Halo the series is owned by Paramount Plus
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
And so we find ourselves at the final episode of the first season. It’s definitely been a wild ride with some dizzying heights early on, but it’s had trouble regaining that momentum after the battle in episode five. Frankly, the most satisfying storyline we’ve gotten since then was the conclusion to Kwan Ha’s journey and the USNC side of things has just kind of muddled along trying to make sure all the pieces are in place for whatever was to come in this episode. Does it untimely come together in a spectacular finale that sets us up for an even better second season, or will we have to wait until then to get something that’s worth watching? Let’s find out!
After Makee (Charlie Murphey) activated the artifact, it left a lot of things in disarray. Makee managed to escape with it, The Spartans are having a crisis of identity, and good ol’ Doctor Halsey (Natascha McElhone) is gonna try and skip town while everyone is still wondering what the heck just happened. It’s one giant mess to clean up and there are those who are more responsible than others, but the Spartans don’t quit when there’s a mission and they’re needed now more than ever. With the artifact fast on its way to the Covenant Prophets, there’s not much time for the UNSC to get itself together and figure out where they’re going and how to stop them. Can Chief (Pablo Schreiber) and Silver Team (Natasha Culzac, Bentley Kalu, and Kate Kennedy) finish the fight despite the weight of Halsey’s deceit hanging over their shoulders? What will the Covenant plan to do once they get the location of Halo, and how does Makee still fit into those plans? Is there any particular reason that this had to be done on top of a sand mountain? I mean the dirt canyon from episode five wasn’t the most exciting location but it looked a lot better than this!
I am genuinely impressed with everything this series did to distinguish itself from the rest of the franchise, but as the season went on the surprises stopped coming and it settled into something that was still eminently enjoyable but just not what I had gotten my hopes up for. The finale is fine and does some things I did not expect from it, but it also feels like a letdown given where the series could have gone and what we’ve seen it do already. Most of the issues I have with it are in the big blowout finale, so let’s start with what’s good and work our way up to that.
Now if you know anything about the Halo Lore outside of the games, you know that Reach inevitably falls before Chief makes it to the Halo Ring, so my assumption at the end of the last episode was that when Makee activated the artifact it would finally reveal Reach’s location to the Covenant fleet which would then drop in and do what they do best. Instead, it’s more like a really big flashbang in that it knocks everyone on their butts and gives Makee enough time to grab the artifact and escape in a captured Covenant spaceship. Admittedly, I did find this a little disappointed and that disappointment only grew when we saw what the actual big finale would be, but this does mean that the plot doesn’t stop dead in its tracks to deal with a crisis and I think it’s a fair tradeoff. Sure, seeing The Fall of Reach would have been a shocking and explosive end to the season, but this series has done such a good job with the writing that I’m glad we didn’t undercut it for more action. The Spartans have always been at the center of Halo and some of the extended lore has given them some decent stories, but for the most part, they’ve stayed rather stoic and one-note, so given Chief, Kai, Riz, and Vannak the space to work through their emotions and simply talk to one another feels much more rewarding than seeing the Spartans go through yet another gunfight with The Covenant.
The best part of the episode though is Halsey with the scene between her and Kai being the highlight of the entire episode. You don’t exactly want to write her off as a villain given her lofty goals and the undeniable good that her research has brought about, and even Chief has to acknowledge as such when he says that the day of reckoning is not today because, ultimately, too much relies on their mission. The fact is though that Halsey will always make decisions on others’ behalf and sees no value in approaches that are less harmful. She’s one of those people who will claim objectivity in all things no matter how harmful yet completely ignore her own biases. Despite everything humans have accomplished she has no faith in any of them, no matter how smart, how loyal, or even how powerful, and so assumes she is uniquely situated to fix everything. She doesn’t quite get her comeuppance in this final episode which is just another cruel joke to those who recognize just how dangerous she is. Halsey does eventually fall off the map around the time of Halo 2 (Ghost of Onyx goes into detail on that), but I’m curious how much she will be involved in future seasons; if they plan to stay faithful to events in the lore or if they are going to go off in their own direction. Given how different things are already and how the games ultimately play out, it would make sense for the changes to get even more radical from here on out, so hopefully, they realize what an asset Natascha McElhone has been to the show and let her stick around for the next season.
Unfortunately, that’s where my praise for this episode must come to an end as we get into the final action set-piece. There’s a lot going on here and almost none of it gels together; from the story being told and the effects work, to just the way it fits into what is supposed to be a war on a galactic scale. Where episode five’s big blowout felt like seeing a very tiny piece of a much bigger war effort, this feels like a video game level. The landscape is so barren and poorly realized to the point of almost being a farce. We’re on a flat empty stretch of land that’s also the very top of a mountain, and even more jarring is the fact that there is no horizon; just the edge of the mountain meeting the sky with no visible landmasses in the distance. It’s the kind of location you’d expect to see in an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, only they made it with very expensive special effects instead of mat paintings and foam rocks. We’ve seen places like High Charity in this show and the scale of that actually felt like a seat of power for the Covenant; something you couldn’t just break into on a whim. How is it that the three most powerful leaders of the Covenant are here without any visible surveillance, entrenched defense systems, or even a few turrets lined up? All of it just undercuts the menace that The Covenant is supposed to have and the whole thing feels like one big concession to the budget.
The action itself is fine once it gets going, but it keeps getting tripped up by the bad CGI and some questionable story choices. Since this is the last episode of the season we might as well dive into the spoilers, and the main two are that Makee dies and Chief… sorta dies. Starting with Makee, I think it’s far too soon to get rid of her as a character. She was one of the most intriguing parts of this series as a human in the Covenant, and she proved to be a viable threat when given reason to fight back. To have her story end here feels like we’re rushing things and I don’t know what the plan is for The Covenant now that she’s gone. It’s not like there’s anyone else remotely relatable on that side of the conflict (unless of course, they introduce Thel ‘Vadam in season two), and to just have them be the monolith antagonistic force feels like it would be a regression for the series. At least with that though, I can kind of understand the cynical desire to raise the stakes by killing off one of the main characters. What they do with Chief on the other hand is odd and, as far as I know, doesn’t connect to anything we’ve seen in the lore. Being essentially erased and replaced with an AI consciousness is perhaps on some level a commentary on Chief as a one-note character in the games, but that seems like a stretch and is just not the note I would have ended this season on.
I’m still amazed at just how much room this series was given to be its own thing and I’m still very interested in seeing the second season, but this was not the best note to go out on. The Halo series was at its best when it was subverting expectations and giving the fans something other than what they thought they wanted. You can’t ask for something you love to be adapted into a different medium and then chafe at everything that goes into making something in that medium. A nine-hour series of battles is not compelling television and even the most action-heavy movies do not simply put the camera in front of explosions without context. Story, characters, emotions, the push and pull of those with different goals and agendas; these are some of the building blocks of what a TV Show should be and this series has done a great job of incorporating them to make one of the best adaptations of a video game to the medium that I’ve seen. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite stick the landing with a final episode that is not bad by any stretch but seems to have given into the unreasonable expectations of certain fans of the games and handed the entire second half of it over to those whims. Lots of violence for the sheer sake of it, and frankly it’s been done better in this series already. Thankfully they do sow enough seeds of interesting plot threads to carry us on to the next season and the time off between them will give the showrunners enough time to work out the kinks in the pacing and the action. Also, let’s not keep Master Chief in Safe Mode for too long, okay? It kind of defeats the purpose of giving him an interesting character to just make him Blue Screen!