Halo the series is owned by Paramount Plus
Directed by Roel Reiné
Another week, another episode of Halo for a certain segment of the fan base to get testy over! I think I’ve made it quite clear by now that the changes to the lore and the focus on characters have been a huge positive for me even if some of the fans out there are dismaying the lack of action and the shift in tone. Still, while I am enjoying everything they are doing so far, it’s possible that this slow burn will fizzle out at some point and all the buildup will be for naught; especially if we never do get to the thing that this series is named after. Does this episode continue the upward momentum of the series as it soldiers on in bold new directions, or will the cracks start to show as there are fewer and fewer things from the games to pull from to placate fans with? Let’s find out!!
With John the Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) finally remembering his home planet, he and Doctor Halsey (Natascha McElhone) head to the planet to see if they can find more clues as to what this mysterious artifact was that was found on the planet Madrigal and why it reacts so strongly to John. Of course, there’s always the risk that John may discover too much about his past that Halsey has worked hard to keep secret, but that’s what Cortana (Jen Taylor) is for as she is meant to keep Chief placated and in line. While this is going on, the other members of Spartan Silver Team, Kai, Vannak, and Riz (Kate Kennedy, Bentley Kalu, and Natasha Cultzac) are working with Miranda Keyes (Olive Gray) back on the planet Reach to conduct unrelated research on the artifact, though with Kai having just removed her own emotion chip, it’s possible that Keyes may learn more than she bargained for from these towering war machines. If that wasn’t enough drama for you, Kwan Ha and Soren (Yerin Ha and Bokeem Woodbine) have made it back to the planet Madrigal where Kwan is hoping to reignite the resistance against the planet’s new leader Vinsher Grath (Burn Gorman), though much like everyone else in this episode, the answers to her questions may not be the ones she was hoping to find. Will the Chief be able to go back to being a Spartan warrior and a tool of the UNSC once he uncovers the truth of his own childhood? Can the ideals of liberty and freedom survive on a planet that is now directly controlled by an authoritarian puppet of the UNSC; especially when they offer security from the impending alien threat? Speaking of alien threats, where are The Covenant in this episode!? Did everyone just agree to take a Mental Health Day as they deal with their tragic pasts and uncertain futures!?
This show has managed to do pretty much everything I was hoping it would do and a lot of things I wasn’t expecting them to do which has made it quite a compelling series so far. While this latest episode definitely continues that trend with some solid exploration of many of the characters, it does slow things down quite a bit and I feel that it hammers home a few points in a way that feels repetitive. Not only that the Covenant are completely absent which is a shame given how interesting the Makee storyline was in the last episode, and considering how anemic with the action this show has been, keeping Makee out of it feels like a budget-saving move. Still, we get some solid insight into John’s character and the other Spartans finally have something to do so it does progress things forward in interesting ways. I just wish that there were at least a few Grunts to bash upside the head or maybe a sword fight with an Elite to break up the talky bits!
The main thrust of the episode is following the breadcrumb through John’s past as he, Halsey, and her weirdo assistant Adun (Ryan McParland) make it to Eridanus II and sift through the remains of the long-dead colony. We don’t really learn anything that we didn’t already know or could have assumed, but the scenes work because of Pablo Schreiber’s performance. Chief has always been taciturn and stoic, but the vulnerability is there if you dig deep enough and Schreiber brings it to the surface with some very haunted expressions and movements as he walks around the dilapidated remains of his childhood home. The visuals also do a great job of conveying these themes of decay and discovery with Cortana providing visual reconstructions to help jog John’s memories, and while some of it is cheesy like John interacting with his childhood self, it at least keeps things visually interesting in a particularly plot-heavy episode. Just to be clear for the fans out there who may chafe at this version of the character, this isn’t exactly new ground that they are covering. While some of the UNSC stuff has felt a bit over the top in terms of villainy, especially their alliance with Grath on Madrigal, the weight and despicableness of Halsey kidnapping these kids was always something explored in the expanded stories and is well realized here. Halo Legends had a story all about one of the Spartans trying to escape back home, and the Evolutions short story collection had a story quite similar to what we’re seeing with the Master Chief here. It’s a fairly standard action set piece with a pretty sizable gut punch at the end as he realizes that the onsite command officer was in fact a childhood friend of his before he was taken for the program, and he realizes that the person he was is now considered dead and that that life was taken away from him. The only real difference here is that the series has made enough changes to the lore that we don’t know how he’s ultimately going to come down on this, whether he will continue to be loyal to the UNSC out of duty and for the survival of humanity or if he will shatter his bonds and leave this life behind to pursue a life for himself, and I think that’s pretty fascinating! Again, I don’t want this show to just parrot what we already know from the franchise; I want new and exciting things in this world, and this storyline is going in that direction, albeit at a slightly slower pace than I was hoping for.
The other storyline we’re making some progress on is with the other Spartans, and while it feels like we’re starting with them at least an episode later than we should be, it is nice to finally get to know the other three members of Silver Team and having them work with Miranda Keyes is a pretty ingenious pairing. Frankly, I didn’t even realize that Miranda was the daughter of Halsey until they brought it up in this show (as far as I can tell, this was only mentioned in a “journal” that was included with the special edition of Halo Reach), but pairing the biological daughter with her adopted family and seeing what sticks ends up giving us some solid back and forth dialogue; especially with Kai who recently cut out her emotion capsule the same way Chief did in the last episode. I’m definitely curious to see where this is going, especially if Kai doesn’t react as well to having emotions again as John did.
What I’m less curious about however continues to be the least interesting part of this show, and that is the strife on Madrigal. There are some decent aspects of this subplot as the events in the first episode have galvanized the Authoritarian leadership and the hopelessness of the people is palpable throughout. It’s also kind of a Dune-lite story with Kwan Ha as our Paul Atreides (complete with a prophecy hanging over them) and Grath as Baron Harkonnen (albeit not as gross, though no less of a creep), and I wouldn’t be surprised if they took a lot of cues from the 2000 Dune mini-series for the overall aesthetic of the place, but what it doesn’t really feel like is a Halo story and the events of this feel far removed from everything else that’s going on. There’s some decent action and Soren is still an awesome character, but if we can’t get a few Spartans in there to punch Burn Gorman in the face, I’m just not seeing what the payoff is gonna be.
The show is still riding pretty high for me, but this is the one I will admit feels a bit like filler. Where the other episodes managed to keep surprising me with interesting ideas and fun things pulled out of the lore, this felt rather predictable and didn’t really progress things as far as I hoped they would. Sure there are still some fun moments with the other Spartans finally getting a chance to shine and Soren continuing to be a fun guy to follow around, but the pacing is starting to grind just a tad and I could use a few more explosions to get through each episode. I get the feeling that we’re not even gonna see Halo this season unless they save it for a final stinger, but we can still make the journey there a little more fun along the way. They’ve got the power armor, just let them use it!