The Halo Show’s first season ends with uncertainty and promise
With “Transcendence”, the ninth and final episode of the Halo first season of the show, much is uncertain. This show was one giant experiment of taking a “spaghettified” collection of Halo games, books, comics and other related media and turning them into a screen adaptation firmly rooted in the tradition of prestige fantasy/sci-fi television that arguably achieved critical mass with The iron Throne. And with the first season now over, I think the series has largely succeeded despite some poor executions of otherwise perfectly entertaining and engaging plot developments, most of which are undeniably in tune with the stories. Halo tells since 2001.
The problem, of course, is that what makes Halo “Halois easily confused and hotly contested. let’s be honest, Halo started out as a fairly simple shooter steeped in the tradition of military science as Starship Troopers and Extraterrestrial, among others. The story, at least in the original trilogy, was a post-9/11 story of a military-industrial complex tasked with defending “humanity” against religious fanatics.
After Bungie’s departure in the early 2010s, the series embraced greater ambitions and attempted to take itself more seriously. I believe this show is the culmination of that effort and is, when it is, one of the series’ best attempts to expand the scope of storytelling. Conflict at the moment Halo lost what made it “unique” is more debated in community spaces than the authenticity of Metallica’s albums after 1991, so any conversation about that show, the books, or the games since Halo 4 is a fruitless exercise in arguing against nostalgia and very specifically organized sets of opinions. And I’m not immune to that either.
That said, this show seems invested in adapting themes from other Halo media in an interesting reconfiguration while keeping the thematic mythos on track…even if the whole thing feels like it may be on the verge of collapse.
If nothing else, “Transcendence” proved a few things. First of all, that the Halo The show is, legacy aside, just plain fun old TV sci-fi. Sometimes it gets awkward, other times it sings – I mean, a show about reclaiming one’s identity through a change in hormonal regulation, while bonding through reunited family on a story of childhood trauma, of course will make me, a trans woman, feel a certain way. For all the talk of humanity at the center of this show, I think the season finale makes it undeniable: This is a story about people.
While its portrayal of a military-industrial complex still requires deeper conversation, it’s clear that these characters need each other as they struggle to retain their humanity by coming together in the face of a shitty situation. As such, I’m really glad no Spartans died here, and that the explosive conflict between them in this final episode didn’t lead to them killing each other.
Although John is the “chosen” style protagonist, he still has to rely on others, be it Cortana or the other Spartans. He might be the hero, but we have a better idea of who he is a hero for in this episode. Keeping these characters alive, I think, allowed the collective heroism that these characters share to take center stage. With this, the show proved why they need to remove their helmets so often: their past and present situations demand and impose the helmet, the costume, the role of the soldier, but these are people who are, could we say, heroically fight this request. Whether they will survive and be able to secure a future in which they don’t need armor, at least metaphorically, remains to be seen.
As for the larger moves of the show in the Halo mythos, the events are very interesting and, I mean cautiously, promising. While I enjoyed most of this season, I also found myself saying out loud, “When are they gonna get in the fucking Halo ring?” “When is Reach going to be glazed?” “Why can’t Kwan’s screen time make the most of the intriguing plot elements surrounding him?”
I actually think his slow reveal of secrets might be for the best, though.
The slow drip of the season and reliance on a set of annoying “keystone” artifacts – which always seem to be able to defuse runaway action in a very narratively convenient way – have been tiring butif the story of Halo is one of uncovering some of our universe’s deepest secrets, perhaps it’s fitting that the meaty lore is well hidden. Reveal the deepest secrets of the cosmos too soon, and the people of this world will look a little stupid for not having discovered them sooner. Hold them back too much and you end up with a JJ Abrams production. I think this season finale mostly strikes that balance, and it saved us time with those characters. But it is clearly worn. Season two Needs to go up a few notches and get to the fucking chorus.
Did Makee need to die for this? I think the story is going to struggle with that for a while, and maybe it will become a bit like Halo 4/5Cortana’s version for Chief. Do we need another tale with a tall, beefy, straight white guy upset over the death of a woman? Certainly not. But it may serve as sufficient counterpoint to John’s internal sense of himself as a hero; just hope it doesn’t turn it into a version of Final Fantasy VII: Children of Advent‘s Cloud Strife and see him mope for another bunch of episodes.
That’s assuming John is still with us.
John’s fate is seriously uncertain. Without some more in-depth reading of what was said and what happened at the end of this final episode, it’s hard to say “where” John is. I’m not entirely sure if Cortana did to resume? Is he just stoically upset that his girlfriend got shot? I do not know! It’s thematically fitting, though, for us to see John disappear behind the Master Chief’s helmet, to become the mindless soldier that the story (and most fans…) want or need him to be. Although many viewers weren’t happy that the show had so many helmetless and costumeless scenes, we at least got to see who is now potentially lost, instead of the plot just telling us that his humanity is in danger, which the games and books have mostly settled.
“Wake up, John,” was a central theme in Halo 4of marketing and story, the hero falling asleep and being summoned when needed. The first game begins with this theme, and that’s how the original trilogy ended. Halo has, in its larger context, focused on cycles of civilization and conflict throughout history, with heroes playing pivotal roles rising and falling over the eons. Who they are, where they are, and ‘when’ they are often what makes the difference, and the fact that the show plays with that, I think, is arguably what makes it a real Halo the adaptation and not just the style of the games put on a different tone.
That said, this season struggled to juggle its many plot threads, one of which ended with a bullet in Makee. Between the Keyes family drama, Ha family secrets, Soren, Catherine Halsey bullshit and all the Spartan stuff, there’s so much on the table that I’m not sure the show can give it all the care she deserves, as we’ve seen with the scenes of Kwan amounting to little more than her just repeating the same lines over and over and getting mad at everyone. It was almost like the character himself was breaking the fourth wall and demanding better pacing and writing. We’re sure to see some of these current stories fade away or take strange turns, as we did, for example, in Battlestar Galactica and Fringe.
Now that the location of the Halo Rings has been revealed (I think?), it will be interesting to see where Season Two takes this source material and stories. And I think the most interesting aspect of the experience which is the Halo show, at least for me, is that I’m entertained enough by this collection of nine episodes to want to see where they go with it. The actors are well-suited and the series adapts the themes to the format quite well. It’s just a question of whether he can hit the larger rhythms of the mythos story in a satisfying way. And at first glance, the answer to this question could be much further than we would like.