One of the main issues with video game adaptations is that, at some point, you’re going to have to pump the breaks on the type of breakneck action featured in said game and actually establish some sort of plot that’s going to carry the story through. So after the breathtaking opening action scene that brought the game to life as a team of Spartans laid waste to a Covenant cadre of alien Elites, it was time to get down to the business of establishing some world building and pinning down Master Chief as an actual three dimentional character.
However, this is the area where the video game genre usually crashes and burns with no hope of a respawn as fans aren’t usually used to spending actual down time with their pixelated hero as the story takes a breather before picking up speed. Can Master Chief break that streak, even after performing the forbidden act for all masked characters… removing his helmet.
After utilising the Keystone and using it to aid his escape from his own people, Master Chief (aka. Petty Officer John – 117) rockets away from the UNSC bace on the planet Reach with Insurrectionist survivor Kwan Ha after saving her from an assassination attempt. He takes refuge at Rubble, a secret Insurrectionist base run by Soren the childhood friend of Master Chief who fled the Spartan program as a young man due to fears that it would cost him his free will – an ironic fact that isn’t lost on either of them in the light of John – 117’s violation of his direct orders.
While Master Chief and Kwan catch their breath, the repercussions of their actions ripple outward across the galaxy with the most noticable instance being the notoriously warlord-y Vinsher Grath being installed as the head of the Insurrectionists by the UNSC after the massacre on Madrigal. Elsewhere, a surviving Elite from that same massacre has returned back to the Covenant homeworld, High Charity to pass on the news to his wormy headed superiors, the Prophets, that the Keystone is now in the hands of the enemy. The Prophets’ response is to send their mysterious human ward, Makee, to retrieve the artifact. And speaking of the artifact, the questionable morals of UNSC scientist Catherine Halsey are given a boost by Master Chiefs act of defiance as she gets the go ahead to use the Keystone to aid her illegal sounding plans to kick-start her controversial Cortana project which will use cloning to produce a new generation of Spartans.
Meanwhile, back on Rubble, Master Chief is directed by Soren to a crazed hermit who has experience with Covenent tech thanks to once being their prisoner and who suggests that it can lead the malevolent aliens to a ring-shaped weapon of unimaginable destructive power (sound familiar?). In light of this news, the Master Chief decides on an extreme measure – to surrender himself back into the arms of the UNSC and the lab of Halsey.
As I alluded to earlier, it’s now time for the alien-crunching action to nimbly sidestep in favor of actually building the world that these characters are moving around in and it has to be said, there’s a slight sense that Halo may have spread its focus a bit too wide a bit too early when all the established fans probably want is to watch the UNSC and the Covenent butt heads for nine episodes. However, in addition to all the Insurrectionist business on Madrigal we got last episode, not only have we now expanded on that, being updated on their political situation with a scene of newly established leader, Burn Gorman’s Vinsher Gath, executing prisoners with a wry smile. While this admittedly gives for a richer plot, I’m unsure what any of this actually has to do with a galactic war with a bunch of extraterrestrial, tadpole-faced, religious fanatics that instead just screams of the writers trying to come up with human baddies in order to keep the hefty CGI budget down. The same argument could be leveled at Makee, the random human adopted by the Prophets who swans around dressed in Björk’s hand-me-downs, who obviously will be performing missions in an attempt to bring some undercover (and again, cheaper) spywork into the show instead of animating yet more Elites into the mix.
However, an addition that doesn’t feel like at attempt at story-based budget shaving is the appearance of Bokeem Woodbine as John – 117’s childhood buddy, Soren as he’s introduced in a very Lando Calrissian sort of way into proceedings. I’ve found that Woodbine is always a welcome presence no matter what it is, but his plotline does manage to raise the odd question or two; such as if John – 117 violated orders as a young trainee before to let Soren quit the Spartan programme, why did his more recent spot of rule breaking have to be kick started by the burst of suppressed memories caused by the Keystone? Also, if Master Chief had become such a staunch believer in the rules since how does he know Soren has become an Insurrectionist leader; and further more, why hasn’t he told his superiors? Another irksome point is the annoyingly convenient plot trope of having a crazy person on hand with just enough experience of alien tech in order to fast track some exposition regarding the series’s main macguffin, the Keystone, but hey, what works, works, right?
Anyway, apart from this, it’s still another batch of world building that suggests that Halo is trying to desperately construct a universe much of the same scale as later seen in Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings show, but the issue is that, much like the early episodes of Rings Of Power, setting everything up seems to be a little bit of a joyless slog as all the individual camps are only connected so far by Master Chief’s seditious wanderings.
It’s a little frustrating when you consider that the rest of the Chief’s teammates have been somewhat neglected by the plot and their characterization has so far only really separated by the fact that they have slightly different looking armour and they carry different weapons and skill sets. Surely establishing the lead character’s team should have been paramount, especially as his rule breaking will no doubt spread to them eventually – but as The Mandalorian tackled the man-in-a-helmet themes far better than Halo, The Bad Batch (coincidentally another Star Wars show) seems to be handling the soldier-defying-his-programming with a steadier hand.
However, despite this feeling that the showrunners may not actually be sure what their show is actually about, there’s still enough to keep you watching. Pablo Schreiber still cuts an imposing figure and grants Master Chief enough humanity to justify him having his helmet off 70% of the time and the production values are still glossy enough to convince as a expansive space opera. However, the main draw seems to be that Halo is taking the Smallville route, dropping in hints and name checks for characters and places not yet seen to create interest in fans. Where Hadley’s AI experiments seem to be leaning toward cloning, the name Cortana is being thrown around a lot and every time someone screws around with the Keystone, they mention some sort of “ring” shaped weapon (care to chance a guess at what that is?). However, if Halo is ever going to make it as far as directly adapting the games – which is pretty much what we’re all hoping for at this point – it’s going to have to start making its universe a damn sight smaller in order to get to the juicy stuff.