Halo, Paramount+ live-action adaptation of Xbox’s iconic video game franchise, has been a bumpy ride, to say the least. While the series has had some resounding highs, it’s also had moments of confusion pushed by awkward pacing that made it hard to fall in love within the first few episodes. But through it all, Halo Season 1 has attempted to tell a new Master Chief story and expand the world of a video game that redefined multiplayer combat for an entire generation.
Set in 2552, before the video game franchise, Halo Season 1 centers on 3 points. The first is John-117, the Master Chief. A super-soldier engineered for combat from a young age; he’s a Demon to the Covenant, a hero for the UNSC, and the scourge to the people that the UNSC colonize. The second is Kwan Ha, a survivor of a Covenant attack on Madrigal, saved by Master Chief, and deadset on returning to free her people. And finally, Makee, the Covenant’s Blessed One, who was taken by the forces to live with them as a child.
While Kwan’s story can easily be ignored for the rest of the show’s more interesting concepts and characters, John and Makee are essential, as are the people around them. Having found two halves of a covenant artifact said to reveal the Halo, a weapon that can end the war, John races to claim the pieces and keep them from falling into the wrong hands. In doing so, he begins uncovering his past, impacted by the Artifact’s pull. For her part, Makee is also affected by the Artifact and equally as brainwashed and traumatized as John. She’s the other half of a whole that, despite a forced romance, works well for the overall plot.
Halo Season 1′s best element is its action. I mean, it has some epic scale battles between the Spartans and Covenant that completely immerse you in the video game franchise in the absolute best ways. Spartans running after a warthog, Master Chief stealing a Banshee, the after-effects of a needle, and of course some horde action, there is a lot to love here. Granted, they’re all contained to the last half of the season.
Sure Schrieber is more John than Master Chief in Halo Season 1. He’s struggling with humanity, learning about his past, and doing it all without the commanding confidence or helmet we got acquainted with in the games. And you know what? That mostly works here. Schrieber’s character is exploring his identity as a symbol and a leader, but also as a “chosen one” who was abducted from his family and brainwashed.
Schreiber plays this role well. He’s brooding when he needs to be and can be highly intimidating as well, like in the opening of Episode 6, wherein, in an attempt to figure out how much Cortana can control his body, he almost kills Halsey. That said, Schrieber is limited in his role. Not because of a helmet (although the awkward on and off again helmet moments became beyond distracting), but because the time we spent with him and his story was often cut apart in favor of expanding the series’ original character Kwan Ha, the daughter of a Madrigal revolution-leader.
In the beginning, Kwan is interesting, but slowly Halo Season 1 begins to spin her story into something more, expanding it beyond Master Chief but still connecting it to the UNSC. The only problem is that any sort of investigation of the UNSC’s imperial project is toothless. In fact, Madrigal, Kwan, and Soren become the largest detriment to the season because the writers do not know how to clearly connect them to Master Chief’s story nor understand how to do more than just present colonial evils.
There is no bite to the call for destroying a colonial project, just a girl with a surrogate dad on a sand planet that is more Dune than Halo at the end of the day. These characters aren’t bad, in fact, Yerin Ha delivers a solid performance for what she’s given, but they are not integrated into the story in a way that has an impact. This makes every time the series panned to Madrigal and this duo; it felt like we were wasting time. This is most true when it comes to the series’ real star, Natascha McElhone as Dr. Halsey.
To get at Halo Season 1’s meat, we have to look to Reach and the characters there that move around and connect to John. I mean, it’s the Halsey of it all that makes me deeply wish that the total of the series was focused on the characters we meet on Reach. Because of her deep manipulation, there was more to be explored regarding her relationship with Keyes and their daughter Miranda. The truth of the Spartans being UNSC-abducted children offers a solid jumping-off point to explore more of Kai, Vannak, and Riz. But the only storyline that sees a semblance of completion is that between Halsey and John, but more specifically, Cortana’s new role in John’s life as the Master Chief.
With extremely evident pacing issues, an Episode 7 you can entirely skip watching, and a budget that carried considerably from episode to episode, Halo Season 1 is far from perfect. But even with all the issues, I’m still deeply in love with Halo Season 1. Sure, maybe it’s a bit because of Master Cheeks, but in reality, I’m enamored with what the show can be based on its back half. I want more action, more Silver Team, and just more of the UNSC being it’s entirely morally corrupt for the greater good self. The building blocks are there, and after nine episodes, Halo Season 1 delivers on its promise —it’s purely a Halo show now with nothing weighing it down.
That said, I have to judge what I’m given and not the potential I see. Thankfully, binge-watching the series instead of waiting a week to week will make all the difference for the story. If you’re a fan of the SyFy Channel series and down for only getting 5 epic scale fight scenes, then hit play. It’s not great, but it is promising.
Halo Season 1 is streaming now exclusively on Paramount+.
Halo Season 1
The building blocks are there, and after nine episodes, Halo Season 1 delivers on its promise —it’s purely a Halo show now with nothing weighing it down. That said, I have to judge what I’m given and not the potential I see. Thankfully, binge-watching the series instead of waiting a week to week will make all the difference for the story. If you’re a fan of the SyFy Channel series and down for only getting 5 epic scale fight scenes, then hit play. It’s not great, but it is promising.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.