The third episode of Halo is about children and the parents who wrong them

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There is a part of me that wants to reach out and hug the characters of the Halo TV series, moreso in the third episode in which so many of them, Spartan, Blessed One, traumatized teen and artificial general intelligence, are revealed to be so badly wronged by their parent figure. It’s depressing even as it makes for some interesting TV.

“Emergence,” the third episode of Halo, opens up with an origin story for Makee, the Blessed One. We see a brutalized child laborer in the muck and grime of a UEG junkyard world. It’s a hellish place for a child to grow up in, and stealing time off to read a pulp romance is enough to see her best friend beaten to death and Makee thrashed to within an inch of her life. What saves her life? A Covenant raiding party looking for something. Looking for her and her ability to bring Forerunner relics to life. She’s a child wronged by the entire UEG and made special by the Covenant, and it’s not hard to understand her fanatical reverence for the Covenant’s High Prophets as she sets out to infiltrate human space.

Back on Reach, Miranda Keyes is brought on board by Admiral Parangosky to study the Madrigal artifact. Tired of being manipulated by Dr. Halsey, the Admiral deftly plays off Miranda’s resentment towards her mother by stepping in as a patron of Miranda’s work. The dynamic between Miranda and Catherine Halsey is still a bit mysterious here, to be honest. Her active sabotage of her estranged daughter is still unexplained in the show, but nevertheless, gives Admiral Parangosky some leverage to easily bring Miranda to her side.

Halo third episode

Creator and Created

The most fascinating moment of the third episode of Halo has to be the conversation between Dr. Halsey and her flash-clone, created to be a sacrificial brain donor for the Cortana project. Dr. Halsey, pragmatic and efficient as always, makes sure to keep her clone in her place, even though the clone is every bit as brilliant as the doctor, with all the memories of her younger self. Dr. Halsey’s calculating amorality is on full display here, but she sees just enough of herself in the flash-clone to humor her with what is effectively a conversation with her younger self.

We learn that the Spartan program had a lower success rate than Halsey had originally imagined (35 of the children survived augmentation, less than half of the candidates) and that the Master Chief, John-117, was always the special child in Halsey’s mind. Also, Halsey always planned to go through with the Cortana project, laying the groundwork for her clone even if it was illegal. The last words between Halsey and her clone are chilling.

Clone: “Do you remember when you were my age and you weren’t sure if flash cloning would ever be made legal? And you wondered, if you found yourself sitting opposite a living breathing version of you, would you ever be able to go through with it? What happened?”

Halsey: “Progress.”

Meet Cortana

The third episode is also when we get to meet the Halo TV series’ version of Cortana, and she’s a delight. Much has been made of the differences between her and her videogame counterpart, but given how much portrayals of Cortana have changed over the franchise history, I feel complaints about visuals are overblown. The expressive but slightly uncanny valley performance worked well enough for my tastes, but your mileage may vary.

Jen Taylor reprises her role as Cortana’s voice actor, and the newborn Cortana is brash, brilliant, and eager to impress, more reminiscent of The Weapon from Halo Infinite than the more weary and embittered Cortana of later games. Even Halsey is impressed at her newborn AI. “He will be conscious within the hour,” Halsey tells Cortana. “Can I recommend that you use this time to familiarize yourself with the trove of human knowledge that’s now available to you?” “But what will I do with the other 54.2 minutes?” is Cortana’s sassy comeback.

Sadly for Cortana, nobody takes her seriously. Halsey, ever the controlling matriarch is quick to remind her child of her place as a tool for her Spartan program and artifact research. The Chief is also definitely not on board with his new AI partner. His resentful reaction is like a favored son who has to suddenly share the limelight with an unwelcome companion and a rival for parental attention, and the rest of Fireteam Silver share his skepticism. It’s got to suck being the most brilliant mind in all of human space and then be treated like a glorified Clippy pop-up.

Halo third episode

That being said, TV Cortana’s rockier start with the Chief adds a neat dynamic to the show as the two have to grow to trust each other, rather than the instant rapport that occurs in the first Halo novelization, The Fall of Reach. It’s John’s desire to explore a human experience beyond the emotional dampening of his Spartan implants that gives Cortana a chance to build a rapport by aiding the removal of his spinal hormone dampener, though even then, it’s Halsey secretly calling the shots. “It’s better he think of you as an accomplice, instead of a spy,” she remarks.

Removing the implant brings a richer spectrum of emotion and feeling to John (and also opens up room for Pablo Schreiber’s performance to be more expressive), as well as repressed memories of John’s childhood, which may include contact with another Forerunner artifact, one that he, Halsey, and Cortana are racing to investigate, even as Halsey and her assistant (who is an utter creep), worry that secrets of the Spartan program might yet undo them all. Halsey’s hopes now lie in the Chief, and in Cortana, a brilliant child increasingly resentful that everyone treats her like shit.

In other fronts, Makee captures a UNSC patrol ship, using a writhing swarm of Lekgolo worms to overpower the crew and giving us a first glimpse at the TV’s version of the armored Mgalekgolo, AKA Hunters, from the Halo games. On the Rubble, Kwan Ha manages to wheedle Soren-066 into bringing her back to Madrigal with the prospect of riches from Madrigal’s deuterium industry, though the exasperated rogue threatens to turn her in to the warlord Vincher if things don’t pan out.

One third of the way through Season One and it looks like we’ve got all the pieces in place. The Chief and Cortana need to learn to live with each other. Dr. Halsey continues to be a delightfully efficient monster. Kwan Ha and Soren are off to the embers of the Insurrection, and Makee comes to human space with a ghost ship of Covenant warriors and a plan. Previous episodes have been heavy on the scheming, and it’d be interesting to see some more action now that the third episode of Halo sees various plot arcs begin to line themselves up.

And also, I’m rooting for all these children to break free from some of the galaxy’s creepiest parents.