I’m not really intent on providing a weekly recap of Paramount/Showtime/Amblin Entertainment’s live-action Halo series, but I kind of feel like I need to write something down as a way to understand some complex feelings I have about this particular treatment.
Once again, some spoilers are inbound.
This week we find Master Chief and Kwan Ha seeking a safe haven where the Chief can maybe find someone to help him with the strange artifact that he recovered from Madrigal. Also, he’s keen to offload Kwan, whom he has just saved from being executed by the UNSC, in part because he’s got the parental instincts of a carrot, and in part because he probably knows that regardless of what he’s able to discover about the artifact, he’s going to have to return to Reach.
We are granted a flashback to John’s early days in the Spartan II program, which is something I probably expected and also feared. One of the things I mentioned in the previous post was that no one had ever really asked for an in-depth examination of John’s backstory; we know that the Spartans were taken from their families early on (or were assumed to be orphans) and were subjected to exhaustive, cruel, and often deadly training and physical augmentation. Those who survived became tight-knit, which is why we see a younger John pulling a gun on another recruit named Soren who is outside the wire and is attempting to make a break for it. Soren understands that they are being used as tools, a process which he sees ending with the removal of their humanity. He learned this after what seems to have been an accident in which he either lost an arm and had a new one grafted to him, or had his arm horribly damaged and patched up. It seems that he views this as the equivalent of having a muffler replaced on an old but otherwise reliable car, a commodity that is more than the sum of its parts. John relents and allows Soren to run, giving him only a five minute head start before he alerts the base, and the flashback ends there.
This is relevant because the Chief only knows one other person outside of his regulated UNSC world: Soren, who is now living in an asteroid colony called The Rubble. This ecosystem, like Madrigal, is populated by people who are beyond the fringes of the official human government, although in this case they are literal anarchists, criminals, and non-desirables. When the Master Chief and Kwan arrive, they are greeted by a small militia who only stand down at Soren’s appearance. Soren has made a life for himself in The Rubble: now off the Spartan’s proscribed diet of neurological suppressors, he’s married and has a small child of his own. Naturally, he attempts to complete his earlier sermon to John about how human he could be if only he could tear himself away from the UNSC and Dr. Halsey. Barring that, though, Soren claims that there’s someone in the colony who might help with his Covenant artifact.
Meanwhile, we get another view of the Covenant’s concerns about the artifact. We get to see the other two Prophets, who are holding court with The Blessed One — the weird human who we learn that the Covenant “rescued” at an early age, on account of her ability to interface with Forerunner artifacts. They are getting a recount of the artifact by the Sanghelli warrior who escaped from Madrigal. His story verifies the Prophet’s belief that the artifact is a key that will lead them to “the ring”. The Blessed One offers to retrieve the artifact herself because as a human, she can infiltrate without raising suspicion. The Prophets are hesitant, claiming that she is too valuable to risk, but obviously also not trusting her to operate out of their sight.
We also get an interlude which continues to lay the groundwork for Cortana’s introduction. Halsey finds a friend in a high-ranking UNSC officer (I don’t know if he’s named or is rank is mentioned, but he’s top-of-the-food-chain). During a meeting of the top brass, the question is raised about the continuing suitability of the Master Chief since it seems he’s gone rogue. Halsey takes this opportunity to mention her Cortana initiative, which she says will allow them to control a Spartan’s most basic brain functions to prevent the kind of conscious decisions that lead John to go AWOL. Despite the illegal methods she had proposed to get the Cortana project up and running, she gets the green light to continue, considering how important the Spartans are in the war against the Covenant.
Back with the Chief, Soren introduces him to a man who had been captured and who spent time among the Covenant forces. He’s a bit insane, apparently having been broken by his time in captivity, but appears to be lucid enough to recount some “deus ex machina” information about the Covenant and their belief system. He tells the group about their search for “the ring”, which he then says the Covenant wants to find in order to wipe out life in the universe. He exhorts the Chief to destroy the artifact, and then himself, in order to keep the ring from being found.
It’s at this point that the Chief has heard what he (and we) needed to hear, so he leaves Kwan with Soren and returns to Reach where he’s placed under arrest. He and Halsey have a bit of a chat which essentially marks the “point of no return” for John’s journey away from super-soldier and back towards humanity.
Overall, I don’t have any issues with what’s transpired in the series so far. Halo has been a pretty decent — but not groundbreaking — sci-fi show, but it reminds me a lot of the SyFy original series slate of the mid 2000’s like Dark Matter and Killjoys. The production values are good, but scene by scene there’s nothing that would really recommend these series as something people “must watch”. Some of the decisions are borderline comic-book, like the over-the-top posturing of the welcoming party at the asteroid colony, or Soren’s wife who’s sporting a “Blade Runner meets Jessica Rabbit aesthetic” for some reason. Most of the plot is fairly transparent and easily telegraphed (a long running criticism of Halo in general), so it’s shaping up to be a pretty smooth if unexciting ride which “gets us out of the house”, but not much else.
I enjoy series like these, but only when they are allowed to be what they are — and I haven’t yet been able to allow the Halo series to be what it is, because I keep expecting it to “be Halo”. I don’t exactly know what that means. On one hand, I suppose it could mean that I expect it to recount the existing 20 something years of established Halo lore. On the other hand, I find the current “Halo multiverse” adaptation discordant based on what I do know about the established Halo lore which has made me a fan of the IP. When a person becomes a fan there are reasons why that person became a fan; seeing the first iteration of something different is…weird, and it’s hard to put aside the aspects of the thing that we know and like in favor of something that’s new and unknown. I’m not going to go down the road of “this isn’t Halo and therefor it’s bad” road, because we’ve had to endure a good decade or so of new takes on Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek that have raised the ire of too many people with too many shitty opinions that I don’t want to be That Guy, But For Halo. I am a simple man: if I am entertained by entertainment, I am content. Right now I am enjoying the series for what it is, but still reserve the right to watch each episode with a tilted head and furrowed brow.