Halo The Series orbital dropped on Paramount + yesterday, and from a long-time Halo fan to you, it landed with a wondrous bang! Here is what I thought of this much-anticipated entry into the Halo Universe.
Hint: There will be spoilers
Within six minutes, Halo The Series establishes a brutal and violent universe where the Covenant (a collection of alien species) are an extreme threat to humanity. I don't know why, but the sudden and intense level of gore in a TV-14 rated show surprised the heck out of me. In a post Game of Thrones world, this is a smart move to show fans and newcomers alike that those behind the show are taking this serious. The last thing I would have wanted from a Halo show is “The CW” version that is overly dramatized with no weight or stakes to the conflict.
Halo The Series is an alternate timeline take on the story, setting, and characters of the games and not a retelling. Similarly to how J.J. Abrams' latest Star Trek films used the same characters but told a different story with an alternate dimension scope. Let’s be honest there is no way they could have captured the true Steve Downes (the voice of Master Chief in the games) version of Spartan 117 on-screen. The choice to have John take off his helmet and show his face early helps us as an audience connect with him emotionally. Unlike a video game where we embody the chief and get to know him by being him, we needed to see his face for a television show. Show star and Master Chief actor Pablo Schreiber says it best on the Halo Declassified aftershow, “ … the video game is a first-person shooter, and they treat the character in one way because (of) the nature of the medium. Television is a very different medium and what works for a video game is very different than what works for tv.”
The Series does an excellent job of establishing the universe, the Covenant, the UNSC, and how these all relate to each other while separating itself from the story of the games just enough so that it is unique. In the first episode, “Contact,” Spartan 117, along with Silver Team (an equivalent to Blue Team, Master Chief’s unit in the books and games), fight off a group of Covenant Elites (Sangheili) from a rebel base on planet Madrigal. Madrigal is a colonist planet in deep space that is home to a small group of humans that are fighting for independence from the UNSC. After the Spartans dispatch the attackers with righteous fury (and lots of satisfying and gory headshots), they find that the Elites have uncovered what looks like a Forerunner artifact that, upon touching it, causes Master Chief to have “a vision,” as he explains to Dr. Halsey, the creator of the Spartan program. This is the start of a story that, as a Halo fan, I was really hoping for from any Halo movie or show.
As of now, in this version of Halo, the Spartans are a fairly new set of soldiers and, as such, are essentially brainwashed supersoldiers. After John 117 touches the forerunner artifact, he is snapped from his “programming” and starts to think for himself. Opening the door to not only the Master Chief as we know him, but exploring what subjects of the original Spartan-II program went through as told in the Halo novel Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund.
The Spartan program was started on the planet Reach, and in the show, the UNSC is headquartered there. The timelines are a little blurry between the show and games, but this would indicate that the show is set before the fall of Reach, before Halo, and before Master Chief meets Cortana, which is hinted at as an upcoming event in the show. Operating out of Reach are Dr. Halsey, the scientist behind the Spartan Program, and Cortana, Miranda Keyes, a young Lieutenant in the UNSC and specialist on the Covenant, and Miranda’s father, Captain Keyes, seemingly in charge of the Reach headquarters. A variant from the games here is that Dr. Halsey is Miranda Keyes's mother in this setting. New faces include Kwon, a rebel girl who lost everything, Silver Team Spartans Kai, Riz, and Vannak. Along with a mysterious girl working with the Covenant named Makee.
Let me tell you, right now, everything shown and heard looks great and feels true to the video games. The Spartans presence is powerful as each member gets a spotlight to show how skilled and badass they are. The Elites look incredibly menacing and almost identical to the games. They even refer to the Chief as Demon. The only other race from the Covenant we see in episode one is the Prophets (San'Shyuum) which also look amazing and true to form. I can not wait to see the Grunts on screen. I also think it was smart not to include them in this first episode as they tend to be a bit of comic relief and would have probably undermined the episode’s tone. Fans will also recognize many sounds right from the games, including the energy shield warning and recharge (check video below) and the ever classic Elite grunt “Wart Wart Wart.”
Although I could have used a lot more of the Halo theme and wished it was part of the opening, I dare you not to get goosebumps when you hear the Gregorian chant cleverly placed into a scene. Maybe, they will use the theme more and more as the show progresses. Maybe they will have an amazing revelation that crescendo’s with the Halo theme and every Halo fan and myself will explode with exhilaration! … ehem, sorry I got a little excited. If that is the case, then I am ok that they haven’t used it yet.
Was it just me, or might there have been a Mass Effect reference easter egg? At one point in the later half of the show, an announcement can be heard in the UNSC headquarters requesting Commander Shepherd to report to a Skillian Response Center, which seems like a clear reference to the beloved space epic RPG.
Ultimately I am delighted with what I have experienced thus far, a new and unique narrative that has the ability to pull from the known lore but also play with it and keep us guessing. Rather than try to replicate the game’s story one-to-one or give us something that is unrecognizable as Halo other than in name, I am ready to “Shut Up and Get Behind Me…Sir”
What did you think of the first episode of Halo The Series?
Be sure to watch the Trailer Talk reaction video for the Halo trailer to see what some of our early predictions and hopes were.