While it’s fair to say that Halo is coming along with every passing episode, I have to admit, Paramount+’s no expense spared adaptation of the classic game by Bungie still has a way to go before it meets the lofty expectations I’d dumped upon it.
I can complain about the snail-like pace the showrunners have afflicted each episode with until I’m blue in the face, or pick holes in the fairly over-familiar plot devices the show insists on breaking out whenever it can – hell, I can even stamp my foot in fanboy rage that we’ve gone four whole episodes and we haven’t even seen a Grunt yet (that’s almost like getting all the way through A New Hope without seeing a single Stormtrooper), but what good would that do?
Wherever Halo: The Series is destined to go, it’s obvious it’s going to get there in it’s own sweet, damn time, so, instead of chiefly focusing on the negative, I thought I’d focus on the positive aspects for a change as Master Chief slowly goes about his business.
After removing his emotion inhibitor and using the Keystone to explore his repressed memories even further, Master Chief has discovered that the next bit of ancient Forerunner tech is located on Eridanus II, the planet he lived on as a boy before being entered into the Spartan programme. Assisted by Cortana, an eager to please but intrusive AI that’s been injected directly into his brain; the creator of both Cortana and the Spartan programme, Dr. Catherine Halsey and (for some reason) Halsey’s deeply creepy assistant who make Peter Lorre look like Paul Newman, the Chief explores his old house, hoping for a spark of inspiration. However, as more and more of his memory slowly returns and he does that bit from Robocop where he wistfully wanders around his old house, Chief starts having memories about Halsey that contradicts things he thought he knew.
Elsewhere, after discovering that Master Chief has removed his emotion suppressor, fellow teammate Kai – 125 decides to do the same and immediately starts to feel the urge to break the conformity of the Spartan code, dying red streaks into her hair and engaging in an actual conversation with Halsey’s military scientist daughter Miranda Keyes. During this time, Miranda realises that as the Spartans spend more time with the warlike alien race known as the Covenant than anyone else (ie. killing them), they could be used to help decipher the enemy’s language and behaviour – although why exactly no one has thought of doing that until now is a bit of a plot hole.
Finally, Kwan Ha, determined teenage daughter of a dead Insurrectionist leader, has returned to her home planet of Madrigal aided by pirate Soren in order to spark up a revolt against newly installed psycho-govenor Grath, but finds her father’s old allies aren’t as willing to fight as they once were…
So, in the spirit of being positive, let’s get the negative stuff out the way first. While well shot, and featuring enviable production values and visual effects, the whole subplot involving Kwan Ha and Madrigal is truly starting to get on my nerves as it truly seems to have utterly nothing to do with the main plot whatsoever. Yes, Kwan and Soren both have ties to Master Chief, but their arc has precious little to do with Keystones, the Covenant or Halo in general, and as it would be nice for those plot threads to get a bit of a move on, the constant misadventures of this random child takes precious time and budget away from the aspects of the story that actually have a point.
Two examples of this are firstly: there is surprisingly no screen time offered to the Covenant’s human agent, Makee whatsoever (a genuinely ludicrous choice considering we got an origin story for her last episode). Secondly, we finally get to spend some real time with the fellow members of Master Chief’s unit, thanks to one of them following in her bosses footsteps and indulging in a spot of some quick self-surgery. While it not only means that this trio of uptight, enhanced stiffs may belatedly start removing the stick from their butts (metaphorically, of course) it also rewards us with one of the most fun scenes of the season so far. While Miranda Keyes (another, mostly underused character) briefs them for information, Kai – 125, now infused with bubbly, enthusiasm, goes on an excited rant about how fucking cool some of the Covenant weapons are, picking out a Needler for special praise in a room utterly crammed with Halo easter eggs. While she passionately enthuses about a weapon I’ve personally found a bit awkward, she’s surround by other iconic weapons (I’m sure I spotted a Jackal’s rifle), a dissected corpse of an Elite, some bottled remains of the worms that make up a Hunter and conversation even covers the notorious cowardice of the Grunts Not only that, but Miranda’s spot of bonding reveals a translation of the word “Halo” as something the Covenant desperately want to get their hands on – something the show nimbly manages in a single scene despite having its lead stumble around, looking for the same answer for three whole episodes. It’s an unabashedly fun scene in a show that all too often takes itself a bit too seriously (even the games were up for a joke here and there) and again, hints positively toward places where I’d want the show to go.
However, against all odds, I found the scenes of Master Chief exploring his old homestead – and his own mind – to be actually quite interesting despite being a relentlessly overused plot device. If nothing else we get to see exactly how much Cortana wants to help her gruff, new partner (despite being installed for the very purpose to overwrite him) and how receptive our tortured lead is starting to be to receive it. If nothing else, the relationship between Chief and Cortana is probably the most important one in the entirety of the franchise and to see the show moving toward it is immensely gratifying. Also, seeing Pablo Schreiber wearing the full, Master Chief suit in broad daylight while not running around and killing things, gives you a real chance to properly drink in the detail and marvel at what a truly great job the show has done realising such an iconic costume. Even the moments where we see him looking though the HUD is accurate to the a game (ahoy there, little triangles with exclamation points in them!) and it truly does seem that with every episode, we’re getting agonisingly close to the show that existed in my skull back in the glory days of that original X-Box trilogy.
The question of we’re ever going to get there is one that still seems worryingly 50/50 despite the fact that Parwmount+ confirmed a second series yonks ago, but if the show pulls up its socks, keeps its eyes on the prize and stops taking us to fucking Madrigal every five minutes, we might just reach the Halo yet…