Harlan In ‘Atlas’ Explained: Did Harlan Kill Atlas?

Harlan Shepherd is a robot created by Val Shepherd to improve the quality of life for human beings. That was the idea, and Harlan should’ve been a friendly robot using his artificial intelligence to help his maker and her species. Instead, Harlan makes his name as the first AI terrorist in the world. 


Why did Harlan flee from Earth? 

Harlan was the first AI robot who manipulated his primary codes to go rogue. Harlan reprogrammed every single bot or machine that was powered by AI. Harlan first wreaked havoc in the Indian city of Bangalore and killed over 500 thousand people by drone strikes. Harlan’s army of terrorist bots soon spread out around the world, and the death toll kept rising. Harlan wants to wipe out the majority of the population from Earth since humans are bound to destroy the planet themselves. His motivations for killing people to cleanse the planet don’t differ much from Thanos, and I’m not even sorry for the Marvel references because they do it way better. When most of the forces on Earth joined hands against Harlan and his army, he suffered multiple injuries and fled the planet. 

Did Harlan willingly send Casca to Earth?

ICN forces capture one of Harlan’s main commanders, Casca. Atlas tricked Casca into giving up Harlan’s location, but it was Harlan’s plan all along. Since Atlas designed an impenetrable shield that protects the planet from outside forces, Harlan needed a way in. He conspired to let humans know where he was so that he could ambush them and get hold of their aircraft. When the ICN team is about to attack Harlan, his drones make sure none of them land on his planet and live to tell the tale. Harlan also keeps Elias alive so that he can get a hold of him for the access code. Atlas surviving the crash only helped Harlan get the second code, and his scheme of sending Casca and his clones worked like a charm. Harlan’s plan is almost a reversal of the Trojan horse, as he made the humans believe that it wouldn’t be much of a challenge for them to barge in and take him with them. 


What did Harlan do after leaving Earth?

Harlan left Earth, and nobody knew where he ended up. Harlan chose a planet called GR-39 in the Andromeda galaxy. Nobody knew what Harlan was up to in the 28 years he spent as a fugitive. It turns out that Harlan chose this planet because of its inhospitable climate and harsh conditions. Harlan’s choice makes sense, as it’s impossible for a human being to survive in GR-39’s conditions, and he slowly built his army to its full strength. As an extremely advanced humanoid, Harlan used his capabilities to their full extent to construct a whole city, which is basically an impenetrable fortress. 

How does Harlan catch Atlas?

When Casca and his crew are checking to make sure all the rangers are dead, he finds out that Atlas is alive. Harlan, who already has Elias in captivity, asks Casca to bring Atlas to him. Even though Casca fails to get hold of Atlas, Harlan doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to tricking his enemies. Known for being a step ahead of everyone, he hacks Smith’s system and breaches the firewall. Harlan shuts Smith off and drags Atlas to him for the second clearance code. 


Did Harlan kill Atlas?

Harlan is shrewd, and his plan of using the warhead from the very spacecraft his enemies arrived in is nothing but brilliant. When Atlas breaks free and syncs with Smith, they kill a large number of Harlan’s army. Harlan decides to take the matter into his own hands and charges Atlas and Smith with a sword. Harlan’s fighting skills prove to be too good for Atlas to handle, and even Smith, an elite ARC suit designed for battle, is no match in front of him. Using his speed and agility, Harlan starts to cut through Smith. Even though Smith analyzes his attack pattern and cuts his hands, Harlan quickly gets back up and lands a critical hit on Smith, rending Atlas down. This blow inflicts a hit on Atlas’ head, and she gets unconscious. Trying to capitalize on this opportunity, Harlan starts to hit Smith’s top to try to destroy its reactor. Harlan is unfortunate that Atlas’ human brain is a tad bit cleverer than his, as she sneaks up behind him to deliver a fatal blow. Harlan is killed by Atlas, but you have to give him credit for almost nuking the Earth. 

Sir Isaac Asimov once said that if you make a smart robot, the first rule should be “do not harm people.” It’s not that Harlan was created any differently, but it’s little Atlas who accidentally corrupted him. One small mistake went on to birth a genocide, and Harlan orchestrated all of it. Atlas does correct her mistake after three decades, and Harlan was stopped before he could eradicate the entire planet. 


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Aniket Mukherjee
Aniket Mukherjee
Aniket is a literature student pursuing his master's degree while trying to comprehend Joyce and Pound. When his head is not shoved in books, he finds solace in cinema and his heart beats for poetry, football, and Adam Sandler in times.

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