Halo the series is owned by Paramount Plus
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
I had my issues with the last episode, but the vitriol that continues to be rained down on this show is getting tiresome. There are legitimate complaints to have with the series, but more and more I see people refusing to engage with the material and are just trying to justify their resentment with Cinema Sins style gotchas, and look, I’ve been there! I’ve had movies I reviewed that I couldn’t articulate exactly why I didn’t like them and so I leaned into nit-picks and literalisms instead of thoughtful analysis. It’s an easy trap to fall into so I don’t want to come down too hard on people for it, but it’s also getting harder for me to take criticisms against the show seriously. So with that being said, does the latest episode manage to pick up the slack of the last one and deliver on what the show has been building towards, or will this be another plot-heavy episode that will only annoy the critics even further? Let’s find out!!
With Chief and Halsey (Pablo Schreiber and Natascha McElhone) finding a new artifact on Eridanus II, the UNSC has sent a detachment of troops and researchers to study it and hopefully find whatever this big weapon is that they seem to be pointing to. It’s an uneasy situation to be sure as Chief is still suspicious of Halsey and the secrets she’s kept from him, but with Cortana inside of his brain and still under Halsey’s thumb, she doesn’t have a lot to be worried about just yet. On top of the tension there, both Miranda and Jacob Keyes (Olive Gray and Danny Sapani) are part of this operation as well as the other members of Spartan Silver Team, and throwing them all back together after so much has happened is bound to bring out some bad blood and questionable actions. Say what you will about The Covenant, they seem to have their act together and are working diligently with Makee (Charlie Murphy) to try and locate the artifacts that the UNSC has uncovered. As soon as they do, the marines and the Spartans are gonna have a heck of a time repelling their attack and keeping the artifact for themselves. Also, let’s not forget about Kwan Ha and Soren (Yerin ha and Bokeem Woodbine) who are still on Madrigal with the latter trying to find a way off the rock while the former is realizing just what kind of uphill battle she’s got ahead of her if she wants to reignite the rebellion. Can Halsey and her team uncover the secrets of the new artifact before The Covenant find them and scorch the earth with plasma? Just how far will Kwan Ha go to save her planet, and who will have to pay the price for that in the process? Seriously, can The Covenant just not right now? Chief is going through a few things and doesn’t have time for this!
The last episode didn’t feel like it was surprising us all that much with its revelations or doing anything particularly noteworthy with its story, this definitely gets us back on track with an interesting theme and a big battle at the end! Yes, the action is finally back and gives us pretty much what we’ve been begging to see since the first battle, but this episode works for reasons much more important than just fan service and combat. There’s a depth to these characters and a thoughtfulness in the writing that makes the story itself worthwhile and engaging beyond its utility to serve cut scene style combat, and that shines once again in this episode. It’s great to have all of that but it’s even better when you also get Grunts being punched in the face!
The interesting thing about the story here (don’t worry, we’ll get to the action soon enough) is that while previous episodes have been about pushing forward an ongoing narrative, this one has a self-contained theme running through it that weaves its way into the individual storylines of the characters. Halsey’s deviousness towards the Spartans has been evident since the beginning with John’s revelations only bringing that problem closer and closer to a head, but bad (or at least misguided) parental figures is what this episode is all about. We get a pretty big drama bomb between Halsey and Chief once he starts messing with the new artifact and gets the full story of how he joined the Spartans. If you’re familiar with the books then you already know that they were kidnapped and replaced with flash clones (the same kind that Halsey made to give Cortana a brain back in episode 3) and that the consequences of this have been explored in stories like Palace Hotel in Halo Evolutions and Homecoming in Halo Legends. It’s exactly the kind of morally dubious grounds that I wanted this series to explore and the scene Chief and Halsey have is very effective at getting across the depth of betrayal in Halsey trying to be a mother figure to the people who are quite literally her victims, and the episode explores this idea with the other characters as well. Miranda is still disillusioned by her mother who ignores her in pursuit of her own research, but she doesn’t expect her dad to essentially stab her in the back by removing her from this project. Like with Halsey’s justifications for doing what she did to the Spartans, Jacob Keyes believes himself to have the best intentions in doing so; effectively keeping her out of the firestorm that will befall Halsey if the other Spartans get wind of her crimes against them. Heck, even Chief has a moment of being a bad dad as he finds out that Kai took out her emotion-regulating pellet just as he has but decides that she is now unfit for combat because of it; certainly coming from a place of concern given that the pellet did help their combat readiness, but definitely being a hypocrite in the process. I like the idea of having a theme laid on top of the ongoing storyline as it provides a framework for interesting character development and gives the writes a lot more room to make this show about more than just a fight between good and evil. The big problem with Halo, even in the expanded universe stuff, is that it’s pretty narrow-minded with not much on its mind other than war and duty. Sometimes we get a little something off the beaten path like The Rubble in the Cole Protocol or Dirt from Halo Evolutions, but so far the series has given us a nonstop flow of interesting ideas and critical examinations of pieces of this universe that we’ve taken for granted, and this episode delivers on that once again.
Of course, if you weren’t onboard for the interpersonal character arcs then you probably aren’t going to be won over by even more of it. What will probably get you on board is the twenty-minute action scene at the end of the episode that finally gives us a lot of what has been missing in this series. Not just the fights and explosions, but the rest of the Covenant who have been conspicuously absent in favor of Makee, the Elites, and the Prophets. Yes, we finally get to see the Grunts in action as well as the Kig-Yar (a MUCH better name than just calling them Jackals) as a full-on Covenant assault takes place after Chief touches the artifact; sending a signal throughout the galaxy that Makee was able to trace back to Eridanus II. It’s everything you could want from an action scene like this. Chief’s got his helmet on, he’s firing UNSC weapons, Cortana’s giving him tactical info, and we even get to see him drive a Warthog as he and the other Spartans mow down a bunch of Covenant with the giant Gatling gun on the back! For fans of the games, it’s also pretty accurate as far as depicting the weaponry, the vehicles, and even the movements of everything. The Grunts and Kig-Yar move as they did in the game, including their exaggerated death animations, and they even nailed the specific way that Chief carries himself in the games with the way he positions himself while holding a weapon and the weight behind each punch he lands. The only thing that was disappointing about this fight is that the Grunts aren’t doing funny voices, but I guess they were worried about undercutting the tension in this battle, and hopefully we’ll get more scenes with them in the future that will let them be a bit more expressive.
There are a few things, especially towards the end of the episode that I don’t think worked completely. While I like the fact that Kai has to readjust to feeling everything in combat instead of being numb to it now that her emotion-regulating pellet is out, I wasn’t a fan of her completely shutting down in the middle of the battle which ends up proving Chief right about her. It feels overly venerating when the whole point of the episode was to tear down the people who are put on pedestals, and a much better example of this was when Halsey put herself in danger to help Miranda. It’s an act that by no means redeemed her or justified her actions previously, but showed a bit of humanity underneath the cold and calculating exterior, and I think a moment like that between Kai and Chief would have been better instead of her crumbling under the pressure. The next one is a bit of a nit-pick, especially since we don’t know where it’s going yet, but The Makee gambit to close the show on seems a little obvious. She wants to infiltrate the UNSC so she’s pretending to be a victim of The Covenant (much like she did on that ship in episode 3), but she just gets beamed down from one of the Covenant’s ships and looks perfectly fine despite crawling on the ground. She even tells an Elite to “make it look good” and yet all the damage they seemed to have done is give her a cut on her forearm which is not what I’d call an expertly executed infiltration. At least muss up her hair a bit! And finally, we do have to talk about Kwan Ha and Soren which is not as bad as some are making it out to be but still feels rather vestigial to the rest of the episode. It doesn’t take up as much time as it did in the previous episode and I thought that it did a decent job of giving Kwan Ha some internal conflict instead of just throwing a bunch of Dune-Lite plot points at us, but I’m sure that still won’t be enough to keep the fans critical of this storyline from hating it even more; especially with the way it ends and what it could mean for that subplot going forward.
The question we still need to answer is if this is the episode to finally mollify those who wanted this to be more like the games. Well, probably not since we’re not dropping the Kwan Ha storyline anytime soon, but this definitely brought the action back in a big way; the absence of which was slowly dragging the series down as each episode wore on. Still, the thing about the Halo show is that even without the action, the fan service, or even the Halo aesthetics, they’ve done a pretty fantastic job of writing an interesting show and that’s what matters much more than whether the grunts are on model or how many explosions they fit on the screen. This is an adaptation that’s been done with a lot more care than almost any other video game adaptation and even in its slower moments that effort has shined through. It’s certainly better with the big battles and CG alien fights, but let’s not let that overshadow everything else that this series has gotten right.