The ending scene to Composer, the penultimate mission of Halo 4, is incredibly evocative on an emotional level.
This scene is made up of two parts – the horrific composition of the scientists on Ivanoff Station and the period of denouement that follows where Cortana confides her fears of death and being replaced to John.
After spending a whole mission attempting to evacuate Ivanoff Station as the Ur-Didact closes in to steal the Composer, John is met with failure after failure as the stakes hit their highest point yet. This mission is critical in the story because it focuses primarily on the ‘human’ element of the characters and the threat that the likes of the Didact pose to all the aspects that make us who we are – our curiosity, our dependence on others, our ability to empathise and provide comfort to those in distress and so on.
After beating back the Covenant invasion and witnessing some absolutely brutal attacks on the helpless inhabitants of Ivanoff Station, including a Jackal leaping onto a scientist and shredding him apart like a feral dog, Cortana’s condition slides into a constant state of decline. At the very start of the mission, she almost gets John killed by smashing the Lich into the side of the station because she loses control. Her rampancy comes back to haunt her at the end of this mission as the station’s defence turrets do not respond to her attempts to activate them and fire on the Didact’s vessel, resulting in hundreds of people being composed.
Fortunately, the geas that Librarian awoke within John earlier in the game provides him with immunity to the Composer. As a result, he is rendered unconscious and Cortana is left on her own listening to the lingering screams of distress coming from what is left of the scientists.
It’s a chilling reminder to Cortana of how frightening death is and what she has to face.
One of my favourite parts of this scene, I have to say, is how there’s absolutely no music to accompany the situation. There’s not even a sad melody playing in the background, the only thing we hear outside of the dialogue between John and Cortana is the silence of the now empty station. All we see are the piles of ashes that remain, which very much reminded me of Cortana’s statement at the end of Halo CE that all that was left behind was “dust and echoes” following the destruction of the Halo ring. Here they are again in a similar situation where it’s just the two of them alone on a rock in space, surrounded by the remains of the people they failed to save.
Cortana tells John that he’ll be paired with another AI when she’s dead, possibly even a replication of herself, and that it won’t be her. John simply can’t respond to this, he refuses to let go of Cortana and does his best to keep her going because he needs her. She is his guardian and his guide, she’s the one who keeps him in-check, but now she’s started to lose it their roles are reversed – he has to be the one who helps her through her deteriorating condition and support her mental state. It’s absolutely tragic to watch, but masterfully executed.
The scene ends with Cortana spinning up a Broadsword armed with a nuclear device for John, while John says to her in almost a whisper that it’s not over.