Halo TV Series – Episode 2 Recap – ‘Unbound’

The second episode of the Halo TV series focuses in on Master Chief as a person, and introduces an excellent buddy for him.
Halo TV series recap episode 2 unbound

The Halo TV series adaptation from Paramount and Amblin Entertainment continues on into its second episode. In development hell from as early as 2013, with its second episode now live we have oddly positive hopes for the series, which appears to be taking Halo in some new directions.

If you’re not a Paramount+ subscriber but still have a curious interest in the Halo series, let me, a Halo video game-liker, recount the goings-on in this new spin on the beloved universe and give you a sense of where it’s going.

If you haven’t caught up with the events of the pilot episode, have a skim of our recap of Episode 1 of the Halo TV Series, ‘Contact’.

If you’re looking for recaps of the other episodes, here’s a handy list:

[WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE HALO TV SERIES FOLLOWS]


Halo TV Series – Episode 2 Recap – ‘Unbound’

Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

‘Unbound’ begins with a flashback to a very young John-117 at the UNSC Spartan training academy, before he became the Master Chief. It’s the middle of the night, and he’s tiptoeing out of the barracks like a naughty teenager.

Armed with a battle rifle, he heads to the outer fence of the base to meet up with his Spartan-in-training buddy Soren, who is planning an escape for the duo. Unfortunately for Soren, John’s had a change of heart and points his gun at him – he’s too much of a stickler for the rules.

Soren dreams of a fresh start. He’s been physically damaged by the Spartan program – his left arm is horrifically mutilated, presumably because of something that went wrong during the procedures to enhance Spartan bodies, a program led by Dr. Halsey (Natascha McElhone).

But Soren accuses John of being damaged, too. Not physically, but mentally, pointing to the fact that he continues to refer to their brainwashing and programming as ‘training’. ‘What she’s taken from you, John… I’m not sure you’ll even realise that it’s gone’, he says.

As Soren realises that convincing John is futile, he turns to leave. John threatens to shoot him one last time, to which Soren replies: ‘If I want it to be anyone, I want to be you,’ hinting at the strength of their friendship. ‘Either way, I’m a free man.’   

After some hesitation, John allows him to leave, pretending his gun is jammed. He refuses to go with Soren, and gives him a meagre head start before he alerts the base. 

>Halo TV series recap  Episode 2 Unbound
Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

The show cuts back to present day where John, still a helmet-less Master Chief, and Kwan fly their ship through space. John begins to gives a very Doctor Who-style speech about space, explaining how their ship is travelling, which Kwan immediately shuts down. 

It’s a nice moment with some soothing spacefaring visual effects, accompanied by some ambient sci-fi musical notes that are very reminiscent of Mass Effect – not so much Halo. As we’ll see later, this adoption of familiar sci-fi motifs – albeit very un-Halo motifs – will continue on in this episode. 

John and Kwan speak briefly about the Covenant relic from the first episode, and how it helped save them, pondering both how it functions and why John wanted to save Kwan in the first place. 

‘Would you let a kid be executed?’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because it’s wrong.’ 

‘That’s what I was thinking.’

Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome.’

Not exactly Shakespearean dialogue here. At the very least it shows a very gradual unravelling of the robotic, unemotional Master Chief – though I wonder how he mustered up the personality for the ‘nuts and bolts’ joke he made last episode.

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Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

We pay a visit to the rest of John’s Squad, Silver Team, as they gear up to bring him in peacefully.  

As the show pays a visit to the UNSC headquarters on planet Reach, We see the head of the Spartan program, Dr. Halsey, and a high-ranking commander speculating about the Covenant relic. They don’t know what it does, but if the enemy wants it, they want it, and that’s good enough for the Commander.

That ‘get-it-done attitude’ continues on when the topic turns to Master Chief. Dr. Halsey assures the Commander they have an insurance plan to keep the wavering Spartan on their side, but he doesn’t want to know. He’ll simply trust Halsey to get it done, and turn a blind eye to the details.

We also pay a brief visit to the rest of John’s squad, Silver Team, as they chat about bringing Master Chief in peacefully. One of them, Kai, exhibits a concerned look over the need to go after him at all. This won’t be her last deeply concerned look for the episode.

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Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

John and Kwan pull out of whatever slipspace they were travelling through into an asteroid field, and John pulls off some incredibly deft flying manoeuvres while Kwan freaks out. I don’t think we’ve ever known the Master Chief to be an ace pilot, but there we go. 

They arrive and dock at a vast city, built inside of multiple asteroids, and connected via a series of cables. 

John puts on his Master Chief helmet and returns to his broody Batman mode as they enter the city, and wide-eyed citizens run to get ‘The Boss’. 

Kwan and the viewer don’t know what Chief’s plan is at the moment, so it’s a bit of forced tension as he casually walks through a crowd of dishevelled individuals, all pointing guns at him. At one point, someone blocks his path with a forklift, which Chief works hard to push aside in a show of strength, which is an amusingly odd moment. 

And then – surprise! The boss of Asteroid Town arrives and guess what? It’s Soren, the runaway Spartan with the mutilated arm from the flashback at the beginning of the episode. He’s played by the excellent Bokeem Woodbine, who was nominated for an Emmy for his role in the Fargo TV series.

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Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

Chief immediately takes his helmet off in Soren’s presence – and I note that the Halo TV series is very quickly normalising this once shocking action. 

We learn from Soren that the new leader of the planet Madrigal wants Kwan dead (as does the UNSC), and that the asteroid city is Soren’s haven for outlaws and people that don’t belong – no government or police – what he calls the ‘absolute freedom’ he was chasing as a young man.

As they move through the populated, cyberpunk-influenced city (spacepunk, maybe?) it reminds me of places like Mars as depicted in Total Recall, or the city of Omega in Mass Effect. It’s a common sci-fi setting archetype, but it’s not one you’d really associate with Halo. Still, I like that the series is seemingly going to some interesting places.

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Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

Soren, John and Kwan take an absolutely wild minecart ride as they traverse the city – the cart shoots out of a hole and free-falls into a vast cavern, miraculously latching onto a cable. The city is absolutely massive and dense.

The minecart-turned-cable car continues out into the asteroid field and towards another smaller asteroid on the outskirts of the field, which serves as Soren’s private abode. It’s an absolutely decked-out home, and as they arrive we’re introduced to Soren’s young son, Kessler, and his absolutely glamorous wife, who’s dressed like she just stepped out of a time machine from 1930s Hollywood. 

>Halo TV series recap  Episode 2 Unbound
Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

The show now pays a visit to the Covenant antagonists, where their High Council and mysterious human ally (referred to as ‘The Blessed One’) speak to the Elite soldier that got away after the first major action sequence in Episode One. He explains what he saw Chief do with the Relic, and it disturbs them. We learn that the object is a kind of key, which will lead the Covenant to some kind of ‘Sacred Ring’ – some kind of halo, maybe? 

The Blessed One wants to go and retrieve the relic herself, but the council refuses initially. There’s a question about her loyalty to the Covenant, which raises some questions, and we eventually learn that she’s a human who was taken in by the High Council and tutored in the ways of the Covenant. 

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Back at the UNSC, we’re privy to a leadership meeting, where we learn they’ve appointed a new Governor to oversee Kwan’s home planet of Madrigal, now that the Covenant has wiped out her father’s entire clan. The new Governor apparently rules with an iron fist, but he keeps the resources flowing, which keeps the fuel prices low, which is playing well with the rest of the colonies the UNSC are trying to unite. 

They talk about potential punishments for the disobedient Master Chief, but the Commander from the previous scene thinks it’s unwise, since Chief serves as a heroic symbol on top of being a battle asset, and it’d be bad for morale. 

He creates the perfect moment for Dr. Halsey to step in and offers her secret solution of the Cortana program, which she partially credits to an unawares Admiral Parangosky. Halsey pitches the Cortana program as a way to enhance the minds of Spartans in the same way they enhance their physical bodies.

The ultimate goal is to overwrite Spartan consciousness with a controllable AI, and help them to be more error-free. Sounds like a barrel of fun for our pal John. 

Another officer questions the morality of the Cortana procedure, which requires ‘flash cloning humans’. Something that definitely sounds dodgy. 

But before Dr. Halsey can react, the chill Commander steps in to wash over the ‘technical hurdles’ and simply defers oversight to Admiral Parangosky to approve it all. Put on the spot, Parangosky hesitantly agrees. 

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Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

We then pay a visit to Madrigal, which still looks like an incredibly bleak place, but we’re now in a much more populated city, a far cry from the primitive outpost we saw Kwan’s people living in. 

We see the new Governor Vinsher– who very clearly looks like an evil fascist, executing anonymous rebels in the street. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this bloke – he was briefly on the television at the very beginning of the first episode, talking about wanting to broker peace with the UNSC, while General Jin (Kwan’s father) and his rebel squad told ghost stories about Spartans.

And just in case we weren’t convinced that this guy is Space Hitler simply by looking at his face and hearing his voice, he executes a young woman. Suddenly, he spots a surveillance drone recording his actions, and he shoots it down.

>Halo TV series recap  Episode 2 Unbound
Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

On the other end of the surveillance feed is Kwan, who is watching the execution of her comrades. She’s comforted by Soren’s incredibly dolled up wife, who reveals a very similar backstory and some sage advice to an enraged Kwan, who is hungry for justice: ‘Revenge and justice are easy to confuse.’

While Kwan and Soren’s wife are having that cheery chat, an armourless John and Soren are having some tasty snacks – though we learn that Chief can’t taste anything. They also discuss Soren’s family and his surprisingly ability to have children – John is surprised because the Spartans received ‘treatments’ to suppress a number of things, including taste, fertility and sex drive, it seems. 

Soren scoffs at the idea that John is still putting a positive spin on their ‘treatments’. On their way out, Soren’s young son jabs John with a smiley face stamp as an act of friendship, and Chief looks at him like he’s going to murder him… but he thanks him in an incredibly deadpan manner instead. What a guy.

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Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

We briefly cut to a UNSC space frigate, where Silver Team are tracking John, and they remark on his odd movements, like jumping his ship into an asteroid belt. Cut to Kai, who is staring into space with a concerned look on her face, while an ominous note plays. Uh oh. 

Back at UNSC HQ, Miranda Keyes confronts Admiral Parangosky. She’s annoyed that Halsey has been promised exclusive access to the relic when they get their hands on it – she’s hoping to use it to advance the UNSC alien-based military and science tech, and expresses frustration at the fact that Halsey gets way too much funding for her silly Spartans. That’s all for our Miranda check-in this episode!

After Soren puts his wife and kid to bed, he rejoins Master Chief and Kwan to talk about the relic. Soren tries to touch it, but nothing happens. It looks like it only works for John, and not any other Spartan. Soren recommends a guy to take a look at it.

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Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

We’re back on the streets and John and Soren have armoured up again – though it’s interesting to note John still hasn’t put his helmet back on. Soren orders half a dozen churros from a street vendor – yes, churros, and fails to make John laugh at a joke.

This is bad, folks – John is completely losing his capacity for humour, meaning his humanity is waning again, probably.

They enter some kind of jail or asylum facility, filled with erratic and, uh, ‘interesting’ individuals, and Soren hands out the Churros to the folks in cells.

Between Kwan’s ethnic village in the first episode and the mental asylum in this episode, Halo so far does not have a great track of representing space minorities in a flattering light.

We meet Wreth, who’s incredibly jumpy and manic. He recognises John’s relic as a religious artefact for the Covenant, and mentions that he was asked to try and make something like this work while aboard a Covenant ship.

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Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

But he couldn’t, because he’s not a ‘Blessed One’ like our lady friend from earlier. Wreth describes Blessed Ones as human, ‘but only moreso’, whatever that means. He begins jabbering on about a moral imperative before completely losing his mind.

Wreth asks: ‘You don’t want to help the Covenant destroy us do you?’ before quickly grabbing the relic and attempting to smash it. 

Before he can do so, John intercepts it, and as a result of his touch, activates it. The relic sends shockwaves through the city while John gains another flashback from his childhood. We see his parents and his dog. 

Suddenly, everyone in this psychiatric asylum is absolutely losing their minds, writhing around on the floor.

Wreth suggests that John is different to the Blessed One currently with the Covenant. After some forceful coercing, Wreth also reveals that the Covenent want access to some kind of ring – they’re doing their best not to say the world ‘halo’ here – which is a weapon that ‘opens the door to the end of life as we know it.’

>Halo TV series recap  Episode 2 Unbound
Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

Wreth asks if John felt a darkness. He did. Wreth urges John to destroy the relic, and himself.

John rushes off with the intention to go back to Dr. Halsey, and Soren chastises him for it, urging him to stay with him. Soren represents freedom, Halsey represents submission. 

John accuses Soren of having no loyalty; Soren snaps back with the fact that he was betrayed by his friend when he escaped. John learns that by alerting the UNSC during the flashback, Soren was shot down and injured when he made his run for it, and left to scavenge in the wilderness to live.

As a weird act of trust, John requests that Soren look after Kwan. Soren is the only person John knows outside of the UNSC, and therefore the only person he can trust. Kwan protests, but John apologises and puts his helmet on. Back to being the faceless, unemotional robot.

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Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

Kwan looks on wistfully as Master Chief leaves. Soren looks on in disdain. Chief flips on his beacon to alert the UNSC of his position, and he’s brought back to the UNSC base de-armoured and in handcuffs. 

Chief and Kai share a look, and we get her third quietly-concerned look of the episode. 

Dr. Halsey has a moment with the relic and is just way too pleased by it. She then has a chat to an imprisoned John, explaining that his actions have casted doubt on the Spartan program and Halsey’s work. She doesn’t know how to defend his behaviour and asks him to explain.

John tells Halsey that he ‘felt something’, to which Halsey is intrigued, but as he begins to talk about his childhood flashbacks she immediately changes the subject. Needless to say, there’s likely some dodgy shit going on with the Spartan program.

Halsey asks why he ran with Kwan, to which he explains he simply didn’t want her to die. The situation wasn’t different from any other time, he explains, but he was. He remarks that he feels connected to something, while he wasn’t before. 

As John speaks, we see Kwan watching a broadcast of Governor Vinsher back on Madrigal, who is doing his absolute best impression of a Hitler speech. We also get glimpses of the Blessed One stripping down at the Covenant base, revealing an intricate scar on her back. 

When Halsey asks John why he came back, he tells her there’s no-one else he can trust, while looking at the smiley face stamp Soren’s son gave him (John is capable of lying! But to who?) 

>Halo TV series recap  Episode 2 Unbound
Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

Halsey flashes an incredibly wry smile, thanks him, and claps his hand. ‘I see this as a new beginning’ she says. ‘We’re going to do great things together’ as the camera cuts to her younger, clone self. 

Cortana is coming. Let’s hope Chief has something planned in that thick head of his.

Critical Take

Episode 2 was certainly far less focussed on the action and video game easter eggs that seemed to plagued Episode 1 – and that’s great. Halo feels like it’s setting out to be its own show, and pushing at the edges of the Halo franchise universe to explore ideas we haven’t really seen a whole lot of in the video games.

More importantly, ‘Unbound’ spent time exploring Master Chief as John. Keeping the helmet off and making sure he has time to air himself out as a human character (or at least, a character that’s slowly becoming human again) will hopefully give him the dimensionality he needs to keep this series interesting, and more than just an elaborate game of space chess.

I think Soren is a great addition to the series. He’s an entertaining foil for John, and keeps the dynamic from getting stale while John continues to work through his burgeoning feelings and emotions. I hope we see more of him. 

There’s been a lot of good setup here – a few concerned stares here, a few weird alien things there, and the intrigue of what is potentially a vastly different approach to what Cortana is. Keep going to those uncharted places, Halo, and this whole adaptation may just be the most interesting thing the franchise has done since Halo 3: ODST.

Stray observations 

  • Big fan of the deadpan gags in this episode:

    John, deadpan: ‘I’m happy for you.’
    Soren: ‘I can see that.’

    Kwan: ‘We’re going to die!’
    John, deadpan: ‘Everybody dies.’

  • I loved the world building of the asteroid city. Sure, it’s been done plenty of times in other cyberpunk and sci-fi media. But I absolutely came into this series expecting Halo to be a straight-down-the-line military thing, rather than a show willing to spend time going planet hopping.
  • Soren is an absolute baller. What a home he has! And just way too much food on the table at all times, even with guests!
  • I love how Halo is two-for-two on introducing new and exotic space drugs to the universe. Soren’s wife offers Kwan a fancy oxygen vape mask full of a green mist called ‘Clarity’.

    ‘I think I’ve had enough clarity for one day,’ she says.
Halo TV series recap  Episode 2 Unbound
Image: Paramount+ / Amblin Entertainment

See you next week!

Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran