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Halo Season 2 Episode 3 Brings Out The Covenant’s ‘Demon’

The opening scene in Halo season 2’s third episode (titled “Visegrad”) has a telltale marker of prestige television: It’s dark as shit. As John/Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) and the rest of his crew head off to pick up the cliffhanger from episode two, I’m squinting like a grunt staring into the sun right before its head gets unceremoniously popped off.

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Though the occasional near-total darkness of this latest episode frustrates me, “Visegrad” smartly tightens the reins a bit, bringing the series’ plots together rather than letting them continue to drag on separately. Though there’s still some questionable story choices on display here, there’s a lot of good to unpack in the Halo series’ latest offering. So let’s get into it.

Master Chief goes rogue

Halo season two has been deftly setting up John’s rogue turn, and “Visegrad” gives us a nice little pay-off: though the end of the last episode shows the Covenant attacking the relay on Reach, by the time Chief and Silver team arrive, there’s no sign of them. Instead, after yet another well-executed, horror-tinged scene, we learn the Visegrad relay is empty—save for the troops that have been sent there to apprehend Silver team for this unsanctioned mission. Oops.

The man behind all of this wheeling and dealing is, of course, Ackerson (Joseph Morgan), but he’s more than just the dickhead Silver team thinks he is—we see him gingerly taking care of an old man with dementia, who’s revealed to be his father (played by Fleabag’s Bill Paterson). Daddy Ackerson, who built the massive bridge spanning a section of Reach that he can see from the window of what’s probably an old-folks’ home, can’t remember that his wife and daughter are dead, but he can remember that he’d rather die before “they take him alive”—whatever that means. Armed with the knowledge Cortana gave him about Reach’s fate, Ackerson clearly plans to follow his father’s wishes, and Morgan plays the scene beautifully, flitting between frustration, sadness, and solemn resolve with ease.

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But immediately after this, we’re once again reminded that Ackerson has dickish tendencies: Admiral Keyes (Danny Sapani) is ripping John and Silver team new assholes for going outside of the chain of command, stealing a Pelican, and pointing a gun at a superior officer. All four Spartans are told to hang up their suits, and John is ordered to undergo a mandatory psychiatric evaluation—but not before it’s revealed that someone changed the intel to make it appear like Cobalt was never sent to the Visegrad relay, furthering the theory that his mental state is declining. John has a terse conversation with Kai (Kate Kennedy), who openly worries about his judgment, citing his claims that he saw Makee (who she “killed”) as reason for concern. Fair enough.

When “Visegrad” swings over to the Rubble and Soren’s family’s B-plot, I let out a sigh of frustration for the diversion, and then another at the sight of the horrible wig they’ve crammed on Laera’s (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) head. Hilarious that she’s panicked about the loss of her husband, but had time to switch to a CEO bob before setting off to find him. Happily Laera, Kessler (Tylan Bailey), and Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha) are neatly set on a path of convergence with the main storyline within the confines of this episode, and for that, I’m thankful.

The demon

Though the Fall of Reach is very obviously happening this season, I suppose it makes sense that the Halo series showrunners don’t want to hand us one of the biggest moments in the franchise’s history right away—hence why “Visegard” does a little more teeing up rather than going for the full swing. John, while en route to his mandatory psych eval, takes out his two escorts in an elevator à la Captain America, and runs off to try and figure out why ONI (the Office of Naval Intelligence, of which Ackerson is a part), is keeping the lid on the Covenant’s presence on Reach.

Turns out, as Ackerson soon tells Keyes white standing over Cobalt team’s dead bodies, it’s because he doesn’t want the planet’s population to descend into chaos. There’s nothing they can do, according to Cortana’s calculations, and though Ackerson assures Keyes that they’ll put up a fight, he promises him that the UNSC (and, essentially, humanity) will lose. “Can I count on you?” Ackerson asks, hoping Keyes will keep this all a secret. “Go fuck yourself,” Keyes responds. Cue applause.

“Visegrad” is a great example of how properly paced scenes can build tension without dragging viewers along; how they can give actors a chance to shine without burning out. Morgan’s scenes with Sapani, Paterson, and Halsey (Natascha McElhone) are intense and poignant, respectively, and they feel like important windows into these character’s souls rather than annoying asides. Though I’d argue that some of this episode is filler (as if the showrunners are ensuring the Reach cow is good and ready before milking it), the individual scenes don’t feel too egregiously like distractions—even the stuff on the Rubble, which has bothered me in previous episodes.

That’s because Halo cleverly establishes motifs that help bring coherence to the show, like a beat tapped out by Perez in the beginning of the episode that’s mimicked by a door slamming on Visegrad, and later, by Kwan Ha, who uses the sound to distract Soren’s crew (which has turned on Laera and captured her). It’s this kind of stuff that makes television good.

Ackerson brings Halsey face-to-face with Soren, who was clearly captured and brought to Reach for some unknown reason that, if known, would likely not make any sense. If Ackerson knows Reach is doomed, why bring Halsey and Soren there if he can’t even enjoy watching them fight it out? If the planet is going to get glassed, why not bring them on your little escape Pelican so you can see them bicker in person? Where’s your villainous head at, man?!

Elsewhere on Reach, John heads to Perez’s apartment to talk to her, but his mother informs him that she’s not there. “She’s a good girl,” she insists. “But I think the devil follows you.” Despite this, she points him towards Perez, who is praying in a really cool-looking, semi-futuristic church. Perez plays John the recording from Sanctuary, the same one she was playing at the start of the episode. It’s not just static or interference that can be heard over UNSC channels: it’s a Covenant prayer. As the Sangheili language plays over the headphones (likely spoken by Viktor Åkerblom, who plays the series’ version of the Arbiter), Perez translates it:

There’s a nice, meaty reoccuring motif for you. The devil follows John? No, he’s the Demon, remember?

Halo season 2 episode 4 airs on Paramount+ on February 22.

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