When you consider the long and rocky road getting to the season finale of Paramount+’s ambitious but flawed Halo, you can’t help thinking of the final section of the Halo 3 video game, which saw you thrashing the tits out of an armoured Warthog jeep as you traversed various obstacles in order to get to the end before time ran out. Deviations from the original source material aside, the path Halo’s showrunners have constantly decided to settle on has often ended up being frustratingly uneven, winding in stale sci-fi tropes of identity and loyalty and over complicating the richly realised universe in order to force unnatural drama out of relationships that previously had none.
However, one thing you could count on among the constant backstabbing of morally exempt scientist Halsey and the repetitive plotting of the increasingly fascist UNSC is the moment the show decided to drop everything and let the armoured, iconic Master Chief off the chain, things got exponentially better. So, does the final episode manage to pave a smoother road going forward or will even the dependable sight of John – 117 stoving in the head of a squealing alien fail to pull the show out of its slump?
Things seem rather grim for Halo’s assortment of beleaguered heroes and morally compromised villains. Not only has Master Chief almost been killed by his own team of Spartans under the mistaken belief he had gone rogue, but Makee’s allegiance has swung back to the alien forces of the Covenant after getting a first-hand refresher about how shitty mankind can be and the result is that the Keystone is once again back in the hands of humanity’s would-be destroyers. For those of you not keep score, the Keystone is vital to finding the location of the Halo, a legendary weapon of unimaginable power that both sides of the conflict want to find it first so they can wipe out the other in one swift swoop.
However, after Captain Keyes calls off the Spartans by reveal his part in their harrowing origins and everyone makes up, Master Chief proposes a virtual suicide mission that’ll see his team storm the area where the Keystone has to be activated. But before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s still the matter of Katherine Halsey, whose escape from planet Reach was spectacularly thwarted so she can finally be tried for her numerous and unrepentant human rights violations. While Halsey and Keyes’ daughter struggles to reconcile the horrors her parents committed in order to start the Spartan programme, Master Chief and the gang hurtle toward a showdown with the Covenant. But with the odds laughably stacked against them, Master Chief reasons that the only way to survive is to let chirpy A.I. Cortana fulfill her purpose and overwrite his consciousness to get him into uber-beast mode. However there’s no assurances that Master Chief’s personality can be brought back afterwards – has John – 117 acquired free thought only to immediately lose it for good?
Less a rousing finale and more an exercise in awkward course correction, Transcendence fails to live up to its name despite busting out another, budget gobbling action sequence. The frantic tying of loose ends are somewhat expected considering the episode has to end matters on an intriguing note, but you get the feeling that the powers that be are abducted cutting off story threads at the neck in order to bring things back round to a continuity closer to the games. Take Silver team for example; while Kai has enjoyed a small but meaningful arc as a Spartan who has followed John into removing her emotion suppressor, both Riz and Vannak have been so thinly sketched you could rub them out with an eraser with one try – and yet the episode swiftly switches them from Halsey’s unwitting henchmen directly into characters that we’re suddenly supposed to care for once their energy bars start flashing “Alert” during the final battle. Needless to say it doesn’t really take hold and scuppers some of the tension the final conflagration could have had.
Elsewhere we get a sudden stop in the storyline of Makee as well, as John’s fellow Blessed One (ie. Someone who can work a Keystone) rather muddled story ends out of nowhere due to a bullet from the well meaning Kai. While Makee put a human (and cheaper) face on the Covenant, the show didn’t really make full use of the benefits such a character could bring and constantly seemed unsure as to what to do with her when it came to settling on what actual effect she was having on Master Chief. Those expecting a long running tug of war or allegiances between two may be relieved that she’s gotten her marching orders thanks to a high calibre round, but much like the threads of Kwan and Soren, you’ll wonder why the hell they even bothered.
Considering the Covenant themselves are due some conflicting action within their ranks soon (the Brutes overthrow the Elites in the games), it’s annoying that Halo spent so much time and effort into building up plots and characters that ultimately went nowhere (well, nowhere interesting, anyway) but considering thatva second season was already confirmed, may I suggest that the show reduce its scope as it moves forward.
However, not everything seems reactive. Pablo Schreiber has fitted Master Chief’s armour incredibly well and at least he got to wear the helmet some of the time; Natascha McElhone’s manipulative Halsey (surely the only wildcard Halo really needs) gets to live another day thanks to the sneaky deployment of a flash clone and we edge ever closer to that full-on Master Chief/Cortana buddy movie relationship I’ve been craving ever since her glowing blue form first materialized on Halsey’s desk.
Everything is wrapped up in a massive free for all that not only suffers in comparison to the other, huge action sequences, but contains the ropiest visuals the show’s had to date, but there’s still a massive joy to be had from seeing the Spartans cut loose once again even if yet more threads (the second round of Master Chief vs that persistent, hammer wielding Brute) get conveniently get swept aside in a hail of Pelican fire.
So is the prospect of the upcoming season 2 an utter bust, then? Not if the show takes a massive cue from The Last Of Us and narrows its space opera style aspirations in favour of a tighter story that hues closer to the original story – after all, not only do we conceivably have the Halo, the zombie-like Flood and a full on invasion of Earth to plunder from, but I truly believe that the union of Master Chief and Cortana (assuming that the later can get his identity back), can yield pure gold.
Boasting dizzying highs and frustrating lows, Halo has been a incredibly mixed bag up until now so hopefully its return can master its flaws as well as it mastered its Chief.
Until then, goodbye Halo.