Halo Episode 6 Reaches A Boiling Point As The Endgame Comes Into Focus

Spoilers for "Halo" episode 6 follow.

For all the unexpected twists and turns throughout these past few episodes, it hasn't been terribly difficult to discern the overarching storyline of the inaugural season of "Halo." Even as early as the premiere, showrunners Kyle Killen and Steven Kane firmly established the show's building blocks and suggested the kind of series this would ultimately become. Though we never actually saw Pablo Schreiber's face until the Master Chief unmasked himself to Kwan (Yerin Ha) at a crucial moment, all indications pointed to a clear emphasis on the man underneath the armor, the traumatic circumstances of the Spartan origins, and the inexorable march towards the discovery of Halo itself ... even if such a fundamental development has suffered a long, plodding, and endlessly delayed road to finally get there.

But "get there" it has — or will, at least. "Halo" is still maintaining a deliberate pace, likely frustrating those who assumed we'd actually reach Halo by the end of the very first episode. Those on this show's admittedly idiosyncratic wavelength, meanwhile, have mostly been rewarded by a far different and vastly more inward-looking story with its own specific concerns and ideas on how to get there. Last week's action-packed climax propelled the story forward by leaps and bounds. The sixth episode, titled "Solace," eased off the gas pedal for an appropriate breather, but kept the forward momentum going by doubling down on what's worked so far: John's inner turmoil over his origins, the steadily building conflict with Dr. Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone) for her many past (and present!) sins, and — believe it or not — the briefest but most welcome glimpse of the eponymous ringworld.

With only 3 episodes left, the simmering tension at the core of "Halo" has finally reached a boiling point, and now we wait to see if the payoff can live up to its potential. But first, let's break down everything that just happened in episode 6.

Arc of the Covenant

How do you follow up the show's most technically impressive set-piece yet? Well, refusing to gloss over the bloody aftermath certainly helps. We begin on a closeup of John, still in his gore-splattered Mjolnir armor and displaying all the signs of acute PTSD as his 1000-yard stare burns a hole into the middle distance. But is this the aftereffect of narrowly surviving a lost battle (which he's predominantly responsible for losing) or merely leftover trauma from the conflict that was rudely interrupted by the arrival of the Covenant? His withering gaze directed at Halsey would seem to be answer enough. That confrontation might have to wait, however, as the thrashings of a critically wounded Kai (Kate Kennedy) bring the Master Chief crashing back to the dire circumstances of the present.

The Chief's mental and physical health is noticeably spiraling after repeated contact with both ancient "keystones." The larger Eridanus artifact has been lost to enemy forces, in a major setback to the war effort. And on top of it all, the UNSC must figure out what to do with the mysterious human visitor, Charlie Murphy's Makee, that the Covenant have left on their doorstep. So with these various concerns hanging over his head, the Master Chief does the only thing he can do — he attempts to murder the deceitful Dr. Halsey, naturally.

The brutal sequence where John traps Halsey in a lab room and appears to condemn her to a grisly radioactive death might be the most disturbing thing we've seen in a show that has shown no hesitance about "going there" when necessary. The fact that John admits this is merely a test to see if Cortana has been programmed to take control of his body and mind as a measure of last resort only somewhat clarifies his motives here — especially when it remains unclear as to whether Cortana actually did take over or not to free Halsey at the last possible second. John shows no outward signs of this, even when he cuts ties with the artificial intelligence later on in the episode (despite the fact that all he ever does is tell her off verbally, as opposed to removing any actual hardware? This felt oddly underdeveloped as well). But when Cortana sheepishly apologizes to a shaken Halsey as the Chief stalks away from the shocking outburst, is that for intervening to save her life, thus betraying Halsey's true purpose for the A.I. ... or something else altogether?

Luckily, this early confusion quickly fades as the rest of the episode more or less falls into place.

Character clashes

Of course, this is far from the only instance of characters set on an inevitable collision course throughout the episode. The Covenant double agent Makee, intentionally cast off by the Covenant after last week's skirmish and very obviously up to no good, is kept under armed guard and apparently will only speak to the Chief. When he acquiesces, the tense conversation that follows revolves around her insistence that she and John are the same, a pair of "Blessed Ones" (as first mentioned by the half-mad Covenant prisoner of war back in episode 2) who we later learn contain identical genetic markers that somehow allow them to interact with artifacts like the ones recovered from Madrigal and Eridanus II.

The true explosive centerpiece of "Solace" comes when Halsey is called to answer for her dark history of illegal cloning and the dark origins of Cortana — not because the UNSC has suddenly found its moral center, mind you, but merely because Admiral Parangosky (Shabana Azmi) needs a scapegoat to deflect blame away from herself. Halsey's interrogation at the hands of the JAG officer (with an unseen Parangosky and Danny Sapani's Captain Keyes somehow snooping in ... telepathically, apparently?). But before Halsey can be held accountable, none other than John barges in and decides that this is the moment to talk their issues out. Here, we finally get some details regarding her plans for the Spartan program, which she explains concerns "the future of our species." To make up for the failings of evolution and combat humanity's inherent need for "conflict and selfishness," the Spartans would represent the next step — no matter the cost. As much as this clarity was sorely needed, however, her largely theoretical motivations can't help but seem disappointingly rote.

After the Chief and Cortana have their little "breakup," it's Halsey and Parangosky's turn to butt heads once again. This time, the admiral has had enough of being outmaneuvered at every turn and finally revokes Halsey of her clearance, banishing her to a faraway moon to continue her research while her daughter Miranda inherits custody of the Spartans. When Miranda is summoned by Halsey to (ostensibly) reach a tearful emotional breakthrough after years of anger and indifference, complete with the exact same "Saving humanity at the cost of your own" speech Miranda once gave her father Captain Keyes, this only turns out to be yet another instance of Halsey's cold and calculating ambition when it's revealed that she extracted some sort of information from Miranda through some hi-tech contact lenses.

John, meanwhile, progressively deteriorates in the background of all these clashes. With uncontrollably shaking hands, hallucinations of Kwan, and alarming medical diagnostics haunting his steps, another face-off with Makee finally convinces him that contact with the "keystone" artifacts has been killing him. So, of course, our favorite stubborn super-soldier goes right back to the Madrigal object as their last hope to locate the other lost piece. But instead of getting the answers he needs, mostly regarding his past, the desperate measure nearly kills him and the holistically-connected Makee. When he and Makee wake up, we're treated to a sweeping landscape shot in some ethereal plain ... with a telltale stretch of ringworld curving serenely above the horizon and connecting once again on the far end.

Even if only in a vision, we've finally made it to Halo and the final destination of the season has come into view.

(Re)claim to fame

  • Halo Watch: Rejoice, weary travelers! Though it's not quite time to retire this section just yet, we've finally had an official Halo sighting. Sure, it's only a dream sequence and we're almost certainly going to have to wait until the finale for the Master Chief to actually get there ... but baby steps, people! Earlier, Halsey drops this bomb on John: "You have something inside of you, some atavistic connection to this thing that we're calling the Halo." She has no idea what it actually is, of course, but the series continues to paint the ring as a spiritual pursuit for humanity just as much as it is for the Covenant.
  • Politics, please! How late is too late to establish the actual political structure of our little circle of supporting characters we've been following all along? Well, we finally get some concrete info that Section Three and the Spartan division, run singlehandedly by Parangosky, operates outside the command of the rest of the UNSC, and her grip on this pet project is at risk of slipping through her grasp entirely. Let's put it this way: it's less than ideal that all this political backbiting and Machiavellian scheming mostly just amounts to Halsey getting kicked to the curb (and even under house arrest, she's still doing whatever she wants!) and Parangosky coming across like a naïve figurehead woefully unprepared for dealing with those under her command.
  • Visual Cues: The first scene between John and Makee features some fun instances of framing and blocking, with Pablo Schreiber's hulking presence filmed as if through prison bars while Charlie Murphy's Makee — supposedly the prisoner — swims in the freedom of negative space. Of course, this is almost immediately followed up with the hilariously on-the-nose visual of the Master Chief walking out of the room with the cell number "316" behind him. John 3:16? Overt Christ parallels for the super-soldier trumpeted as the savior of humanity? Love the subtlety, guys.
  • Sins of the Past: After Halsey spills the details about replacing all the kidnapped Spartan children with genetically compromised flash clones doomed to die quickly, John informs Kai and promises to tell Vannak (Bentley Kalu) and Riz (Natasha Culzac). That seems to set up the possibility of a Spartan revolt down the line, but that would probably only hit hard if we'd gotten to know, well, anything about Vannak and Riz.
  • Brute Force: Okay, I'm not entirely sure how I forgot to mention this in last week's excitement, but it's worth noting that we had our first look at a Brute chieftain at the very end of the battle sequence. Holding that species back until such a pivotal moment was absolutely the right call, though I'd be surprised if any of the season's remaining episodes delved any deeper into their fascinating place in the Covenant hierarchy. I won't potentially spoil anything here, but fans of the games know just how big a role the Brutes ("Jiralhanae," in their own language) play in the events after "Combat Evolved."
  • Missing in Action: Not for the first time, I ended up completely glossing over the absences of both Kwan and Soren (Bokeem Woodbine) in this episode. It's a shame, really, given how interesting both actors are and their presence as 2 significant characters of color in the cast. But the reality is they've mostly felt adrift ever since the Chief left them behind in episode 2, which perhaps hints at how this unwieldy first season has had just a few too many characters (Vinsher, anyone?) to keep track of and not enough time to properly do so. Oh well, if the last few hours of "Halo" doesn't do them justice, there's always next season I guess?