TL;DR – While not a perfect season, the finale episode did leave me intrigued for more.
Disclosure – I paid for the Paramount+ service that viewed this episode.
Halo Review –
When the first episode of Halo came out, it felt like it was a show of two halves. We got an exciting dynamic between Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) and the only survivor from a Covenant attack Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha). However, the show’s other half was some of the dullest paint-by-numbers military “intrigue” and “conspiracy”. I wondered which half of the show would dominate throughout the season because that would be a significant indicator of how the show would work. Well, now that I have seen the entire season, I have to say that we got some improvement, but not as much as it could have.
So to set the scene, at the end of Allegiance, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Halsey (Natascha McElhone) turned the Spartans Riz (Natasha Culzac) and Vannak (Bentley Kalu) against John/Master Chief and Kai (Kate Kennedy). Meanwhile, Makee (Charlie Murphy) had rebuffed Halsey and was trying to trust Master Chief only to get a stun stick to the back of her head when Miranda Keyes (Olive Gray) realises that she was the one that killed the crew, which was bad. But even worse, Makee touches the artifact and sets it off, destroying much of the base. Now from here, we will be looking at the episode and season as a whole, so there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
Before we look at how the series improved over the season, I want to flag some of the issues that permeated the series. I know Halsey is essential to the canon, but every moment she is on the screen, pontificating about humanity, makes the show harder to watch. It is not so much the performance or the motivations, but the character never coalesced into a whole at any point in the season. The next thing is the oddness of setting up this dynamic between Kwan and John in Contact but then instantly splitting them up for the entirety of the season. While the show does at least give them something to do, and there are hints of something more next season, it is still an odd choice. Finally, while most of the visual effects are fine, there are some moments where you can see that either not enough money was spent or not enough time was given to finish them off properly. Unfortunately, this was on full display in some sequences set in the Temple in the finale Transcendence.
When it comes to the story, this will be the great dividing line for people and the show. To be clear, the story they are telling in this series is not the same as the one they told in the game. They use the characters, the setting, and the primary thrust of the narrative and then reworked it for their own story. If you are really attached to the original story, this is probably a big issue for you. Well, for me, not so much. The original plot for Halo: Combat Evolved was perfectly fine for an early 2000s, but it was such a long road from there to here. I am perfectly fine that they took the chance to refresh it. For example, I do think it was a good idea, given the story they were telling, to have Master Chief take off his helmet, and indeed, if they were going to do that, then the first episode was the place to do it. I mean, they did a slow progression of revealing him that it was almost unsurprising to see him bearing nothing at all. That is not to say there were not some weird elements. For example, I am still not sure our side-romp into Madrigal was needed, but at least it gave us the oddness that was Inheritance.
You see the strengths in the narrative when Master Chief interacts with his world, like with his new AI Cortana (Jen Taylor). To begin with, I think Pablo Schreiber was fantastic in the role, working both with the physicality that is needed and with some of the more complicated emotional development the character needed to go through throughout the season. He is sort of the central anchor that all the other cast hang off on, and it works from a story and performance level. I liked Charlie Murphy’s Makee, a character indoctrinated to hate herself and someone who has seen the worst of humanity, so it is not hard to make that leap. Indeed, while I would have liked to see them explore more of this, I am glad they touched on the notion of child soldiers and what that does to a person.
From a production perspective, I did mention that some of the visual effects were not quite ready, but there was also a lot of the production I enjoyed. I liked that they incorporated the soundscape from the game, knowing when to play those classic themes in full glory, something that Video Game Adaptations sometimes struggle with. I have a basic understanding of the lore and world, but I could pick out a couple of the Easter eggs here and there, and I am sure there are more throughout the show. It was nice to see a small first-person-shooter sequence.
In the end, do we recommend Halo Season 1? I think, generally speaking, yes. I think it will be a tough sell for those who grew up with the video game and have a lot of nostalgia for that moment [and look, I have no moral high ground here]. But for me, it hit that sweet spot of being a bit naff but also kind of endearing.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Halo
Directed by – Otto Bathurst, Roel Reiné, Jonathan Liebesman & Jessica Lowrey
Written by – Kyle Killen, Steven Kane, Justine Juel Gillmer, Richard E. Robbins & Silka Luisa
Created by – Kyle Killen and Steven Kane
Based on – Halo by Bungie & 343 Industries
Production/Distribution Companies – Showtime, 343 Industries, Amblin Television & Paramount+
Starring – Pablo Schreiber, Shabana Azmi, Natasha Culzac, Olive Gray, Yerin Ha, Bentley Kalu, Kate Kennedy, Charlie Murphy, Danny Sapani, Jen Taylor, Bokeem Woodbine & Natascha McElhone with Jamie Beamish, Burn Gorman, Julian Bleach, Sarah Ridgeway, Duncan Pow, Ryan McParland, Keir Dullea & Jung Hwan Gong
Episodes Covered – Contact, Unbound, Emergence, Homecoming, Reckoning, Solace, Inheritance, Allegiance & Transcendence