In my review of Halo‘s premiere episode, I contemplated whether there is a real audience for this take on the franchise. Despite a pretty cool opening action sequence, the remainder of the first and second episodes were bogged down in dry exposition and a distressing focus on the inner turmoil of series protagonist Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber). What set the golden age of Halo apart from the plethora of science-fiction series it gleefully ripped off was an emphasis on epic scale and adventure. This show has, well, none of that and seems actively afraid to let itself simply be a story about a badass guy running around fighting aliens on mysterious artificial planets. Maybe the budget just isn’t there. Even so, there’s no reason a show with so much source material should be this boring.
I had many nice things to say about Schreiber’s performance in my review of the second episode, Unbound. He doesn’t have as much to do here. It’s Natascha McElhone’s turn, playing his mad-scientist surrogate mother, Dr. Halsey, as she develops a new technology to control her super-soldiers. That tech happens to be Cortana (Jen Taylor), the only iconic character from the games to jump between mediums into this show. As a longtime fan of the franchise, it’s nice to see Taylor get what she was owed; her voice is integral to the character and the story. Given how little else was actually taken from the games, I’m glad Taylor made it in. It’s too bad the CGI budget is so rough on her actual character.
Action-wise, well. When the first episode opened with an ultra-violent 30-minute setpiece, I feared we were going to have a show that blew its wad early on to impress everyone and then spent a few hours making up for budget splurge, and that’s pretty accurate so far. There is one fairly interesting action sequence that only makes sense to fans of the games, but it’s short and fairly inconsequential. Makee (Charlie Murphy), the human in the Covenant, continues to be a frustrating addition to the lore. Given that Chief’s story is explicitly keeping him away from his alien foes, it’s a real slap in the face that most of the scenes we do get involving the Covenant are centered on a human they’ve decided to keep around. If the budget wasn’t there to consistently depict the Covenant, they ought to have not bothered making a Halo show in the first place.
Still, god help me, I boot up each episode of Halo full of hope that something really cool might happen. I hope desperately that this show will stop being about a sad-boi version of Master Chief. I hope the scripts will stop trying to say something profound about a super-soldier turning against the system that made him — a plot played out time and again by better, more confident stories. I hope we get the Covenant being terrifying and Chief rising to stop them. I’d settle for a needle-drop of Marty O’Donnell’s classic score in the midst of an action sequence. Hell, just fast-forward to where this series actually takes place on a Halo. Nobody wants a Star Wars movie without any war in it or a Predator movie without a Predator. Same principle applies here. It doesn’t feel like anyone involved in writing this show had any interest in writing a Halo show.