songbird. After Elizabeth is taken from the tower, it begins frantically searching the city for her. Fighting at every turn to take her back, even going so far as to seemingly largely ignore the Vox uprising, and only being driven back after horrendous damage; it’s easy to make parallels. Perhaps even more so when you consider that, unlike many Big Daddies, both of them have sentience and genuinely care about their charges. The obvious difference is that whereas Delta (no matter which moral standing you opted for with him) was willing to let her traverse the city and move on her own, Songbird locks her away. This is ultimately the biggest indication of where the two differ – Delta was left with enough potential to be a hero but the Songbird is a dark mirror to him. A villain through and through. Something only made clearer by many of his interactions with Elizabeth.
While his nature is in part due to Comstock, but the degrees in which it opposes her actions are obsessive. While Delta was ultimately a father figure, Songbird is written and acts more like an almost abusive lover. Single-mindedly obsessed with Elizabeth and driven to keep her within his power. Unlike with Delta who was devoted to keeping Eleanor safe for her own protection, many of the Songbird’s actions can be seen as self-serving due to this obsession. Satisfying his own whims rather than fulfilling those of the person it cares about. This is best seen late into the game where we see what happens when Elizabeth followed the Songbird and returned to Comstock with it. Despite Elizabeth being effectively tortured and mentally broken, it did nothing to protect her from harm. Yes you can argue that Songbird was under the control of Comstock and programmed to fulfil a specific duty above all, but as was Delta. Furthermore a number of moments within the game suggest a degree of sentience within the creature and enough free will to focus purely upon the subject of its desire.
Songbird’s death is what gives the clearest parallel between the two. The situation is ultimately very similar to Bioshock 2’s conclusion, but with a twist to suit the different roles. In the aforementioned game Delta finally succumbed to his wounds, crippled by a final explosion and suffering from the effects of a rapid ascension to the surface, he watches Eleanor through the glass. Seeing her perform one final action to display what she has learned from him and her moral standing. Showing she has taken after him and leading into what follows.
In Bioshock Infinite the events are similar. Songbird is trapped outside, its charge and worst enemy standing watching as it is crushed to death by the pressure of the sea. It presses its hand against the glass, meeting Elisabeth’s just as with Delta and Eleanor, time before its life is snuffed out. Along with who Eleanor/Elizabeth was siding with, Eleanor against Lamb/Elizabeth against Songbird, this moment also symbolised an escape. With both it was an escape from the destiny planned for them, fleeing the wills of others placed upon them and the cities which they had seen turned into a nightmare. However, whereas Eleanor was fleeing from Rapture to the surface to escape it and the enemies there with Delta, Elizabeth is doing this to escape Songbird; fleeing to a place it ultimately cannot follow them to. Other obvious contrasts are how one is leaving Rapture and heading for the surface, while the other plunged deeper and took refuge within Rapture itself; but there’s also the meaning of what their gesture means.
The hand pressed against the glass in Bioshock 2 meant a connection between the two mains, expressing sorrow as Delta died and the genuine connection between the two. Representing that even after fighting so hard, Delta was ultimately going to be separated from Eleanor in some way and their relationship as it was, would end. It showed the characters trying to fight against what was happening and be with one another. Bioshock Infinite’s final moments had Elizabeth trying to calm the Songbird in its final moments, make its passing easier for the creature despite her defiance of it. When it presses its hand against the glass, against hers, it symbolises acceptance of its fate and ultimately her decision. Showing in its final seconds it was willing to put her wishes above its own.
As if their role needed to be symbolised further, in the background can be seen a Little Sister crying over the corpse of a slain Big Daddy.
The final comparison between the two is less something added together and more a interesting theory some have suggested due to the Songbird’s creation. At about the halfway point in the game the player learns of how the tears in reality are being used to take ideas from other eras and realities. The alternate renditions of songs like Fortunate Son and a number of voxophones are one example of this. One specific voxophone recording found in Fink’s industrial district reveals that Songbird was based off of designs seen through a tear, A series of blueprints which consisted of a “merger of machine and man, that was the lesser of man and yet the greater of both parties”. This has, as mentioned at the start, caused many to believe Fink based the design specifications of the creature upon the Big Daddies. Given its less armoured design, speed, lack of in-built weaponry and some shared aesthetics; it seems likely this would be specifically an Alpha series than the later Bouncers. Perhaps even an Delta himself.
This is of course as much a theory based off of a multitude of details than confirmed fact. Analysing and contrasting the roles, attitudes and even designs of two separate characters rather than any authorial intent on the part of Ken Levine. Yet we are talking about the same insane genius who littered extremely slowed down segments as a song in specific areas of the game as easter eggs, and added the Songbird’s death cry into the original Bioshock. Who knows, perhaps this was intentional?
Please feel free to list your own opinions in the comments section; I’d be very interested to hear the thoughts of others when it comes to this. What do you think of the Songbird’s role within the game? Do you think there are any grounds for a connection between the characters of it and Delta?