With episode nine the first season of the Halo TV series gets its finale. It’s been a pretty fun ride, but wow has it been an uneven one. For every hard hitting episode like “Solace,” we get meh sequences like the ones in the Madrigal-centered “Inheritance.” As the season finale “Transcendence,” has some good moments of emotional payoff and battle sequences that lean into the look and feel of the video games and some pretty decent acting. But it also falls flat in places with plot holes you could drive a Warthog through. Which I suppose sums up the entire series well.
Last episode’s cliffhanger left the Spartans of Silver Team at an impasse, with the Chief and Kai staring down the guns of Vannak and Riz as Halsey’s loyal Spartans enact the doctor’s treasonous Plan Zed. The Chief and Kai’s revelation of Halsey’s perfidy fall on deaf ears, and it takes Captain Keyes’ admission of guilt and his role in the kidnapping of children into the Spartan program before Vannak and Riz realize just how much they have been used by Dr. Halsey.
While the rest of Silver Team chase down a fleeing Makee, Kai manages a one-Spartan rampage, boarding Dr. Halsey’s fleeing ship and confronting the ever-manipulative mother of the Spartan program. “Tell me my real name. Who am I?” Kai’s questions hammer home the entire of arc of the Spartans trying to reclaim the humanity stolen from them. Halsey, remorseless, answers “you are exactly who you’re meant to be.”
The doctor manages a short-lived escape, but her abortive coup is dead in the water, and Silver Team is (finally) a team again. We even get some of that trademark Chief and Cortana banter as the pair finally learn to trust each other, Cortana confiding Halsey’s original plan, and then reiterating that she’s grown to respect John and the other Spartans.
Makee, conflicted, returns to the Covenant with the last fragment of the keystone, presenting it to the Covenant’s High Prophets who promise her a place in their Great Journey even as they plot to dispose of her when convenient. It’s a tragic mirror to the Spartan’s journey of discovering the childhood taken from them and yet choosing to fight on, while Makee turns her back on humanity and yet is still marked for death as an outsider by the Covenant. Still, the Spartans are coming, and there will be a reckoning.
What follows is a battle sequence as the Chief and Silver Team fight off waves of Covenant while Makee activates the artifact. It’s a terrific fight, truth be told, as Grunts, Elites and Brutes slug it out with plasma bolts and grav hammers against the Spartans, and you can tell that a good chunk of the season’s special effect budget went into animating this fight. Things are a bit floaty compared to the ponderously solid feel of the practical effects shots, but it’s entertaining choreography for the fans. Some have griped about the first person HUD shots, but I personally like them.
Makee communes with the artifact, sending her and the Chief into another vision of the Halo, one that Makee won’t leave behind, even as John urges her to stop. In the end, the Chief is snapped out of the vision forcefully when Kai shoots Makee, killing the Blessed One. Though given how she died while her mind was in a Forerunner artifact, this might not be the last we see of her.
With Silver Team wounded and on the ropes, it’s down to the Chief and Cortana to pull off the extraction and recover the artifact, only it’s impossible for the Chief to handle the artifact without communing with it. Chief’s solution is interesting and inspired, surrendering himself entirely to Cortana’s brain hijacking so that she can “pilot” the Chief’s Mjolnir armor safely to handle the artifacts and save Silver Team. She can’t promise that she’ll be able to bring him back though.
We get one last action sequence as Cortana takes control of the Chief and takes down Covenant attackers with ease using guns akimbo and Cortana’s control of their Condor dropship. It’s an eerily silent scene, reminiscent perhaps of the relatively silent Master Chief we see in the games. It feels weighty, and yet not, a moment of gravitas that doesn’t quite feel earned and just a bit too convenient. The Halo season finale leaves on an interesting question for the next season. As Silver Team flies off, Kai asks: “John, is that you?” A silent green and gold helmet does not answer as the credits roll.
The first season of Halo tackled some themes and arcs pretty well, with the Chief and Kai-152 fighting hard to reclaim their stolen humanity while untangling themselves from a web of deceptions. Having the Spartans be helm off for chunks of the show turned off some fans, but helped give us a greater sense of the people within, with Pablo Schreiber and Kate Kennedy delivering on intensity, vulnerability, and manic energy. I just wish we had gotten more time with the other two Silver Team Spartans, Vannak (Bentley Kalu) and Riz (Natasha Culzac). What does Season 2 have in store for Silver Team, and has John fought that hard to gain a sense of humanity only to have that completely be burned out in order to save everyone?
The series’ portrayal of Dr. Catherine Halsey as the galaxy’s most dangerous and manipulative helicopter mom with high level clearance is a winner here. It’s a hell of a performance from Natascha McElhone, and this is definitely not the last we’ll see of her. True to her boundless and infinite well of fuckery, Dr. Halsey has managed to evade capture by throwing off her UNSC pursuers with a well-placed flash-clone double, buying her just enough time to get off Reach, almost certainly something that will get picked up in Season 2. Paralleling Halsey, Danny Sapani’s Jacob Keyes has been interesting figure. Far from the wholesome commander of the first Halo game, and wrestling belatedly with the implications of his culpability in kidnapping children to turn them into supersoldiers (and to a certain extent the larger imperial state of the UNSC).
Charlie Murphy’s Makee has been a mixed bag. The idea of giving a human face to the Covenant was honestly pretty neat, and her past as a child laborer reinforced how the United Earth Government are most definitely not the good guys. But also her entire infiltration plan should have been laughably transparent to a military government full of absolute bastards like the UEG and UNSC. The relationship with John had interesting points, but like the infamous sex scene in episode 8, also felt awkward and rushed. The idea behind the deliciously tragic arc feels solid, but rocky in execution, and wrapped up perhaps too neatly thanks to a bullet.
The one disappointment has been Kwan Ha’s Madrigal storyline. While I actually enjoyed Yerin Ha’s portrayal of a rebellious teen lashing out, only to eventually be dragged back home by weird family inheritances, it felt like half the time, the writing and the show didn’t know what to do with her or Bokeem Woodbine’s Soren-066, leaving that entire arc feeling pretty superfluous despite the promise of more Forerunner secrets to be had. I hope the writing team does a better job with both in Season 2.
Halo Season 1 wraps up with the Spartans discovering the truth about themselves, for better or worse, and claiming the keystone artifacts that will lead them to the Halo. It’s been a rough ride, but there’s enough heart and soul in the show (and some pretty neat production values for a video game adaptation) that I’m excited to see what Season 2 will bring when it arrives.