Halo Episode 9 Review: Transcendence

Halo shoots its way into an underwhelming finale that shows the limitations of the show's scope.

Halo Episode 9 Review
Photo: Paramount+

This HALO review contains spoilers.

Halo Episode 9

Having steered its Master Chief pretty far outside of the bounds of the character game fans know and love, the Halo TV series finally feels like a video game again. That doesn’t mean this episode is good. The video game adaptation curse remains in place, and it’s hard to dig beneath the surface here. A floaty finale action scene both jumped the shark (again) and underwhelmed, opening a door to a second season that…may or may not include the actual Halo ring? As the episode title implies, the show wants to establish the Halo as a place of spiritual significance, a points the games easily conveyed through their choral soundtracks without having to belabor things. The characters are pilgrims progressing, sure, but the central metaphors don’t even have that much staying power.

The finale opens at a turning point: Halsey has divided the Spartans against each other while she tries to escape UNSC HQ. Master Chief tries to convince Vannak and Riz to work with him. Keyes confirms what John tells them about Halsey’s manipulations, but it’s really the urgency of the Covenant threat that convinces them. “We lose the artifact, we lose the war,” John says. “No matter what they’ve done to us, we’re all we have now.” With the Spartans all on the same team again, Kai breaks off on her own to kill Halsey. She nearly succeeds, ending Adun’s life and forcing her ship to crash. Both Halsey and Kai survive, though.

Witnessing the smoking remains of the ship, John realizes he’s going to need Cortana. With her help, they pinpoint the location of the Covenant high command on a sacred, hidden planet. The Spartans battle through both gravity anomalies in space and Covenant forces on the ground to get to the site where the artifacts will reveal the location of the Halo. Back on Reach, the UNSC thinks they’ve picked up Halsey only to realize she’s flash cloned herself, leaving them a short-lived decoy while she flees the planet.

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On the Covenant planet, the Spartans fight a losing battle, including against the Brute that stole the artifact from Master Chief before. Makee activates the artifact, using its energy blast to push back the alien army, but that tugs John into the vision of the Halo, too. Just as those two are having a heart-to-heart, Kai shoots Makee to release John from the vision. Even this isn’t a win button. With just too many enemies around, John walks into the line of fire to force Cortana to do what Halsey threatened she would do: take over his body and mind. She does, buying the Spartans enough time for Cortana to bring their ship around and make a narrow escape. Silver Team and the Covenant leadership both escape with their lives, with Cortana now inhabiting John in a way no one is entirely certain of.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the one thing the show consistently gets right is Halsey, if not exactly the reactions of the people around her. It’s easy to love to hate how conniving she is. (At the same time, where exactly did that clone come from?)

The first of the two big action scenes, Kai’s attack on Halsey’s ship, really sold the idea that Spartans can be terrifying, too. Her shouting, “What’s my real name?” continues the “Who am I?” theme with just a little bit more specificity, which is exactly what the show needs overall. (It’s still a duller reminder of one of the franchise’s best Weird Spartan moments, the “How old are you?” moment in the also live action Forward Unto Dawn.)

The second action scene strains the budget to breaking, and doesn’t seem to know what makes Halo cool. There are some fun easter eggs here, from classic noises to the Spartans sneaking up on a sleeping Grunt. Despite Kai’s good showing earlier, though, the scene utterly fails to convince that Spartans are the right tool for the job of fighting the aliens. Some more first person shots are dedicated to Chief mostly getting thrown to the dirt. The show clearly doesn’t seem interested in saying anything meaningful about the horrors that birthed the Spartans’ abilities. Instead, it’s just a very dull action scene, designed to show off the stilted and convenient John/Makee relationship one last time before ensuring it won’t have any long-lasting consequences. Frankly, I was really hoping to see Chief beat up that Brute. Instead, the Spartans seem ineffective and uncreative.

Silver Team also never really came together as a unit of characters. The secondary Spartans simply don’t have traits, other than a general loyalty to one another, different equipment, and whether or not they still have their emotion-dampening implants. I wanted a lot more in particular from John convincing the others that Halsey was being cruel to them all along. Vannak still believed the lie that the Spartans were war orphans, which is interesting. This conversation could have been much longer, though, revealing how much of Vannak’s loyalty was emotional fulfillment, how much appreciation for his enhanced abilities, how much … anything else.

Fans speculated that Makee might bring about the fall of Reach at the end of the season, or that we might get just a glimpse of the ring at the very end, promising the iconic setting for the second season. They weren’t optimistic predictions: instead, they mark how the show has felt throughout like a lesser version of what already happened in canon. But the finale is even less interested in the central timeline’s main points than that. The second season might set up another nine-episode search for the ring, the setting that provides a mix of wilderness and alien majesty for the franchise’s endless war games. Or, you could just play the games.

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3 out of 5