Twenty Years of Halo: Red Vs Blue Season 5, Out of Mind, and Recovery One

Artwork by Usbaia

The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios

Red vs Blue and all the images you see in this retrospective are owned by Rooster Teeth

Red vs Blue began in 2003 and it swiftly became a phenomenon with mainstream success, DVD releases, and I’m pretty sure they played episodes of it on the G4 network when that was still a thing.  With the popularity of this series rising as fast as Halo’s popularity, it may seem like a strange idea for them to close the book on The Blood Gulch Chronicles after five seasons, but it was soon clear that Rooster Teeth wasn’t saying goodbye to the series; just this version of it.  So today we’ll be looking at the final season of the show as well as its early attempts to expand the franchise and build on its lore to see the groundwork for future seasons.  Does the show end with a bang, or was it clear they need to take things in a new direction sooner rather than later?  Let’s get started!!

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Season 5 – 2006-2007

The Blood Gulch Chronicles is a perfect parabola of quality as the series reaches its peak at season three and goes downhill at about the same rate.  Where season 1 was rather primitive and a bit too mean spirited for me, it at least had the excuse of being a brand new thing from a group of inexperienced creatives so there was naturally going to be a learning curve.  Season five on the other hand, despite having four seasons of experience behind it, just feels like a total regression of all the series’ biggest bugbears.  The humor in particular is utterly obnoxious as we’re right back to sniping at each other with every offhand comment or very simple statement of clarification followed by someone calling them stupid, fat, girly, etc.  Donut as a character thankfully doesn’t regress to his per-season 4 self, but boy does everyone else lay into him a lot more here and it’s never funny.  Perhaps the worst addition is Griff’s sister who is a one dimensional “dumb blonde” stereotype only on hand to act ditzy and be a sexual object for everyone to lust after at the expense of Griff.  She doesn’t even get a name!  She’s just called Sister throughout the season!  The whole season is painfully misogynistic with Church in particular throwing out barbs at both Sister and Tex, and the writing for the two women on hand (excluding Sheila the tank) is just lacking in any sort of wit which is a shame because it’s clear that Tex is a HUGE piece of the ongoing story once we finally get out of Blood Gulch.

“GIRLY THINGS!”     “Hey, we’ve already got Donut for that!”     “Yeah, but that joke ran its course two seasons ago.”     “Clearly you haven’t learned the finer points of beating a dead horse!”

Speaking of which, the bigger lore stuff and the action packed finale are what keep this from being an unwatchable mess as I do like the strides they are making towards a larger world with more details on the Freelancers, but at this stage it’s still very vague and never feels properly explained; especially whatever the conspiracy is behind Red vs Blue.  All the way back in season 2 Tucker found out that Red vs Blue wasn’t actually a thing, but they very deliberately pushed it to the back burner until this season.  Was it to lay the foundation and tease out clues that will lead to a brilliant revelation?  Not really.  There’s a whole series of caves underneath the two bases with a bunch of equipment monitoring them, but no one is actually USING that stuff and there’s no explanation for WHAT they are monitoring.  On the surface we’ve got Wyoming coming back to kidnap Tucker’s alien child and reclaim the O’Malley AI for some absurdly convoluted plan to enslave the alien race by implanting the AI in the kid and… I guess it’s the Messiah of the alien civilization or something?  And I guess we’re at war with the aliens?  It all just comes out of nowhere and has no relevance to what this series has been about up to this point; namely two teams complaining amongst themselves and occasionally failing to kill one another.

“What are you gonna do to us, Wyoming?  Torture us?  Break our legs!?  CUT OUR HEADS OFF!?”     “No, I’m going to exposit to you for several minutes about things you never saw and were of no real consequence.”     “NOOOOOOO!!”

Where it does work though is when it becomes a story about Church and Tex.  The final crisis is that for reasons that only kinda sorta (but not really) make sense, Tex is going to put O’Malley back in her head and take the child to complete their dark mission to end the war.  Church, understandably upset that Tex is going to do this spends the last episode trying desperately to outmaneuver her and keep O’Malley away.  It works because the characters involved have genuine stakes in the outcome, and there’s some real tension there as Church may not be strong enough or smart enough to keep Tex safe from herself.  As part of this retrospective we’ve talked about the novels and just how casually they indulge in atrocities like training child soldiers, and I’ll give credit to this season for finally having SOMEONE in this franchise stand up in a meaningful way against the idea of doing whatever horrific things necessary to win a fight; even if Church’s stance here is entirely selfish.  It ends up being much more relatable than pretty much anyone’s motivations in the books, and it’s in what is definitely the worst season of the series.

“Tex! Wait! You forgot your cell phone!” “She did?” “Shut up, man! I’m doing a thing!”

Aside from the occasional funny premise like Sarge’s funeral and Sheila’s malfunctions, it was a real chore sitting through the unfunny jokes and the desperate attempts to be edgy.  It’s definitely helped by a finale that pulls out all the stops and ends things on a genuinely bittersweet note, but it’s hard to recommend much than just the last few episodes of the season and it’s a good thing that this version of the show ended here.  Thankfully Rooster Teeth saw the writing on the wall and changed things up DRASTICALLY going forward which I will have a lot more fun discussing than this season right here, but sadly it’s also the most relevant TO those later seasons as they jump right off from the finale.  It’s worth watching for that reason alone as you definitely want to go into the Recollection arc with as much context as possible, but you can DEFINITELY skim a bunch of episodes here and won’t miss anything other than a lot of outdated humor.

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Out of Mind – 2006

Admittedly we are doing things a bit out of order here as Out of Mind came out before the start of season 5 and bridged the gap between Tex’s disappearance in the fourth season and her reappearance in the fifth.  However, it definitely approaches things from a different angle than the rest of Red vs Blue and it fits nicely into the change that takes place between Blood Gulch and Recollection.  It’s a five part mini-series about Tex trying to hunt down Wyoming after he killed the alien in season 4, and the tone is much more skewed towards action and drama than straight up comedy.  The best part is definitely the introduction of freelancer York and his AI Delta.  In a world full of comedy characters who never take anything seriously, there’s a fair bit of gravitas to them that makes the interactions between them and Tex very compelling to watch.  When things sadly go tragically in the final episode of the mini-series, well it kinda got to me which is pretty impressive considering how little time they were on screen.

Everyone else gets to comeback as a ghost or half-cyborg, but not this guy!?

There are a few things that don’t exactly work here, but it’s more of the season 1 problem of Rooster Teeth still trying to figure out what they are doing.  I think the narration from Tex is a bit wonky and on the nose which isn’t great because it’s in most of the episodes, the flashback to her and Church when they were still dating doesn’t exactly SAY anything or explain much of the backstory (what is explained feels like it’s disregarded as early as season 6), and Wyoming feels a LITTLE bit off.  He’s got a fun interaction with Tex in the first episode of the mini-series, but by the end he’s all business in a way that feels VERY jarring; especially considering how goofy he would be once again in season five.

“Wait, he’s actually SHOOTING at me!? I thought we were making bullet sounds with our mouths!”

Still, it’s an interesting and very enjoyable little piece of Red vs Blue canon that feels like a genuine step in the right direction while the series proper spent another season just puttering about.  The only reason it’s not even higher in my estimation is that it was VERY quickly overshadowed by the next mini-series which was…

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Recovery One – 2007-2008

Picking up right after the events of Out of Mind and concurrent with season 5, this mini-series is easily one of my favorite things that Rooster Teeth ever put out.  Perhaps I’m a bit TOO big of a mark for this kind of stuff where they take something inherently silly and do something truly serious with it, but this attempt at wringing real drama using machinima techniques is something I found just truly fascinating.  The story follows agent Washington; a Freelancer whose job it is to destroy the bodies of other dead Freelancers as well as recover their AIs.  We begin with him looking over the body of Agent York who was killed by Wyoming in Tex’s attempt to apprehend him at the end of Out of Mind, and already it’s clear that the tone has shifted dramatically.  Each episode starts with a silent shot of a dead body before somber music plays over the title as Wash begins his grim work; a reaper of sorts who only gets called upon when something tragic has happened. 

“Just call me Xerxes!  Wherever I go, there’s always dead Spartans!”     “My analysis has concluded that that joke was awful.”     “Oh, what do you know?  That was GOLD right there!”

Honestly, it’s not even the story itself that I like about this; it’s just how effectively they build up the atmosphere throughout this mini-series and how all of it informs us of the world in which Wash finds himself in; one FAR from the wacky nonsense found in Blood Gulch.  We learn that he once had his own AI but that it broke down inside his mind which made him… let’s say “ambivalent” about them which left him with deep scars; the kind that made him a perfect candidate for recovery work as he wouldn’t want to take the AI for his own uses.  Still, the relationship between him and Freelancer Command is definitely strained and as much a driving force in the narrative as the actual murders of Freelancers.  After collecting the AI Delta from York’s armor, he’s tasked with collecting the AI from agent North Dakota who was killed under mysterious circumstances while his sister South Dakota was incapacitated.  It’s clear that a fearsome enemy is out there collecting the AIs and equipment of these Freelancers, and Wash trying to put the pieces together and come up with a plan to bring it to an end is what drives this all too brief four episode series, but it also doesn’t overstay its welcome the same way that the Blood Gulch Chronicles eventually did.

“So does everyone understand the plan?”     “Yes, actually!  It’s amazing how quickly things can get done when we don’t argue constantly!”

The only thing that feels lacking here is the aforementioned story which I think leans too heavily on a conspiracy angle when Wash simply going through his work and facing an unexpected foe would have been enough.  I guess it’s foreshadowing for what happens in the next season, but the last minute twist involving South’s role in all this definitely feels like a swerve for the sake of it and frankly I think they regretted it almost immediately as they basically hand-wave it away  at the start of the next season.  Perhaps the writing is a tad bit clunky here and there and perhaps some people will have trouble taking Machinima the least bit seriously, but I found this mini-series to be incredibly compelling and a refreshing change of pace for Red vs Blue; proving that Rooster Teeth were not content to just spin their wheels with this series.  I mean they were willing to spin them for a while, but EVENTUALLY they got the message and tried something new!

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So that’s the end of this look back at Red vs Blue and it’s also the last time they’ll be using the Halo 2 engine as the backbone of the series.  This means that we won’t be coming back here until after we cover Halo 3 which is a shame because the sixth season Reconstruction was DEFINITELY my favorite back in the good ol’ days when I was in high school and had time to binge watch this series!  Oh well, at least it’s something to look forward to, right?  Speaking of things to look forward to, join me next time as we’ll be looking at Halo’s first comic book series Uprising as well as the fifth novel Contact Harvest!

Next: Halo Uprising & Contact Harvest
Previous: The Halo Graphic Novel & Ghost of Onyx

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