Halo Season 2 exists in this weird limbo, apparently unwilling to deal with Season 1’s two biggest dangling plot threads–the Chief possibly being possessed by Cortana, and also having ancient magic Halo DNA–and instead replacing them with a seemingly new mystery that I have no meaningful grasp on after watching the first four episodes.
It’s not a miserable slog by any means, though. The action is quite good, and the cast is putting in work–particularly Danny Sapani as Captain Keyes, who gets the best scene of the half of the season I’ve seen, and Bokeem Woodbine’s Soren. But with the story moving away from those, ah, controversial elements of Season 1 and dropping an obtuse mystery in its place, the show has become bewildering in all new ways.
It’s also bewildering in one very familiar way: Like the first season before it, Season 2 of Halo bears only superficial resemblance to the source material. It’s a show that takes a bunch of Halo terms and proper nouns and goes in its own, mostly original direction with them. That’s a frustrating thing, but hardly a deal breaker if that new direction is good or interesting. While it certainly manages to be interesting, at least in an abstract way, it’d be a stretch to call it “good” at this stage. The back half of the season could change that, but it’s not there yet.
Season 2 picks up six months after Season 1 ended. The confusing first scene vaguely indicates Cortana was removed from the Chief’s head between seasons, and while different characters will occasionally reference that fact, there’s no impact from it–we never see Master Chief being worse at anything without her, for example. The Chief misses her the same way you’d miss a friend you haven’t seen in a long time, not as a teammate who was a key part of his team. Cortana appeared only briefly in these episodes.
So the Chief and his team visit a planet called Sanctuary–which is being targeted by the Covenant to be glassed–to help other UNSC troops evacuate the local colonists. But there’s something else going on, too. Covenant Elites are on the ground, messing with a comms relay. Chief fights off a bunch of them in a really awesome sequence, and the rest of them bail right as the bombing starts. And just before they leave, Chief sees a familiar face among them: the human Makee, who supposedly died at the end of Season 1–and who Master Chief slept with. How is she alive, and what is she doing? Presumably she’s continuing her quest to find Halo-related artifacts–but while she popped up several times in the four Season 2 episodes I’ve seen, she had no dialogue during any of those appearances. On top of that, the Halo ring itself was only mentioned once during those episodes, though a big reason for that is there’s no Covenant POV this time, unlike in Season 1.
Meanwhile, Dr. Halsey is out of the picture, stuck in some kind of Westworld-esque prison where she’s forced to repeatedly talk to the same cloned girl, who dies any time Halsey presses her for info about her captors. With her out of the way, the Spartans have a new boss–a slimy British guy named Ackerson who does every crappy, gaslighting boss trope you can think of to Master Chief for reasons that aren’t clear yet.
Beyond that, we’ve also got a subplot involving one of Chief’s Spartan teammates having a chronic injury, and Season 2 spends a lot of time continuing all that stuff with Soren-066 (Bokeem Woodbine, having way more fun than everyone else in the cast), Soren’s wife, and Kwan Ha, the girl Chief rescued in the pilot episode who has no plot relevance to speak of.
In other words, there’s a lot going on. Way too much, really, because there isn’t a core thread that binds all of it together, at least not that I could tell through four episodes. There’s just several stories happening next to each other. It actually reminds me of a lot of recent seasons of Marvel’s TV series: It feels like there was some big thread running through Season 2 that would have united all these different elements, but that ended up being cut to streamline the plot or get rid of story elements that tested poorly. I don’t know if that’s what actually happened here, but there’s undeniably a big void in this story.
Without a core that brings it all together, Halo Season 2 feels aimless so far. While I’m sure that feeling will change at least a little bit once we find out what Makee is up to–resolving the mystery will hopefully recontextualize the story–I’m not sure I trust that that will actually happen, because the Halo TV show hasn’t earned that benefit of the doubt. But the pieces are there to make the story work, and the action is good, sometimes really good. The fourth episode depicts the fall of Reach, or the first part of it, and there’s one extended action sequence that takes place amid a bunch of bombed-out rubble that’s an absolute blast.
But with a big mystery at the center of the plot, everything will depend on whether they stick the landing–good action won’t be enough to save another bad story. But with the show playing things so close to the vest–the only ideas I have about where this could be going is from the game, because the show has offered no real clues itself–we’re just going to have to sit tight and hope for the best.