A Halo TV show, first announced all the way back in 2013 around the maligned reveal of the Xbox One, is finally here. Spearheading the push for original content on Paramount+, Halo makes an extremely strong impression in its debut episode, with some admitted uncertainty in the foundation.
The first episode juggles trying to appeal to both fans and newcomers, explaining the world and characters for anyone confused while not boring longtime veterans. By and large, it succeeds, with an action-packed episode that's surprisingly gory and makes it clear there are surprises in store. Small ripples can have a large effect, however, so we'll have to wait and see exactly how or if the question marks raised here will resolve.
Note: This review contains spoilers for Halo Season 1, Episode 1, "Contact."
Halo TV series
Bottom line: "Contact" marks a strong, action-packed entry into the Halo universe, but time will tell whether the divergences in its storytelling are a hindrance or a blessing.
- Great action
- Solid performances
- Good entry point to Halo universe
- Some odd character choices
Taking place in the alternate-universe Silver Timeline for Halo, the episode throws many a curveball at Halo lore, while still remaining respectful, if not beat-for-beat faithful to its source material. Veterans of the games and expanded media will notice numerous differences, from the characters to details of events, even as the major bullet points remain the same.
The first episode, "Contact," opens in the year 2552 with life on the Insurrection-controlled mining world of Madrigal, as jokes are cracked, the UNSC is booed, and the powers of the near-myth Spartan supersoldiers are discussed. Yet danger is imminent for the teenage Kwan Ha Boo (Yerin Ha), as well as her friends and family at the mining station.
Straight away, horror unfolds as the alien Covenant attack, with Elite warriors butchering the Insurrectionists. Nothing is played for laughs here: We see just how effective Plasma Rifles and energy shielding is against average human guerrillas, as Insurrectionists have their heads popped apart, limbs burned off, and bodies impaled. It's brutal to watch unfold and comes as something of a grounded shock to reality. Halo doesn't shy away from violence, being one of the defining first-person shooter franchises, but the gore here is well above anything found in the games.
When Silver Team arrives, Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) and his fellow Spartans quickly turn the tide, surgically eliminating the Elites. The action is cut well, with some decent special effects and a couple of quick shots to a first-person perspective for the Spartans, without being done so frequently as to be obnoxious or break the pacing. Special attention was clearly given to the weapons models and sound effects, as the recharge noise of an energy shield sounds just as satisfying here as in Halo Infinite.
Halo is noteworthy for being lighthearted at times, with plenty of humor to break the tension of the dark and grim science-fiction world around the main characters. That brevity is nowhere to be found here, outside of a few lines from the ever-stoic Master Chief.
"What is it you like?" Kwan asks while eating. "Nuts. Bolts. Microchips," Chief says.
It's a choice that works for the more harrowing, drama-focused perspective of this first episode, but I do hope that moving forward that tone isn't lost entirely, as the frankly ridiculous humor of Halo is an immense part of its overall charm.
As Master Chief investigates a ruin that the Covenant were trying to excavate, he touches a mysterious alien device, glimpsing visions of a past life. He recovers, starting the journey back to the planet Reach with both the device and Kwan in tow. Elsewhere, Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey (Natascha McElhone) shines, butting heads with the rest of UNSC command as it's made abundantly clear there's a divide between most of the military and the Spartans, the latter of which remain Halsey's personal pet project.
Halsey even directs the Spartans to go against UNSC orders when she requests, something they comply with unhesitatingly. The Cortana project is namedropped, though there aren't any details for just why this is a big deal.
One of the more interesting divergences comes with a look at the Covenant station High Charity. The Prophet of Mercy speaks in an alien tongue with someone who is eventually revealed to be a human (Charlie Murphy), working with the Covenant for some mysterious purpose. Time will tell who she is and why this is happening, but the idea the Covenant, in all its religious dogma and manipulation, might possibly work with a human traitor is tantalizing in possibility.
On the route back, despite attempts made by Halsey's daughter, Miranda Keyes (Olive Gray), it's clear that Kwan will refuse to cooperate and spread word of the UNSC's heroic actions. While the trauma this now-isolated teenager has suffered is obvious, it's here where things unravel just a tad, as no mention or alternate discussion is given for why the UNSC can't try to further persuade Kwan once she and Master Chief arrive back on Reach. Instead, Chief is immediately ordered to kill Kwan, even as he's clearly withdrawn and struggling to make sense of the visions he's had.
We get some back and forth between Miranda and her father, Captain Jacob Keyes (Danny Sapani), but while both actors are clearly doing their best with the material, this is the most exposition-heavy portion of the episode by far, as father and daughter allude to multiple problems, situations, and relationships in a jarringly short amount of time.
The emotional and dramatic tension reaches a climax as Chief refuses the order to kill Kwan, disarming her suspicion by pointing out she can't possibly harm him with a rifle, then taking off his helmet. While this will no doubt instill outrage in many a longtime fan, Chief's face having long been hidden and never directly shown in the games, the reality is ... it's fine. I get it, we all want to picture ourselves under the helmet, saving humanity, but the reality is that Master Chief is a defined character in a show.
I don't love the fact that he's been unmasked for this adaption, but it's not particularly realistic to expect that a character-focused series can never show the face of its leading man. Even Disney's The Mandalorian had to unmask Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) from time to time.
As tensions flare on Reach and Admiral Margaret Parangosky (Shabana Azmi) orders Master Chief be taken captive for defying orders, a brutal standoff is averted as the mysterious device randomly gives off an electromagnetic pulse while restoring the Condor that Chief and Kwan are in, allowing the two to fly off unopposed, though it's not clear in search of what.
It's something of a contrived conclusion, but serves well enough as a cliffhanger until the next episode. What lies in store for Master Chief and his unlikely ally?
Halo Season 1, Episode 1 is available now, exclusively on Paramount+. For a better experience, watch it on one of the best 4K TVs available.
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