Creators: Steven Kane, Kyle Killen
Stars: Pablo Schreiber, Natascha McElhone, Yerin Ha
Written by Kyle Willen and Steven Kane, directed by Otto Bathurst, and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Paramount highly anticipated Halo series builds on the massive first-person shooter video game series that began 20 years ago with Halo. Combat Evolved. It’s had 15 sequels, spinoffs, and remakes, including last year’s Halo Infinite. The show stars Pablo Schreiber as Chief Petty Officer John-117, the helmeted Space Marine archetype who embodies the video game’s power fantasy. Master Chief, a genetically engineered Spartan super-soldier, becomes humanity’s last hope for survival in a galaxy-spanning war between the United Nations Space Command and the multi-species alien theocracy known as the Covenant in the year 2552.
When I first saw the trailer for the Halo series, I thought, “This looks great; wow the Elites look great; I hope they don’t overlook the fact that the Spartans were created to suppress the disgusting human colonists. Without revealing any plot points, the trailer sold less than the show. The first two episodes of Halo are exciting and engaging, though they differ greatly from each other in tone, and there’s no telling if they’ve seen 22% of the season if they’ve landed it. What I can say is that it’s more ambitious in scope than I was expecting, but by becoming like that it’s a departure from the original games. With a second season already greenlit, it seems likely that the show’s creators already have her story in mind.
The diverse and impressive cast includes Bokeem Woodbine as Sorren-066 (previously featured in the Halo: Evolutions book); Natasha McElhone as Dr. Catherine Halsey, the scientist behind the Spartan program; Danny Sapani as Captain Jacob Keyes, one of the centerpieces of the original game; and Olive Gray as Jacob and Catherine’s daughter, Dr. Miranda Keyes.
The Halo tv series begins at an interesting narrative moment, where it seems likely that the first season will end when the game series began. As with all adaptations of “geek” media, you’ll find an audience that is both captivated and horrified in various ways by the changes made to bring it to a new medium. The most obvious thing would have been to start the show where the first game begins.
There are smaller trees than Schreiber, but his best performances have a wiry little energy like James Cagney waking up one morning in the body of an Eastern European power forward. The Master Chief isn’t an entirely unappreciative role, he shows his face more than you think, but any actor would look shrunk inside the Spartan mega-armour. The plot sheds light on the Chief’s background, and I’m concerned that the creators of Halo are late to the party. This is the story of a famous helmeted space warrior assailed by flashbacks of a sad youth who teams up with a young accomplice who melts the heart of his cold killer. He is like the Mandalorian without the disks. What is Mandalorian without the disks?
It needs to be noted that I played three Halo games to complete the story and spent a few hundred hours in the mid-2000s in multiplayer matches. This relatively moderate level of awareness probably makes me the absolute worst demographic on the show. The story leans variously towards canon finishers and confused newbies, with dialogue variously impenetrable and explanatory. I want to emphasize that these two episodes basically constitute a prologue to multiple intrigues. The nine-episode first season could be sped up from here or slowed down to a crawl. Ha suggests a chaotic, vengeful counterpart to Schreiber’s straight-laced tough guy, but it’s unclear how central his dynamic will be.
The second chapter introduces Soren (Bokeem Woodbine), a renegade Spartan who lives in a lawless space haven where he jumps asteroids in a gondola train. Woodbine’s crucial role is to help the Master Chief relax a bit: “Man, you’re a stiff guy, Johnny,” he accurately complains. Soren is a breath of fresh air, and many of these early Halo episodes lack oxygen. Showrunners Kyle Killen and Steven Kane seem to be working too hard to introduce characters with obvious motivations.
It’s worth remembering that one of the sharpest decisions in the first Halo game was an act of gender restraint. Players could only carry two weapons at a time, an invitation to careful strategy.