Saturday 25 November 2023

TV Shows #31

Halo Season One (2022)
Developed By: Kyle Killen & Steven Kane
Starring: Pablo Schreiber, Natascha McElhone, Yerin Ha, Kate Kennedy, Olive Gray, Shabana Azmi, Natasha Culzac, Bentley Kalu, Charlie Murphy, Danny Sapani, Jen Taylor, Bokeem Woodbine

Certificate: NR Running Time: 40-59 Minutes per Episode (approx), 9 Episodes

There are some films/shows that I follow the development of and eagerly await right from them getting greenlit all the way up to their release, especially examples of the sci-fi genre. Halo was not one of these. I ultra-know about the games, of course - I've even played one of them a little (the first one for the original Xbox, as detailed here) - but the show? I didn't even know there was one until it had already been out for a while, and when I did find out, I wasn't super excited since videogame adaptations generally suck donkey balls anyway, and any residual excitement I might have had for the show was quickly tempered by the almost-unanimously negative reactions it had earned online. These things happen often I suppose, especially to things with existing 'fandoms', but it still wasn't a good sign.

When I more recently looked into why it had prompted such fury, however, I found that most of it was down to deviations from the 'lore' of the game series (and some novels too, apparently). Since I know bugger all about the series and its lore other than it featuring a guy in cool armour called 'Master Chief' who shoots a lot of people and/or things, these deviations will mean nothing to me and will have no effect on my enjoyment of the show, or indeed possible lack thereof. So... I'll watch it!

John and Kwan arrive at the Rubble...
Accordingly, this ridiculous review will be from the perspective of a Halo-newbie. Happily, I found the show is reasonably accessible for my kind. It is set in 2552 by which time Humankind is a spacefaring race but at war with a monstrous adversary known as the Covenant. Things begin at an insurrectionist outpost on the planet Madrigal which is soon attacked by a group of elite Covenant soldiers who massacre the feeble, ill-equipped settlers, leaving only one survivor - fearless teen girl Kwan (Ha). Arriving mid-massacre are the Spartans, an equally elite force sent by the UNSC (United Nations Space Command) and led by the aforementioned 'Master Chief', more formally known as Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 (Schreiber), a genetically-engineered supersoldier who, along with his fellow Spartans, is able to make light work of the idiotic Covenant nincompoops.

The other Spartans are Kai-125 (Kennedy), Vannak-134 (Kalu) and Riz-028 (Culzac), and like all Spartans they were recruited as children, given extensive and invasive physical augmentations giving them increased strength and durability and all that Captain America stuff (probably), and have also been implanted with capsules that suppress their hormones and emotions as well as their memories of their lives before they were Spartans. They numbers are few but they are humanity's best hope.

Cortana (left) and her creator, Dr Halsey...
The Spartans were the brainchild of Dr. Catherine Halsey (McElhone) who still looks after them, and she is also keen to get her Cortana AI project off the ground but is denied by the UNSC, particularly Admiral Parangosky (Azmi) with whom she has an adversarial relationship. She is close to the Master Chief though, and helps him when he discovers what those Covenant abominations were actually on Madrigal for - an ancient artifact called the Keystone which, when combined with a larger (and as-yet undiscovered) artifact, reveals the location of a sacred ring-shaped world known as the Halo *dramatic incidental music*. Only a very few 'chosen ones' are capable of activating the Keystone, and as luck would have it, John/Master Chief is one of them. One other is a human living with the hideous enemy creatures, however.

This human, known as Makee (Murphy), was captured by Covenant forces when she was a child specifically for her special abilities and she has lived with them ever since as the 'Blessed One', to be utilised in the event their longtime search for either Keystone component is successful. Unfortunately, they soon learn that the Spartans found the Keystone thingy on Madrigal and resolve to recover it at any cost.

Spartans... Assemble!
There are a few subplots here and there too, so there's enough going on to keep viewers occupied. The part I was most interested in was what sort of 'universe' the Halo one is. There have been a few cringey attempts in recent years but this one seems pretty interesting from what is shown of it here. I have always enjoyed mysteries of long-gone ancient races in sci-fi; Star Trek does this in the odd episode, Babylon 5 has several of them in the First Ones, and even my favourite videogame of all time, Star Control 2, has the Precursors, and that's what we have here too. The Covenant think they are superior to other races and need only access to the Halo array to prove this. It's odd they feel that way when, as far as they or we are aware, only two beings are able to 'activate' the Keystones and they are both humans. Oh well, we may be inferior filth but it appears we still have our uses!

The Covenant monstrosities live inside a giant space mushroom called High Charity while us humans live in various colonies around the galaxy. I believe Earth exists in this universe but most of the time with our species is spent on a colony world called Reach (which is apparently located in the Epsilon Eridani system which, yes, that's right, is the same system in which the Babylon 5 station is located!).

Can John trust the idiotic Makee?
Hmm, anyway, I'm burbling away even more than normal now, but as you may have gathered, I liked this show much more than the 'loud minority' who have been trashing it online. The casting seems to have been handled pretty well, for a start. No one will exactly blow your socks off but I enjoyed Sapani as Captain Keyes (John's commanding officer), Woodbine as Soren-066, a former Spartan who deserted and now lives in the Rubble (an asteroid field) as an Insurrectionist leader, and it's always good to see more of McElhone who suits her sciencey role here well. I'm still undecided on Ha's character (also Ha) who makes some silly decisions, but the fiery girl does share some great scenes with both John and Soren. The Spartans themselves are the main focus though, of course, and while Riz and Vannak get surprisingly little screen time, all four of them more than look the part.

They are all over six foot and look more than formidable in their very cool-looking armour which, to my inexperienced eyes, seems to be reasonably game-accurate. Speaking of the game, some of the action sequences involving the Spartans here include first-person views of the carnage, which was a nice touch. The action sequences are pretty good too, although some of the CGI isn't great, especially the Covenant oafs who look very CGI-ish. I mean, I know the show is based on games, but it's still a live-action 'original' show on a prime streaming service, and it had a non-tiny budget of $10 million per episode too!

One of the ridiculous Covenant 'Hierarchs'...
I suppose, even without knowing much about the games, I can see why most of the existing fans didn't like this adaptation. Perhaps the producers were hoping to emulate the success Disney has had with The Mandalorian, and like Mando, Master Chief is apparently known in the games for never removing his helmet. He spends most of the show without it, however. There is also a greater focus on human drama than combat scenes which is also a source of irritation for fans. On the other hand, however, if the show was a military combat, action-based show, people would be complaining about a lack of story and time spent fleshing out characters. We do at least get story and character development here, though I've no idea how it ties in to the stories and characters of the games and/or novels.

For better or worse, though, I enjoyed Halo much more than I thought I would. There are episodes that are a bit boring, others that are exciting and left me unable to wait for the next. There are definitely aspects that could be improved - perhaps they will be for the forthcoming second season - but there's a decent enough mix of drama and action for my tastes, an intriguing story, and lots of potential for further stories and seasons, and I'd certainly recommend any sci-fi fans who are not hardcore Halo game/book fans to give it a go. If you are a hardcore Halo fan, perhaps you could consider this an exploration of an alternate timeline or something. Either that or continue crying about its inaccuracies on social media while I continue to enjoy it.

RKS Score: 7/10


  1. Its nice to see a review of this!
    I hope u can equally enjoy other series that deviate from lore. Such as
    LOTR Rings of Power :D

    1. Jeepers, I can't even get my own comments to appear under my name now. Anyway, yes, I think it helps to not be a hardcore fan of something. Most 'fandoms' I've experienced seem to hate the thing they're supposedly a fan of! I enjoyed this show, that's all I know, and I look forward to the second season