“I never killed a man, let alone a mate. But this is what things come to. I don’t know if killing Mr. Ryan will stop the war, but I know it won’t stop while that man breathes.”
You’ll know the name McDonagh if you’ve played through BioShock, the seminal 2007 body horror from Irrational Games, even if you don’t know the man.
The Fighting McDonagh’s Tavern is a pub in the undersea city of Rapture, owned by Bill and named after his father, who was a boxer. It’s a location you’ll visit in the game – after the fall, of course – and that seems to be the extent of our involvement with Bill, picking over the corpse of his establishment long after he is gone.
But Bill McDonagh is everywhere in Rapture. Bill McDonagh is Rapture, as much as Andrew Ryan could ever hope to be.
McDonagh, a plumber from London, was working in Manhattan on a project when he first met Andrew Ryan. Ryan queried why McDonagh was using more expensive brass fittings than the cheap, tin ones that were on the specification. Bill replied that he was covering the cost of the upgrade out of his own pocket, as it was a point of pride that none of his work ever leaked. Little did he realise, this was quite the elevator pitch to deliver to a man building a city beneath the ocean. It’s a claim that would be put to the test by years of disrepair and civil war in the bowels of Ryan’s utopia, with every joint and rivet and gasket overseen, if not directly installed, by the Cockney plumber.
It’s not such a stretch that a structure could be built underwater and be habitable, though not knowing Rapture’s exact depth, it’s hard to say for sure how realistic this instance might be. In any case, for the city’s external plumbing – with its interconnected structures forming ersatz pipes on the ocean floor – to withstand and last as well as it did is impressive. But as the player explores Rapture after the fall, a decaying deco monument to inverted excess, they find cracks, leaks, and whole sections inundated with frigid saltwater.
It’s there where Bill McDonagh’s commitment, to the trust in his brass fittings and his tightening arm, shines through. A lesser structure, built on cheaper parts, would have buckled at the first sign of inundation. A torrent of water would’ve ripped through those interconnected tubes like a tidal bore. There is obviously a little bit of creative license here for a structure at that depth to withstand such leaks, and plenty of plot armour for the city, the setting itself to need to survive for the game to exist at all. But the point is that Rapture is failing, has failed, and the fact that you can still walk around it at all is just as remarkable as the fact it ever existed.
Bill McDonagh didn’t just keep the city watertight, though. He gave his life trying to protect the city and its residents from its ruthless leader and other institutions of extremism and tyranny.
A member of the city council and an advisor to Andrew Ryan who tried to lower the pressure of an escalating situation, Bill would eventually resign his position when he realised that its leadership was beyond saving. But its people weren’t, and he would try to keep them from drowning to his final breath.
We find the body of Bill McDonagh, then, pinned to the wall outside Andrew Ryan’s office along with half a dozen others, a grotesque diorama, displayed to all comers to show what happens to those who defy Rapture’s founder. A common man and a man of the people, McDonagh had raised a group of freedom fighters to meet Ryan head-on, to try and bring him down from the precipice, or knock him down by force if need be.
They were obviously unsuccessful, but it proves that his father was not the only fighting McDonagh – Bill gave his life trying to prevent the calamitous end of Rapture that we find on our arrival.
It just goes to show that Bill was right; if you don’t use the right parts, once the water gets in, things are going to break. Unfortunately, Rapture was built on too many men like Ryan and Fontaine, and not enough like McDonagh; solid as brass and twice as dependable.