So here we are, at the half-way point of this little project. So far, we’ve covered what has primarily been the build-up in the narrative, the setting of the stage for that point in the plot where the stakes get raised higher than ever and the direction of the story becomes clear. Reclaimer is that tipping point – it’s a pulse-pounding, character-evolving, revolutionising part of the narrative which charts the rest of the Reclaimer Saga on its ultimate thematic course. Following directly on from the end of the previous mission, we see Captain Del Rio on the bridge of the UNSC Infinity looking out over Requiem as two Broadsword fighters pass overhead. Once more, we see 343’s expert use of framing and lighting to help build character and set the tone. Notice how the lighting in the frame appears to be cut diagonally, the top half is vibrant and light while the bottom half is shadowed and dark, as Del Rio stands in the middle of the frame. More than that, the light is ‘invading’ the dark space of the Infinity’s bridge and exposing the figure of Del Rio. This is a lighting effect often referred to as ‘chiaroscuro’ which literally means ‘light-dark’, it’s used in art to denote clear tonal contrasts by separating out the light and dark elements of a picture while emphasising the form of the subject – in this case, as I said, it’s Captain Del Rio.In the following frames, we see a tired-looking Del Rio with an uncertain and almost hesitant look on his face. Again, we see that use of chiaroscuro at work here as the background of Infinity’s bridge is almost entirely shadowed out of focus while Del Rio takes the centre spotlight – the glare of Requiem’s sun exposing his face to us, through which we can plainly see exactly what he’s feeling. Where he’s had to hide his doubt and uncertainty in front of his soldiers in the previous mission, which he didn’t do very well, this opening scene of Reclaimer lays it bare for the player.
One might even say that the lighting leaves him overexposed, both technically and metaphorically. Requiem has been his ultimate trial as captain of the Infinity, the same way that Requiem has been the ultimate trial for John in his role as the hero, it ties back to what Johnson said in Halo 3 – the planet is as “stubborn” as John is, that scrutinising glare on Del Rio shows to us that this is a man who is trying but failing to keep things ordered. Remember, he’s a manager, not an inspirational leader like Jacob Keyes – Del Rio plays it safe, tries to keep an organised and carefully-constructed grip on everything which he feels is absolutely necessary in handling humanity’s most advanced warship, their key to dominance in the Orion Arm of the galaxy. Requiem is a world of the Warrior-Servants, it seeks a worthy adversary which Del Rio decidedly isn’t.
I find myself going back to what Chris Schlerf said about the role of ‘the hero’ in a narrative.
“The hero is someone who takes action, even though they have something to lose.” ~ Making Halo 4: Infinity Multiplayer
As we’ll come to see, this is what distinguishes characters like John and Lasky from Del Rio over the course of this mission. Del Rio has something to lose, the Infinity, but refuses to take action when his calling comes in pursuing the Ur-Didact. The conclusion we can draw at this point is that Del Rio is not somebody who fits the role of ‘the hero’, what he does fit the role of however is a beautifully crafted human character who is a very subtle and nuanced character in the story. He’s not somebody who ‘kicks ass’ like the captains of super-powerful vessels in most other instances of science fiction, he’s a complete subversion of that character trope which I think is demonstrative of some truly excellent writing.Aboard a Pelican with Gypsy Company, John stands ready and waiting to receive orders for the coming assault.
“The air corridor to the gravity well is blocked by a network of particle cannons. Infinity’s shields are still down. Open the lane for us to move up and provide air support.”
“Captain, what’s Force Recon’s assessment of the terrain?”
“I know you’ve been off the field for awhile, Master Chief, but this is a blowthrough op. Sending in recon would just slow us down. Telemetry indicates that the particle cannons are being controlled from a command post south-west of our position. Roll on that target, and neutralize those guns. We’ll meet on the other side and take the gravity well. Infinity out.”
This continues to reinforce Del Rio’s anxiety about Requiem and his desire to leave as soon as possible, he doesn’t want to send out reconnaissance teams to provide better intelligence for the ground troops because it will slow down the process of leaving. Again, like in the previous mission, Del Rio has little regard for the casualties and only cares about results. He expresses a tone of annoyance, even condescension towards John when he openly requests information about the terrain, calling into question his competence as a soldier because he’s “been off the field for a while”. This instance of disrespect against John further turns the player against Del Rio, however John does not appear phased by this and tells Cortana that they’ll “make it work”.While there isn’t a great deal to say about the gameplay segments of this mission (the real meat is in the cutscenes), there are several significant points to make which come up when John and Cortana are moving through Requiem’s valleys aboard the Mammoth. Even while in the middle of accomplishing his standard objectives of destroying several Covenant shield generators, Cortana’s voice begins to fizzle and crack under the strain of rampancy. While John ignores these minor strains throughout most of the level, eventually it reaches boiling point for Cortana and she has an outburst about the Spartan-IVs replacing John.
“THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, THEY REPLACED YOU! *rampancy fades* Blast it!”
“How? How is this OK? How is putting you at risk because I can’t hold it together OK? Chief, understand what rampancy is? Really? We don’t just ‘shut down’. Our cognitive processes begin dividing exponentially according to our total knowledge base. We literally think ourselves to death.”
“You know I won’t let that happen.”
“And if it happens anyway?”
Here we learn the true severity of what rampancy does to an AI. To spell it out in more detailed terms: Smart AIs are all based on the neural patterns of a human being, for instance we know that Cortana was created from the flash cloned brain of Doctor Catherine Halsey in the year 2549. Smart AIs typically have a limited lifespan of seven years, once that time is up their memory maps become too interconnected and develop fatal endless feedback loops which can make them short circuit and die, a process which the AI can temporarily fix for themselves by removing the corrupted neural linkages and creating new ones to replace them. This is a temporary fix because the new linkages become corrupt at a faster rate than the old ones which builds up to a point where the AI is removing linkages at such a fast rate, they make increasingly poor choices about which ones to sever resulting in such a desperate desire for self-preservation that they eventually terminate themselves.
This is the process that Cortana is going through, Doctor Halsey likened it to the human sensation of thinking so hard that you forget to breathe. Cortana’s outbursts have been relatively minor so far, but we’re beginning to see that she’s having to deal with a much wider range of emotions than before. This sets up an interesting sense of role-reversal between Cortana and John, as he has to adapt to a situation that he’s never faced before – the gradual deterioration of his best friend’s mind. This isn’t a problem that he can physically solve through the ways he’s been trained, this is something that is ultimately going to transform his character as he has to expose his humanity which has been repressed over the course of his life.
What this also ties back to is the Prologue scene (a lot of things tie back to the Prologue scene, as I established at the very beginning of this project that it’s what sets up so many concepts and themes that the story has to deal with). Halsey, while being questioned about the Spartan-II project, surmises that her interrogator wants to replace John. The Interrogator wants to know whether Halsey believes that the Master Chief succeeded “because he was, at his core, broken”. But the point that’s ultimately illustrated is that John succeeds because of Cortana, she is the thing that keeps him going through the trials that they have to face and the complimentary nature of their relationship brings out John’s connection with his own humanity.
What’s more about this though, is that John is faced with the very real possibility of failure. He can’t accept this as an outcome because of what’s been drilled into his head over the years of his life – he’s a Spartan, he can do anything. Cortana knows that it’s wishful thinking at best that she’s going to be cured of her condition and go back to living normally, but John is still full of this hope and determination which pervades his motivation through the game until it crumbles in front of him.Moving on, we’ve reached the point where the real meat of the narrative comes in. Upon reaching a Forerunner facility where the Particle Cannon Network is housed, John strangely finds himself being guided by a number of Sentinels who open doors to take him where he needs to go. All other Forerunner constructs on Requiem have acted with hostility, but it seems that the Sentinels are being controlled by some other force that isn’t the Ur-Didact. John and Cortana believe that they’re being lead into a trap, but it’s where they need to go so they follow anyway.
Upon deactivating the Particle Cannons from the central nexus, by having Cortana redirecting each cannon to fire on each other, she detects a separate presence in the system. Before John can take her out of the pedestal, she’s snatched from the system and disappears leaving John alone with the Sentinels. They gather outside a door which opens to a beam of white light with Cortana appearing in the middle, John steps into the beam and awakens to see an entirely different figure approaching him.The Librarian, one of the most important characters in the Halo universe – wife of the Ur-Didact, one of only four Lifeshapers ever to have lived, the mind behind the Conservation Measure, and the woman who worked to ensure humanity’s rightful ascendency to attain the Mantle of Responsibility.
“I am what remains of the Forerunner, once known as the Librarian. My memories were retained to assist humanity on their path to the Mantle, though sadly, that plan is now at risk… The Didact is leaving Requiem soon. You must not allow it.”
The first thing I want to talk about here is the Librarian’s appearance, as it’s a rather significant aspect of her character and in how it links to the thematic aspect of John’s development. While generally considered beautiful in a spiritual way by her own kind, the geas (genetic command) she imprinted humanity with has the effect of her being perceived as what one subconsciously believes the ideal female looks like. What does John see her as? An elderly woman, clearly based on the likes of Halsey who has been a tremendous influence on his life as a Spartan and especially with regards to Cortana. Halsey was often referred to as the ‘mother’ figure for the Spartans, so a very intriguing parallel is drawn between these two characters because the Librarian is seen as the mother of humanity – she even refers to us as her “children”.
It goes beyond that, however. The Librarian appears again in Spartan Ops towards the climax of the season, this time in front of Halsey. She perceives the Librarian to look like a much younger woman with more distinctive facial features and a lighter complexion – perhaps this was how she viewed Miranda, her daughter, as the ‘ideal’ female and that translated over to her view of the Librarian. The AIs that Halsey created were said, after all, to have chosen to look young in appearance – take Cortana, for example.I think that it really says quite a lot about the characters of both John and Halsey in how they perceive the Librarian. With regards to John, it calls to mind that very first image we see of him in Halo 4, a child in the pod – torn away from his mother, who interestingly appears in the Scanned trailer which was used to advertise the game, her form shifting with Cortana. John’s perception of the ideal female is a mother figure, something he’s never truly had outside of Halsey, which really draws a vivid connection to his connection with his humanity.
Back to the scene at hand, we get a lot of exposition to break down.
“He seeks this, the Composer – a device which will allow him to finally contain the greatest enemy ever faced by the Forerunners… you.”
The incredibly abstract and distorted imagery of the following scene is hugely important, but also quite interesting in what it implies. We begin by seeing John reaching towards an orb of light, as soon as his hand touches it we see him begin to ‘shatter’, to break apart into his component molecules.
So, what exactly is this light that John is reaching towards? From what has been described in the Forerunner Saga, it appears that the visions that John experiences are a product of the geas (referred to by the Librarian as a ‘genesong’) that he is imprinted with. This can be supported by the Rebirth epilogue to Halo: Silentium where we have a series of vivid descriptions of ‘a new kind of geas’.
Shimmering like rain over a campfire, she reached out to him. He drew back, but she was quick, from her hand flowed a bright, pulsing liquid jewel pattern. She manipulated this radiance with the sixth finger of her other hand.
“You already have some knowledge,” she said, “A new kind of geas. Here is more.” The radiant jewel grew. He tried to fend off its light, but something held him in place.
The jewel’s light drew up around his head, entered his eyes and ears, spread down through his neck into chest, and body. He lifted his arms and saw his veins glow. There were so many, so alive, beautiful! And Riser was not afraid. The glow faded, his flesh turned opaque again. He stretched. He was different, but only a little.
This description pretty much exactly matches what we see in this cutscene, and the scene that follows where John is in the Librarian’s beam – his body flowing with the same beautiful, pulsing energy that Riser describes (of course, we do not see the effects on John’s skin because he is armoured).The geas is an important device in the plot of both Halo 4 and the Forerunner Saga, it is discussed at length in each of the three novels so I’ve compiled a series of important quotations which might help to further illuminate the topic, as it is one of Halo’s more abstract concepts.
“A Lifeworker as powerful as the Librarian certainly had the means to impose a generations-long genetic command upon the objects of her study. Such a compulsion in past times would have been called a geas.”
“Riser told me that what I was seeing in my dreams was part of a geas – a set of commands and memories left in my mind and body by the Lifeshaper who touches us all at birth.”
“I know where my geas comes from,” [Vinnevra] said. “It comes into my head like sunshine through the dark. It comes new and fresh when there is something important to tell me.”
“I gave them all my geas, my mark of instruction, utility and pride. I wished to be remembered. My own existence seemed so frail, after what we had done. When I worked with the humans, studying their genetics and personalities, I could forget the larger conflicts that loomed.”
“To so many species she has made herself like unto a god, that she might manipulate them in future times.”
Vinnevra describes the geas as being “like sunshine through the dark”, this exact imagery is used in the cutscene as the geas literally takes the form of a radiant, glowing orb that comes when there is something important John needs to know – the Ur-Didact’s plan regarding the Composer, and humanity’s ancient past. Librarian does also appear to John in a very godlike way, we see him almost blinded by the light surrounding her as she approaches him, not unlike the conventional kind of imagery used to depict the souls of the dead in Heaven. In this, we see a clear contrast between the introduction of the Ur-Didact and Librarian. The scene that introduces the former is ominous, uncertain, and intimidating, while the latter is graceful and calming. The choir that punctuates the Ur-Didact’s awakening sounds raw and harsh, while it is more subdued and angelic with tragic undertones to it throughout the scene.John is then shown memories of a great battle between Forerunners and ancient humans from 110,000 years ago. Yes, human history extends far beyond what we thought we knew, as the Forerunner Saga tells us that both humans and Forerunners (along with all other life in the galaxy) were shaped and given form by the godlike Precursors. Around ten million years ago, the Precursors had intended for humanity to inherit the Mantle, however the Forerunners could not bear up under the weight of their own inferiority and struck out at the Precursors to take the Mantle for themselves – which they succeeded in doing, driving them out of the Milky Way galaxy and bringing them almost to extinction. The Precursors were awed by this demonstration of violence and destruction from what they had created and did not fight back, some Precursors fled and went into a state of suspended animation in the space between galaxies (these are still yet to be accounted for), while others looked for more drastic measures to ensure their survival. One Precursor was spared by the Forerunners, captured and imprisoned to live out dreams of vengeance over the ages – this being was known by names such as the Timeless One, or the Primordial.
In order to regenerate their past forms as a strategy for survival, a number of Precursors transformed themselves into dust. This inert powder was stored on ancient ships which were left to drift in silence through space, but time rendered this powder defective which lead to the creation of what we know as the Flood.At this point, the Forerunners are now the top-dog of the galaxy – they usurped humanity’s position as successors to the Precursors, and now hold the Mantle of Responsibility. Eventually, the space-faring human empire came across the ancient Precursor vessels and discovered their cargo, the many phials of dust. The early tests conducted on the powder revealed that it was harmless, even demonstrating psychotropic (mood-altering) effects on the Pheru (common pets humanity had which were basically the ancient equivalent of a domesticated dog), making them more docile.
However, as mentioned before, time rendered the dust defective and began to alter the genome of the Pheru. First, it sterilised them, and over time they started growing hideous, cancerous mutations which then started infecting others. Humanity eventually came to be on the receiving end of that infection, and the Flood began to spread in its Feral Stage. Humanity wasn’t alone in this either, as they were allied with the San’Shyuum (the race we now know as the Prophets) who were likewise exposed to Flood infection.
Humanity began losing whole planets to the Flood, they were on the run across the galaxy and desperately sought out new worlds to compensate for the ones they’d lost. This inevitably drove them into the Forerunner Ecumene, as the Forerunners occupied over three million fertile worlds in the Orion Complex, and when the Flood started assimilating Forerunner worlds the humans had no choice but to cleanse entire planets through orbital bombardment (a fitting thematic irony that the San’Shyuum would command the same means to be used against human worlds 100,000 years later in the Human-Covenant war). The result was millions of dead Forerunners.Humanity attempted to warn the Forerunners about the Flood, but they didn’t listen – some even believed that it was a bio-weapon engineered by humanity to provide an excuse for their expansion. All the Forerunners saw were their own worlds getting orbitally bombarded by human ships, the Flood presence was quite thoroughly extinguished so the threat became something of a myth to Forerunners. The eons of tensions between humans and Forerunners finally erupted, with war being declared on humanity.
The real game-changer was the discovery of the Timeless One on a small planetoid on the fringes of the galaxy, Yprin Yprikushma (humanity’s political and morale commander) moved it to the world of Charum Hakkor, which was made the capital of the Human-San’Shyuum empire. Human researchers discovered the ancient stasis capsule which the Precursor was imprisoned in and questioned it about the nature of the Flood. The answers they received were said to have been so traumatising to them that they all killed themselves rather than go on living with what the Precursor had told them.
Eventually, the humans believed that they had come up with a cure. One-third of the remaining human population were ‘inoculated’ with genes designed to combat the Flood Super Cell and were sent on a suicide run to allow the Flood to consume them. It looked like the cure had worked, as the Flood were pushed back to the outer edges of the Milky Way galaxy and wouldn’t be seen again for almost 9000 years. Humanity was no longer fighting a war on two fronts, but ultimately lost the war against the Forerunners as they had been pushed back to just Charum Hakkor – the final battle, which we see depicted in this scene, lasted fifty years.
“Mankind spread into the stars with an unexpected, desperate violence. Entire systems fell before the Didact’s Warrior-Servants rose to halt the aggression. When the Didact exhausted the humans after a millennia, his sentence was severe. We had no way of knowing that the Forerunners were not your only enemy… Humanity hadn’t been expanding, they were running.”
The Forerunners also discovered the Timmeless One after humanity’s final defeat at Charum Hakkor.
“Facing apparent evidence of our enemy’s rapacious cruelty, the Old Council decided that humanity as a species was guilty of crimes against the Mantle. I agreed – at first. Later, when we realised humans had made great efforts to fight the Flood, and that many of their so-called atrocities had been carried out with that in mind – I changed that opinion. But Lifeworkers were ignored. Politically weakened, we could not push our case.” ~ The Librarian’s Testimony, Halo: Silentium
The Ecumene Council decided to preserve rather than destroy humanity, so the Forerunners could learn about the supposed cure that had been developed to counter-act the Flood should they return.The imagery in this scene depicts horrifying images of humans in great pain and torment, muffled screams and cries can be heard in the background as they beg for help. We see glowing white figures running through a black void, their radiance extinguishing until they become floating, ghostly masses with an ominous brown cloud washing over them – the Flood.
“Weakened from our conflict, we were no match for the parasite which pursued you…”
As we well know, the Flood did return to the galaxy which lead to a three hundred year long war with the Forerunners, culminating in the eventual firing of the Halo Array. What the Librarian tells us here however, is that other means of survival were sought out by the likes of the Ur-Didact who was infatuated with the idea that firing the Halos would be a mistake, the ultimate violation of the Mantle.
Before anything else, the next thing that the Librarian says is incredibly important.
“The Forerunners made plans for a final Great Journey, but the Didact refused to yield our Mantle of Responsibility”
Here, we have explicit confirmation that the Great Journey is a real thing. This was alluded to by the IsoDidact in Halo 3’s Terminal dialogues with the Librarian as well.
“We can halt this thing! And we can follow in Their footsteps!”
“Mendicant Bias is trying to prevent us from firing the Array. He speeds back to the Ark, but he won’t succeed. Offensive Bias will stop him, and I will burn this stinking menace in your name. And then? I will begin our Great Journey without you, carrying this bitter record. Those who came after will know what we bought with this [false transcendence] – what you bought, and the price you paid.”
So what is the Great Journey? We know that it is definitely a real thing, but it has been misinterpreted by the Covenant. Undoubtedly, this is a plot seed which will begin to flower as the Reclaimer Saga continues to develop. Back to the cutscene itself, the Librarian goes on to illustrate the alternate means through which the Forerunners looked to overcome the Flood.
“In the Forerunners’ quest for transcendence, the Composer had been intended to bridge the organic and digital realms. It would have made us immortal…”
The image that accompanies this should be familiar enough.An open hand, a clear contrast to what we see with John throughout the game where the image of a closed fist is used to symbolise his resolve to keep on going. The Composer was used on ancient humans following their defeat to preserve their memories and personalities that they might be examined and studied by Forerunners to uncover the supposed cure for the Flood, but the Forerunners never figured out how to properly use the device which led to a series of vile complications which the Librarian discusses in Silentium.
“What we brought for Lord of Admirals and his last warriors were the Composers. These large, ugly machines had originally been designed by Builders in a failed attempt to attain immunity against the Flood. Composers broadcast high-energy fields of entangled sympathies to gather victim mentalities – essences – and then translated them into machine data. In the original scheme, new bodies were constructed, and the subjects’ essences were imprinted over them – minus any trace of Flood patterns.
The results were not at all satisfactory. In fact, they were horrible. The Forerunner bodies so treated did not live very long. None survived outside of mechanical storage.”
“After the Composers had done their work, draining these last survivors, these exhausted and dying warriors, of their memories and patterns, their remains were reduced and scattered to atoms. It was manifest holocaust.”
The plan didn’t work on humanity, the assimilated essences had to be stored directly in the minds of humans themselves who had since been devolved back to the Stone Age, turning the clock back on their civilisation from Tier 1/2 on the Technological Achievement Scale all the way back to Tier 7.
“But its results soured. The stored personalities fragmented and our attempts to return them to biological states created only abominations…”
Having failed to utilise the Composer properly on both humanity and their own species, the Forerunners abandoned this device as a strategy until the Ur-Didact was delivered back into the dwindling Forerunner Ecumene after being driven into insanity by the Gravemind and botching his mutation.He implicitly believed that the Halos must not be fired, that the Flood could be contained with Forerunner dominance intact by the end of the ordeal.
“Such moral concerns faded from the Didact’s attention. The Flood only assimilated living tissue. The Composer would provide the Didact his solution… and his revenge.”
At this point, the Ur-Didact saw the Composer as his last hope. While his mutation left him immune to the effects of the device, the Warrior-Servants loyal to him submitted themselves to the Composer and became the first Promethean Knights. Their numbers were insufficient however, the Ur-Didact was convinced that he needed greater numbers and turned to the preserved remnants of humanity as his answer.
The last remaining Forerunners gathered at the Greater Ark to make their final stand. They were faced with an infestation of Star Roads, immortal Precursor constructs which could only be destroyed by Halos. Omega Halo (one of the original Halos, being 30,000 kilometres in diameter as opposed to the 10,000 that the final installations were, and being capable of firing in only one direction) was pointed at Path Kethona, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud which was the source of a large portion of Star Roads and also the place where the Forerunners wiped out the last known Precursors. The Ur-Didact elected not to take part in the battle, but went to Omega Halo with the Composer and used it on the Librarian’s human specimens there as they were in the process of being moved to the Lesser Ark as part of the Conservation Measure. Omega Halo successfully fired, but the majority of the remaining Forerunners were wiped out by the Star Roads as they shredded through both the Halo ring and the Greater Ark.The geas-induced vision ends and we see John face the Librarian again.
“The Prometheans… They’re human?”
“They were only the beginning. He would have encrypted your entire race if we had not removed the Composer from his care and imprisoned him here.”
Having openly betrayed his wife, the Librarian was driven into a fit of rage about how all her husband has done is kill her children. She pursued the Ur-Didact back to Requiem and found immense factories where souls that had been subjected to the Composer were being transformed into the Ur-Didact’s Promethean Knights. As she attempts to locate her husband, she finds one last Warrior-Servant who had not yet been composed – Endurance of Will, adjutant and former romantic interest of the Ur-Didact before he fell for the Librarian. Endurance, due to her dislike towards the Librarian and her sense of duty to her commander, resists the Librarian at first but eventually is convinced that the Ur-Didact is being used as a pawn by the Gravemind.
“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.”
The phrasing – as if the entire galaxy in itself is a threat – is hauntingly familiar. The clarity of expression; the perversion as well as demonic purity.
This refers to the malediction of the Gravemind which is brought up earlier in the book, where it is decreed that all life shall suffer. Armed with a Lightrifle, Librarian confronts her husband and shoots him twice in the chest, incapacitating him. She imprisons him in a Cryptum and leaves Endurance to watch over him, while also leaving behind an imprint of her personality as well – this is what we encounter in this cutscene.
“My dear husband, I know your crimes and I have found forgiveness. I know your reasons… I understand them. I know you, perhaps better than you could ever hope to know yourself. I ask you… forgive my transgressions. Like yourself, all I have done, I have done for the greater good. Our time as the galaxy’s caretakers is passed, the Flood have overrun us. In the days to come, the Halo rings will fire, eradicating the Flood – and all other life, for a time. I have worked hard to index all species in known space. When the time comes, these indexes will open, and once more, the galaxy will breathe and grow. Blood will pump, life will claw its way out of the oceans and through the mud. Babes will be born and grow old under the warmth of a thousand suns… Civilizations will rise in our stead, and our job as caretakers will at last bear fruit. Until then, I leave you here, my love. The only living thing in this galaxy, sealed safely away. Spend these ages ahead of you in meditation on your choices. When you wake, you will find the humans. I have ensured that they will grow strong and vibrant – they will be our rightful heirs. Their gene plan dictates that the galaxy will be theirs to care for by then. I beg of you… Find the strength to help them learn from our mistakes. And my husband? Let them teach you as well. Please.”
It was a plan that seemed like it would bring the Ur-Didact’s arc full-circle, back to who he was in Halo: Cryptum when Bornstellar awoke him. By connecting his mind to the Domain, the Ur-Didact could meditate on his choices and have the taint of the Gravemind cleansed from him. He would awaken to find humanity once more, and help them attain the Mantle of Responsibility, as the imprint of the Librarian left behind on Requiem held the Janus Key which reveals the real-time location of every piece of Forerunner technology in the galaxy.What the Librarian did not know however, was that the Domain was a Precursor consciousness and that the IsoDidact firing the Halos to defeat the Flood would wipe it out. Stranded on Earth, the Gravemind sends down apparitions of ancient humans like the Lord of Admirals who delivers her the Flood’s final mocking message – that the Domain is the Precursors’ record of one hundred billion years of knowledge that was under the Forerunners’ nose for ten million years without them realising, and that the record would be lost as the Halos fire.
Not only that, but the Ur-Didact would be left to spend the next 100,000 years stewing in his own hatred and insanity.
“I think of the Didact, locked in his Cryptum. If the Domain is destroyed, I have condemned my husband to an eternity of darkness, silence, with only his own rage and madness to keep him company.”
Thus, the table for Halo 4’s plot is set. The Composer will grant the Ur-Didact the army through which he will reclaim the Mantle for the Forerunners and wipe out any race that would contest their dominance, while satisfying his personal revenge against humanity by imprisoning them forever as Promethean Knights.
“My wife sympathizes with our enemies. This quest to fulfil the Mantle has haunted me my entire life. And for countless millennia, we have failed to realise the one truth that could have saved us from the beginning. The Mantle isn’t to be inherited by the noble, it is to be taken by the strong.”
“Reclaimer… When I indexed mankind for repopulation, I hid seeds from the Didact – seeds which would lead to an eventuality. Your physical evolution, your combat skin, even your ancilla, Cortana… You are the culmination of a thousand lifetimes of planning.”
“Planning for what?”
The answer to what this eventuality is must remain a mystery for now, as the Ur-Didact invades the vision. What we do know however is that we’re building towards a convergence point, humanity has an upcoming trial to face which we know is the impending return of the Flood, as is revealed by the Timless One’s final prophecy to the IsoDidact.
“The decision is final. Humans will replace you. Humans will be tested next.
It is the way of those who seek out the truth of the Mantle. Humans will rise again in arrogance and defiance. The Flood will return when they are ripe-and bring them unity.
Misery is sweetness. Forerunners will fail as you have failed before. Humans will rise. Whether they will also fail has not been decided.
We are the Flood. There is no difference. Until all space and time are rolled up and life is crushed in the folds… no end to war, grief, or pain. In a hundred and one thousand years… unity again, and wisdom. Until then – sweetness.”
Librarian: “Reclaimer, the genesong I placed within you contains many gifts, including an immunity to the Composer, but it must be unlocked.”
Ur-Didact: “Relinquish your contact, essence!”
Librarian: “Your evolutionary journey must be accelerated.”
John: “Can I defeat the Didact without it?”
John: “Then do it.”
What I find really quite tragic here is how the Ur-Didact speaks to his wife, after all that has happened between them leading to this point he can’t even see her as more than an echo of who she used to be. The disunion between the Ur-Didact and the Librarian is contrasted totally by John’s union with Cortana, as they embody all the positive virtues which a relationship between people needs – the innate mutual trust, respect and loyalty these two characters have for each other brings out their best which is what keeps John going.
But the main focus of this particular part of the scene is how the Librarian boosts John up the evolutionary ladder, taking us all the way back to the Prologue scene where Halsey’s dialogue foreshadows this very event – “my Spartans are humanity’s next step, our destiny as a species”. It’s an incredibly powerful ‘light switch’ revelation that the Spartan formula is merely an artificial means to do to humans what the Forerunners are able to do ‘naturally’ through their mutations, and that appears to be what happens to John at the end of this scene because the Librarian allows his imprint to blossom in order to unlock some of the genetic ‘gifts’ she gave humanity. This is something that is going to have long-lasting effects on John over the course of the series, covering both the physical and psychological spheres which we see begin to take effect later in the campaign as the Ur-Didact begins communicating with John in what seems to be his own head. This adds a whole new dynamic to John’s sense of humanity, as he is the avatar for humanity’s evolutionary development in a broad sense which runs parallel to the overall thematic nature of his character arc – deconstructing his character, putting him in situations where he becomes more in-touch with his humanity.
Conflict is being layered over conflict which really creates a sense of dilemma for John’s place in the universe, he is “the culmination” of the Librarian’s imprinted geas on humanity – the convergence point for her plan for humanity to attain the Mantle. But at the same time, Halo 4 strives to show us that he really is, at his core, a human being. His role as the protagonist glorifies him as being things like the genetic template for humanity’s future, adhering to the Monomyth (the Hero’s Journey), but he’s still that six year old boy we see in the very opening shot of the game.John awakens from his vision with the Librarian with lines of blue energy streaming over his body, again bringing to mind the description of the new form of geas that Riser receives from Growth Through Trial of Change in Halo: Rebirth. He recovers Cortana from the system and they have a brief exchange which tells us a few things.
“Chief, what happened? Your bio readings are all over the map!”
“It’s a long story, but I know what the Didact’s after.”
“I know that part. The Librarian filled me in when she snatched me from the system. But what I don’t know is what she did to you!”
Firstly, we now know for definite that it was the Librarian who took Cortana out of the Particle Cannon Nexus, but more importantly is the fact that the two of them actually spoke. We don’t see this exchange between them, but judging by what the Librarian said to John about Cortana herself being a part of the culmination of her plan, it seems like there might be a seed being planted in the narrative for the future. Alternatively, her purpose in this plan might well be what her role in the series actually is – being John’s guardian, his light and reason, and the anchor for his humanity. At this point, we don’t know but the implications of the significance of this exchange are very interesting.
Also, Cortana notes that John’s bio-readings are going haywire. This appears to confirm that John has undergone some kind of mutation, we know that physical effects of Forerunner mutation can take from months to years to appear so the exact nature of this exchange between John and the Librarian, like with Cortana, is currently a question to be addressed by future media. Halo 4 is, as Chris Schlerf put it, the “first act” in the Reclaimer Saga and as such it is dropping all of these hints of varying importance both overtly through the narrative and more sneakily through the subtext.They escape the Forerunner structure through a portal and emerge back into the desert, reuniting with UNSC forces by the Gravity Well. A swift and decisive victory is achieved, as John manages to push back the Covenant forces with his UNSC allies and uses a target designator to destroy Requiem’s Gravity Well – the construct that was responsible for pulling the Dawn and Infinity into the Shield World, and preventing them from leaving.
What this really serves to illustrate here is a moment of great triumph for John. He’s doing what he does best as a Spartan, solving physical problems through physical means and this is why we see him as ‘the hero’. Del Rio’s dialogue at the end of the mission further serves to illustrate this.
“We’re taking a beating up here!”
“Does Infinity have a shot on the gravity well?”
“Negative, we’ll never be able to get a target lock with all the air traffic we’re seeing!”
Del Rio’s tone is that of panic and desperation, he’s completely lost his composure and his grip of the situation as the sheer amount of Covenant air traffic is swarming the Infinity and preventing a target lock on the Gravity Well. But what humanity’s most powerful warship cannot do, John can. Once again, this takes us back to Halsey’s statement about John back in the Prologue.
“Your mistake is seeing Spartans as military hardware. […] Do not understimate them, but most of all, do not underestimate him.”
The Gravity Well is destroyed and we cut to Infinity drifting through the skies of Requiem. At this point, we’re totally unaware that the reason why we saw John achieve such a great victory here is to set the stage for that character-defining moment that’s about to come. 343’s agenda with regards to the role of the hero, the sacrifices a hero has to make and the choices that they are faced with reaches a crescendo as John is made to confront his loyalties with humanity and Cortana directly.
We cut to the bridge of the Infinity once more, and the framing of the scene is, as ever, a masterful piece of visual storytelling.Look at the placement of the characters. John is on the far-left of the frame, furthest away from everybody else in the scene. Lasky and Del Rio are in the centre of the frame, Lasky is facing towards us and illuminated by the light of the holographic table which casts him in a positive manner to us, while Del Rio has his back to us and is shadowed out which further lends to his impersonal and unsympathetic portrayal. Cortana is on the far-right of the frame, she’s separated from John by the two people standing between them as they argue with each other over what to do next.
Del Rio: “Infinity cannot handle that kind of punishment. Not again.”
Cortana: “This isn’t about us, or this ship any more!”
John: “Sir, we’ve seen what the Didact is capable of! If we let him leave this world, humanity will be at risk.”
Del Rio: “Look… I understand what you think you saw–”
John: “With all due respect, sir, I know what I saw.”
Del Rio: “And with all due respect to you, soldier, I’m not willing to jeopardize my ship because of the hallucinations of an ageing Spartan and his malfunctioning AI.”
Lasky: “Sir, what if he’s right?”
Here, we see John become more of an independent and active participant in the debate going on, contrasting to the end of the previous mission where he’s more passive about the issue. Del Rio does not believe what John has told him about the Librarian and what the Ur-Didact plans to do with humanity, he’s evidently suspected that Cortana has been slipping into rampancy and refers to her as a “malfunctioning AI” – dehumanising her and attempting to undercut the validity of both of them. John is a living legend to humanity, he’s ‘the hero’ and that means that his very presence is a disruptive element for Del Rio who values order above everything else.Ultimately, his decision to leave Requiem to return to UNSC space pushes Cortana over the edge.
“I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO LEAVE… THIS… PLANET!”
The anger facet of her rampancy, which she’s been holding back all this time, finally explodes. A wave of energy pulses over the bridge and causes things to spark and short-circuit, Del Rio’s overly cautious nature and refusal to believe what Cortana and John tell him is the final straw for her.
John’s immediate reaction is clearly one of confusion and concern, but more importantly one of compassion. He never blames her or tells her off for her rampant outbursts because he knows that she can’t control them, but she’s also struggling with her own sense of humanity like he is which is an integral aspect of their friendship in this game. Del Rio takes his chance and immediately orders Cortana’s destruction.
“Commander Lasky, pursuant to Article 55 of UNSC Regulation 12-145-72, I am ordering you to remove that AI’s data chip and retire it for final dispensation.”
“Don’t… Please… please. I don’t want to… You don’t want me to… please.”
“Remove the chip now, Commander.”
Once again, the framing says it all. Cortana is in the centre of the frame, she is the subject. Del Rio has his back to the camera and is totally covered in shadow, he’s been an antagonistic force towards John from the start but has finally shown his hand. Lasky is on the opposite side of the frame, subject to the chiaroscuro visual effect as he is illuminated by the light of Cortana and the table. His features appear to be that of concern as he’s caught in his own dilemma, he knows his place as a subordinate is to follow orders from his captain, but he does not want to betray John which is clearly enough to make him question his actions.
He hesitantly reaches towards Cortana’s chip, but John invades the frame and assumes control of the scene.
“Give. Me. That. Chip.”
“The Didact has to be stopped… If you won’t do that, I will.”
“I am ordering you to SURRENDER THAT AI!”
This is the absolute tipping point for John’s character, the point of no return where he does something that he can’t come back from – he openly disobeys a superior for the first time in his military career. He defies all of that training and indoctrination that has taken up the years of his life and acts on emotional instinct. He can’t lose Cortana, the anchor for his humanity and the one person he has left who has been through the worst and most trying days of his life with him.It is a character-defining moment, it’s something that totally knocks John out of his comfort zone and makes him openly expose his feelings. He attempts to counter this by rationalising Cortana as part of the mission to stop the Didact, but it goes so far beyond that which he subconsciously realises but doesn’t openly show. He cannot openly confront the full implications of these emotional developments because he still has a directive, an objective to accomplish, so the final moment of transformation is set to come at the end of the story when the Didact is defeated and that objective is complete.
“Lieutenant, arrest that man!”
This is a turning point for Lasky as well, as he moves to take charge of the situation by calling Del Rio out. Nobody moves a muscle towards John when his arrest is ordered, he’s humanity’s hero, the inspirational figure who people will follow without question. Del Rio, conversely, is a manager who nobody really looks up to because he lacks any of the bold, heroic and dynamic qualities displayed by the likes of John or Lasky.John turns to Lasky and tells him to warn the rest of humanity of the threat posed by the Ur-Didact.
“Get word to Earth that trouble is coming, Cortana and I will do what we can back here.”
He then immediately storms off the bridge, Del Rio looking on in utter shock and bewilderment that he’s been openly defied. John has a renewed sense of purpose, an objective of his own to achieve which acts as a potent motivator. Cortana’s rampant condition has reached a critical point now and it’s clear to John that Infinity can’t and won’t help him, but his trust in her is so strong that he takes her with him anyway because there’s no way that he can even hope to stop the Ur-Didact without her.
That brings us to the end of the mission. A lot happens in this level, enough to make this single post almost dissertation-length in itself. John has completely transformed as a person, acting out in an emotional capacity and further connecting with his humanity while simultaneously having to turn his back on them. Cortana’s deterioration is really beginning to have adverse effects on her sanity, we see more of events from the past and the beginnings of how those events are set to shape the future of the Halo universe.
We reach the end of act two with the next post, an event of just as much significance as we are introduced to what I like to call the ‘God Loop’ which is the core thematic struggle that centres around the Mantle. If you’ve come this far, well done!