Halo the series is owned by Paramount Plus
Directed by Roel Reiné
We’re back with another episode of the show that fans love to hate! Well, certainly not all fans have been down on this new version of the story, but there are certainly those who have had a hard time getting behind these reinterpretations of the characters and the sizable overhaul to the lore. Will this trend continue as we finally get introduced to the TV version of Cortana, or will it finally click for them the same way it clicked to me right off the bat with the very first episode? Let’s find out!!
With Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) returning to the UNSC at the end of the last episode, Dr. Halsey (Natascha McElhone) has to put her biggest project yet in motion if the Spartans are going to continue to function as a unit. Enter the Cortana Project which Halsey has been working on in secret but may just be the buffer between Chief and the UNSC that she needs to keep the program under her control. Cortana (Jen Taylor) is to be an AI built from the ground up on a copy of Halsey’s brain (where she got that copy is pretty disturbing, but we do what we must for science!), and it will be injected into Master Chief to keep him in line and provide invaluable tactical support. Chief is obviously skeptical of having an AI embedded into his head, but as a good soldier he does what he’s told with the minimum amount of pouting and spends most of his time focusing on those flashbacks he was having and the words from Soren (Bokeem Woodbine) that have stuck with him longer than he expected. While all this is going on, the Covenant’s sole human Makee (Charlie Murphy) starts her journey to recover the Keystone from the UNSC, and Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha) is getting antsy about the authoritarian crisis on Madrigal brought about by its comically over the top new leader Vinsher Grath (Burn Gorman). Can Chief and Cortana find a way to work together before Makee finds her way to the UNSC headquarters and the mysterious alien tech housed there? What will Kwan Ha do to try and save her planet from Grath, and can Soren ultimately keep his promise to Master Chief? I don’t know about you, but Cortana seems pretty useful to me! She’s like Siri, right?
As always, I’m curious how this episode will be received by Halo fans who are more enamored with the franchise than I am. Sure, I love the games and had a pretty good time immersing myself in the extensive lore, but the series has so far managed to annoy a lot of fans with the way that it changes the characters and the way things are done in this universe. I can only hope that they are starting to come around because, as shocking as I’m sure you’ll find this, I think the show has managed to knock it out of the park once again with yet another fantastic episode! It definitely feels like we’re hewing closer to what the fans were looking for with its focus on Chief, Cortana, and the UNSC, so hopefully there’s something for those less than happy fans out there to enjoy while I continue to dig pretty much all the changes that it makes and its insistence on putting story and characters first and foremost.
We start off strong with a backstory for Makee, the sole human member of the Covenant and one of the Super Special Awesome humans (like Chief) who can connect with ancient alien technology. The world of Halo was never portrayed to be a Star Trek: The Next Generation style utopia, but with the game’s narrow focus on existential threats like The Covenant and The Flood, there hasn’t been a lot of time devoted to the smaller stories about those not lucky enough to be kidnapped and turned into super soldiers. It’s still perhaps a bit much to make Makee a Dickensian street urchin collecting trash and getting beat up by guards, but it definitely gets the point across and gives us a reasonable entry point for her to willingly join the Covenant instead of being a prisoner. She also has a pretty solid plan late on in the episode to try and find the Keystone (the artifact Chief keeps touching to get flashbacks that he found on Madrigal) and it gives us a fun look at one of the Covenant’s more interesting members. The Hunters in the game were big dudes with shields and cannons, but the story behind them is that each one is a worm collective wriggling around each other into a menacing hulking shape. Being a collective of worms though allows the director to do some interesting Aliens-style action that is more than welcome given how light the action has been since the opening scene of the first episode.
The narrative thrust of the episode though is the creation of Cortana and her budding relationship with Master Chief, and it’s really interesting how they go about it here. It was hinted at in the previous episodes, but it’s very much confirmed here that the only way for Halsey to create a perfect AI to keep the Spartans in line is to clone herself and sacrifice the clone to be the basis of the AI; kind of like ripping a DVD to put on your computer, only the ripping process is a lot closer to the violent definition of the word. The scenes with Halsey and her clone are quite engaging as the clone has Halsey’s intelligence and knows what its purpose is, so there’s a bittersweet inevitability to the clone’s dialogue as she tries to leave a lasting impression on her creator despite being little more than a tool. The flash cloning stuff in the books always felt like an afterthought that on occasion was used to decent success (*cough* Daisy-023 *cough*), and it ends up being a pretty efficient way of getting across Halsey’s cruelty.
The true star of this episode is Cortana who is played once again by Jen Taylor. Unlike in the games though, she’s also the model for the character and does the mocap work which gives her a distinct look and feel from what we got in the games. I was pretty skeptical about the new design working when I saw it in the trailer, and while I think they’ve done a few touch-ups to make her look a bit more artificial, I am willing to admit that I was wrong and that the changes here are uniformly for the best. Much like the rest of the show, she’s meant to actually interact with people instead of just looking cool on a computer screen, so she projects herself as a full-sized person instead of a mini-hologram which allows for some really solid back and forth conversations with her, Halsey, and eventually Chief. The Chief’s hesitancy in accepting Cortana is definitely a change from the book where he just did it because someone told him to, and it’s another aspect of the writing that improves upon what we saw in the lore. It creates a tension between him and Cortana that is engaging and interesting to see play out as Chief continues to stay taciturn and wary while Cortana is feeling frustrated having to be chained to such an emotionally unavailable jerk bag. She does eventually prove herself useful enough to Chief for him to start opening up to her and she gains some appreciation for the harsh life he’s had to live, but I like that we had to build up to those moments instead of just assuming them. The only change in their dynamic that I’m a bit hesitant about is how she’s integrated into Chief. Instead of slotting into his armor, she’s injected into him directly which makes sense considering how often Pablo Schreiber is out of the armor, but it definitely feels like a change for convenience and I’m curious if this means we won’t get to see Cortana do what she does best; namely plug herself into computers and sort things out while Chief fights aliens somewhere else.
Aside from that, the only part of the episode that isn’t really working for me though is the subplot with Soren and Kwan Ha. It definitely feels like the show is moving away from all that now that we’ve got Cortana in the mix, and her insistence to go back to Madrigal is not a motivation I can particularly sympathize with. It’d be one thing if she had an actual plan, especially one that couldn’t have just as easily been accomplished with a few phone calls, then maybe I’d be more understanding, but it’s frustrating that we went through all the trouble to keep her away from the UNSC only for her to have a death wish. I’m sure she’s not actually gonna land on the planet and immediately get shot in the head, but that’s definitely the feeling you get throughout this episode and it feels like a waste of time to focus on it.
This show continues to impress with its unique understanding of the Halo lore and some surprisingly good writing throughout. Some of the cracks are starting to show as we start to spread ourselves a bit thin between UNSC stuff, the Covenant stuff, and the Madrigal stuff, but Cortana finally showing up has definitely given this series a boost and is doing enough to cover up for whatever flaws are starting to creep in. Hopefully, the small issues I have with the Madrigal subplot won’t drag down the next few episodes which are looking to go even further into Chief and Cortana’s relationship as they race against Makee who is getting closer to them with each passing day. If the fans that weren’t happy before are still not happy after seeing what they did with Cortana, I don’t think there’s much hope that they’ll end up coming around to it. It’s certainly different from what they saw in the games and read in the books, but I still maintain that this series isn’t making these changes lightly and are adding a lot of depth to the characters and this universe that just wasn’t there before. Perhaps they will ultimately be vindicated if this series falls off a cliff once the plot really gets moving, but for now, it’s only getting more impressive with each episode that goes by and I can’t wait to see what’s next!