Latest ‘Halo’ Episodes, ‘Reckoning’ and ‘Solace,’ Deliver on Show’s Original Promise
This slow pace has frustrated many fans of the games – myself included. We know the backstory of Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone) and her use of kidnapped children for the Spartan soldier program that created the Master Chief. Except in this series, Master Chief is kept in the dark of the sinister machinations of his adoptive mother and creator, and the United Nations Space Command, humanity’s authoritative military power, also ignores the most dehumanizing illegal experiments. by Halsey. His discovery of this pattern happens rather slowly, and given this lack of action, the dramatic tension felt repetitive for fans familiar with the games history.
Then the fifth episode, “Reckoning”, dropped.
The episode sees all of the characters heading into a direct confrontation, with Chief now aware of his origins and United Nations Space Command demanding results from this costly expedition. As a small army led by Chief and Halsey excavate another piece of an artifact that leads to a sacred ring called Halo, the alien species Covenant, who have declared holy war against humans, descend on their location, and we finally get the large scale, chaotic combat that sets the games apart from any other series.
A large suite of alien characters from the games make impressive debuts in the series, gossiping comically and menacingly as they exert bloody violence on an ill-fated human force. The battle even stays true to the video game experience, with the leader hijacking enemy vehicles and picking up different weapons as he runs out of ammo, just like a “Halo” player would.
This whole streak was hailed by even the highly skeptical r/halo subreddit, which until then had been a hub for many of the aforementioned critics of the show’s pacing. If the creators of the series have managed to stage the action so well, deploying explosive and practical effects and large-scale set design, there may be more to look forward to.
After so much action, the next episode was meant to be a bit of a break, likely returning at a slower pace. Not so, at least dramatically.
Now, having fully dealt with his origins, Chief and Halsey go head-to-head in a shockingly dramatic scene that’s not just a reward for new viewers, but longtime fans as well. In the games, Halsey rarely gets her righteous deserts for her dastardly deeds. This series, on the other hand, not only forces the characters to consider the consequences of their actions, but provides impressive emotional closure not only to Chief, but also to the audience, regardless of their knowledge of the game’s story Chief proves that, even off the battlefield, it remains humanity’s most effective and dangerous weapon, and that it will not be manipulated.
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Episode director Jonathan Liebesman, who also helmed last week’s famous episode, displays impressive storytelling chops. The cinematography is lyrical, showing Master Chief gazing at the artifact through a thin window and transitioning to another similarly framed scene of Halsey, depicting his shrinking options.
The episode ends with a tantalizing glimpse of where the story is headed. For fans of the game, that might be predictable, but that’s part of what makes it so exciting. We’re getting closer and closer to what really makes the Halo series sing and stand out as gripping popcorn sci-fi. And for anyone new to driving, it’s still an impressive sight, teasing a literal world of possibilities.
The episodes also downplay the subplot of Kwan Ha, the rebellious young girl saved by Chief in the first episode. Yerin Ha’s performance isn’t the weak link here; she plays the role credibly and with passion. But his story arc is more like a story line so far. His motivation for returning to his Madrigal home – political freedom – is not only confusing, it seems unrealistic. His entire livelihood was decimated by the Covenant within minutes; his worldview should have changed by now. But as other characters developed, she didn’t. Let’s hope the series has more surprises in store for Kwan.
The last two episodes hint at a big, bright future for the series. Seeing Miranda Keyes (Olive Gray), an underutilized but popular character from the games, grow into her known role is inspiring. Then there’s Schreiber’s turn as Master Chief. Although he was, predictably, gifted at portraying this version of humanity’s most powerful weapon, he faced a difficult ascent: the series prominently features his face, while the games keep the character’s face hidden.
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Schreiber’s pained expressions perfectly capture Chief’s fluctuating and confused emotions. This leader, newly aware of his humanity, struggles to control himself; we often see it erupt into shocking and violent crises. At times, as Schreiber brutally and repeatedly punches various walls and aliens, it feels like he’s ramming this new version of Chief into our brains. We have no choice but to see his anguish radiate before the public.
In the sixth episode, Chief’s confidence in wielding his emotions seems to be building, and the series becomes a showcase for Schreiber to play his masterful cheeks in a variety of situations, showing smarts as he leads a few scenes of tense interrogation in which he firmly grasps the advantage. It will be rewarding to watch Chief grow into the savvy, wise, and efficient soldier that made him one of gaming’s most famous icons.
He even shows a stern but warm kindness towards Kai-125 (Kate Kennedy), whom he so coldly rejected just an episode earlier. Kai is still coming to grips with his position in life and laments that it was all a lie. But that’s not quite true, reassures the head of Schreiber.
“We’re still Spartans,” he said beyond a shadow of a doubt. Six episodes in, it’s easy to believe.