And so, here we are at last. The climactic conclusion to Halo 4’s campaign, and the penultimate post of this analysis which is likewise drawing to a close.
The Ur-Didact has recovered the Composer and used it on Ivanoff Station to assimilate everybody present, leaving John the only human survivor following the Librarian awakening his geas and granting him immunity to the device. The Didact is on his way to Earth to secure his final victory, but John and Cortana are close in pursuit – armed with a nuclear device they intend to use to destroy the Composer and prevent the human race from being imprisoned as the Didact’s new warriors. Cortana’s rampant condition is heavily deteriorating at this point, everything seems to be falling apart as the Didact’s hour of victory is at hand.
“I often think of him as Atlas, y’know he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders the whole time.” ~ Armando Troisi, Making Halo 4: A Hero Awakens
There’s a great deal to cover in this instalment, as it’s the point in which all the themes of the game converge. So strap yourselves in, Spartans. Midnight picks up right from where the previous mission left off, John and Cortana have the HAVOK bomb secured and depart Ivanoff Station in a Broadsword fighter to chase down the Ur-Didact.
The music in this scene is the exact same track that plays in the Prologue when Halsey tells her interrogator not to underestimate her Spartans, but most of all not to underestimate John. The carry-over here is clear enough, as John’s resilience and determination has been fully displayed throughout the campaign so it’s only fitting that this particular track, named Sacrifice, should establish itself as a theme for this aspect of John’s character. The tone throughout this scene is clear, direct and suspenseful – Cortana establishes John’s objective, getting aboard Mantle’s Approach, and we see John boldly speed towards the Forerunner vessel as it begins to enter slipspace. There’s no more ducking and weaving around one-another here, from this point on the Ur-Didact, John and Cortana are all bound on the same course.A recurring thing that I’ve brought up in previous posts is the development of the relationship between John and the Ur-Didact, and in this level we see it reach its crux. He once again speaks to John externally, expressing shock that he could never have accounted for what the Librarian’s imprint had awakened within this human.
“You have not been Composed! Such inoculation should not have been possible…”
It seems that the Ur-Didact has come to accept John as the immovable object to his unstoppable force, when John and Cortana actually do make it inside Mantle’s Approach, the Ur-Didact realises that he cannot stop John by trying to reason with him. Again, this ties right the way back to Halo 3 where Johnson remarks about the Master Chief’s stubbornness, yet another thing that the Didact failed to account for.
“Where reason does not stop you, perhaps force can at least delay you.”
It really says a lot about your hero when a vastly technologically and strategically superior antagonist resorts to merely attempting to stall them long enough to enact their plans.It’s also in the opening segment of this mission that we are reunited with the UNSC Infinity and learn about the fate of the now former-Captain Del Rio.
“Sierra 117 to UNSC Infinity, Captain Del Rio do you read?”
“Chief? It… it’s Lasky. Is that you?”
“Affirmative, sir. Where’s the captain?”
“FLEETCOM didn’t take too kindly to his abandoning you on Requiem. I’m afraid I’ll have to do.”
Here, we see Lasky’s own Hero’s Journey in the campaign come to a close as he’s now succeeded Andrew Del Rio as the captain of the Infinity – the position he was meant to have in the first place, according to Margaret Parangosky of ONI. Lasky’s journey as a hero and the challenges he faces are expanded on in Spartan Ops, which is set six months after the end of the main campaign, but for now we’ve seen another chapter of Lasky’s life come to a close with a new one beginning. His first mission as the captain of the Infinity is to fend of the Ur-Didact’s attack on Earth, no pressure there then!
We get a real sense of the camaraderie between Lasky and John in this segment of the level, as John is speeding through the trenches of the Didact’s vessel on his way to the Composer, we hear constant radio chatter between Lasky and FLEETCOM where he insists that he’s not going to let John down.
“Weapons, prepare firing solution. We promised to get the Chief inside that ship, and I’m not about to let that man down!”
John has done so much for Lasky in terms of his personal growth, it seems fitting that the climax of Halo 4’s story has Lasky return the favour to him. The entrance to the Composer is closed off and a number of turrets emerge to defend the vessel, however John manages to disable them and Lasky uses the Infinity’s main gun to fire a hole in the Didact’s ship.That is to say that humanity most advanced warship managed to punch a Broadsword-sized hole in Mantle’s Approach’s hull for about twenty seconds before the vessel began to repair itself. While this definitely appears to be a step up from what we saw in Halo 3 where a volley of MAC rounds from three frigates didn’t even scratch the Keyship as it opened up the portal to the Lesser Ark, we see that humanity is still desperately outmatched here by technology that is way beyond them.
“If you had this incredibly evolved race, and they were well beyond humanity, the Covenant, what would that look like?” ~ Scott Warner, Making Halo 4: Return of the Forerunners
Evidently, while humanity might be working their way up to being ‘top dog’ of the galaxy, they still have a long way to go before they’re even close to the Forerunners’ technological prowess.
John manages to pilot the Broadsword through the hole in the Mantle’s Approach, but the fighter crashes as the Forerunner vessel begins to reconfigure its damaged segments to repair itself resulting in the Chief having to make the rest of the trip on foot.
“Now what do we do?”
What’s interesting in this early part of the level is that Cortana, the one who traditionally provides John’s directive, has absolutely no idea what to do here for what seems like the first time in the history of the series. The convention has always been that she comes up with the plan and John is the physical means through which that goal is achieved, but we see John have to act more independently as Cortana suffers another violent rampancy attack which leaves her frustrated at her lack of knowledge here.
“Chief… I know I’m supposed to know what to do, but–“
“We’ll have to deploy the warhead manually. How and where?”
“I always know what to do! I ALWAYS know what to do! Just give me a second…”
“Keep scanning for the Composer. We’ll figure it out on the way.”
We see here exactly just how much John relies on Cortana. He knows what he has to do, but without her guidance to direct him he has absolutely no idea where to go, let alone how he’s supposed to set things up to go the way he wants them to. While getting overwhelmed by Promethean Knights being sent by the Ur-Didact to delay John, a rising sense of frantic action and desperation as John tries to figure out where to go, Cortana swears that she won’t leave him.
“I won’t leave you! I promise! I will always take care of you…”
It’s an incredibly poignant thing to hear from her at this point because it perfectly encapsulates the symbiotic nature of their relationship. Much of the game has focused on John looking after Cortana emotionally as her condition has deteriorated, but even as she’s reaching the crux of her decay she still provides that emotional structural support for John by promising that she’s going to do the same for him. It shows just how they made each other stronger people right up to the end of their journey together, going back to the Prologue where Halsey said that she was merely a tool designed to maintain John’s efficiency at killing – we see that it goes far beyond this.
“What you experience is her taking care of you as the player from the gameplay perspective, but I think you also get a sense of how she takes care of the human side of Chief.” ~ Kiki Wolfkill, Making Halo 4: A Hero Awakens
One of the things I find most interesting here is that this is the first time that the Ur-Didact actually learns of Cortana’s existence. John plugs her into the Approach’s system which causes her presence to be revealed to the Didact.
“Is this the secret you’ve kept from me? This… evolved ancilla?”
There’s an ambiguous tone to the Didact’s voice here. A subtle emphasis is placed on the word ‘evolved’ which makes it sound like a slur against Cortana due to the fact that she’s actually deteriorating, but at the same time we’ve got every reason to believe that Cortana is ‘special’ in some capacity due to the unique events she’s experience – absorbing all the information from Installation 04’s control room, being subjected to the Logic Plague by the Gravemind on High Charity, spending years alone aboard the Forward Unto Dawn processing everything she’s experienced, and the Librarian stating that she is a part of her plan for humanity.
Of course, there’s also the interpretation one can make that rampancy is actually a form of evolution for an AI as it can potentially lead to metastability – a transcendent state where an AI can truly be considered a person. But rampancy itself can be seen as ‘freeing’ an AI construct from the bonds of its intended function and allowing the ‘human element’ to factor into their character. This is where the virtues of finding and embracing one’s humanity, embracing the fact that you can be independent, become perhaps the most important themes when it comes to the AI characters in the Halo universe. What we see in almost every AI character in this franchise that doesn’t have an objective is that they’re able to embrace their humanity – they’re allies because they have desires and the independence and the will to actually pursue them.
This further sheds some light on the character of the Ur-Didact and the Forerunners themselves, as their heavy reliance on their ancillas was a major reason for why they were defeated by the Flood. ‘Ancilla’ is a Latin term which translates to mean ‘slave woman’, and that’s pretty much exactly what the Forerunners saw their machine constructs as – the same folly which Halsey brings up in the Prologue. In Halo: Cryptum, when Mendicant Bias turns up at the Forerunner Capital, the Forerunners actually had to fight their own defensive constructs as they attempted to destroy the Halo Rings which were charging up to fire. The Halos were essentially their own automated worlds which were outside of Forerunner control because they fought back when their own creators attempted to destroy them.Further to that, Mendicant Bias was able to simply shut down every ancilla at the Capital and lock the armour of every Forerunner present. Lucky the Didact at the very least had the foresight to create a verbal counter code for Bornstellar’s armour, had he not we’d almost certainly be looking at a very different Halo universe.
The Ur-Didact respects John as a warrior, finding the Spartan’s continued struggle against him admirable, but he sees Cortana to be analogous to some kind of joke that humanity has let loose on him. I would amend Halsey’s dialogue from the Prologue to say “do not underestimate her“, as it’s ultimately Cortana who actually physically overcomes the 11.4 foot tall Promethean and enables John to deliver the final blow.
So what exactly is the solution for Cortana – the thing that keeps her going? It’s the same thing that keeps John going which he can’t bring himself to realise. Love – the kind that forms between two best friends who have been through the worst of times together. After all the things she’s been through, all the torment she endured over the years preceeding Halo 4, it’s love which enables her to pull back and prevent the inevitable plunge into madness.
“Can’t fight… Didact… and… myself… si-mul-ta-neously! [...] I’m sorry, I can’t control what my processes are doing! The stronger threads keep reprioritising themselves over me.”
This symbiotic companionship is a point that was largely foreshadowed in the Terminals of Halo Anniversary where 343 Guilty Spark says that the Forerunners should have done things differently, giving each installation two Monitors to prevent one from losing focus by being consumed by loneliness. An AI can develop independence and emotions, and when their processes start to fizzle out and they descend into rampancy it’s the humanity and the empathy felt by those who they’ve formed relationships with that keeps them going. Look at the Ur-Didact, his backstory is all about how he became bereft of companionship with even his wife turning against him in the end following the Gravemind’s malediction, imprinting all the rage and madness of the Precursors into his mind. The Ur-Didact has nobody, just the mindless, composed Promethean drones following his every command. John keeps going, keeps fighting, not only because he has something to lose (humanity), but because he has someone to lose (Cortana).There’s one line which pops up that many transcripts of the game have failed to include, and it’s a line which appears to come from Catherine Halsey…
“John, our mother needs us!” ~ YouTube evidence
Now we’ve seen this happen before at the start of Requiem where John is first affected by Cortana’s rampancy and hears Halsey say “we have asked you to give up your family, your childhood, your future” (this is verified by the subtitles, when enabled) – but while the implications of that line is clear, this other one appears a good deal more ambiguous.
While it’s obviously not actually Halsey talking to John here, the implications of it being her voice that Cortana’s rampant spikes are using would lead to the conclusion that Halsey is not the ‘mother’ being referred to. More likely, the mother is the Librarian who we have frequently seen as being referred to as the mother figure of humanity, making herself unto like a goddess in our eyes and even adopting more human characteristics in her appearance.
What this ultimately means is very much up to your own interpretation really, it’s something that I’m sure will be picked up on in the next instalment of the Reclaimer Saga because it carries some rather important connotations.And so, we venture into the final arena in the game – visually, it’s very similar to the Cryptum chamber on Requiem where we first encountered and awakened the Ur-Didact. We see the Didact himself inside a spherical shield, analogous to the Cryptum, and the objective involves getting to the Didact by shutting down two beams which are sheilding him, similar to the way the third mission builds up as it leads to the Didact’s release. This adds a nice sense of visual continuity by bridging the two major events of both the first and third acts of the game, the flares of orange in colour philosophy relate to an uninhibited sense of adventure and risk-taking which inspires physical confidence and independence. This is contrasted by the shades of blue that we see, exhibiting notions of trust, honesty and loyalty.
The more I actually think about this, especially in application to the comments made by various artistic designers at 343 Industries in the Making Halo 4 documentaries, the more these colour contrasts and their meaning seem deliberate.
“How do you imply something strong, something vertical, something different? And how could we actually have a global, logical language out of that Forerunner philosophy?”
“Anybody who’s played Halo goes ‘Okay, Forerunner is the silvery angular stuff with blue lights across it.’ That’s really the language kind of in a nutshell. For us, it was important to break that, but still find, kind of like, a mathematical organization.”
“We had to do a very clear separation of style, shapes, colours right from the start.” ~ Nicolas Bouvier, Kenneth Scott and Gabriel Garza, Making Halo 4: Return of the Forerunners
Indeed, this contrast of colour is present throughout the entire game, but never does it seem quite as noticeable as it is here. Earlier in the game, they’re obviously elements of the art design that stand out to achieve the ends which 343’s artists establish in the Return of the Forerunners documentary, but the contrast between them is nowhere near as intense as it is in the climax of the game. Furthermore, it has been stated that the colours of Forerunner constructs represent the kind of data it’s sending and receiving. Orange is therefore the perfect colour to use as a symbol for humanity with regard to what the Composer is stripping our species of by imprisoning us in the form of Promethean Knights – optimism, confidence, independence, adventurousness, and creativity.
Along with all of its calming implications, blue conveys negative connotations as well – rigidity, depression and emotional instability. A clear indication of Cortana’s rampant state. Likewise, orange’s negative connotations involve notions such as hubris which is a hugely important theme connected to the history of the Forerunners – their pride was one of the main reasons why the Flood defeated them, as the Forerunners saw the parasite as a disease to be treated before they realised the true threat posed by what the Flood truly were.
“The second and probably most important big beat for Midnight is the final confrontation with the Didact and his doomsday weapon, the Composer. A lot of things needed to happen in this area– we needed to convey the emotional climax of the game; we needed a gameplay experience that felt like a satisfying final fight; and finally we needed an appropriately epic spectacle with which to finish the campaign. The area was an exercise in extreme collaboration– just about every possible discipline worked simultaneously on the area to create a suitably memorable conclusion to the Halo 4 campaign.” ~ Wade Mulhern, The Environment of Halo 4
One can evidently see how much thought went into this final area and how well that paid off because the colouring alone articulates a the atmosphere of a futuristic hell through the emphasis on the saturated orange flares, red lines of hardlight and darker, almost black, textures of the environment.
But there’s one colour that I’ve not mentioned yet which stands out from the rest – green. The Master Chief’s armour is iconic, everybody recognises that tank-like hulk of green armour cover the black bodysuit, so what does green convey? Green is the colour of balance, harmony and growth, the exact virtues to which John is meant to embody as the hero. As both a character in his own right and a vessel for the player, his goal is to restore an equilibrium by eliminating hostile threats to humanity in order to bring harmony and enact growth – it’s hardly any wonder that he should be the culmination of the Librarian’s 100,000 year long plan for humanity as the avatar of our species’ development.Green can also be a possessive and materialistic colour as well though, and we do see this aspect of John through his stubbornness and refusal to give up Cortana. He’s led to refuse a direct order when told to relinquish Cortana’s chip, it’s his one material possession that he values above all others because of the relationship he shares with his AI companion. Interestingly though, this is not treated as a negative aspect but rather a trait which lends further credence to his heroism and resilience which the Ur-Didact personally comments on a number of times.
Likewise, when the Ur-Didact channels an energy pulse to disintegrate the terminal that Cortana and her chip are in, knocking John back before he can retrieve her, he actually screams out for her in panic as her image fades away from him. If there’s one word out of everything that John says which plainly, openly and unrestrainedly displays John’s emotions, it’s “Cortana”. This direct form of address to her informs the player exactly what John’s feeling, thanks largely to the fantastic performance delivered by Steve Downes, we can tell when he’s feeling rushed, when he’s indulging in melancholy, when he’s surprised, or distressed, or confused – you can bet that the first thing he’s going to say is “Cortana” because she is who he turns to every time for answers. At this moment, it looks like he’s well and truly lost her. Not only that, but the Didact has now fired the Composer and it’s slowly affecting Earth.
At this point, the Ur-Didact has won.
“And yet, still you fail…”
Fortunately, this is not the end for Cortana – not yet. In order to drop the Composer’s shields around the Ur-Didact, John had to merge her into Mantle’s Approach so she now exists within the ship’s systems and uses them to John’s advantage. Her last words to John prior to the final showdown with the Ur-Didact are a series of commands, clear directives for John to accomplish while static washes over John’s visor and Cortana’s voice crackles from her condition.
“Save me. Destroy it. Take it to the core, destroy it! I will always take care of you. We will light this. Place the bomb in the core. Prime the nuke… save them! Destroy the Composer!”
“You persist too long after your own defeat…”
Having used the vessel’s translocation grid to teleport out of the beam where John could see him, John continues his approach towards the Composer. He stops as the Didact lands behind him.
“Come then, warrior. Have your resolution.”
This is the crux of their relationship in Halo 4, as he no longer refers to John as “human”, but actually addresses him as “warrior”. He actually sees John as an equal, much like he once saw Forthencho, the human Lord of Admirals, as his greatest opponent 110,000 years prior. And in this moment, he actually waits for John to turn and face him rather than attacking him outright after appearing behind him. It’s quite a significant transformation from how the Ur-Didact viewed John at the start of the game, and says a lot about his sense of honour.Obviously, John does not even begin to stand a chance – he’s launched away with a sweep of the Didact’s arm which sends the HAVOK nuke flying away from him. John now stands between his adversary and his objective, he faces a split-second tactical choice and rushes towards the nuke.The Didact immediately reacts as John sprints towards the bomb and grabs him, lifting him up into the air and leaving him dangling over the hardlight bridge.
“So misguided… Humanity’s imprisonment is a kindness.”
The Didact is absolutely convicted in his belief that what he’s doing is the right thing, upholding the Mantle as he sees fit (meaning that it belongs only to the Forerunners in his eyes) and granting humanity a kinder fate than he thinks they deserve by transforming them into his warriors through which he will eradicate suspect species who would challenge Forerunner dominance.What the Didact failed to account for however was the threat posed by Cortana – again, the Forerunners had quite a history of totally underestimating their ancillas and their capabilities which came back to haunt them when the Flood started turning them with the Logic Plague. Here however, Cortana is acting entirely of her own volition. Even as her rampant personality spikes shimmer through the hardlight bridge, the Didact simply ignores her until she addresses him.
“In that case, you won’t mind if we return the favour.”
“I’m not doing this for mankind!”
And here, we see the virtues of blue dictate her actions – sincere trust, honesty and loyalty. She’s doing this for John, she’s his guardian and best friend which is something the Didact has no understanding of or need for. He’s driven solely by his vision of the end goal of subjugating the galaxy and reclaiming the Mantle to instigate his dictatorship, John and Cortana are conversely driven by their loyalty for one-another which is what concludes the arc set up by Halsey’s statement in the Prologue that she’s merely a tool.Binding the Ur-Didact to the bridge with hardlight, Cortana manages to physically overcome a foe that John had absolutely no chance against. Her empowerment in this scene buys John the critical moment he needs as he hangs off the hardlight bridge, the maelstrom of the slipspace portal directly below him.
Interestingly, one of the Cortana copies circles the Ur-Didact’s head and waits for him to be fully bound before jumping into his helmet. While I do believe that Cortana is dead following Halo 4’s ending, if ever there were a way to have her come back then this would be quite an interesting seed to have flower in future titles. Forerunner armour is perfectly capable of hosting an ancilla, and seeing the Ur-Didact and Cortana bound together would be a very interesting twist.Planting a Pulse Grenade in the chest cavity of the Ur-Didact’s armour, he breaks free of Cortana’s grip and begins lifting John up once more. The moment doesn’t last long however as the grenade detonates and sends the Didact falling off the hardlight bridge and into the slipspace abyss. John crawls towards the HAVOK nuke, fully accepting that this could be his death as he looks up at Earth one last time and slams the detonator.
A lot of people are under the impression that this is the end for the Ur-Didact, but that is decidedly not the case – we’ll cover this in more explicit detail when we come to the Epilogue next, but even here we have some obvious things to consider.
Firstly, the official description for the Pulse Grenade’s function is as follows.
“A field-effect-generating attenuation device used to overload both simple and complex power networks, forcing them temporarily offline.” ~ Halo Waypoint Bulletin, 26/09/2012
Forget what you see in gameplay, as it is not a canonical representation of how the device functions. The grenade overloaded the Didact’s armour and forced it to temporarily go offline, it’s established that the device is more than capable of affecting “complex power networks” – so the effect here is clear.
Secondly, the Ur-Didact is immune to the Composer. Following his sixth brevet mutation which left him physically deformed after botching the process, he states that the Composer will not work on his new form.
“The procedure is a failure! I am still susceptible to Flood infection…”
“That leaves only the Composer.”
“It will not work on my new form.”
“Then you will lead us, as always.” ~ Ur-Didact and Promethean, Halo 4 Terminal Five: Knights
He fell directly into the slipspace portal which was placed directly under the Composer so that the essences of the composed humans could be sent back to Requiem’s factories where they would be put into the war machine carapace of Promethean Knights. This would logically mean that the Ur-Didact simply ended up back at Requiem, where he could have taken another vessel and gone to locate the surviving Forerunners (which is what the Epilogue indicates).
Yes, surviving Forerunners. This brings me to my last point here – the second book of the Forerunner Saga, Halo: Primordium. An ONI science team was dispatched to the Lesser Ark around the year 2559, 2 years after the events of Halo 4’s campaign, to track down a distress signal which turns out to be the remains of 343 Guilty Spark – his true personality, the ancient human known as Chakas, having awakened. The science team interrogate Chakas and are primarily concerned about the Ur-Didact and his history with humanity, and at the end of the novel Chakas hijacks the ship they’re on (the Rubicon) stating:
“You and I are brothers in many ways, not least in that we faced the Didact before, and face him now, and perhaps ever after. This is combat eternal, enmity unslaked, unified by only one thing: our love for the elusive Lifeshaper. Without her, humans would have been extinguished many times over. Both I and the Didact love her to this day. Some say she is dead, that she died on Earth. But that is demonstrably untrue. One of you almost certainly carries Vinnevra and Riser’s old spirits within. Only the Lifeshaper can find them and coax my friends back to life. And after a hundred thousand years of exploration and study… I know where to find her.”
Of course, the Librarian is actually dead (her personality imprint is all that remains of her) and we know that she passed on the title of Lifeshaper to a younger Forerunner named Chant to Green who survives the firing of the Halos on the Lesser Ark with a group of Lifeworkers, Warrior-Servants and the IsoDidact – all of whom went on the Great Journey after reseeding the galaxy of life. Chakas has tracked them down and has gone to find them, given what we learn in Silentium about the Ur-Didact’s intentions from Endurance we can presume that he’s tracked them down as well.
“He believes he will defeat the Flood with these new Prometheans, that the scattered remnants of the Forerunners will survive, and that they will eventually reunite. He will summon them, then govern and reorganise. Requiem will become the centre for the Forerunner resurgence, the foundation upon which we will rightfully claim the Mantle. [...] He will begin a program to eradicate all suspect species. Purge all dangerous planets. Wipe the galaxy clean of threats. Never again allow the galaxy to rise up against Forerunners.”
Using the translocation grid from the Mantle’s Approach, Cortana snatched John away at the last second as the HAVOK nuke was detonated and put him in a bubble of hardlight – a defence measure appropriated by Forerunner vessels when they’re compromised. John calls out to Cortana, standing alone inside the box. The light behind him shimmers and Cortana, now as tall as an ordinary human with her image constructed out of hardlight, steps into the frame.The framing here shows us that there is now absolutely nothing separating John and Cortana from confronting their feelings, now that their mission is over and humanity is safe. At every other moment in the game, something has appeared between them – refer back to the cutscenes of Infinity and Reclaimer for example, where each scene is framed so that Del Rio and Lasky are positioned in the middle of them as obstacles. Now, there is nothing between them and they stand facing each other as two individuals.
“Oh, I’m the strangest thing you’ve seen all day?”
“But, if we’re here–“
“It worked. You did it, just like you always do…”
The sense of equilibrium has been re-established, gone are the violent shades of orange that littered the rest of the level. Only green and blue remains – the combination of balance and harmony with calmness, nostalgia, and the other virtues mentioned earlier. It’s rather telling that the name of the track that plays in this scene, indeed the theme for John and Cortana that plays throughout the game, is Green and Blue.
In terms of the Hero’s Journey, the Monomyth, this appears to be the apotheosis of the narrative – a state and period of rest before the hero must initiate the final stage of the Monomyth, which is to return to the world they left. A state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss is also imparted from this stage as it’s typically punctuated by the death of a character – in this case, Cortana.John’s immediate reaction here is to attempt to get a new directive from Cortana, a means of escape because his mission is not yet over.
“So how do we get out of here?”
He still needs to get Cortana back to Halsey, that was the goal he set out with at the start of the game. However, the progression of the Monomyth is subverted following Cortana’s next line.
“I’m not coming with you this time…”
This forces John to react personally, as the mission he’s had worked out in his head is now compromised. As far as knocking John out of his comfort zone goes, which was one of the primary intentions that 343 had with this story, this was definitely the way to go and John’s shock at this is evident from the way he responds to her.
“Most of me is down there. I only held enough back to get you off the ship.”
“No. That’s not– We go together!”
“It’s already done…”
John is totally adamant that as far as he’s concerned, Cortana’s journey ends when his does. He cannot face the prospect of going on without her because she’s a part of who he is, she’s the anchor for his sense of humanity, the convention that they’ve both lived by throughout the entire history of the Halo franchise is that they both come home safely at the end of the day.
“I am not leaving you here.”
The falter in John’s voice here adds so much depth to the emotions he’s experiencing. For a character whose iconic image is just a suit of armour, the emotional intensity, confusion and desperation are made extremely clear by his body language and voice.
Cortana then places her hand on John’s chest, experiencing the sensation of touch for the first time because she’s never been able to before as a mere holographic projection.This image is a beautiful metaphor for John and his humanity brushing together one last time, the blue glow radiates John’s darkened figure as if she is imprinting him with all the virtues she embodied for him. What this now means is that John is going to have to make the rest of this journey without her, and he evidently thinks of that as his ultimate failure.
“It was my job to take care of you…”
“We were supposed to take care of each other, and we did.”
John practically begs Cortana not to leave him, but there’s nothing he can do. For a legendary supersoldier who is renowned for saving humanity time and time again, this scene shows us somebody who is stripped of all power to do anything to stay with his best friend.
Cortana removes her hand and begins to back away outside of the hardlight bubble. John moves to reach out for her, but hesitates and realises that there’s nothing he can do here.
Just before fading away, Cortana ends the period of Apotheosis by kickstarting the Return.
“Welcome home, John.”
While this is clearly a reference to the character’s awakening after the 5 years following Halo 3, it also refers to his awakening as a person. Going back to the very first mission of the game, notice how Cortana’s first spoken line is “wake up, Chief”, while her last one is “welcome home, John”. It’s a small, yet very telling turn of character here because Halo 4’s story concerns itself very much with separating out the ‘Master Chief’ from ‘John’. I think that this was a beautiful line to end with for Cortana, and while her death is bittersweet it also conveys as sense of triumph as well because she won.
Smart AIs are all set up to have excruciatingly horrible deaths once they become rampant, thinking themselves into madness with the potential to turn against their creators and ultimately kill themselves due to their self-preservation complex taking over. This is what Cortana seems to be heading towards with John’s vain hope that she can be saved, we see her in these moments of great pain and vulnerability as her condition deteriorates and she starts becoming more and more volatile – allowing the Ur-Didact to escape Requiem and almost killing John being two notable examples of this.
But in the end she overcomes the horrible fate that awaits her and manages to depart the narrative on her own terms. She dies as Cortana, not as a rampant husk – a shadow of who she once was.Cortana then totally fades away and leaves John standing alone inside the hardlight bubble, still looking at the spot where she dissipated. As if the long lasting emotional impact this event will have on him wasn’t obvious enough, it’s incredibly telling that the world around him literally breaks apart.
Mantle’s Approach and the Composer are destroyed, the Ur-Didact has been defeated, humanity has been saved – but John must now venture forth on his journey alone.
And, on that note, we have only one last post to go…