Review: Halo 4 – Forward Unto Dawn

Though I’ve not posted in over a week, it feels like I haven’t done anything in three – I’ve been fixated on the idea that there is nothing without the team. It has written over my memory both before and after it came into existence; if I had not gotten the surge of views on my engineering rant, the Purpose and Loyalty post would be the only thing I’d even remember since the first birthday. Through the normal sheer volume of information and wandering mind a couple of other models have gained form from the nothingness, but writing on them hasn’t felt like it was going to flow somewhere. The posts on Power and Energy were more of a rehash, a record, a memory of something that had been figured out almost completely already, put down in external code simply for its use from a more permanent and stable storage. The other posts are even less. They are examples, a combination of various principles expounded on before with miscellaneous “evidence”. I prefer to leave the exercise up to the reader (not leaving it up to the reader, I suspect, is a reason why high-volume blogs die), even if I do violate this principle from time to time with random mid-length posts. When I do, it feels like I’m (mostly) wasting time on filler. They aren’t the building of guideposts, partially complete ideas that while on their own have meaning, also indicate that there is much more to understand.

That only the pointman has been seen.

Several days ago I watched the miniseries Halo 4 – Forward Unto Dawn. It does a very good job at what it aimed to do: provide a short little story that ties Halo 3 and Halo 4 together. Many gorgeous shots of the space elevator (they call it “space tether”). Uniforms look good. Architecture looks good. A fast but reasonable pace, considering total runtime is 5×20 minutes. A well-made piece.

I watched it not for the Halo interest, but for the military. Not the slow-motion explosions or the erratic camera in quick movement, but for the solidarity we all recognize must be a quality inherent within military for it to be anything more than a “ragtag” bunch of men with some weapons.

(The following contains spoilers.)

That solidarity was the first thing the story made sure didn’t occur.

The series opens with a scene in combat, with our main character’s insubordination. Because the enemies were closing in and Laskey decided “he didn’t care” for his orders, he got his whole squad killed – or that’s what would’ve happened, if it was real and not an exercise. He plays off his “death” as “just another strategic casualty” and his squad leader found that “unacceptable”. Where in a more orderly society one would find this scene as an opening to the squad leader as the main character, we instead follow Mr. I-Know-Better-Than-The-Commander. The paintball exercise was overlaid with a story about killing insurrectionists and Laskey role-played, refusing to shoot rebels because he didn’t believe violence was the answer. And that’s what this culture loves: “reason”, unlinked unbiased no-context “reason”, especially when it’s used against… well, anything. It doesn’t matter what the other side is doing or who the other side is, if YOU believe you’re RIGHT, then by the gods you should stand up for what you believe in! There is no particular sense of failure imbued in the scene, not even when a general comes out to “remind” the squad of the base’s namesake. The squad then goes on tour (a marathon) and sings in lockstep, and the camera pans to scenery. This is the “real” opening, and it feels like things have gone back to normal. Again, no sense of inconsistency. Direct and willing insubordination leading to failure and a high level officer coming out to personally punish you? Perfectly fine. Punishment which is in another sense simply more training for the cohesive unit you should be part of to begin with? Also perfectly fine.

No unit synchronization is shown in our main character’s squad, only individuals acting on their own. Sometimes they act together, sometimes they act apart, but you have no sense for a real squad in the story outside of simply more camera time. A couple of them like each other. A couple of them are friends. They all know each other. But it really doesn’t matter too much. The morning after they get up before sunrise to do another exercise, and at breakfast the squad leader orders both Laskey and another guy to give her their meals. The other guy throws an underhand insult about how Laskey’s mother is never going to see her real son come back, Laskey starts a fight. Again individual prowess is shown and praised (A colonel shows up and says “there’s a soldier inside of you” once they were outside), and indeed such a line justly warrants an elbow to the face. What isn’t questioned is why such a state exists. It’s understood that when an army is not at war with another army it will find some way of creating conflict (real or simulated) within itself, but this army is at war yet it still manages to not be able to keep its shit together at the most basic level? When the colonel says “there’s a soldier inside of you” there is no reason to believe she’s talking about how our main character is proficient at following orders and being disciplined. She simply witnessed some part of a brawl. She’s talking about how Mr. Laskey is capable of using violence effectively. We’re not even at the first step yet.

And we (i.e. our main character) never really get to it. It’s indicated that he did in the epilogue, but never shown, not once throughout the story. He finally uses paintballs on an opposing cadet team in a cute tactic, but neither violence nor camaraderie ever truly emerge. Unity is always simply a backdrop. The academy/base they’re stationed on certainly has unity, there’s a guy who drives the general around without complaining and there are armed guards standing at attention. That general woke up at 4AM to review the squad’s speed at donning equipment. The Master Chief comes in and kills the aliens without any sense of hesitation or fear. But none of these are in focus. Our Hastati squad is, and this squad simply talks about honor and order while not having its shit together during peacetime, and in crisis they become the audience of a horror movie. What’s this? What’s that? What do we do? They’re in the military and it’s not their first instinct when seeing an unknown force slaying their people to get a weapon and shoot?

What is said is great. One of the characters even speaks of the importance of a team: “Look. You want people to change? You want this war to end? Then you’re going to need people to follow you.” There’s an epitaph printed above each cadet’s bunk, and there’s time between general lockdown and final lightout for them to read it. It is the best writing in this piece:

Through Knowledge, Victory.
Through Unity, Peace.
Honor, Valor, Allegiance.
Today, Tomorrow, Forever,
Together We Rise. Together We Prevail.
Forward Unto Dawn.
From Earth, For Earth.
Honor, Valor, Allegiance, Excellence.
Today. Tomorrow. Forever.
Together We Rise. Together We Prevail.
Forward Unto Dawn.
From Earth, For Earth.
Honor
, Valor, Allegiance, Excellence […]

But again, it’s only a backdrop.

Forward Unto Dawn is not a story of “Together We Rise”, it’s a story of a kid who realizes the importance of “Together We Rise”. It is a talk, and not a walk. But then again, there aren’t that many stories which actually go for a together we rise theme, is there? Children’s stories are filled with group-forming and working together, but it’s always focused on being “nice”. More mature themed movies always glorify an individual’s skill in light of what individuals can accomplish, rather than what the individual’s skill means in terms of the group objective, or some other greater objective. The greatest stories like these ever accomplish is a convenient coordination which leads to a single surprisingly good result. They never and can never create the greatness that is dictating a goal abstract and distant yet achieving it in a way that makes you believe that it was done against all possibility and probability.

Even though in the epilogue it shows Laskey as a veteran soldier and as a commanding officer aboard a ship, it doesn’t show him as part of a team. It’s not that he’s conquered enemies, or endowed order to increasingly greater groups. All it’s indicated is that he’s conquered his own uncertainties. When he goes into the cryo for the slipspace jump, he goes in alone. No others are shown. They are going to a distress call by the Master Chief – another lone man. It’s a given that these lone men didn’t accomplish everything on their own. The academy, the training, the war, rising in ranks, all of these require above average skill at cooperation towards a goal.

We think about it all the time.

But we don’t see it.

Previously I quoted Muv-Luv on why authority comes first; they were discussing the importance of following orders even into death. This is what came after.

【Meiya】「That is the nature of law and order. Since there is no absolute justice in this world, someone has to make decisions. Because those decisions are necessary, we cannot determine whether they are right.」

【Takeru】「…then, Meiya, would you also die if you were ordered to?」

【Meiya】「I would.」

【Takeru】「H-hey…」

【Mikoto】「Takeru…why are you here?」

【Takeru】「Why?」

【Mikoto】「We’re here to defeat the enemy, save Japan, and save the world, right?」

…I’m…not like any of you…

【Meiya】「And for our own sakes as well.」

…what’s she saying?

…how is that…for their own sakes…?

It doesn’t make sense…

【Mikoto】「If there’s something someone has to do……and you’re the only one around to do it when the time comes……then you do it.」

【Meiya】「Although we are individual humans, that will of ours binds us together. That is why we can believe…that even if we fail, someone else will finish what we started.」

【Miki】「Though we do fight from time to time…ahaha…」

【Meiya】「That is why we obey our orders.If I was given an order to die, there is no doubt it would save someone else.」

【Mikoto】「…we might be living right now…only because someone else was given an order like that.」

【Takeru】「……」

【Mikoto】「Everyone thinks that way, both those who give orders and those who receive them. That is why no squad leader would ever give a suicide order without good reason.」

【Takeru】「……」

【Meiya】「We fight precisely because life is valuable……I would like you to remember that.」

Let me remind you cadets… This academy bears the name of the Roman general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. Because he represents Honor, Valor, Allegiance. General Corbulo was to take his own life in the name of the empire. Corbulo did not hesitate nor question, he loyally obeyed screaming “AXIOS”, as he fell upon his own sword.

AXIOS:

I. AM. WORTHY.

– General Black, Halo 4 – Forward Unto Dawn

Worthy of what?

Which of us has something to be worthy of, today?

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One thought on “Review: Halo 4 – Forward Unto Dawn

  1. Pingback: 3 Centimeters Per Second (Magic) « All Else Is Halation

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