Windows Central Verdict
Halo's second season kicks off with a solid start. A great battle sequence and a huge shake-up to the established hierarchy seems to have things pointed in the right direction, while the ominous dread of Covenant intent is building in the background.
New cast member James Morgan shines as James Ackerson
Somber, fitting soundtrack
Secondary plots can feel distracting
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Silver Team leader John-117 (Pablo Schreiber), more commonly referred to as Master Chief, is having a hard time.
The AI Cortana was removed from his interface. While dealing with that loss, Cortana's creator Halsey is still removed from leading the Spartans program, and her replacement is seemingly doubtful of Silver Team's role in the field, especially for Master Chief himself. All the while, several human colonies have fallen to glassing — the colloquial term for when several Covenant cruisers burn a surface with superheated plasma bombardment — and the Covenant are clearly massing their forces for something. Something bigger than wiping out a handful of colonies. Something that could lead to the destruction of the human race.
So opens Sanctuary, the first episode of Halo The Series' second season. Ahead of the season's premiere, I had the opportunity to check out the first and second episodes, getting a look at what fans and new viewers can expect from one of Paramount+'s biggest shows.
It's a well-paced opening that delivers action, political intrigue, and a needed upheaval for the status quo. Some side plots do distract a bit, but we're still on solid footing heading into the remaining episodes. Here's my review.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by advance screeners provided by Paramount. The company did not see the contents of this review before publishing.
Halo TV series Season 2, Episode 1: Sanctuary
Sanctuary is all about setting the board, moving pieces into place and examining new power structures. Nowhere is that more clear than through the addition of James Ackerson (Joseph Morgan) to the cast. Hailing from the ever-inscrutable Office of Naval Intelligence, aka ONI, Ackerson steals every scene he's in, masterfully redirecting questions and psychologically challenging the Spartans who tower over him. As the tension rises, he gets more and more comfortable, seemingly thriving in knowing the answers to questions that he won't share.
Master Chief is front and center this episode, and it's his emotional turmoil that drives a lot of the aforementioned conflict with Ackerson. We do get some fun moments with the rest of Silver Team, though, who have all taken the removal of their emotion-inhibitors with varying levels of enthusiasm. The always-stoic Vannak-134 (Bentley Kalu) is a particular source of amusement, while Kai-125 (Kate Kennedy) remains as bubbly as ever.
While it seems we'll be waiting for later in the season for more explosive, full-scale battles, we do get a great scene early on, with several Elites uncloaking to attack through the fog, snatching away unprepared UNSC marines left and right. We also get a breathtaking look at what it's like when a Covenant fleet turns a planet's crust into molten sludge, raining down -unending firepower where humanity has tried to put down roots.
Spartan defector Soren (Bokeem Woodbine) also returns, having become mighty cushy in his position at the top of the crime syndicates of The Rubble. Soren is hard to read, but it's clear everyone around him and under him is more wary of the delicate balance that comes with being a pirate leader. Soren is compelling, but those around him often aren't, and while I'm interested in seeing where things are going with him after the episode ends, it takes the entirety of the 50-minute runtime to get to that point, with some distracting detours along the way.
Halo TV series Season 2, Episode 1: Verdict
Overall, Sanctuary is a great opening for the new season. I can't say enough good things about Joseph Morgan's portrayal of ONI liaison James Ackerson, and I'm fascinated to see where his character is headed in the coming episodes. As the stage is being set for the impending Covenant invasion, the hierarchy we're familiar with from the first season has been swept away, bringing an element of political intrigue that feels compelling, not irritating.
Hopefully that'll remain the case and the side plots won't bog anything down too much as the stakes build higher and higher over the course of the season. Inevitable checks-in are due with some other characters returning from the first season, but there's room for things to improve from the often-inconsistent pacing that said characters' stories entailed.
An important note: I've got an interview coming up in the next few days, talking about the first two episodes of Halo's second season with actors Bokeem Woodbine and Joseph Morgan, as well as showrunner David Wiener and Microsoft transmedia head Kiki Wolfkill. Due to some spoilers discussed in the interview, you can look for this interview to be published after these episodes are available for everyone to watch.
Halo The Series Season 2, Episode 1, Sanctuary, is set to premiere on Feb. 8, 2024, exclusively on Paramount+.
You can also check out my review of Halo The Series Season 2, Episode 2.
Interested in more Halo? Halo Infinite and Halo: The Master Chief Collection are currently available on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Windows PC. Both are included in Xbox Game Pass. With continued support, both are some of the best Xbox games available.