Halo the series is owned by Paramount Plus
Directed by Otto Bathurst
We’re back with another episode of Halo; everyone’s favorite show about a quip spouting robot that isn’t Bender! Well I guess that’s a bit hyperbolic as the Chief in this version is somehow even more taciturn than he was in the games, but we’ll talk about changes to the source material soon enough. The first episode was an absolute delight that managed to capture the feel of Halo’s intense action while reworking its dubious source material into something new and exciting! Still, a lot of shows will frontload their first episode with flashy spectacle and surprise twists with the follow-up being a better indicator of what to expect from the series going forward. Can Halo sustain its momentum through its sophomore outing, or was that the peak and it’s all downhill from here? Let’s find out!!
After their daring escape from the UNSC, Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) and Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha) have to find a place that will not only protect them from the wrath of Earth but to also help explain what this mysterious artifact is that they found on her planet. Fortunately, Master Chief does in fact have friends outside of the military and goes to the one person in the galaxy who is equal parts friendly to him and spiteful to the UNSC. They arrive at a hidden space colony known as The Rubble where Chief’s friend Soren (Bokeem Woodbine) is a big wig and may have some of the answers they seek, though in a place outside of Earth’s control there is a clear sense of animosity towards the USNC’s biggest propaganda symbol and Chief may not have safe-harbor for very long. Can he keep Kwan Ha safe from the UNSC and any other parties that may have an interest in her disappearing? What does Soren know about this artifact they found, and are its secrets even more dire than anyone could have realized? Can we just get a show about Soren? Or maybe even a buddy show with him and Chief? I mean Cortana hasn’t shown up yet and we need someone to fill the personality vacuum!
I’m starting to get genuinely suspicious that someone on this show was reading my Halo Retrospective because so far it has done everything I would have done to try and wrangle a TV show narrative out of the Halo lore. The Rubble is in fact from one of the books, The Cole Protocol, and frankly, it was my favorite of all the books I had read when I was working on the retrospective which was The Fall of Reach thru Evolutions. It is easily the most even-handed of the books in how it portrays the Insurrectionists, the UNSC, and even The Covenant, and a lot of this has to do with the setting itself. Imagine Deadwood IN SPACE and you have the basic idea; a self-sufficient colony where all manner of outcasts and criminals can do business and live provided they show proper respect for one another and don’t let the outside world interfere in their business. The depiction of it here, given that we only have about fifty minutes, isn’t as deep or as engaging as it was in the book (especially since there’s no Kig-Yar presence), but it does hit the right notes needed and manages to do its own thing in service of the show. One of the things that stood out to me as a mark against the novels is how the Insurrectionists were depicted as vain and unserious; opting for comfort and leisure over the stoic discipline of the valorous UNSC. This episode manages to still keep that aspect to them with Soren’s family in garish clothes and eating delicious foods, but instead of just leaving it there as aesthetic shorthand, the show gives them time to talk and explain themselves; to explore their place in the story as more than just one-dimensional antagonists. Some are not happy with the Insurrectionists being portrayed as morally grey (or even righteous) in this series because of how awful they were in the books, but to me, it just means there are more interesting character dynamics and that we aren’t drawing a line in the sand between good and bad based on fealty to the might of Earth’s military.
Arguably though, as we discussed in the last episode, the pendulum may be swinging a bit too far in the other direction as the scenes with the UNSC are only a few steps short of a Cobra staff meeting; complete with a puppet leader installed to oppress the people and ensure resources continue to flow. Said puppet leader is Vinsher Grath (played by Burn Gorman) who we see putting bullets in prisoners’ heads in case it wasn’t obvious enough by his slick hair and leather duster that he is a bad guy. Considering where we know the story is ultimately gonna go it seems a bit shortsighted to leave so little room for moral ambiguity with them, but at least the scenes continue to flesh out the characters and get us that much closer to Cortana entering the picture. We also get a few scenes with the Covenant which is as good a time as any to talk about Makee (played by Charlie Murphy) as the sole human member of The Covenant and a vassal of sorts for their leaders; the Prophets of Mercy, Truth, and Regret. She’s definitely the biggest wildcard in the series so far, though the episode does draw parallels between her and Chief; both being valuable assets to their respective armies and both seemingly vital to whatever will happen next with the mysterious tech that the Covenant have been looking for. I’m still unsure as to how well this character will work out or if her story will come together, but it’s also the kind of new idea that I really wanted to see from this show.
Still, as much as I liked what they were doing in this episode, there are still a few things that I think could have been handled a little better. One of the failings of The Cole Protocol (or perhaps just my own imagination) is that despite the idea of The Rubble being very well realized, I just could not conceptualize exactly what it was to look like. I’ll give this show props for finding SOME way to bring it to life, but it still looks pretty goofy all things considered being a series of hollowed-out rocks interconnected by cable lines. It’s an extension of the show’s simplistic aesthetic which works okay for the Spartans and the Covenant, but the rest of the show has an Oversized Toy Box feel to it. On top of that, there’s this character of Reth (played by Johann Myers) who may not be the most sensitive portrayal of someone with PTSD, but more so than that, I thought the exposition dump is where they may have started losing viewers who aren’t fans of the series. To their credit, I’d say they put a very game effort in trying to cram a bunch of backstory, but while I was nodding along to all the points he was making, it also comes pretty fast and with a lot of details that people who don’t already know aren’t gonna pick up on. It also gives us one of the biggest changes to the lore and one that I am dubious about; namely that Chief himself is a Chosen One. Unless I’m mistaken (go ahead and let me know in the comments, Halo fans), all of humanity are decedents of the Forerunners (the ancient alien race that made that mysterious tech Chief found and the Covenant are looking for), and so any one of us could activate the technology. Instead, it’s only certain humans and Chief happens to be one of them; on top of being the most decorated and feared soldier in the UNSC. I remember there’s stuff about him being The Reclaimer in the first game, but I figured he earned that title by being the only one there. We’ll have to see how it plays out, but I like my Chief to be badass on his own and not have a pre-determined destiny to badass-ness thrust on him.
For any adaptation to stand out as more than just a stale copy of the source material, it needs to have its own ideas and its own vision for what the story should be, and while there are some clunky things here and there in the execution, this has genuinely been a breath of fresh air and is swiftly becoming one of my favorite narratives in the Halo universe. It’s possible that the show may settle into a routine and the heady glee of seeing Halo going in a new direction may give way to frustration with some of its less than stellar choices, but for now, it’s still managing to be exactly what I wanted it to be. Hopefully, we’ll have some more action in the next episode as we get closer to the HALO part of this Halo show, though if they really want me to lose my mind in this show, they need to bring Thel ‘Vadam in as Makee’s bodyguard! Come on, Paramount! Keith David can’t be THAT busy playing the President on Rick and Morty!