Halo: Season 1, Episode 3 – “Emergence” (TV Review)

Paramount+’s Halo series has been an uneven yet nevertheless thrilling ride. Whether viewers are lifelong fans of the best-selling Xbox shooter or newbies who’d be fragged in a slayer deathmatch shortly after hitting start, the premiere was the new streaming service’s biggest debut ever (take that 1883), thus proving once and for all: space rangers are cooler than cowpokes. Like the franchise, which has spawned games, toys, comics, and novels, the television series hits that sweet spot for “meat and potatoes” sci-fi. Kinda dumb? Absolutely. But never boring. After all, a twelve-foot Convent Elite with a quadrant of jaws can never really be boring. This weekend’s third episode, “Emergence,” is overstuffed with three galaxy-spanning plot threads, a creepy spaceship hijacking, and finally, for fans, the arrival of everyone’s favorite A.I, the quick-witted Cortana. For real this time…

So Cortana… As much as I’ve enjoyed Natascha McElhone’s version of Dr. Halsey (the human Cortana is based on), I was concerned about how the beloved A.I. for the Master Chief would fare after her brief appearance in the trailer. Such concerns were unfounded as the character feels note-perfect in her debut episode. A big factor is having her voiced by Jen Taylor, who has played Cortana in every game for the past two decades.

Right away, Cortana’s somewhat contentious relationship with John brings a much-needed dose of humor to the proceedings. Plus, the 80s synth score that apes Mass Effect more than the traditional Halo’s bombastic music is an added bonus to the Cortana link. Even the quick shots of computer interfaces feel like the Mass Effect character generator, which is a high compliment. I won’t spoil the how’s and why’s of Dr. Halsey’s seemingly nefarious scheme to have an A.I. linked to her favorite Spartan; however, the potential for numerous conflicts for John is now both external and internal. Honestly, I wish the whole episode was just John and Cortana getting to know each other.

As mentioned earlier, there are two other major plot lines. In a strong opener, Makee (Charlie Murphy), the human being raised by The Covenant, gets a gritty origin set on the planet Oban in the Visper system (think mountainous caves for mining and waste disposal). Later, along with destructive worm creatures, she brings the pain onto an unsuspecting UNSC patrol ship. The way the worms overcome the soldiers is very Flood-like. The Flood, for those unaware, is a swarm of intergalactic monstrosities that wreaked havoc in the original Halo trilogy. Clearly, whatever these alien beings controlled by Makee are, we’re supposed to think of The Flood. It’s glorious.

Irish-born Murphy does a lot in scenes that are basically her and imagined creatures. Like Amanda Collins on HBO Max’s sci-fi series, Raised By Wolves, Murphy does a lot with physicality, such as how she uses oversized cloaks to conceal Makee’s intentions. Of all the actors on the show, she’s the one who’ll hopefully continue to take strange, challenging parts post-Halo.

There’s also some nice downtime for John. He attends what appears to be a symphony conducted by only two people. Later, he gets to pet a dog that reminds him of his own from childhood, as previously seen in flashbacks. The flashback stuff still seems superfluous, but I appreciate Pablo Schreiber bringing more layers to the Chief in these smaller moments.

After the events of the previous episodes left Kwan Ha (Yerin Ya) safe but stranded in the care of Soren’s family at a ubiquitous asteroid space station, it was only a matter of time before she’d try and make a break for her homeworld of Madrigal. When her father was killed in the premiere, resident sleaze bag Vinsher Grath (played by Burn Groman, who’s made a career playing this type of scum) took over as a ruthless fascist who’s betrayed the Madrigals for a piece of the UNSC pie.

On an emotional level, it’s easy to sympathize with Kwan’s need to flee and help her own people. Although we’ve yet to see any actual fighting skills by the Madrigal survivor, what she can accomplish once she gets back to the backwoods planet remains up for interpretation. Plus, she’s quickly bonded with John’s former Spartan pal, Soren (Bokeem Woodbine), his wife, Laera (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), and their son, Kessler. Leara’s rocking a frizzy white hairdo that screams mid-2010s St. Vincent. If Laera can shred an electric guitar, I say stay put, Kwan.

In the realm of episodic television, I typically favor shorter to longer. I grew up with network shows where a half-hour sitcom is 23 minutes, tops, without commercials. And yet, there’s so much ground to cover in “Emergence,” I would have preferred a solid 60 minutes instead of 54. A strength of this hour is there are really no scenes I’d cut 0ut (the less said about the previous episode’s “crazy guy who got probed by The Covenant” nonsense, the better). Like season one of The Mandolorian, Halo is dropping episodes week to week, though I wish all ten episodes were dropped at once. Of course, the plan is to keep viewers coming back every week. I can’t fault a new streaming service like Paramount+ for that. I’m on board to suit up with Master Chief for this whole season of Halo.

Random Thoughts:

  • When told she’ll have an hour to trove all of human knowledge, Cortana replies: “What do I do with the other 52.4 minutes?” – Show off.
  • The artifact is over 100,000 years old, which science officer Keyes explains is older than humankind. We’re always the last to arrive at the space party…
  • It’s strangely comforting to know that Soren and his family eat chicken.
  • “Where did the Demon take my keystone?” is both awfully silly and totally fitting for this kind of series. More lines like this, please.
  • Makee has an adorable finger energy sword.
  • John’s trip to a local subway station is a nice design homage to Douglas Quaid’s trek in Verhoeven’s Total Recall.


  1. No Comments