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HALO is one of the all-time most successful video game franchises. It’s also a very well-developed science fiction setting with the books including some of my favorite outside of STAR TREK and STAR WARS. While not necessarily apparent in the video game, the setting is incredibly dark with humanity reduced to near-extinction and the only hope of humanity being the SPARTAN-IIs that are made from kidnapped children.

Halo has a lot of appeal for the fact the first three games are all-time classics of the X-Box, and its fans are as devoted to the Expanded Universe as the other franchises above’s fans are devoted to theirs. Doctor Catherine Halsey, Cortana, Sergeant Johnson, and Admiral Keys are all well beloved characters.

The sequels, Halo 4, 5, and Infinite are less regarded. But some of the spin off games like ODST, Reach, and Halo Wars are fantastic. There have been a lot of attempts to make a Halo series or movie before, so it was interesting to hear about it finally debuting on Paramount+. Top production values and the full support of Microsoft. So, how was it?

Watchable?

Usually?

I mean if it sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise then, well, I am. The first season of Halo is something that proved very controversial with fans and it was (mostly) justified reasons. There’s some good decisions, bad decisions, and changes that work alongside changes that don’t work in the slightest. The result is a work that is perfectly fine for newbies to become acquainted with the Halo franchise but isn’t exactly what a lot of fans wanted.

The premise of the series is that the United Nations Space Command is currently engaged in a struggle against independence movements among its colony. This becomes rapidly irrelevant as the Covenant, a theocracy of dogmatic aliens with technology more advanced than Earth, start engaging in attacks on Earth’s colonies. In what should be a massive escalation that calls humanity to join together against a threat to exterminate them (as it does in the games), well, things keep going with the UNSC versus Insurrectionists occasionally interrupted by aliens.

A lot of the criticism in the show is directed at Pablo Schreiber’s interpretation of Master Chief aka John-117. He is a character who undergoes a story arc where he’s slowly forced to question his allegiance to the UNSC, forced to remove the cybernetic implant that suppress his emotions, and discovers a potential romantic interest in Covenant agent Makee (Irish actress Charlie Murphy).

This would be fine but for the fact that Master Chief is a character defined by his stoicism and dogged devotion to the protection of humanity. Also, to an extent, his chaste romance with his AI Cortana. I’m not inherently opposed to a Master Chief who ****s but that really isn’t the character as we know him. The horrific treatment of the SPARTAN-II candidates and them rediscovering their humanity could and should be a story that is told but runs into the fact that it’s happening with the arrival of genocidal aliens. Basically, imagine it’s D-Day and you’re about to fight the Nazis only to spend the movie dealing with your issues about being drafted.

The show also has several supporting cast members who range from the very good to the okay. One of the major issues I have with the show is the plotline of Insurrectionist Kwan (Yerin Ha), who hates the UNSC and wants nothing to do with them on their home planet even after the Covenant kills her family. She’s a fine character but her logic (UNSC bad, Covenant doesn’t matter) makes her seem stupid to anyone who knows anything about the Covenant. Her being forced to join someone she hates might have been interesting but the story sort of goes in weird directions and she refuses to acknowledge Master Chief saving her life multiple times.

Another interesting character is Soren (Bokeem Woodbine) who is a SPARTAN-II who deserted the UNSC to become a pirate. He is a married family man and shows what sort of life that John could have had if he hadn’t remained so doggedly loyal to the people who kidnapped then turned him into a weapon. He’s a lot more interesting character than Kwan, to be honest, and Bokeem does a fantastic job with him but how he relates to the larger plot is tough to understand.

The saving graces of the show are Catherine Halsey (Natascha EcEihone) and Cortana (Jen Taylor). It’s a little strange seeing the two played by different actresses but they’re both fantastic. Doctor Halsey is just the right mixture of maternal and mad scientist. Cortana also takes some of her qualities but has removed most of her rougher edges. The familiarity of the voice also immediately buys a lot of good will. Perhaps not enough to set off the bad will for the changes (at least among purists) but it goes a long way.

Still, I’ve seen worst seasons and I’m going to watch the second season. There are just too many ideas in this show and they keep distracting from what we want to see: The Master Chief versus the Covenant with humanity’s survival at stake.

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