Silver Debrief: Unbound
Welcome back once again, Silver Team!
Last Thursday, the second episode of the Halo television series—“Unbound”—was released on Paramount+, which means that it’s time for our weekly recap.
For those who need a reminder or are joining us for the first time: the Silver Debrief will see weekly releases every Monday during the course of the season, recapping the story of each episode in detail, serving as a hub for additional show-related content, and providing some more detailed insights into certain things.
A reminder that these Silver Debriefs are full of SPOILERS, so if you haven’t watched the episode this is your time to jump ship.
The episode begins with a flashback to 22 years ago, when the SPARTAN-IIs were undergoing training on Reach. A younger John-117 finds Soren-066's bed empty, prompting him to get dressed and grab a weapon.
Evading UNSC patrols, John locates Soren suited up in his Mjolnir armor at the outer gates of their compound preparing to leave. He holds the rogue Spartan at gunpoint and refuses to go with him, as they’d originally planned, despite Soren imploring him to fight against his programming. John lowers his weapon, declaring that it seems it is jammed, and gives Soren five minutes to get a head start before he alerts the compound.
Back in the present, the Master Chief and Kwan Ha—now aboard a Condor and on the run from the UNSC themselves—discuss the artifact. Kwan asks why the Chief didn’t just follow his orders and let the UNSC kill her, to which he asks whether she could let a child be executed. Kwan says that she wouldn’t because it’s wrong, to which the Chief responds that that’s exactly what he was thinking...
A MATTER OF TRUST
At the FLEETCOM headquarters on Reach, Dr. Halsey speaks with Admiral Hood about the Madrigal artifact—a device that has shown itself to be capable of generating enormous energy fields. Halsey notes the Covenant’s unusual interest in it, saying that it’s clearly something of great importance to them and it is therefore in the UNSC’s interest to acquire it first.
As the subject shifts to the Master Chief, humanity’s greatest military asset, Hood wonders what one does with a super-human you’re not sure you can trust. Halsey affirms her trust in John, but informs Hood that she and Admiral Margaret Parangosky have devised a contingency plan to prevent anything similar from happening in the future. Intrigued, Hood suggests that Halsey propose it at the upcoming committee meeting.
Meanwhile, the SPARTAN-IIs of Silver Team track down the Chief’s location via his slipspace vector, giving them a rough idea of where he could be. Kai-125 questions why they’re going after the Chief if he has a plan, to which Vannak-134 responds that they’re following Halsey’s orders and they’ll find out when they need to.
Dropping out of slipspace, the Master Chief pilots the Condor through an asteroid field and they arrive at the Rubble. Built of a series of hollowed out asteroids and connected by a vast web of cables and docking tubes, the Rubble is a haven for pirates and independents who want nothing to do with the UNSC, which means that the Master Chief gets a cold reception as he and Kwan step through the entry port.
As the citizens of the Rubble attempt to close ranks around the Chief and box him in with a forklift, the unfazed Spartan moves the vehicle with ease. Before tensions erupt into all-out combat, Soren arrives and orders everybody to stand down.
Showing the Chief and Kwan around the Rubble, Soren informs them that Vinsher Grath—the warlord who now controls Madrigal—has put a bounty on Kwan, meaning that both the UNSC and the people of her own home are attempting to hunt her down.
Boarding a gondola which takes them across one of the vast cables that connect the Rubble together, they head to Soren’s place and meet his family—his son Kessler and wife Laera.
On High Charity, a meeting is held between the Prophets of Truth, Mercy, and Regret with Makee in attendance as they question the lone Sangheili survivor who escaped Silver Team in the cave on Madrigal.
The Sangheili reveals what he saw when the Demon touched the artifact and brought it to life: the ring.
Mercy realizes that they have found a keystone, which Makee says she will retrieve personally. The Prophets are apprehensive, but Makee convinces them by appealing to Mercy who took her in and tutored her—“saved” her from her old life. She wishes to be the one to give the Covenant the gift of the sacred ring.
Back at the FLEETCOM tower on Reach, the committee has gathered to discuss ongoing matters. Jacob Keyes notes that Governor Vinsher Grath has Madrigal under control, but he has been more brutal than they’d expected. It is noted that Vinsher is a reliable business partner to the UNSC and the deuterium will soon be flowing, his methods have proven to be effective and other colonies are noticing.
When asked about the Master Chief, Keyes says that the search continues and his insubordinate behavior will be punished, to which Hood counters that he’s their most valuable asset and an inspirational hero—taking him out of commission could be damaging for morale. Keyes asks what value the Master Chief offers if he can’t be controlled, prompting Dr. Halsey to propose the Cortana system, which she claims to have been working on with Admiral Margaret Parangosky. Halsey states that Cortana will solve the Chief’s issues and boost SPARTAN-II capabilities, doing for their minds what the augmentations did for their bodies.
The Cortana system can override Spartan consciousness and act as an artificial ‘general,’ claiming that this is the next stage of human evolution. The Spartans were the first step, and a key part of their effectiveness is due to the hormonal pellet that suppresses their emotions and senses. Cortana represents the upgrade, holding the intelligence of the galaxy to create more lethal Spartans with error-free judgment that are, above all, controllable.
Hood interrupts as Halsey is asked about how she managed to get around the issue of illegal flash cloning of a human being for this project, asking to clarify with Parangosky if what Halsey is saying is true. Backed into a corner, Parangosky reluctantly confirms and says that the circumstances are reasonable justification for a limited test trial to resolve the situation with the Chief.
OPENING YOUR EYES
On Madrigal, Vinsher executes traitors who have been rounded up, denouncing Jin Ha for leading them into a costly war while stealing the planet’s hydrogen. Noticing a drone watching him, he shoots it down, which is observed by Kwan on the Rubble. Laera tells Kwan that she lost her entire family and her planet to the Covenant as they discuss the nature of revenge, Kwan insisting that what she wants is justice, Laera noting that it is easy to confuse the two.
John speculates that they have about a day before the UNSC catches up to them, which Soren remarks is more than John gave him and wonders who he is now that he’s on the run. Soren encourages him to eat some food, but John finds that he cannot taste it; Soren informs him that the Spartan ‘treatments’ are only permanent if you want them to be. He says that getting rid of the hormonal pellet was like opening his eyes for the first time after living in the dark.
Before Soren and his family retire for the night, his son puts a smiley face sign on John’s hand. Soren tells him that it means he can count on you, and you can count on him.
ON THE TRAIL
Aboard the UNSC Stalwart Dawn, Spartans Riz, Kai, and Vannak attempt to pick up the Master Chief’s trail.
On Reach, Miranda Keyes approaches Admiral Parangosky and tries to convince her to be given access to the Madrigal artifact when it’s brought in, saying she could make great strides if she had Parangosky on her side. Parangosky remarks that she is very much like her mother and tells her to return to work, saying she’s had enough of being manipulated for the day.
Back on the Rubble, John shows the artifact to Soren, who touches it but nothing happens. He leads them to a man named Reth who lives in a cage after being driven mad by his time in Covenant captivity (having lived to tell the tale). He informs them that the Covenant religion is based on things like this spread across the galaxy which they search for. He was brought objects like the artifact and told to make them work, but he couldn’t because he is not what they call a ‘Blessed One.’
When Reth attempts to grab the artifact and smash it, John grabs the device and receives another flash of memory from his childhood. In distress, Reth says that he is different to the Blessed One the Covenant have, telling him that they seek ‘the ring’—the door to the end of all life. He says that if John truly wants to stop the Covenant, he should destroy the artifact and then destroy himself.
THE PRODIGAL SON
Deciding he must return to Dr. Halsey to put the pieces of this puzzle together, John leaves Kwan in Soren’s care aboard the Rubble and asks him to promise to keep her safe. The Master Chief returns to the Condor and activates his beacon, alerting Silver Team to his location so he can be brought back to Reach.
Halsey examines the artifact and finds that she is also unable to activate it, then visits John in his cell, informing him that his actions have created problems for the SPARTAN program, for it is the Master Chief’s dependability that gives people hope.
John tells Halsey that he felt something when he touched the artifact, but Halsey shuts down this line of thought saying it’s not a constructive place to go. Instead, she asks what it was about Kwan that made him run, to which John says that he simply couldn’t let her die.
Asking why he came back, John looks at the mark on his hand from Soren’s son, feeling that Halsey is the one person he can trust and depend on. Halsey affirms that she will always be with him and that she sees this as a new beginning.
As Kwan watches a video feed of Vinsher giving a speech about how their partnership with the UNSC will restore Madrigal to being the gem of the Outer Colonies, Makee prepares for her mission, and Halsey’s flash clone awakens in her pod...
Halo The Series Declassified is the official after-show hosted by Sydnee Goodman, exploring each episode of the series with interviews and all sorts of other behind the scenes goodies.
This week, Sydnee Goodman talks all things episode two with Bokeem Woodbine (who plays the rogue SPARTAN-II Soren-066). Viewers also get a behind the scenes look at the latest episode, see a day in the life of a director, the cast talk about what Halo means to them, and there’s an exclusive clip from next week's episode, and more.
Last week, we looked at some of the reasoning behind the decision for the Master Chief’s helmet to come off and the differing experiences between different groups of fans (such as those who are familiar with the expanded universe of Halo where the Chief removing his helmet has been common).
In this week’s episode, we spend a bit more time getting to see more of John rather than the Master Chief—but what does this mean?
Throughout the Halo series, across its various forms of media, there is a core tension of identity with many of its major characters that has often taken the form of a kind of duality in their names and titles. Looking to Halo Infinite, our most recent release, it is notable that the three main characters are primarily referred to by title: the Master Chief, the Weapon, and the Pilot. It is not until the very end that we learn the Pilot’s name and the Weapon chooses hers once their core arcs are resolved.
For John, for the Master Chief, this duality can be read as being representative of the soldier versus the symbol—the man and the machine.
In the games, the closest relationship we typically see the Chief have is with Cortana, and there are a number of key moments where how she names him is significant. At the end of Halo 3, she says “It’s been an honor serving with you John” as the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn escapes the firing of Installation 08 over the Ark. In Halo 4, her first words are “Wake up, Chief,” and her last are “Welcome home, John.”
As a game story, that is how the core themes of identity are interwoven into the character to explore not just the Master Chief as a hero, but John as the human within that armor.
For the show, with the helmet coming off to suit this different style of storytelling, the contrast between John and the Master Chief is foregrounded in a rather different way. With this burgeoning sense of independence, old memories stirring within him as he processes feelings he’s been numbed towards throughout his life as a Spartan, we’re able to see Pablo Schreiber articulate more of the man than has been seen in core canon beyond extended media.
In this, Soren is an important foil for John, representing somebody who has broken free of his Spartan conditioning and lives free as an independent man, experiencing the life that John can never have because he has the weight of the world upon his shoulders as the protector of humanity. As Bokeem Woodbine put it in the latest Declassified episode, Soren is a man who values his freedom and individuality because he knows what it means to have that taken away from him.
When John prepares to depart the Rubble and the helmet is put back on, there is a sense that John is ‘going away’—in returning to Halsey and the UNSC because of his sense of duty, it is the Master Chief who emerges once more.
Such is the core question of the SPARTAN-II program: in order to save humanity, do we have to sacrifice our own? It is clear that Dr. Halsey is not simply interested in creating super-soldiers, but she has far grander aspirations for what her Spartans represent for the future of humanity as a species.
That is something which will continue to be explored throughout this season...
END OF DEBRIEF
And so, we come to the end of another Silver Debrief!
Worry not, as there are just a few more days to go until episode three releases, and we’ll be back this time next week for another weekly recap.
Stay safe out there, Spartans.