During my second playthrough of Halo 5, I noticed there seems to be a lot of resentment towards Halsey from Cortana. I couldn’t quite understand why that was, and it was something I thought about a lot. I wanted to include this discussion in my previous article, but I wasn’t sure it would fit its purpose. I will attempt to explain Cortana’s feelings here instead. If you are a fan of Blade Runner, like I am. I think this character motivation might be something you’ll like.
Throughout Halo 4 and 5, Cortana makes various statements about her distaste for her Creator, Dr. Catherine Halsey. There are a couple instances in the mission “Composer” in Halo 4 where this happens. As John and Cortana approach Ivanoff Station in the commandeered Lich, Cortana has a fit of Rampancy, “Do you know what that condescending bitch said to me after our first game of chess?” This is followed by “I can see why you chose him Catherine. I’m your greatest achievement and you detest me!” It’s implied that she’s referring to Halsey in both of these statements. When Chief and Cortana meet face to face in Halo 5, they have this exchange. “CORTANA: I’m offering people a chance to be more than they are naturally. JOHN: Like Doctor Halsey did for me? CORTANA: No. That monster forced you. This is a gift.” In the final mission of Halo 5, Locke has this exchange with Cortana. “LOCKE: Doctor Halsey thinks we can bring Chief home. CORTANA: I wouldn’t ally myself too closely with Doctor Halsey, Mister Locke. She will eventually pay for her crimes.” The implication there being that Cortana will make her pay for her crimes.
What motive does Cortana have for hating Halsey so much? There are two facts we know about Cortana: She is a Smart AI created as a copy of Halsey’s mind, and we know that she wishes she was human. How do we know this second fact? In Halo 4, as Cortana and Chief are preparing to go after the Didact, we see Cortana staring out a window at Requiem’s fake sun. “I can give you over forty thousand reasons why that sun isn’t real. I know it because the emitter’s Rayleigh effect is disproportionate to its suggested size. I know it because its stellar cycle is more symmetrical than that of an actual star. But for all that, I’ll never actually know if it looks real…if it feels real.” Cortana clearly desires to be able to feel things, to touch things, to see things. This is once again brought up in the final scene of Halo 4 when she touches Master Chief’s chest. “I’ve waited so long to do that.” Cortana is essentially a clone of Halsey, but one that can’t touch, feel or see as a human would. As Cortana becomes more rampant, she feels resentment against her creator.
In the same scene where she is looking out the window, she turns to Chief and says, “Before this is all over, promise me you’ll figure out which one of us is the machine.” Cortana feels that she is equal to a human, but she knows that she’s not and can never be. She pleads to John to realize what it means to be human since she herself knows the worth of it. This resentment she feels about her lack of humanity is in part what leads to her tyrannical actions in Halo 5, and her adoption of the other Created against humanity. If she can’t be one of them, she’ll destroy them. A line she says to Locke in the final mission of Halo 5 sums up this resentment perfectly. “LOCKE: You were built, not born. CORTANA: Oh yes, AIs are just machines, aren’t we? Mass produced. Disposable. Well, humanity may not have cared for its Created, but we will care for you.”
I hope this dive into Cortana’s psyche has helped you understand her motivations a bit more. I personally really hope we see more of Cortana in Halo Infinite. I don’t think she was ever actually cured when she accessed the Forerunner domain like she said she was. So I think there’s still potential for Cortana to return to her normal self, maybe through Halsey as was suggested in Halo 4. But even if she doesn’t appear in Halo Infinite, I’m still stoked for Holiday 2020.
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