As a long-time Halo fan, I’ve been excited about the prospect of a live-action remake since the rumors started swirling back in the mid-’00s. Originally that was a movie, and it eventually morphed into the TV show you can go and watch on Paramount Plus.
Needless to say the run-up to the premiere episode of the Halo TV series had me concerned. Particularly in the case of Master Chief, after the announcement he’d be taking off his helmet — a sin on par with Sylvester Stallone doing the same thing in 1995's Judge Dredd. Then the series arrived, and my reaction to the first episode could basically be described as “eh.."
I was incredibly apathetic to the show, admitting I wouldn’t care if it got canceled or not. Further episodes failed to captivate me, and after the third episode I gave up altogether — only returning to watch the series in full ahead of this week’s finale. I will admit that the binge watch stirred some feelings in me, and my thoughts on the future of the Halo TV series are now clear.
I hate this wretched show with a fiery passion. If it’s canceled tomorrow I will happily celebrate that fact, rather than moving on with my life in a cloud of apathy.
Unfortunately that’s not likely to happen. Paramount Plus renewed Halo for a second season before the first episode even aired. So we’re going to get more live-action Halo, and not the good kind like the Halo 4 tie-in Forward Unto Dawn.
Halo doesn’t know what kind of show it wants to be
The problem with Halo is that it’s a show that doesn’t know what it wants to be. The first couple of episodes set it up to be similar to The Mandalorian, while later episodes are clearly trying to mimic the political drama seen in shows like The Expanse.
Heck, the seventh episode feels like someone read the Wikipedia synopsis of Dune and copied it, the way your best friend would copy your homework — with just enough changes to throw off suspicions of cheating. It’s no surprise that in a sea of ratings ranging from 6.6 to 8.4 on IMDB, episode 7 has a rating of 3.9 out of 10.
Then there’s the ham-fisted romance plot, because apparently you can’t have a protagonist who doesn’t get laid once in a while. Even if that means shoehorning him into a sexual encounter with a prisoner of war (committing what is considered a war crime and sexual assault in the real world).
It’s definitely not the touching moment Halo awkwardly tried to make it out to be.
Anyone who has seen Orange is the New Black will know that Pablo Schreiber’s character actually went to prison for having sex with inmates — so to have that same actor play the above out again? Yes, if I had a nickel for every time the actor was involved in such a plotline, I’d have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s super-weird that it happened twice.
The Halo franchise is incredibly grand in scope, and if I had to describe the existing canon it would be something like Starship Troopers meets Star Wars — minus the parody. It’s a grand sci-fi epic spanning hundreds of thousands of years, while also telling a very familiar story about where humanity is going.
The scale of the franchise means there’s room to tell smaller and more personal stories. Funnily enough various political machinations play into Halo novels, something that the TV show somehow managed to botch.
Halo isn’t invested in the source material
One of the main problems is that Halo isn’t a very faithful adaptation of the franchise as we’ve seen it so far. I completely understand that the show wanted to free itself from the constraints of existing canon. In fact I agree that setting up the “Silver Timeline”, as it’s officially known, was a good idea.
Halo gets plenty of things right, including set and prop design, easter eggs and the way it doesn’t even try to justify the way the Spartan IIs were created. But there are plenty more things it does completely wrong.
Dr. Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone) is depicted as a power-hungry megalomaniac, rather than the cold and calculated ‘whatever it takes’ scientist from the original Halo canon. Almost all the other main characters deviate in some shape or form. The writers got the broad strokes, but failed to check what these characters were actually like.
If some of these characters treated book Admiral Parangosky with the same amount of disrespect and open insubordination that TV Parangosky (Shabana Azmi) has had to endure, they’d have been disappeared faster than you could say “Stalin would like a word”. And nobody would question it. The woman is fearsome, and not to be crossed, even if she is in her mid-90s.
You also have the smaller details, like how Covenant plasma grenades don’t turn into a glowing blue flare when activated. The DMR, a single-shot weapon in the games, is now fully automatic, and the gravity hammers are just big ornate hammers.
I’m not saying that the show needs to follow the source material verbatim. It is an adaptation, and some things deserve to be changed. In the show a natural affinity for Forerunner tech is exclusive to a special few, namely Master Chief and Makee. In the games and books, Forerunner tech is far less picky — and will respond to the touch of any human being.
In business the adage is that it's easier to keep a customer than it is to acquire a new one. Halo the show could learn something from this.
Showrunner Steven Kane told Variety (opens in new tab) that the writers didn't look at the Halo games or talk about them. That's understandable, to a degree, not want to be beholden to what came before. Halo shouldn't be forced into every single tiny canonical constraint, otherwise splitting the canon was a wasted endeavour.
But I wonder how much time the show's production team spent immersing themselves in the Halo universe. Halo shows a lot of blatant ignorance, and it comes off as disrespectful to the source material — and the source material made people fans in the first place.
And if you're trying to bring in non-fans? My editor (who's played maybe 5 hours of Halo ever) said the premiere episode was good but it didn't hook him. You can't please everyone no matter what you do, but if you're driving away Halo fans you are going about the adaptation process all wrong.
By taking such liberties, and seemingly avoiding the finer points of canon for whatever reason, Halo the show loses a tremendous amount of goodwill from the people that should have been ecstatic about each new episode.
Halo forgot to show us the stakes
Halo’s biggest flaw is that the writers got so wrapped up in doing everything else, that they forgot to add a sense of desperation to the proceedings.
The humans, Halsey in particular, are always talking about finding the Halo and using it as a weapon to destroy the Covenant. She also points out that the Spartans are one of the only things keeping the Covenant from total domination. The problem is we never actually see that, and all the human characters seem to be pretty casual about the whole “war” thing.
By the time of the first Halo game, set in the same year as the TV show, humanity has been on the verge of total annihilation for close to 20 years. Each time the Covenant finds a new human planet, they roll in and obliterate all life on the surface — glassing the planet by turning the surface into a pool of molten slag. We see a glimpse of this in the final episode of the season, but only for a brief moment.
Humans are outgunned, hopelessly outnumbered and absolutely desperate. The only thing they can do is try and stall the Covenant for long enough to discover the edge they need to be able to achieve anything other than a pyrrhic victory.
Halo on TV is a totally different story. Aside from a single scene, where Keyes is barking orders to try and discover the location of a Covenant base, there’s no urgency to anything they do. The human characters are far too casual, wandering around as if they have all the time in the universe.
To the point where the insurrectionists on Madrigal have either never heard of the Covenant, or thought it was a lie cooked up by the UNSC as a propaganda tool. The stakes could not be lower, and the human characters seem more intent on causing drama amongst themselves, like some sort of CW-ified take on the Halo franchise.
How are we supposed to invest in the great human struggle when we don’t get to see what the stakes are?
I can’t say for sure whether Halo is going to be a success for Paramount Plus or not. I know that there seem to be plenty of people in the Halo subreddit, and on Twitter, who really do not like the show. But there are also plenty of people who jump to defend it whenever someone gets a little too angry about it.
The Halo series is boring, jumbled, and lacks all the tension and adrenaline-spiking moments you’d expect from an adaptation of an action-heavy video game. It’s not just badly written, and unfaithful to the source material it’s also so low-stakes that it becomes boring.
The only times it really got a reaction from me were during scenes that are so bizarrely out of place that you can’t help but say “what the f**k?”. Like Master Chief’s budding relationship with the universe’s most obvious spy.
If season 2 is going to happen, then it should be done properly. The show can start by keeping Master Chief’s helmet and armor on. Nobody wants to see the Chief’s face, or his butt. [Editor's note: I've heard more than a few people who disagree with the latter]
FYI: In other streaming stuff, Oprah's OWN just canceled Delilah after a single season.