Who is the Halo series for? This question came up time and time again as I watched the premiere, over a decade of waiting for the inevitable TV adaptation of Halo, resulting in a Paramount broadcast that, if we’re brutally honest, has started on a pretty ugly foundation.
I sat in a Discord call with seasoned Halo veterans and newcomers to the series, synced to react to every goofy CG alien, every unearned character reveal, and every Sneaky reference to Mass Effect. Coming back to that question dominated the call as we tolerated the first of nine jam-packed episodes of Spartan. Paramount’s Halo is too far removed from established lore to satisfy Halo fans, but it also lacks the desire to bring outsiders up to speed. Master Chief is out there shooting guys, and it stands to reason that you think this guy is the coolest badass in the galaxy.
It’s a bad adaptation, through and through. But the more I think about Halo, the more I think Microsoft’s flagpole FPS just isn’t set up for TV.
As a game series, Halo is awesome! It’s a video game ass video game about a big green man slicing through massive ancient ring worlds and stomping methane goblins with his size 30 boots. There’s a story, but it’s told with cutouts cardboard, a cast of legally distinct Colonial Marines surrounding a leader who is primarily a motocross helmet for the player to inhabit.
In a game, that’s fine. Great, even! The first Halo has a dark quality to its dead alien world, a subtle weirdness that pervades all levels as you unlock Halo’s darkest hallways. As Bungie’s series continues on the roles of the UNSC, the Covenant and the Forerunners are expanded, but you’re still moving from dramatic setting to dramatic setting, soaking up some stellar space opera vibes before to paint them in Unggoy’s blood.
But going on TV, Halo has to consider its gaminess in a way the witcher Where even Castlevania never had to. It has to be Master Chief (he’s the guy, after all), but Master Chief is a video game superhero who says little and hits hard. He doesn’t get in the way of the FPS spectacle, but that also means his personality begins and ends with armor.
Paramount tries to solve this problem by turning him into a sad father and having him betray the UNSC for his attempt to do so. Command 66 a kid. It’s hokey, but not much more than 343’s attempts to humanize Master Chief by digging hard into his war crimes mother and her uncomfortable emotional reliance on a naked blue hologram. In games and on TV, the Guardians of Halo try hard to get you to understand a brick, and it doesn’t work.
I would have been your daddy
Paramount could have told a story that wasn’t about Master Chief, and there’s 20 years of precedent in novels and tertiary media to pull from. But even if this tentpole TV adaptation didn’t inevitably to have to star Master Chief, the Halo universe is filled with so many standard sci-fi tropes that any story told there is likely to feel soulless and generic.
Here’s a bold claim: Halo was never really so much about a story as it was a careful balance of vibes and lore. The first is a Bungie matte paint giving dramatic texture to the alien island you’re fighting for; the latter giving this island just enough weight to feel significant by hinting at the millennia of secrets hidden beneath its shores.
There isn’t a single vibe present in the Halo TV show. Rather than avoiding the more generic Halo idents, the first episode dives towards them at full speed, visiting a generic slum full of AK-47s and Toyota jeeps before spending the second half of its runtime in the back of a car. ‘a van. But he shares Halo’s growing obsession with his own lore, leaning into the fascism of the UNSC and the questionable ethics of Dr. Halsey, even as he abandons much of the existing world-building in favor of something. something that has not yet justified its own deviations from canon.
Halo works best when playing on mystery and grandeur, and with a new timeline, Paramount could have reset a universe that had become too wiki-trusted over the decades. Instead, we get a weird rehash of what came before.
These issues don’t begin or end with the Halo show itself. Halo is Microsoft’s Star Wars. It’s a series of brand IDs (Warthogs, Spartans, Energy Swords) and it’s a story that, like Star Wars, can never meaningfully end. It’s why Halo Infinite’s story ultimately came back to tread water, the same reason the game’s attempt to capture the exploratory vibes of that 2002 original fell flat on its face.
An episode of the Halo series seems to be the ultimate end point of this approach. It’s Halo without its own story, a generic story about a rogue soldier and his brave child sidekick with just enough Halo iconography and proper names to convince fans to give it a shot. But that doesn’t do the job of showing newcomers why people fell in love with Halo, and longtime fans aren’t being served by a show that discards so much of what has come before.
I don’t know, ultimately, who the Halo show is for. But it’s definitely not for me.