It went so fast, like a blip. After 9 episodes streamed on Paramount+, the first season of the HALO show is now over. This was the streaming platform’s biggest gamble in order to challenge Netflix and Disney+. At this time, impossible to say what season 2 has to offer, but we know for sure that this series has generated a lot of chatter since the last month…but not as anticipated. Yeah…let’s just say we have a lot of angry HALO fans out there, and for good reason. To put it simply, HALO is not very good…
In order to better discuss what took place during the nine episodes of the adaptation of the biggest video game franchise (well, according to Xbox and Microsoft fans that is), I will divide my piece into three categories, as Sergio Leone did so well in his 1960s Westerns: The Good, the Bizarre and the Awful.
Let’s start with a summary of the overall story. According to the HALO timeline mentioned in the video games and the books, the show happens pretty early in the fight between humanity and the Covenant. Humankind has set foot on other planets outside our solar system and is now primarily led by the UNSC (the United Nations Space Command), operating from the planet Reach, a global modern metropolis. Some planets and distant human colonies refuse to join the UNSC and establish rebel bases scattered across the galaxy. Madrigal is one of them, a desert planet operating under rebel control and soon to be attacked by Covenant forces. UNSC answers the call and drops SPARTAN soldiers, super-human soldiers with enhanced capabilities and high-tech body armour, in order to fight the Covenant during this intergalactic war. Leading them is Master Chief aka John-117 (Pablo Schreiber), our iconic hero in green armour and golden reflective visor, who discovers he has the ability to activate alien artifacts with a simple touch. With the help of the UNSC’s command and scientists, and the controversial Dr. Halsey (founder of the SPARTAN program), they will try to uncover the mystery behind the artifacts, which will lead them to HALO: a superweapon that could be used by either the humans or the Covenant to win the war.
Although the overall quality of the TV series is being attacked on all sides, I want to recognize the great contribution of the female leads of the show, as they are the ABSOLUTE best components of HALO. Different characters and different motivations, but they all did an excellent job at clouding the true intentions and values of their characters (as we both love and hate them after the finale). Not all of this show is bad, and we have to thank these ladies, as well as the visual effects artists, for their bright part in it.
Dr. Catherine Halsey
Funny enough, I was first hesitant to see Dr. Halsey appear in the live-action TV show, as it is one of my least-favourite characters in the video game series (again, this is my personal opinion, she might be great for other fans). After one season, I want to make amends and mention that Dr. Halsey is the best character of the show, period! Playing the character with an ambiguous sense of manipulative control, Halsey has been surprisingly painted as an antagonist for following her own agenda and going against the senior leadership of the UNSC. Also, we discover earlier on that she was responsible for the kidnapping of John and his work colleagues when they were kids, thus replacing them with identical clones that eventually died in the arms of the parents, to participate in the SPARTAN program. It is subject to debate, but I do agree that Halsey was indeed the main antagonist of season one, which will surely change in the future as Covenant forces grow stronger.
The character of Makee is a brand new addition to the HALO universe which proved risky. A human prisoner kidnapped by the Covenant at a young age (a nice little parallel to John-117 and the other Spartans), she lived amongst the Alien species for a decade, allowing her to learn their language and possibly gain their respect (or that’s what we thought). She will become a Covenant spy, sent back to humanity in order to gain their trust and sabotage their operations. That being said, possibly the most controversial scene in the series involves her: she is the one who takes Master Chief’s virginity (yes, nothing less). They decided to use her and Master Chief as opposites on the same coin (both can activate the alien artifact and they share a powerful bond). However, fair is fair, she is an interesting character and Charlie Murphy plays Makee with a good dose of drama. Following her uncertain fate at the end of the series, one can only wonder if we will see her again.
Surprising, I know! The first images of Cortana unveiled to the world cultivated harsh comments on social media. However, hand to heart, Cortana actually looks pretty good here. The first still of her, with glowy sparkles on her face, was possibly corrected and she has a perfect hologram aspect to her. Now, in terms of her behaviour, we can count on her for staying true to her video game self, Jen Taylor returns to play the Cortana as fans know her from the games. Her screen time is quite diminished, but she gets more scenes as the series progresses. However, fans will need to determine if it takes too long for her to form a bond with Master Chief, as their relationship is not quite as we’d hoped. Also, she will take a radical step in the final minutes of the show in order to keep Master Chief alive and fighting, posing serious questions during a potential second season.
The real shame is that Covenant soldiers do not appear on screen often for the entire runtime of the first season. They are supposed to be the main antagonists of the HALO series, but they are only reduced to side characters. As humans spend a lot of time-fighting amongst themselves, they are a distant shadow, not yet very threatening. When they do appear on-screen during the battle sequences, they are pretty well executed. The Elites are the species we see the most, and they are big, terrifying and imposing, as they should be. We also have interesting and well-made scenes with the Prophets, and Jackals and Grunts appear during the last few epic battles. Interesting little update here, contrary to the games, the Covenant speak their own language, Sangheili, so there is no a word spoken in English among them (which makes sense if you ask me).
Neither good nor bad, but the show made some highly controversial decisions around HALO‘s central character. In an attempt to make Master Chief more relatable and human, they forged a brand new personality that only vaguely honours our video game hero…only on the battlefield that is. During his downtime, he is John, an emotionally unstable human with the power to read Covenant artifacts. So yeah…controversial to say the least.
John 117 / Master Chief
Let’s discuss our big boy here. His presence and character arc are definitely what everyone likes to brag about. As for the video game series (not taking into account Halo Wars), John-117 is the main character of the show as well. The producers had all the material at their disposal in order to flesh out our Master Chief from the video games to the big screen. Alas, they chose to proceed in an entirely different way. Good or bad? Hard to say on my end, but it is definitely WAY off, making us feel uneasy every time we see him on screen.
The first thing that summarizes their approach with this version of Master Chief: he removes his helmet in the very first episode and we see his face in every single one moving forward (even more so than the helmet). This is a big clash already, as the rule was that we never see Chief’s face in the games, as he could be anyone, with the weight of humanity on his shoulders. As The Mandalorian series taught us, a helmet is a powerful tool to convey emotion, Chief could have kept his helmet. So, we do not have a complete version of Master Chief, we have John, a human who removed his helmet to show his emotions (after removing a chip in his hip that suppressed his emotions, which is new), he is quite unstable and his human touch is magic for alien technology. The final word is this is not our titular character we know from the source material.
For some weird and inexplicable reason, the scriptwriters behind the show have decided to explore additional character arcs that are not front and center in the HALO universe. I was told that Madrigal is indeed mentioned in the book series, but was never a focal point of the video games under which most of the fans rally behind. By doing so, the writers and producers shot themselves in the foot with a Needler, as these characters brought absolutely nothing to the original story…simply useless filler.
Kwan-Ha & the Madrigal plot line
Kwan-Ha is the daughter of the rebel General governing over Madrigal. In the very first episode, the SPARTANS are tasked to rescue her hometown after the Covenant attack, but she loses all her friends and family members in the process. After this, she wanted revenge and also to regain control of her planet, in the name of her family. We didn’t care during the first episode, and we certainly didn’t care for the rest of the show. Kwan and her mission are just filler that doesn’t contribute to Master Chief’s arc at all. I’ll leave it at that.
Soren & his family
Soren is basically the same deal as Kwan-Ha. Ex-SPARTAN, and a “friend” of Master Chief before he turned rogue and became a space pirate, Soren and his family live a weird trendy life on an asteroid, filled with friends who look like they came out of Zoolander looking at their clothing. Same here, his arc does not bring anything new to the table. Although he tries to be cool with his “Han Solo attitude” and his tendency to play with his pistol all the time, his character is uninspired and has little impact on the advancement of the plot. Hopefully, this is a character that can be disposed of in future seasons, no regret.
SHOULD YOU WATCH?
To be perfectly honest, you have a pass on this one. You can dedicate your time to other better shows and wait to see if HALO is cleared for a second season. If it is the case, my colleagues and I still think there is hope for redemption. If the creators rely a little more on video game material, using the full potential of 343 Industries (a producer of the show if you can believe), drop the additional storylines that serve no purpose to the story’s advancement and reinstate Master Chief as the emotionless (or sort of) killing machine that he is without the emotional pathway, maybe our opinion will change. Let’s wait and see…and keep playing Slayer multiplayer with your friends in the meantime.
Overall grade: 5/10