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Halo Series (Season 1 and Season 2)

I’ve finished up watching season 2 of this show. I really hope it gets a Season 3. With COVID and the strike and everything else, who knows. It hasn’t officially been renewed but also hasn’t officially been canceled. I’m not sure what that means overall besides it will probably be several years before the story continues, which kind of sucks. I really love the whole short-season aspect of modern TV, but I don’t understand how that means it also takes 2-3 times longer to make the seasons.

There will be some spoilers for the series in this little write-up, though I am not sure how major they are, mostly because the plot is alright, but it’s nothing super unexpected overall. If anything there may be spoilers for the future via discussion of the game plot.

But enough about that, let’s look at the show itself. And to some extent Halo and the Halo lore. I had some doubts and worries after the first season. I have less doubt and worry after the second season. i am also not some sort of “hardcore” Halo fan, though I’m not sure there are any real die-hard Halo Fans, at least not in a way that would really affect any enjoyment of this show, especially after season 2.

There are reasons to dislike the series I suppose, especially based just on season 1. It does not directly follow the game lore being one. I have not read any of the books, I’ve just played through the games. From what I have read online, the books mostly work with the games and the show isn’t a direct adaptation of any of it.

The game timeline has it’s major beats. The UNSC headquarters planet is taken by the Covenant, commonly referred to as The Fall of Reach, Master Chief (John) then uses data from Cortana to go to the first Halo Ring. The Flood is discovered on the Halo ring and is awakened. Master Chief destroys the Halo ring by overloading the Pillar of Autumn’s core. That’s just through the first game and the later released prequel Halo: Reach. Eventually, there is a civil war inside the Covenant and there are more Halo rings and the Forerunners who created it all get involved etc etc.

The series, so far, has only barely made it to the Halo Ring itself from which the series gets it’s name. The first season sort of just amounts to setting the stage and introducing all of the characters of the series, and their relationships. The second season actually starts to get into more familiar lore. I can only speculate, but I do wonder if this was the original plan and direction, or if they steered this way after some of the iffy backlash from Season 1.

I’m reminded a bit of the Sonic the Hedgehog movies. The trailer for the first movie was revealed, and everyone HATED the design for Sonic. The studio went back and fixed Sonic’s look and the movie came off much better for it. Despite that Sonic was now “less realistic”, he still, just worked, and was familiar, in this world of humans. The plot was still a bit iffy, but they tried. And they learned. The second Sonic movie, was much much more thematically closer to a Sonic story than the first movie and, while the humans were still present, they were literally relegated off to the side by sending them all off to an island, only to have them check in occasionally.

Somewhere, someone learned that for a video game adaptation, while a straight adaptation in many cases won’t work. Who would watch a movie of a CGI Sonic just running fast and collecting rings. Sticking tight to the core concept and aesthetics helps a LOT.

Which is one thing that I think helps the Halo series a lot, especially in Season 2. It really sticks to the aesthetics of Halo. They didn’t give Master Chief some goofy sleek black stealth armor or something, they didn’t turn the Warthogs into Jeeps or something they could use as ad placement, they didn’t change the Covenant to be some weird human-looking aliens in armor so something to make the CGI easier. Everything, visually, is very much Halo.

Though I keep feeling like the CGI budget really is holding things back a bit here. I know, that probably feels odd given just how much CGI there is, but a lot of the CGI is static backdrops and cityscapes. There is action, but it’s often set up in a way that masks the, likely expensive to produce, Covenant. This is a lot more obvious in the first season. The series spends a lot of time getting people to talk in rooms, or have fights between humans.

Which kind of brings up probably the most controversial part of this whole series. Though it’s one that is fairly easy to get over.

Master Chief removes his helmet. Not only that he removes his suit. We see him completely out of his suit more than we see him in his suit. I can already see how they will remove him from his suit in Season 3 by having 343 Guilty Spark do some repairs on the armor or something after the climactic battle at the end of Season 2.

In general, it’s kind of a necessary evil for a few reasons.

One, unlike the game, where Master Chief serves as an avatar for the player, here, he has to stand on his own. Like the Sonic example above, just having Master Chief shoot aliens for 8 episodes each season wouldn’t make for a very compelling series. A series needs characters and drama and interaction between them to keep engagement. Of course, it’s easy to point to The Mandalorian as a way to make this work, but even there, he takes off his helmet. He shows us he is a man underneath. He also has Grogu hanging around to provide visual context to the audience for reactions the main character cannot make.

But then, this is a game series, where there is a scene, of Master Chief removing his helmet, to reveal, a SECOND helmet underneath.

I went through the fake outrage moment of the helmet reveal, and I still feel like there are several places where “Maybe you should have kept your damn armor on John” in the story for sure. But it’s honestly, easy to overlook because it helps us care about this Master Chief.

And that’s kind of the key, It’s “This Master Chief”. He is not the Master Chief of the games. Heck, this Master Chief feels almost like someone the game Master Chief would see as a villain. The game Master Chief kind of felt like someone who was gun-ho patriotic with the UNSC but this Master Chief is rapidly transforming into a sort of rogue agent outlaw.

His lack of armor also helps keep the story interesting. Master Chief is undoubtedly very very strong when armored up and at full strength. Almost unstoppably so. He is still strong without it, but it helps create that conflict and drama that the show needs. Because Chief can’t just walk into any room and destroy everyone inside without breaking a sweat, he needs to rely on his team and his friends. It helps push that he is a good leader. In the games, you pick up plenty of faceless marines along your journey to serve this purpose, but this really doesn’t work in a show format for the same reason Sonic just collecting rings for 2 hours doesn’t.

I’ve started to ramble a bit, but I want to shift gears a bit to some other changes. One of my biggest problems with Season 1 was the character of Kwan Ha. Not so much because she is a bad character, but because she kind of felt like her entire plot line was just, completely random and had nothing to do with anything. If my previously mentioned speculation is at all accurate, it feels like maybe the showrunners ended up realizing this as well. Kwan sort of feels like she gets a bit of a new direction in Season 2. There is brief mention that her planet, Madrigal has fallen to the Covenant early on, but she was made out to be too important to just be dumped, so she lives on as a character living in the subplots of the show. There is some “mysterious things” going on with Chief and Makee (more in a bit) and the Covenant and the Forerunners, etc. It kind of feels like maybe Kwan Ha is being set up to fall into this Mystery as well. She ends up being kind of important to working with Miranda Keys and Halsey on unlocking some key plot points that will certainly become important in the future. I see why they can’t just write her out, and hope they can make her a bit more interesting and meaningful though.

Then we have Makee. I actually completely forgot what happened to Makee in Season 1, though they mention that she was assumed dead by Kai’s hand. Apparently not. Makee is another “show only” character. She is kind of the only real major “show-only” character besides Kwan Ha. Sure, John also has his Spartan Team, but Spartan Teams are not uncommon, and giving Master Chief a team with personality isn’t really that weird. Makee is still kind of weird. She is basically like John, a human with Forerunner genes. But it’s not super clear why she continues to hang out with The Covenant. The Covenant clearly do not want her around beyond manipulating her for control of the Halo. Most of them just want to go ahead and off her. She seems to have to spend a lot of effort to manipulate the Covenant into thinking she is worth keeping around, and it kind of feels like simply, defecting to the humans would really be the better option.

Granted most of the Humans in charge are kind of shitty assholes. I mean, they are trying to actively kill Master Chief and all and… well, maybe defecting wouldn’t actually work out any better… I guess.

She just strikes me as a weird character in a weird place, and half of her purpose is to maybe eventually be a love interest for Master Chief because the showrunners don’t like that Chief basically only loves Cortana. Good news, now he has like, 3 potential love interests, with Kai, and Perez and Makee!

I want to address possibly the biggest actual spoiler of this little write-up briefly. I’m mentioning this and adding a little buffer for anyone who really wants to avoid all potential spoilers. Basically, I’ll throw some filler lines in here after the warning, then just start talking about it. Skip ahead if you care about spoiler spoilers, probably for the next few paragraphs because I’m going to make some Season 3 predictions, but it’s also nothing new to anyone familiar with Halo lore. The Flood has been introduced a bit earlier. And they are pretty Floody. I wondered if and how they might handle the Flood. Mostly because, in general, the Flood is not real popular, even in the game lore. The Covenant are an interesting opponent, they have a whole society based very very heavily around their alien religion, they have hierarchies, and interesting designs etc. The Flood are just, annoying blobby hoard-mode zombies. They are kind of a necessary evil though, because the entire purpose of the Halo Ring as a weapon is to destroy the Flood’s food source (All life in the galaxy).

So where does the show go from here?

My Season 3 Predictions

Just based on things that have happened and things that are, elements of the games, that would work better with the pacing and needs of a television series. We finally made it to the Halo Ring, and we know that 343 Guilty Spark will exist (The robot eye at the end that controls the Halo Ring for the Forerunners that was interrogating Master Chief). We have the Flood now on Onyx. I doubt Kai is actually dead, I feel like she will wake up floating in space and end up on the Ring with John. Master Chief’s armor was pretty banged up during his fight with the Arbiter, Guilty Spark will take it and do some repairs/upgrades, as a way of getting John out of his armor for most of the season.

The UNSC will fight the Covenant on the ring, mostly off-screen while John and Makee have some chats inside the ring about its purpose and their own purpose as “Blessed ones”. Eventually Chief will emerge again and he will need to stop the Ring from activating. Or they will maybe use it to purge the Flood from Onyx. Eventually though he will need to stop the Ring from wiping out humanity as Guilty Spark chooses to side with Makee instead of John. Kai still has the spike device and will destroy the ring by using the Spike on a covenant ship, similar to how in the game’s Chief destroys the Pillar of Autumn.

I suspect the Flood will be limited to Onyx. Zombies are kind of popular in media, but they are kind of on the way out a bit. Plus nobody likes The Flood. Halsey was infected but put into cryostasis by Miranda. Soren will get his chance to be a Spartan again to rescue her, and they will end up having to flee to the inside of the planet where the Forerunner city is located. This will mean more lore dumps. Because they are inside the shell of the planet, they will be protected from the Halo Ring destroying the Flood on the planet. This will also set up a Forerunner arc in Season 4.

Also, we will be introduced to Thel ‘Lobdamee, who will become the new Arbiter, and take up his part as the “good guy Covenant” from the games. To replace the Arbiter killed by Chief at the end of Season 2. I had some thought that maybe the existing Arbiter may play this role, and he may have survived being stabbed, but Chief would never forgive him for killing Vannak so that really wouldn’t work out in the long term. I’m also not sure they will ever actually introduce this character, since Makee kind of serves this role in the lore. Makee isn’t really a fighter at all though.

The budget seems to get better each Season so far, so hopefully if there is a Season 3, we will see a lot more Covenant fighting across the Halo Ring. Also Grunts. WHERE ARE THE GRUNTS. Maybe they just, don’t fit thematically with the seriousness of the show.

One last thing I want to add for the potential success of this series is that my wife, who is not a gamer, and doesn’t know anything about Halo, seems to mostly enjoy the show. Which is goes to show that it’s a pretty good adaptation if it’s able to keep someone who isn’t in it because they like the game, at least somewhat interested in it.