For the uninitiated, “Halo” is a military science fiction media franchise that focuses on the journey of Master Chief Sierra-117 “John,” one of a group of supersoldiers codenamed Spartans, and his artificial intelligence companion, Cortana. According to executive producer Kiki Wolfkill, the Paramount+ “Halo” series is a standalone fiction based on the aforementioned character and his exploits. But it takes place within its own “Silver Timeline” and is inspired by the game franchise, but it is in no way a continuation, adaptation, or prequel to the stories told in the games.
“Halo” Episode 1 is directed by Otto Bathurst and written by Kyle Killen and Steven Kane. Given how the show has no connection with the games, it’s beneficial for a non-gamer like me to judge it based on its merits instead of drawing comparisons with them. It’s understandable that the game is one of the most popular IPs in the world and is loved by many. So, it’s natural for fans of the game to view the show through the lens of the immersive experience that the game provides. But as far as first episodes go, “Contact” is solid in terms of establishing the main characters that the audience is going to follow. Bathurst and his team do a decent job of conveying the tone and scale of the show as well. And given its smooth pacing, there’s not a single dull moment in sight.
Assault on Madrigal
“Halo” Episode 1 takes us to the 26th century and to the planet Madrigal, which is home to a rebel colony led by Jin Ha (Jeong-hwan Kong). We learn that the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), which is the main faction of future humanity, is constantly trying to force the rebels to give up their hold on Madrigal. A television broadcast shows that the UNSC is sending a diplomat of sorts called Vinsher Grath (Burn Gorman) to negotiate with Jin Ha. And while the pressure of giving up their freedom looms over Jin’s head, he is seen wondering where his daughter Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha) keeps wandering about. And it’s through her journey into the woods that we learn the reason why the UNSC is so keen on occupying Madrigal.
Well, long story short, Madrigal is home to a plant that has the galaxy’s highest concentration of heavy hydrogen, which can be used to power ships as well as drugs. Since resources are probably finite in the 26th century as well, the UNSC is looking to put their stamp on Madrigal (the planet and the drug) before the opposing forces try to do the same. Talking about opposing forces, though, the Covenant absolutely annihilates Kwan’s friends and then makes its way to the colony. According to lore, the Covenant Empire (simply known as the Covenant) is a theocratic hegemony made up of multiple alien species that maintain control over a large portion of the Orion Arm in the Milky Way galaxy. The species that we see in “Halo” Episode 1 are the San’Shyuum and Sangheili. The San’Shyuum are the brains, and the Sangheili are the brawn.
During the assault on the human colony, it’s revealed that the Sangheili soldiers are practically impervious to bullets, and they hold the ability to shoot massive beams of energy and conjure blades to slice through almost anything. But they are faced with the not-so-timely Spartans, who are physically, genetically, technologically, and mentally superior supersoldiers who are technically unkillable. The team that kills the Sangheili soldiers on Madrigal is made up of Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber), Kai-125 (Kate Kennedy), Vannak-134 (Bentley Kalu), and Riz-028 (Natasha Culzac). After managing to save only Kwan, Master Chief and his team make their way to the Covenant ship, which was apparently digging for something in Madrigal. They assume that it’s for the plant that everyone’s after. Instead, they come across a triangular artifact that activates, thereby emanating blue holographic symbols, as soon as Master Chief touches it.
The UNSC versus Master Chief
Before Master Chief touches the artifact, for a brief moment, it seems like a Sangheili soldier is going to ambush him and his teammate and kill them. But after the artifact activates, the soldier runs off to High Charity, the Covenant’s command center, thereby insinuating that Master Chief is worth saving and not the “demon” that they think he is. In fact, Master Chief himself is more than he thinks he is. Before touching the artifact, he probably thought that he was a soldier doing his duty. Nothing more, nothing else. However, he sees brief flashes of a family, a white dog, a child, and someone calling out the name “John,” which is Master Chief’s name. As per the games, Master Chief is one of many children from the human colony world of Eridanus II who were covertly taken from their homes and put into the Spartan-II project. So, maybe that’s what the show is hinting at as well.
The reason why I think so is that, like the games, “Halo” features Dr. Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone), who handles the SPARTAN program for Fleet Command. After reviewing the footage recorded from Master Chief’s helmet, Halsey shows interest in the artifact largely because she notices how it emotionally affects Master Chief, and orders him to immediately report to her. Master Chief complies, as usual, but Halsey’s superior, Admiral Parangosky (Shabana Azmi), says that alien artifacts are in Dr. Miranda Keyes’s (Olive Gray) division. Halsey manages to convince her by saying that it falls under her jurisdiction because Master Chief found it. Miranda is tasked with convincing Kwan to do some propaganda for the UNSC and sing praises for the Spartans. Kwan, who is traumatized by her father Jin and her colony’s death, refuses to do so and threatens to tell everyone that it’s the UNSC who did the killings.
Miranda’s father, Captain Jacob Keyes (Danny Sapani), Miranda’s father and Halsey’s husband, informs Miranda that since negotiations failed, they’ve got to kill off Yerin and report that there were no survivors on Madrigal. Miranda protests, but Master Chief is ordered to kill Yerin. This time, though, Master Chief hesitates. That forces Fleet Command to remotely kill Yerin and momentarily take out the hesitant Master Chief. They nearly succeed, but Master Chief manages to wake up and switch off Fleet Command’s remote access to his ship’s (it’s called the Condor) oxygen supply. Yerin, upon understanding that the UNSC wants her dead, tries to kill Master Chief (and also because he allegedly killed her mother on the UNSC’s orders). However, Master Chief wins her trust by taking off his helmet (you know, like the Mandalorians in “Star Wars”).
“Halo” Episode 1: Ending – Master Chief Is The Chosen One
Master Chief’s spur-of-the-moment decision sends the wrong signal to the UNSC as they think that he has truly gone rogue. Halsey uses it as an excuse to push her Cortana program, as she thinks it’ll help them avoid these kinds of snafus. Parangosky and the rest of the UNSC make preparations to destroy Master Chief and probably kill Yerin as the Condor makes its way to Fleet Command. That said, Halsey covertly orders Kai-125, Vannak-134, and Riz-028 to protect Master Chief with their lives. I think she cares about Master Chief not because she cares about him, but because she wants to examine the artifact he has with him and how it changed his psychology. Meanwhile, Master Chief tries to bypass the systems that allow the UNSC to remotely control the ship and plots his escape by inadvertently triggering an electromagnetic pulse via the artifact.
Now that raises the question: why would Master Chief go against the UNSC? This is a soldier who has been programmed to follow every order he is given, and he has apparently not shown remorse or regret after committing genocide for the UNSC. Well, all the answers lie in the artifact. It’s apparent that the UNSC had suppressed Master Chief’s memories, leading him to believe that he had come from nothing, and they resurfaced due to the artifact. With those memories, his sense of humanity has also been restored because of which he’s able to empathize with Kwan’s situation and do everything in his power to save this one life. Possibly to atone for his sins. As the origin of the artifact is unknown, it’s quite likely that it’s somehow using Master Chief to do its bidding. Or maybe he’s actually a “chosen one” kind of character, going by his ability to use the artifact and the Covenant’s interest in him.
We don’t get to see a lot of Makee (Charlie Murphy), the young woman who was orphaned as a child and raised by the Covenant to have a similar contempt for humanity as the Covenant. But seeing the San’Shyuum treat Makee with so much respect means that she is integral to their plan. And given her estranged relationship with humanity (something that Master Chief is unaware of), there is a chance that she’ll be the one to manipulate Master Chief into using the artifact for their evil purposes. However, I can’t say for sure right now because this is just the first episode, and it’s better to watch for what comes next before jumping to conclusions.
“Halo” is a 2022 military science fiction television series developed by Kyle Killen and Steven Kane. It is streaming on Voot Select and Paramount+.