Posted by MikeLemmer (531 posts) -

It's been about a week since I've finished Transistor, and I've taken the interim to think about its ending. As I said in my review, "The ending provokes confusion instead of satisfaction", and it's not just because everything isn't revealed by the end. Please note that in discussing this, I will spoil the entire ending, which might ruin the entire game for you. (Also spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line, Mark of the Ninja, Casablanca, and Seven Pounds.)

You have been warned.

Last chance: turn back now to avoid spoilers!

When I finished Transistor for the first time, Red got the power to rewrite the city, but instead committed suicide with the Transistor so she could be with her lover. From my Internet research, this seems to be the only ending to the game. My initial reaction was mood whiplash; I had just beaten the game! The Process was eliminated! I could rewrite what they had erased! And then suddenly, despite her lover's (and my) protests, she kills herself. Credits roll as her lover breaks down over her body... cue a romantic song, and... wait, it ends with a picture of them in the Country? And they seem happy? What? How did her lover go so quickly from begging her not to do it to being glad she did? That dissonance clashed with the emotional tone they were going for. Sure, the lovers were reunited, but I wondered if I should be happy for it. I honestly thought I had gotten the bad ending somehow.

I wasn't the only one who felt that way. A blogpost in the Transistor Neogaf thread stated bluntly, "Red is *puppy* selfish... killing herself on the Transistor rather than repairing the city (which she showed she could do with minimal effort) or bothering to check for any other survivors despite the protests of the Transistor him/itself just came across as short-sighted to me." This is not how you want your audience reacting to the sympathetically-portrayed protagonist at the very end of the game.

More problems cropped up as I thought about it. I had just won the final boss fight to escape the Transistor... and then Red immediately goes back into it? What did winning that final boss fight accomplish, then? Looking further back, what did we accomplish, if anything, in the game itself? Nothing is saved as a result of our actions, and the moment we have the power to save something... Red doesn't use it. She gives up. She gives up and kills herself to be with her lover.

Suicide is an inherently selfish and despairing action. It is not something we react to well. It, like rape, requires hefty writing chops and a good deal of setup to pull off well. Transistor does not have this. Although 2 other characters committed suicide, Red never seemed to entertain notions of it. She always seemed driven to find some way to stop the problem. This causes her suicide to seem completely out of left field. Spec Ops: The Line, for everything it forced you to do over the course of the game, at least set up the disastrous consequences of the protagonist's decisions and his mind cracking so suicide seemed like a viable choice. Mark of the Ninja, another tragedy game, had the choice of suicide at the end, but also compared it to the alternative of going homicidally insane (wonderfully illustrated by the hallucinations you experience during the final stage), which made it more of a heroic sacrifice.

Sacrifice is something we like to see in our protagonists. The ability to put aside our own desires, including love, to accomplish something greater is a classic trope. Casablanca wouldn't be half the movie it is if the protagonists didn't give up their love for a greater good. Ebert put it well: There is actually no reason why Laszlo cannot get on the plane alone, leaving Ilsa in Casablanca with Rick, and indeed that is one of the endings that was briefly considered. But that would be all wrong; the “happy” ending would be tarnished by self-interest, while the ending we have allows Rick to be larger, to approach nobility (“it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”). You could say the same for Transistor: the "happy" ending is tarnished by self-interest.

Even worse, it encourages an act that is horrifying in real life. It reminded me of a review of Seven Pounds by Film Brain: when he reveals the ending of the movie says killing yourself to donate your organs is a good thing, he goes ballistic and rips it apart. In his commentary, he revealed the reason why: a relative killed himself, and the thought a movie would encourage such behavior infuriated him.

The ending of Transistor is the sci-fi equivalent of committing suicide to be with your lover in heaven. Sure, Shakespeare ended Romeo & Juliet the same way, but that was a tragedy, and Romeo & Juliet are implied to be idiots for going that far. What's the implication in Transistor? What are we supposed to take away about Red? The more I look at it, the less I like what it's saying.

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#1 Posted by Jesus_Phish (610 posts) -

I agree with your post and I'd be interested to see what the writers make of peoples reactions like this. Did we get it wrong? Or is that what it is?

I don't understand either why she fought to get out of the Transistor only to kill herself and get back in, unless the idea is that while she was fighting inside the transistor, death in there would mean actual death and not eternal life inside a USB stick. That and she didn't want the other guy get control of the Transistor but having said that it's not like she did much with it either to be able to say "I'll save the city!".

#2 Edited by RuneseekerMireille (325 posts) -

You had my exact thoughts about the ending, especially with Royce, if you had just let him kill you at that final boss fight, everyone would have gotten what they wanted in the end. She'd be with her loved one, and he'd be able to reshape the world. Everyone's happy! Even if she wanted to off herself, she could have at least fixed the damage done to the city first, then done it! That would have made way more sense to me.

#3 Posted by TooWalrus (13135 posts) -

Hey man, love is selfish. Once she discovered defeating the process wouldn't bring her boyfriend back, she chose to live on with him inside the transistor rather than restore the world without him. This was my interpretation, anyway, I'm probably wrong. It's not necessarily a happy ending, but I was quite satisfied.

#4 Edited by RockyRaccoon37 (421 posts) -

Your reductive understanding of suicide and Romeo and Juliet notwithstanding, I agree that the ending is a major disappointment.

To take an interesting setup of a woman without a voice given the ability to speak online, but then do nothing at all with that idea and end on a rote note of a woman can't live without her man, was hugely problematic and boring.

We know next to nothing about their relationship, and less about her feelings for him and yet are meant to feel moved by the end. It certainly didn't work for me.

#5 Posted by Scarbearer (34 posts) -

Here's what I believe happens at the end. Some of this is based on the fact that I feel like this story is less a cyberpunk story, and more a Transhumanist/Posthumanist story, but that's totally a topic for another time.

I think the 'Country' is Cloudbanks metaphor for heaven, or where they believe a soul goes after a person dies (or is deleted or whatever.) I think by the end of the story she realized that bringing everyone back, she was just bringing back copies, memories, remnants of what was before. I think she believed the voice in the Transistor was not really the man she loved, just his memories, just his data. So she opted for suicide and to move on to the 'Country' to be with the real him.

Now whether this is the right choice, or if that is what really happens at the end, or if the scene we see is just Red's final thoughts and hopes as she slips away into nothingness, I think is very much up for debate.

#6 Posted by Nals (75 posts) -

Except she can't repair anything.

The Process won. The people of Cloudbank either died in their homes, or died in the mass grave to the east, where they waited for their end. Royce even says as you beat him that you are among the last of Cloudbanks citizens. This isn't something she can fix, and we are given no indication there are other survivors. Sure there might be, but at that point you are arguing ifs rather then whats, which does nothing for the story.

We saw what happened when she tried to repair Blue. Error. For all the power the Transistor offered, for everything it could do, for all it's godlike powers, it cannot bring back the dead. It couldn't fix Cloudbank. Red couldn't do anything to fix what started at the beginning of the game, outside of maybe rebuilding the city proper. But whats the point of living in a dead world with nobody else around you?

You say suicide is the selfish way out, and that's true of Earth. However Cloudbank isn't Earth, and they make sure to drive this home again, and again, and again. It's a place where the afterlife is known as the Country, and while it's a one way trip, you can apparently visit it fairly easily. Nobody worries about going to the Country, and it's apparently a nice enough place to live in. There is no heaven and hell for these people, just a return to the Country. Nobody in Cloudbank fears death, and the idea of an afterlife is so accepted among them the idea of suicide likely isn't that problematic either.

As Red says in the song, she's going to the Country with everyone else. Because that's a better alternative then "all becoming One.". Rather then become Processed, she'd rather live inside the Country/Transistor with Blue/everyone else that was integrated into the sword. And honestly? That sounds like a pretty happy ending considering the alternatives.

It's not the story of a woman who can't live without her man. It's the story of a woman who did absolutely everything she could to try and bring back the dead, and when she found out she couldn't fix anything, decided to join the rest of her friends in the sword rather then live alone in the world. It's a nihilistic story about the inevitability of death, rather then a happy go lucky love story.

Just because you don't like the story told doesn't make it poorly written/bad.

#7 Edited by Zeik (2220 posts) -

@nals: You actually bring up some good points. The ending happens so abruptly that it didn't really cross my mind, but she does kill herself immediately after she restores the part of the city with her lover and sees his dead body still there. It bothered me that she went and killed herself before even finishing restoring cloudbank, but if you assume that there is no one left then there isn't much reason to finish restoring the city. The transistor can't bring back the dead, so restoring cloudbank would just be an empty gesture.

I feel like they could have done a better job conveying that though.

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#8 Posted by MikeLemmer (531 posts) -

@zeik: Agreed. The biggest problem there is that the "friend" she's killing herself to be with is begging her not to. If he morosely admitted they couldn't do anything to restore the populace and then reluctantly accepted Red's decision, that would convey the situation better. As-is, it's confusing that her friend goes from hoping they can restore the city to weeping over her dead body to a friendly "Hi" when she appears in the Transistor. Since Red can't speak, we're following her friend's line-of-thought, and Red's actions run counter to it.

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#9 Posted by Zeik (2220 posts) -

@mikelemmer: I don't really have a problem with that part. Of course her lover is going to adamantly oppose the idea of her killing herself, even if it was just her all alone alongside him in that detached form.

I think the bigger problem is that they never fully explore the idea of the Transistor's role in that regard. It all just feels like it happens super abruptly at the end when the game seems to have been building up to the idea of the Transistor fixing everything. I don't even have a problem with it suddenly going in that direction at the end, but I think it happens TOO suddenly. It didn't feel like a satisfying resolution to the events that led up to it.

I don't know. I feel better about the ending now with this change in perspective, but it still feels like it could have been handled better.

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#10 Posted by Lunnington (152 posts) -

I liked it.

We all sort of "knew" where it was going, right? Like we knew that she was going to fix up the city. That, or it was going to give us a choice in Bastion. Instead Red made a different decision against the will of her Transistor boyfriend/husband and probably against the will of the player. To me that's pretty interesting.

Cloud Bank is in the past. Its people are in a better place. The process was finished. It was her time to go.

#11 Edited by webmilio (1 posts) -

I agree with pretty much everything that has been said in this thread. However, I do feel like we were compeled to do an action we did not want. In fact, I did not want that ending to the point that the second I finished it, I looked up if there was more than one ending and found this post. @nals made me reflect back on my opinion about the ending and now, I'm a lot more confused. One thing is clear in my head though: I would really like to have an alternate ending where she rebuilds the city. We never got to see Cloudbank in its entirety and I feel like it was a beautiful city before it got destroyed.

#12 Posted by Ross (319 posts) -

I feel like it doesn't matter whether or not we wanted the ending and it isn't our place to demand a different one. It was Supergiant's artistic vision so there is nothing inherently right or wrong about it; it just is. At first I was hesitant about whether or not I liked the ending, but I eventually warmed up to it. Supergiant does a frustratingly fantastic job of creating worlds that I want to know everything about but at the same time the mystery surrounding them is enthralling.

#13 Edited by PollySMPS (220 posts) -

I didn't really much care for Transistor at all, but I felt that the ending was fine. The story didn't really hint so much at player agency as it did revenge. It was Red's story, not mine, so I feel another choice at the end would have just been tacked on. I understood her motivations as why live in a big futuristic city where most, if not all, of the population had been processed, when she could start a different journey?

#14 Edited by Lunnington (152 posts) -

My main issue with Transistor, and perhaps all of the answers are buried somewhere within the game, was the lack of complete understanding of the world. I felt like there is depth but they choose not to reveal it at all. I don't know anything about CloudBank or its citizens. I know that The Country is basically heaven, but I have no idea why it's called The Country. I have no idea where the Transistor came from, or whether or not "The Process" is man-made or is some sort of force in the universe. I have a vague sense of motive for the Camerata. I don't feel very connected with Red as a character or her struggle.

#15 Posted by sumjugei (30 posts) -

The transistor is aptly named. It takes some input and is able to switch it. This seems central to how the Process worked before the interference from the Camerata. Let everyone pick what the sky would be, the Transistor and the Process make it happen. The Camerata mess with the system, think they are in control, but lose it. I don't know how exactly Blue gets corrupted, but Red's status in the Transistor is Intact. Most of the other impressions it absorbs after they are dead and are classified as Integrated. The Camerata (other than Sybil) are classified as Recorded, so their impressions are different as well. Did anyone notice if Red's status changes throughout the game especially after the final boss?

#16 Posted by sumjugei (30 posts) -

People feel like the ending was a let down, that her story was meaningless if she just killed herself at the end. But Supergiant just made all those people feel like she felt. She got to the end, maybe a little confused, thinking she could bring it all back--but she still doesn't have a voice and she doesn't have Blue. If she changes everything back, nothing will have changed. So she picks another way, goes back into the Transistor, gets Blue and her voice.

#17 Edited by Efesell (491 posts) -

I guess I just didn't get any sense of 'Can't live without you' in the ending, just an acceptance of Cloudbanks fate. With no indication of anyone else surviving the Process Red seemed to come to the same conclusion that I did in that there was very little value in reviving the empty husk of Cloudbank.

#18 Posted by IraklisPazios (1 posts) -

I think there is a major flaw here,first of all,everyone is dead,the proccess didnt just temporarily lock them up,they died,so even if Royce would repair the city,he would be alone,i guess he could make robots for company but that isnt really a happy ending either,also if Royce kills her,she gets trapped in his transistor and then Red will never be with her lover,so thats even worse,the ending picture is of Red and her lover inside the Transistor that Red was wielding through the game and they are both happy,this is why its shown as if Red just popped up of nowhere and they have a greeting,cause Red was transported in the transistor after she killed herself,sure her lover was sad at first but at the end,they were happy,as for the citizens,nothing could be down about them.

#19 Edited by brehonia (51 posts) -

The issue with the ending is that even after scouring the game for every scrap of info you can find, you will end up knowing nothing about Red.

What's she like? What's her take on all this? What's her end goal? You hear a whole lot about what Sword Guy is feeling, but does she like him? Does she even know him at all? There's an opportunity for development toward the end of the game (!!) when she starts offering him encouragement through the terminal screens, but it's awfully generic. "I'm going to get you out of there!" etc. Nothing you wouldn't say to your dad. Hardly leaves the impression that she might, oh I don't know, blow off rebuilding the city to go sit on his corpse and kill herself out of longing and despair.

The final scene places Red's eternal love for this dead man at the heart of the whole game. That crazy end-of-the-world business was all in service to the story's emotional core. These characters' relationship is the A-plot and this is its climax. This lady is fundamentally unknown to us, and their relationship is being almost entirely established for the first time BY this action. There's just nothing to feel, it's totally unearned. I laughed, honestly.

#20 Posted by syz (107 posts) -

Both of Red's options at the end of the game were essentially just Nozick's experience machine.

Either an experience machine where she had more freedom over the program (Cloudbank) or one with her voice and lover in it. She chose the latter, so at least we can deduce that she isn't a hedonist.

#21 Edited by BigSocrates (288 posts) -

@syz said:

Both of Red's options at the end of the game were essentially just Nozick's experience machine.

Either an experience machine where she had more freedom over the program (Cloudbank) or one with her voice and lover in it. She chose the latter, so at least we can deduce that she isn't a hedonist.

Unless the pleasure of being with her lover is greater than that of being in control of an empty city.