Halo the series is owned by Paramount Plus
Directed by Jessica Lowrey
We’re back with another week of Halo, although I wouldn’t exactly fault you if you thought otherwise. Someone must have heard me complain about the lack of closure for the Kwan Ha/Soren storyline in my recap of the last episode, so now that dynamic duo gets a full hour just to themselves! Now I’ve found the character to be an interesting and welcome addition to the Halo lore, but there’s little doubt that the Kwan Ha storyline has been a mixed bag so far. On the one hand, she was fantastic in the first episode and she gives us an excuse to keep Soren around, but on the other, her story feels rather inconsequential to everything else and she herself hasn’t done much to guide her own narrative; mostly being escorted from place to place to give us updates on the goings-on on Madrigal. Still, the heat she’s been getting from some corners of the fan base has been inordinate and I’m more than happy to see them spend a good chunk of time on it if it means we’ll get to a resolution. Is this just the episode we need to make Kwan Ha and Soren feel like important people in this sprawling narrative, or will they have burned through whatever goodwill they had left by the end of it? Let’s find out!!
The story picks up some time after Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha) escaped from Soren (Bokeem Woodbine) and is still intent on finding the desert mystics who will hopefully help her reignite the rebellion; the same way they helped her father many years ago. The journey is difficult but she eventually makes her way to them while Soren managed to find a way off -planet and back to The Rubble where he’s trying to continue his life as the coolest pirate ever like nothing had happened. For both of them though, they seem to be getting more pushback than they expected as the desert mystics are skeptical of Kwan Ha’s intent of overthrowing the government of Madrigal while Soren has to deal with people whispering about how he returned empty-handed and if it means he’s no longer fit to be their leader. Time is running short for both of them as they need to step up and prove that they shouldn’t be underestimated, but with Vinsher Grath (Burn Gorman) on the hunt for Kwan Ha and a few knives looking to find their way in Soren’s back, is there a way to get through all of this alive even if they do prove themselves as worthwhile leaders? What will Kwan Ha have to do in order for the desert mystics to take her seriously, and what fears from her past will she have to confront in the process? It’s pretty amazing that sci-fi drugs are so good at revealing deep emotional truths about someone; otherwise, it’d seem irresponsible to give this Spice knockoff to a teenager!
The last episode’s major problem is that it felt like an overlong cooldown from the big action set piece in episode 5; not that slowing things down is a bad thing, but when stretched over an hour it can feel somewhat tedious. I think something similar has happened with Kwan Ha as she’s supposed to be a flawed character who learns something over the course of the series, but stretching it out over five episodes made her come off as rather unlikeable. Her insistence on not listening to anyone, in dragging other people into her problems, and her single-minded pursuit of goals that are Quixotic at best started to grate after a while and there wasn’t a lot of development beyond that. Thankfully they finally get around to it in this episode as Kwan Ha is essentially forced to confront her own stubbornness before doing something that actually ends up making a difference. This is where her vision quest comes into play and it’s once again a great example of how this show can still surprise you even when you think you’ve seen every trick up their sleeve. The whole scene does a solid job of forcing Kwan Ha to confront her own smallness, but what really makes it interesting is the clear comedic bent that they take with it; not just having her suffer but having her do so in what is essentially a slapstick death match. It’s a fun sequence that really gets Kwan Ha’s character over for me and it manages to fit Master Chief back into the story about as organically as you could hope in a story that has no reason for him to be there. Now the elephant in the room is that pretty much all the beats here are ripped straight from Dune. The desert planet, the supplanting of a benevolent-ish leader for an authoritarian one, the kid of the dead leader being a destined hero among a tribe of desert folks who take massive amounts of drugs, it’s all pretty familiar at this point but they do manage to set themselves apart in at least one area. The thing about Paul Atreides is that he isn’t really meant to go through a traditional character arc and the story is driven more by the implications of his actions rather than the growth of the character himself. Kwan Ha may not have been the most likable person in the last few episodes and perhaps the series should have pulled back a little bit on that, but at least it gives us a foundation with which to see the character grow and change. She may not be the Kwisatz Haderach, but the problems that she has to work past lend a lot of weight to her character and to the final confrontation at the end of the episode.
Now the other half of this story is Soren who doesn’t have as much to do as Kwan Ha but still manages to steal every single scene he’s in. I’ve made it very clear in previous recaps that I love everything this series has done with The Rubble and the Insurrectionists, and this episode shows once again how well the writers are able to pull out the great ideas from the less-than-ideal source material. The residents of The Rubble are indeed a bunch of selfish thieves with Soren, in particular, being a spinner of tall tales, but the framing allows them to be that without condemning them. Soren shows some of his darker side here with how he handles an upstart partner of his, but his actions are motivated and he proves how much of a heart he has when he decides to go back and pull Kwan Ha out of whatever mess she found herself in. This is where we get to the big climax which is pretty great. The sequence doesn’t hit as hard as the Spartan fight scenes we’ve gotten, but it still kicks some serious butt and gives these two characters a real chance to shine. The episode ends on a pretty definitive conclusion so I wouldn’t be surprised if they drop off the show for the remainder of the season, but after seeing what the writers can do with them when given enough screen time; I think it’d be a shame if they didn’t have anything else to contribute to the story.
There are a few issues here and there that end up dragging things down a bit. I really like Burn Gorman as an actor and his portrayal as Grath is classic camp villainy, but he’s also not very credible as a threat and spends far too long monologuing when he should be defeating his enemies. It’s doubly confusing when you remember that he had an assassin from back in episode four that he inexplicably didn’t bring in for this big siege (especially since her job was to kill Kwan Ha), but perhaps they’re saving her for something else down the road. Aside from that, the only other thing to complain about is that we’ve simply dropped the UNSC/Covenant stuff for an episode to focus on this story which on its own shouldn’t be a bad thing, but even with the way that this brings Kwan Ha around as a character and provides some closure to her and Soren’s stories, it’s just not as much fun as the Spartan stuff has been throughout the series and I did feel a bit disappointed that we really didn’t get any of that here.
This is definitely the least Halo feeling episode of the season and I think it falls a little shy of good enough to justify distancing itself so much from that, but I still found the characters compelling, the story, engaging, and the action scene at the end to be quite exciting. It’s a step up from the last episode if nothing else, though I still feel like we’re scrambling after the big action blow-off in episode five. We don’t have that many episodes left to get back on track, but tying up all the loose ends here was definitely a solid start.