This HALO review contains spoilers.
Halo Episode 8
Halo is painting in broad strokes. The story focuses back in on Doctor Halsey, Master Chief, and TV show exclusive character Makee this week, trying to say something about the value of human life, the importance of our connection to each other, and how people should not be implanted with technology to make them better weapons. In doing so it further removes some of the pulpy specificity that made the world of the games work. Despite some interesting gestures and parallels, Halo continues to mute itself when it should be shouting.
Back at UNSC headquarters, John and Makee are still reeling from their euphoric vision of the Halo ring. They begin to trust each other, John showing Makee the outside world he himself is a newcomer to. He tries to convince the UNSC that she can help interpret the artifact’s vision of the ring. The two then sleep together, after which Makee removes her hidden fingernail-knife. Cortana, getting a fuzzy view through her neural link with John, becomes jealous and/or discovers her own emotional side.
We get a nice reminder that the Covenant are still attacking human-held planets, with a vague shot of their iconic “glassing,” melting a planet’s surface from orbit. Halsey, too, is doubling her efforts. An argument with Keyes solidifies the philosophy she’s been building to for a while. She believes that “I love humanity, but humans are the problem.” That means Halsey is starting to sound a lot like the Covenant, just as Makee is fully committing to being human. The doctor is determined that only she, with the necessary help of John and Makee to activate any alien artifacts, controls the Halo ring.
In fact, she’s so determined that she tries to take over the UNSC. A “Zed Protocol” programmed into the Spartans sends them on a mission to take down every high-ranking officer and capture John and Makee. In the middle of this, Miranda translates the transmission Makee made after she slaughtered a UNSC crew. A lot happens at once: Cortana and Kai both rebel against Halsey to help John. A military policeman delivers a nasty zap to Makee, reigniting her hatred for humans. She activates the artifact, pulling her and John into the Halo vision just long enough to say goodbye to him. The two Spartans who still have their hormonal inhibitors take down John, and UNSC troops rush to make sure Halsey doesn’t leave the planet.
It’s an odd cliffhanger, surprisingly sterile for how dramatic it might sound. The show still can’t break the video game adaptation curse. Part of the problem may be that, while this episode feels more relevant to the games than the last few, major beats are still different (and not as compelling). The John-Cortana relationship remains very cold. They were always the heart of the games, and able to be interpreted as romantic or not. By making Cortana’s romantic jealousy explicit and their dialogue mostly instances of Chief telling her to shut up, that chemistry is doubly removed.
Instead, the replacement for the roles of both Cortana and the alien Arbiter in John’s storyline is Makee. Despite now having a chance to show who she is at leisure for the first time, Makee doesn’t have alien mannerisms, or even any uniquely her own. Instead, she’s cold, and far too much of both her and John’s emotional journeys are delivered through shell-shocked stares. She and John simply don’t have chemistry. Their shared themes have been shown throughout Halo, but the conflation of the UNSC and humanity dilutes her journey a little. The emotional shorthand of her romantic relationship with John doesn’t allow for a space in which she differentiates between human and military. Unfortunately, this is also simply a case of lack of chemistry being a deciding factor. Even John joking with Kwan was more fun.
Another major change is Halsey’s rebellion. She does clash with Paragonsky and defect to the Covenant in some lesser-known canon Halo material. However, she never betrays the UNSC as a whole in this manner, and ends up back with them as of Halo Infinite. I’ve spent some time wondering what exactly feels wrong about the Silver Timeline version: Is it the moral incoherence of the UNSC turning out to be the lesser of two evils? Is it just that Halsey and Paragonsky sniping at each other verbally was so much fun, and removing that framework is less so? Perhaps Halsey’s hunger for her weird vision of a super-human savior is simply more powerful with the weight of an entire military force behind it.
It doesn’t exactly seem out of character for Halsey to say or do any of these things. It does remove some of the drama, though, to consider her the sole mastermind behind the Spartans instead of a willing product of the UNSC’s extreme measures. She seems to have operated in a philosophical vacuum, not to have responded to the very real (however justified) threat of the Insurrectionists. It’s yet another instance in which Kwan’s and John’s stories becoming disjointed weakens the drama.
“Allegiance” does impress with some choices. The ring motif in the very first scene was eerie, and the parallel between John and Makee’s first love with Halsey’s coldness is certainly trying to say something about what is so good about humanity. I really want an entire episode of the everyday UNSC folks betting on Spartan feats of strength, which Kai has turned to doing in her newly-emotional off time. The Spartan fight had nice moments of tension, especially after Kai jumped in, although it relied too much on props to really feel like either a conflict between real super-soldiers or a fun Halo multiplayer match.
Even John and Makee’s relationship makes more sense once John reminds Keyes that both of them “overrode decades of indoctrination.” The world-building (or 2000s styling) implied in the militaristic fashion they see on their jaunt through a city park is neat, even the civilians in “Reach City” wearing ridged sweatshirts that evoke rank bars. Plus, Keyes and Miranda have a well-acted, casual conversation that really conveys how well they work together, and how smoothly they balance work and family. If I’m going to go into each episode expecting a mediocre adaptation, it’s at least nice to have some fun.