Absolutely action-packed mid-season episode of Halo shows where the budget went

The iconic action/sci-fi gaming series returns in its live-action form with season two of Halo. Four episodes in, the show has ramped up its action, impressing James Nokise.


It sits there, right under the narrative of the Halo computer games. The evil Covenant seek to destroy the universe in the name of their religious beliefs. Their leaders are prophets. Their armies see themselves as Crusaders. By contrast, humanity’s overmatched forces have faith in their Spartan warriors, particularly the protagonist, Master Chief John 117. In fact, the main advertisement campaign for Halo 3, which closed the first narrative saga in the series, came down to one word: Believe.

The “Believe” Halo 3 ad campaign is considered one of the greatest in computer gaming history, and led to it topping the charts in 2007, with over $600 million in sales. In total, the Halo gaming series has moved about 100 million units, and that kind of fanbase is exactly who developers 343 Industries and Amblin Television are hoping to keep interested with season two of Halo, now partway through its new batch of episodes.

That fanbase, though, had their faith tested with season one which had some brilliant highs, some interesting lows, and a couple of major controversies around the central character of John 117.

For starters, they showed his face, something that had never occurred before. To be fair, star Pablo Schreiber (American Gods) has a face worth showing, and the controversy might not have been so striking if Pedro Pascal hadn’t been doing such a brilliant job over at Disney. The Mandalorian‘s catch-phrase of “this is the way” was probably a bit too on the nose for Halo fans.

If online discussions were heating up with Master Chief removing his helmet, they went supernova when he removed his pants and engaged in a questionable (and highly questioned) sex scene with original show character Makee (Charlie Murphy, Happy Valley). This was not necessarily the fan service gamers were looking for.

There were other changes from the various source materials that caused ripples in the fandom, and the pacing in season one sometimes suffered the side-effects of establishing original characters and world-building, but by the end of episode 9 there was enough belief from fans and executives to justify continuing the saga. Season one may not have been universally praised, but it did provide a strong proof of concept.

If that seems like a long lead-in to discussing Halo season two, then consider that on-brand for enjoying the series. You’ll need to have watched the first season, as these new episodes hit the ground running with a six-month time skip, some new support characters, and little to no exposition.

New showrunner David Weiner seems to have taken the philosophy that nine episodes isn’t too much to catch up on in the modern streaming world. Just to be safe, Halo S2 still opens things with a 10-minute action piece that could be straight out of a computer game. To balance things out, that is actually the only action piece of the first episode.

It’s a bold move for an action series, but thinking of Halo as just an action series is probably the mistake people make. This is, at its core, a sci-fi military drama. Yes, there are aliens with plasma swords, but there’s also a lot of talking around tables about tough decisions. The action does actually increase each episode, as the tension escalates between Master Chief, his team, and new head of operations Colonel Ackerson (Joseph Morgan, The Vampire Diaries).

The narratives are more narrowly focussed this time round, but that actually fits in line with the storyline from the source material being covered; in particular The Fall of Reach, which has both a book and game dedicated to it.

Longtime fans will have an idea of what is coming but, as with all adaptations, part of the suspense is seeing what gets changed in the live adaptation. Without giving away spoilers there are definitely some unique ones to be seen.

New characters like Corporal Talia Perez (Christina Rodlo, Miss Bala) and Louis 036 (Marvin Jones III, Black Lightning) are developed quickly, but with clear purpose to keep things moving. Meanwhile, support characters Riz 028 (Natasha Culzac, The Witcher) and Laera (Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Utopia) get more screen time as they both deal with tragedies while navigating the galactic war.

In all, the second round of Halo brings a strong sophomore season confidence and self-assuredness. There’s a real sense everyone’s got the feel for the universe they’re in now. Schreiber is doing a great job of anchoring the show as the legendary Master Chief amid his legend beginning. Bokeem Woodbine (Fargo) is still stealing every scene he’s in as Soren 066, and Natascha McElhone (Solaris) still wonderfully plays Dr Catherine Halsey as if the war is getting in the way of her scientific advancements.

David Wiener and team also seem more comfortable with their pacing. The action can feel a bit spread out at first, barely making up a third of the first three episodes. That all helps the tension build though, towards a fourth episode which, by the nature of its narrative, is absolutely action-packed. Even then, Reach will probably be the episode to either thrill or infuriate the gaming fans. It definitely lets you know where the budget went.

Fandoms are themselves a sort of modern pop-religion. Halo’s have had strong differing opinions since 343 Industries took over from original creators Bungie. Even then, there’s probably purists who think everything peaked with the original 2001 game, and it’s been all downhill ever since. Likewise there will be newer fans discovering those games through this show who will be excited to see what happens next. That was actually a strength of the first season; the way it continued to improve each episode.

If season two can build and refine in the same way, then the second half of the season should be quite spectacular. There’s plenty of questions to be answered, all fans need do now is sit back and see if their faith has been rewarded.