This post contains spoilers for the Halo TV series throughout.
Over the past decade or so, fans of popular franchises such as Star Wars, Ghostbusters and Star Trek have had to watch helplessly as their favourite piece of media gets corrupted - either by ways of falling into the hands of irreverent writing staff, or by being snatched up by massive media corporations *cough* Disney.
One of the more recent casualties of this pernicious trend is Halo, a game franchise that was one of the highest selling media products in history back in the late 2000s. In May of 2013, the much anticipated Halo television series was announced, with Paramount at the helm and the legendary Steven Spielberg executive producing. Halo fans were eager to bite into anything new, and the show was set to bring the awe-inspiring Halo universe to a whole new audience. So what could possibly go wrong?
Apparently, everything. A whopping nine years after being announced, the Halo TV show’s first official trailer was released in February 2022. Reactions to the trailer were mixed to say the least; some were just excited to finally see their beloved franchise enter a new medium, whilst others were concerned with the show’s seeming lack of narrative depth and marked departure from the feel of the games.
Despite concerns, fans were still anticipating the show’s arrival, and on the 24th of March, they could finally sink their teeth into the series - and they were met with a foul taste.
With around 256 script rewrites, hopes were not high. The first episode begins not with the Master Chief, but with characters that belong to an oppositional faction, the insurrectionists. Our protagonist, at least within this episode, seems to be a young woman named Kwan Ha. She and her settlement are soon attacked by the Covenant, a genocidal religious empire that seeks to wipe humanity from the face of the universe. It is only then that the Master Chief, alongside his squad of fellow genetically enhanced super soldiers, named Spartans, come to the aid of Kwan and her community, albeit too late to save anyone.
What follows is generic Sci-fi plot; an artefact is found by the Master Chief, which only he can interact with, and he then escorts Kwan back to the planet Reach, the stronghold of humanity’s military force, the UNSC. On the way there however, the Master Chief does the unthinkable; in order to gain Kwan’s trust, he removes his helmet, revealing Pablo Schreiber’s visage underneath.
This is where the show lost some faith from the fans. The reveal happened much too quickly, and therefore did not feel earned in the slightest. For those who have not played the games, which seems to include the showrunners themselves, this is incredibly out of character, and it does not seem as though the writers of the show understand the impact and meaning of the Master Chief revealing his face. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Even in the show’s trailer, the line “find the halo, win the war,” smacks of Hollywood’s typical ‘dumbing-down’ approach to video game properties which they are attempting to adapt into a cinematic format. The truth is, Halo’s story has never been as simplistic as this. This simplicity and predictability pervades the show’s storytelling and therefore makes it a drag to watch, at least for pre-established fans of Halo.
The show ostensibly tries to explore the intricate ethical dilemma that surrounds the creation of the Spartans, being that they were six-year-olds kidnapped for the purpose of being trained to become the best possible soldiers, without ever acknowledging the basic premise of Halo. The fight for survival against an unstoppable and improbably insurmountable enemy.
The TV series has redeemable qualities, such as the art and production design, which is one of the best aspects of the show. Some characters provide us with notable highlights, but they are not quite enough to exonerate the series of its sins.
The Master Chief, who’s name is John, spends inordinate sums of time out of his armour, ceasing to be the character fans have come to love. And if this was not enough to make fans roll their eyes into the backs of their heads, he bares all - multiple times - and even goes as far as to fraternise with an enemy covenant spy. For the majority of viewers, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
In the last episode of the season released today, one of John’s superiors tells him that when he walks onto the battlefield, “John must no longer exist. Only the Master Chief.” It’s as if the writers of the show denigrate the original Master Chief from the games as being a simple killing machine. Whilst he is an unbeatable machine in a sense, he has always had humanity in the games, and we never needed to see his face, body, or sexual escapades to feel who he really was as a character.
Most fans however have already given up hope for the series’ redemption in this last episode. Some notable YouTubers, such as AngryJoe Show, have had their criticisms of the show silenced by paramount and CBS, who are overzealous with copyright claims.
Ultimately, the Halo TV series has some mediocre writing with some highlights here and there, and some good action set pieces that are enjoyable to watch. Though most established Halo fans, including myself, aren’t impressed with the clichéd deconstruction of the hero trope, Paramount have already announced a second season for the show. This is somewhat baffling to Halo fans, but it may be that the show is more popular with people who are unfamiliar with the Halo games and universe.