A man of few words walks into town. His immense stature makes him immediately recognizable, and his reputation has others eager to throw down. Thankfully, his skill at fighting and ability to analyze any danger is unparalleled. He’s spoken about with either hate or reverence. A few good people are willing to help him despite his taciturn demeanor. They don’t even mind when he overrides their suggestions. In fact, the few words he speaks hide a cutting intelligence in one of the most surprisingly good roles of the year. But that’s enough about “The Witcher”, “Reacher”, “The Mandalorian”, and Fox Mulder for now. We’re here to talk about Calculon’s greatest role and rubberneck at the wiki-how for capsizing that is “Halo”.
After last week’s update, we left Master Chief defying the UNSC and rescuing a rebel girl he was ordered to kill. Not sure if they’ve explained what the UNSC is, so I’ve just assumed it’s United North and South Carolina. “Halo” presents a truly terrifying vision of the future.
The rebel Kwan Ha has come to terms with finding out Master Chief once assassinated her mother, so now they’re best friends who joke around. Or she is. Master Chief is all like, “How dare you”, which you know, maybe the rest of us would have given a courtesy laugh in that situation but Master Chief doesn’t know how to take the win. It’s the kind of thing that could have been ironed out with another script draft, but whatevs.
Anyway, Master Chief just escaped from the UNSC base. It was armed to the teeth with space fighters, countless ships, and bazillions of soldiers, creating the perfect opportunity for a chase sequence or some of the over-the-top, ship-hopping space action that defines the “Halo” game series. What riveting show-off set piece do they have prepared to open the second episode and hook us into the show forevermore?
Cut to a conference meeting – but I don’t think you understand how well this conference meeting is done. All the side characters get to say exactly one thing they could have sent in an email while Natascha McElhone smiles like she’s gonna eat the last french fry on your plate and you can’t do shit to stop her. Few shows have ever captured so well the ennui of being prevented from leaving early that day.
Of course, this meeting is important because it establishes that McElhone’s Dr. Halsey is going to do something to Master Chief and the Spartans that easily could’ve been described in a much shorter scene. She’s going to brainwash their brainwashing to brainwash them even way more harder. In fact, maybe it didn’t even need to be mentioned. Brainwashing in general kinda covers that you’re going to do it some more. You know what, this is something else that could’ve been condensed with another script draft, but who has that kind of time?
Where are Master Chief and his new ward going? To a boss looking asteroid colony. This really highlights how good the background and location VFX are on “Halo”. Anything that’s too distant to make out properly looks great. The problem is, “Halo” then asks things to move – often in the foreground. This is what we generally call filmmaking, but it’s where “Halo” loses the thread. Anything moving in the foreground remains animated with such disconnection to physics that it makes you think it’s going to glitch out and crash your TV or phone or whatever it is you’re watching on and maybe some things you aren’t.
The asteroid colony is where Master Chief’s old friend Soren lives. See, Soren escaped the brainwashing facility that made Master Chief a superhuman Spartan in the first place. Having escaped, Soren has these things called emotions. It’s the first we’ve seen these “emotions” in the series outside of McElhone looking at the scenery and going, “I did miss lunch”.
Soren lives with his flapper space wife and their young son, who’s been raised for the sole purpose of being used as a guilt trip on Master Chief about not having kids. Wait, is Master Chief’s character development just Jessica Chastain’s* from “Jurassic World” without getting to fight dinosaurs in heels?
It obviously makes a deep impression on Master Chief since he goes everywhere without a helmet now. I know “Halo” is still extremely self-conscious about not being “The Mandalorian”, so it wants its character famous for never removing his helmet to spend more than half his screentime so far without it. Perhaps the wiser move might have been to avoid copying half the plot of “The Mandalorian”, but no, I’m sure whether he wears his helmet is the big difference. This is what happens when you just don’t have enough time to hammer out that script. Oh well.
How do we know Soren can really be trusted? Cause he stops at a street vendor and gets churros. My man. But then he gives away his churros. What the fuck? Airlock that traitor.
Also something about the end of the universe and how Master Chief is the key to unlocking it. Instead of taking some solid advice to destroy the ancient wotsit the aliens need to go all end-times, Master Chief is like, “What if I just take it and me back to United North and South Carolina that I spent all this time making sure didn’t get hold of it and make both episodes functionally meaningless”? Having never seen a sci-fi or fantasy movie before in my life, I’m sure that’ll go well.
It’s only at the end, when Master Chief returns to Dr. Halsey and is allowed to act for an entire five seconds in a show ostensibly based around acting with actors who are supposed to act that the real purpose of all that helmet doffing occurred to me. You’d think it’s so Pablo Schreiber could do some of that acting stuff that’s all the rage, but it’s already firmly established that “Halo” is against this kind of thing. Maybe we can dig deeper.
I’ll put this diplomatically: the plot of “Halo” makes no sense. Showrunner Steven Kane was proud of publicizing that this show went through 265 script drafts, and it shows. Oh shit, what? That’s…that’s millions in scripts for something with zero personality. In his defense, I guess it’s easy to lose the source material in that amount of time. Oh wait. He also said, “We didn’t look at the game. We didn’t talk about the game.” Uh.
Can you imagine doing that to a book or classic movie? ‘Imma adapt this without looking at it’ sure is a flex. Maybe the problem with so many video game adaptations not being good is that the people put in charge of them are too scared to adapt the actual source material that already exists and that other people worked their asses off to create. They look down on it or can’t understand why it draws people in. “I’ll just put my own thing on top of it, whoops I just made D-grade Mandalorian, I better take off his helmet” isn’t an achievement. I already wrote that when I was seven and it didn’t take me 265 drafts.
Look, I’m not particularly into “Halo”; it’s not like they’re adapting “Thief” or “System Shock” or “Dishonored”. I have no ship in this torpedo relay. What I do have is a morbid fascination with the anatomy of an anthropogenic hazard on this scale. We are talking about a franchise that’s earned $6.5 billion, which puts it on par with Fast & Furious and above the DCEU, Ice Age, Shrek, Beauty and the Beast, Game of Thrones…a hell of a lot that people expect to be treated with some amount of quality control and respect for what’s come before. Remember how upset people were when they realized “Game of Thrones” was never all that good– and of course I mean when it suddenly and unexpectedly became bad in a way no one could have predicted? That’s what’s coming at us straight out of the gate with “Halo”.
I find myself thinking a lot these days about “Vagrant Queen”, which was way better than this and made with a single box of pocket lint, duct tape, and high quality sneering. It was a failure, but it was such a fun failure I gladly would have watched seasons and seasons of it. We’re two episodes into “Halo” and I give up. But at the same time I still want to write excruciatingly niche jokes and, unlike the showrunners, I need source material and that means watching more of it. So now I choose to watch “Halo” as something else, something far more insidious and sinister.
I have chosen to watch “Halo” as a meta-narrative where Natascha McElhone has created a pocket dimension to trap her fellow actors and drain their very souls. It’s kind of like “House of Leaves” meets “The Thief of Always”, where McElhone is playing the house in both instances. “The Thief of Always” is a Clive Barker novel about a kid who stumbles on a vampire house that turns children into fish – it’s dope. “House of Leaves” is a frightening experiment in kerning.
The point is that instead of viewing “Halo” the way it’s told, which is to say while sleeping, it can instead be viewed as a man being trapped in Natascha McElhone’s puppet universe, a dimension of her own creation that she uses to harvest the energy from the souls of fellow actors. See, it makes sense because she’s the only one acting, while everyone else seems to have been drained of the impulse to try. How else is she the only one capable of escaping the deleterious effects “Halo” has on every other actor? She’s an energy vampire feeding on her castmates. What other explanation is there? Unfocused writing and lackadaisical direction on a project that has 265 script drafts and costs $10 million an episode? Well yes, obviously, but I need some continuing reason to make myself watch this crap.
So where does Master Chief come in? He’s trying to act like he can’t act so he can go unnoticed as long as possible. It turns whatever this is into a harrowing tale of survival. Can he make it long enough for Sam and Dean to burst in, punch up some thralls, and be all like, “Don’t worry, Master Chief, we’ll salt some saltshot into this salt circle to salt Natascha McElhone away saltily”. I mean did “Supernatural” get paid by the fucking National Salt Council? I’m not judging; renew the damn contract.
“Halo” the show is already spinning wheels and its second episode isn’t just pointless; it actively doubles back on nearly everything accomplished in the first and second episode. It’s filler that retroactively converts previous content to filler. But “Halo” the isekai? That’s just getting started, and I can’t wait to see more in the Natascha McElhone Energy Vampire Universe.
Oh shit, I didn’t even get to the rhyming dictator guy.
Master Chief could’ve walked around this, but that wouldn’t have taken up 30 seconds of my life:
*Yes, I know, she’s not Jessica Chastain.
You can watch “Halo” on Paramount Plus. Why you would is beyond me, but you can.
If you like this, buy me a coffee for my suffering.