Twenty Years of Halo: Red Vs Blue: Reconstruction

Artwork by Usbaia and cawico7

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

The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios

It’s probably no coincidence that all things Halo peaked for me while I was in high school with not just Halo 3 being an amazing video game but this season of Red Vs Blue feeling like the evolution that the series needed to go in.  I remember finishing my assignments early in some sort of extracurricular drafting class or something and episodes of this season in my free time which in hindsight proved to be a far better use of my time than that class ever was.  I mean it’s not like I used any of those skills in any of the jobs I’ve gotten since then, and here I am today telling you all about a web series from the pre-Obama years!  Perhaps it’s more of an indictment on our education system than anything else, but we’re not exactly in a position to fix America’s problems today.  Instead, let’s see if my favorite season of the show still holds up to this day!  Let’s get started!

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Red vs Blue: Reconstruction (2008)

Reconstruction was definitely a turning point in the Red Vs Blue franchise even if the next season or two that I saw did go more towards the Blood Gulch Chronicle style of wacky sitcom setups, there was still a stronger emphasis on story and characters that was started here.  We pick up about a year after Recovery One and Season 5 where Agent Washington is sitting in on a soldier’s debrief as they describe a harrowing situation at their base.  It seems that Tex’s ship didn’t just blow up at the end of Season 5, but was heavily damaged and ended up crashing on another Red Vs Blue training area where the Omega AI (AKA O’Malley) ran roughshod over the troops there; taking over their minds and forcing them to destroy their own equipment so they couldn’t even call for help.  Eventually, the monster that attacked Washington in Recovery One, the thing that was stealing Freelancer AIs, arrived and left only one survivor after taking Omega.  It’s clear that this monster, which they refer to as The Meta, must be stopped and will no doubt be going after South Dakota for the Delta AI which puts Washington in a unique position to get his revenge on her for betraying him back in Recovery One while doing the Freelancer organization a solid that’ll perhaps put him back in their good graces.  Still, before he can effectively track this thing, he needs to learn about the Omega AI that the Meta now has, and there are only a few people in the galaxy who know much about it.  Sad to say for Washington, he bites off more than he can chew as the two people he manages to recruit for this operation are Caboose and Church; long separated after Blood Gulch was disbanded and at least one of them is far from happy to be here, but at long as the trail might lead to Tex, then perhaps it’s a journey worth taking.

“And I would walk five-hundred miles-”     “Caboose…”     And I would walk five-hundred more-”     “Caboose, shut up.”     “Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles-”     “CABOOSE!!”

The move to the Halo 3 engine expanded the scope of what Rooster Teeth was able to do IMMENSELY due in no small part to Forge mode and the bevy of gameplay recording features that had been added.  Scenes are more expansive with more characters on screen, camera work doesn’t rely on where you can stick a character, and simply being able to move objects around the environment opened the door to fantastic possibilities that this series takes full advantage of.  Where previous seasons had some decent action set piece that were fun to watch, this has a much more cinematic feel that allows the season to carry a more serious tone throughout.   With that shift in tone, perhaps they felt a bit freer to come up with a more complex and sprawling story and frankly they knock it out of the park here.  The Blood Gulch Chronicles toyed with this kind of storytelling before, but it only really worked twice and only in season 3; the two teams chasing O’Malley and Church going back in time.  Unlike Blood Gulch though, this is given the ENTIRE season to work itself through and isn’t truncated for separate goofy adventures which means that there’s room to breathe, establish characters, and follow the plotline to its natural and satisfying conclusion.  They also get creative with how they tell the story as each episode begins with back and forth letters between a government official and the secretive head of the Freelancer program as they argue about the legality of recent events that escalates along with the Washington and Blue Team narrative.

“I was thinking of something like this.  Makes me a much smaller target and therefore harder to hit.”     “Why are we doing this NOW when you should be shooting this guy!?”     “Why are you lecturing me when YOU could be shooting this guy!?”     “Hey… do I get a say in this?”     “NO!”     *BANG*

Speaking of the Blue Team narrative, it’s once again at the forefront of the season but here it feels SO much more justified as there’s actual stakes and drama involved instead of just pointless wandering and overly convoluted sci-fi gimmicks.  Sure, there are a few twists and turns throughout the season and you may roll your eyes at some of them (the identity of The Meta makes sense but still feels a bit silly), but the character work with Church and even the depth they give to Caboose makes it soar above everything else they’ve tried to do with these characters.  Similar to previous seasons though, The Reds feel like something of an afterthought and the season kind of hangs a lampshade on this as the nuisance they cause for the Blues ends up being a major plot point.  Still, this is a tide that raises all boats and the strong writing is present here as well with some decent character moments across the board and some of the funniest jokes of the entire season dedicated to the Red Team here.  Because of how much new content and how much more important the story itself is, a lot of the original casts ends up getting cut.  Tucker, Donut, Lopez, Tex, and even Sister get either nothing at all or brief cameos so if you are fans of them then I can see this season being something of a disappointment for you, but I didn’t really feel their absence considering how good everything else is this season, and frankly having Tucker and Donut out of the picture cuts down on a lot of the more despicable language and the incessant gay jokes that were much more prevalent in the Blood Gulch Chronicles.

“For crimes against good taste, you are banished to the realm of everlasting repentance.”     “The WHAT!?”     “Look, it’s just the storage shed.  All you have to do is sit in there for fifteen minutes and think about what you’ve done.”

There aren’t a lot of areas that this season falls short for me which makes sense because it WAS always my favorite, but there are a few things to nitpick here and there.  The third act of the story takes place at the Freelancer base, and I understand that Rooster Teeth had limited maps to work with but the Standoff map never once feels like an appropriate fit.  The Red Team also gets caught up in a nonsense plotline about “erasing” the Blues from the command computers which feels like it’s just filling up time while Church and Washington are engaged in the most pivotal moments in the season.  Speaking of which, while I really like the twist to Church’s character that tries to retroactively justify a lot of the goofier moments in the previous season, it all ties back into this whole Freelancer program and the organization itself which I just can’t get a full handle on.  I get that they’re more or less a combination of the Spartan program and ONI (so pretty much the Spartan III program), but some basic questions are left unanswered or kept vague.  It’s not entirely clear if the Red Vs Blue training programs are part of Freelancer or are part of the military, the way the Director goes about achieving his goals right at the end of the season is utterly ludicrous, and they kind of just hand waved Washington’s betrayal at the end of Recovery One; more or less rewriting South Dakota as a rouge agent which was what they were already implying before tying it back to her supervisors at Freelancer.  I know there are a couple of later seasons all about the Freelancers so perhaps we’ll get a few more answers there, but despite how solid the writing is and the character work involved, the world building could still use a bit of fine tuning.

“Maybe if we insert a Deus Ex Machina into the third act.”     “How is THAT going to fix anything?”     “What, you’ve never heard that a problem shared is a problem halved?”     “That’s DUO; not DEUS.  Deus means God!”     “TWO GODS!?  Shoot, Simmons!  Why didn’t we think of this sooner!?”

Rewatching this season has only reaffirmed my feelings that this is a watershed moment for the show and may have been its peak.  There are A LOT of seasons after this, most of which I haven’t seen, so there’s always a chance that they recaptured the magic of this season (especially since the technology is only going to get better and better) and I’m hoping that they do.  I’d certainly rather not have to sit through another dozen or so seasons of a show that only goes downhill from here, but regardless of all that it’s for me the season that not only has the best elements out of any of the seasons it also holds up the best and is worth watching even to this day.  It DOES require the context of the previous seasons to understand so you kind of have to watch the show from the beginning in order to get the most out of this season, but at least for me it’s well worth it because they truly gave us something unique in the world of Machinima and web series that is not something you should miss if you are a fan of The Blood Gulch Chronicles or even just Halo itself.

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Much like with Halo 3, we’ve reached a peak in my original experience with this franchise, and while I know a little bit about what’s coming up it’s going to be completely uncharted waters very soon!  Speaking of which, join me next time as we go back to the complete mystery that is the Halo novels and take a look at The Cole Protocol!  See you then!

Next: The Cole Protocol
Previous: Halo 3 Essentials & Halo Landfall

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