The third episode of the Halo TV series gets things back on track after the last outing. Instead of meandering in exposition, we get a few pivotal new plot threads, with the introduction of one major character that changes several of the relationships we see on screen. There's still a bit of exposition and shaky dialogue, but it's clearly in service to a plot direction that's stronger than the sum of its parts, at least initially.
The dynamic of just who Master Chief is — soldier, man, machine — remains compelling, so I just hope the show will be able to handle this balance appropriately moving forward. We also get some unnerving action this time around with a horrifying scene that ensures you'll never look at Hunters the same way again.
Note: This review contains spoilers for Halo Season 1, Episode 3, "Emergence."
Bottom line: This third outing shows some signs of strong plot development and a commitment to unnerving action, though questions remain regarding some of the characterization.
- Chief's struggles with humanity prove compelling
- Cortana's presence elevates the whole episode
- Good worm action
- Some dialogue still doesn't quite land
If you haven't yet, be sure to take a look at our review of Halo Season 1, Episode 2, "Unbound."
The episode opens with a flashback on the planet Oban, where workers are flogged to meet recycling quotas, while a young boy named Det (Billy Marlow) is reading to a young girl (Zazie Hayhurst) before fleeing security personnel. Det is seemingly killed, and while the girl is tortured, Elite warriors arrive on the planet, disposing of most of the humans they see before locating the young girl, seemingly guided towards her. Heartbroken at the loss of her friend, the girl willingly goes with the aliens.
Back on Reach in the current timeline, we see various conversations unfold as Halsey prepares to begin the Cortana project, speaking briefly with her clone, who has an identical memory to Halsey, just set years earlier. It's an unnerving scene that sells the moral ambiguity of what's about to happen, with essentially two versions of Halsey grappling with ethics from opposite sides of an operation.
Halsey's assistant Adun (Ryan McParland) creepily attempts to kiss the restrained clone before pulling away. Whether he's simply acting out of power perversion or repressed feelings for his boss is unclear but either way, it adds an uncomfortable dynamic to his character and recontextualizes past comments he's made. As the clone dies, we see Cortana (Jen Taylor) come online.
While Cortana looks a bit better than first impressions from the trailer would've indicated, there's still an uncanny valley effect going on, as she's far more realistic looking (and far more clothed) than the Cortana of the Halo games. She's cheery and quickly establishes herself, blitzing through any major information available and showing an eagerness to integrate with Master Chief, assuming direct control of his mental capacities in line with her programming.
The iconic duo are indeed joined, though there's palpable friction, as Cortana resents not being given full control and Chief takes issue with an AI being put in his head with the ability to follow him anywhere. Time will tell but for now, Taylor sells the fact that this is Cortana, even if there are differences in the Silver Timeline in regard to how she meets Master Chief. I'm looking forward to seeing how the relationship of these two evolves over the rest of the episode, but they're butting heads for now, which feels appropriate.
Out in space, the human woman allied with Covenant, Makee, is found by a UNSC vessel as the seeming sole survivor on board a Covenant corvette. After boarding the UNSC cruiser, Makee unleashed a wave of Lekgolo worms, the colony creatures that make up heavily armed and armored Hunters in the Halo franchise. What follows is straight out of a horror movie, as the waves of worms envelop, crush, and kill the UNSC forces with ease. It's easily one of my favorite scenes in the show so far, and it perhaps provides a taste of more horror to come if certain events unfold in line with Halo: Combat Evolved.
Hunters have always been a threat in Halo games such as Halo Infinite, but this is something else entirely. Seeing the worms in this light is nightmarish, and with developer 343 Industries discussing how there will be crossover content between Halo Infinite and the Halo TV series in the future, I can't help but hope that we see these worms show up as a threat outside of their iconic suits of armor.
We're given a full moon shot of John-117 as he struggles to remove his inhibition pellet, reluctantly accepting the aid of Cortana, whom Halsey has instructed to aid John no matter what, despite the AI's protests. Lacking his suppression pellet, John wanders the city nearby, clearly reeling from his new way of experiencing his senses. After some touching scenes of watching the night sky and watching musicians play, he storms into Halsey's headquarters, grabbing the strange relic.
Without his senses suppressed, John-117 sees even more of his prior visions. Using data parsed by Cortana earlier, he's able to identify which planet the visions are from, while also learning that these are his memories. Realizing he found a second artifact as a child on Eridanus-2, Chief is quick to get Halsey on board for a direct mission to track down the artifact.
On the Rubble, Soren is finally persuaded by Kwon to escort her back to Madrigal to rally her father's supporters, though he warns her that he's getting paid one way or another, even if it means claiming the bounty placed on her by the UNSC. This side plot, if it has them heading to Madrigal soon, feels like a weird diversion, like the show just needed something for these two to do for a short bit, artificially holding them back until the needed time.
As the episode closes, we see a UNSC crew including Master Chief heading to the planet. As Cortana asks what will happen if things go awry, Halsey suggests that's exactly what Cortana is there for.
Looking ahead, I'm excited to see how Master Chief and Cortana's dynamic continues to unfold, and I also hope we see more of Makee. We'll see whether the other plotlines can pick up speed as well.
Halo Season 1, Episode 3 is available now, exclusively on Paramount+. For a better experience, watch it on one of the best 4K TVs available.
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