Halo Episode 5 Brings Back The Action As War Breaks Out And The Chief Faces A Reckoning

Now that's more like it.

I'll admit I've found myself surprisingly charmed by the unique direction that season 1 showrunners Steven Kane and Kyle Killen have taken this "Halo" series so far, flaws and all. Rather than walking down the obvious path of crafting a straightforward adaptation of "Combat Evolved," they instead opted for a downright strange detour into a sci-fi universe that almost feels as if it carries the "Halo" brand name as a matter of happenstance. Illegal clones, programmable (and profoundly damaged) super-soldiers, an unstoppable extraterrestrial Covenant that has been inexplicably shoved off to the margins, a human rebellion that hasn't really factored into the plot since the premiere, and an emotional through-line carried by one particular Spartan's identity crisis ... all the broad strokes of this story remain fully in-line with the source material, both video games and novels, but it's fair to say that most fans have been waiting for the Paramount+ series to finally embrace the actual "Halo" of it all.

Well, that long-overdue development came to pass with last night's "Reckoning." While the Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) still struggles to come to terms with Dr. Catherine Halsey's (Natascha McElhone) unforgivable breach of trust in the previous episode, having lied about the circumstances of John's childhood and his recruitment into the Spartan program, the seemingly dormant Covenant pick this inopportune moment to come roaring back to life and remind us of the overarching threat they're supposed to pose in the first place. The end result is a scattershot episode that feels obligated to pick up the leftover pieces from last week's developments — the Chief's continued internal struggle, Kai's (Kate Kennedy) newfound awakening to her humanity after removing her own hormonal pellet, Kwan (Yerin Ha) and Soren (Bokeem Woodbine) floundering in their own narrative island on Madrigal, and Halsey's stubborn obsession with her work, no matter the moral cost — until everything finally coalesces with a sprawling battle sequence that helps this series live up to its lofty name.

Spoilers for "Halo" episode 4 follow.

Arc Of The Covenant

Episode 5 begins in much the same way that previous episodes have: with a flashback taking place years in the past, concerning the early days of one of our main characters. In this instance, we see a young Halsey taking a tour through a school on Eridanus II arm-in-arm with Captain Jacob Keyes (Danny Sapani), under the pretense of choosing to "settle your family here," as her ignorant guide happily states. The sinister purpose underlying this display quickly becomes clear when Halsey turns to observe John as a child (played by Casper Knopf), roughhousing with his classmates and ultimately having to save one from a nasty fall. This undoubtedly factors into why Halsey chose John for his leadership skills and physical prowess in the first place, ultimately leading to the uncomfortable revelations that came to light last week with his artifact-aided childhood memories becoming restored.

We neatly segue to the present-day, where the trio of Keyes, Halsey, and Master Chief are right back on the exact same planet all these years later, now tasked with excavating and airlifting the second ancient artifact back to Reach. The benefit of actually putting Keyes out in the field for a change is immediate, as this development gives him (and Olive Gray's Miranda Keyes) something to do that's integral to the ongoing plot. In fact, this is the first time that so many of the show's major players have been in the same general location at the same time, giving rise to some sorely-needed character interactions.

Take instances like the Chief hypocritically dressing down Kai for removing her hormonal pellet and rendering her unfit for combat, or the tense conversation between Keyes and Master Chief about distrusting Halsey. The latter feels like something that should've happened several episodes ago, particularly when the Chief shows such fierce loyalty to Keyes (calling him "my Captain" and acknowledging that he's "always been there for me"), and Keyes responds by reminiscing about having "fought alongside each other for many years," despite viewers never getting so much as an inkling of this relationship until now.

The early portions of the episode continue to run down a laundry list of less interesting plot threads before getting to the good stuff. We briefly touch base with Admiral Parangosky (Shabana Azmi) and the interoffice political bickering that mostly feels like window dressing at this point, expressing concern over the Chief's deteriorating mental state and Halsey's outright defiance of her orders. When Halsey once again skates by with no actual consequences, the episode revisits the fraught Halsey/Miranda/Jacob family dynamic to similarly mixed results, mostly amounting to Miranda getting brought into the dig site by her father to prove her worth ... only to immediately get pulled off the project out of Captain Keyes' concern to keep her hands clean.

Thankfully, the episode's final 12 minutes or so more than make up for this slow start.

Action, What A Concept!

"Do you ever wonder what they want?" Kai asks fellow Spartan Vannak (Bentley Kalu) about the Covenant early on in the episode. Putting aside the fact that this is yet another long-delayed topic that the series should've first posed to its viewers weeks ago, this exchange at least helps set the stage for the thrilling battle that's to come.

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman ("Battle Los Angeles," "Wrath of the Titans," 2014's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles") and written by Richard E. Robbins and Steven Kane, "Reckoning" finally kicks into gear once the Chief has simply had enough of Halsey and Keyes' lies and once again makes the impulsive choice to take matters into his own hands. I'm still not entirely sure how or why touching the artifact gives the Chief exactly the repressed memory of his childhood that he's looking for, but that's exactly what it does and he soon realizes the truth of Halsey's deception. In a sequence that I can already tell might end up as the butt of some uncharitable jokes on social media with out-of-context clips, John essentially snaps and lunges at Halsey in retaliation for her blatant kidnapping of him as a child. Cortana (Jen Taylor) deftly shuts this down with a well-timed deactivation of his "neural bridge," but this would seem to mark yet another point of no return between his fracturing relationship with Halsey.

They have no time to dwell on this, however, as the UNSC's meddling with the Eridanus II artifact triggers a beacon that Makee (Charlie Murphy) and her Covenant forces on Madrigal easily pick up on. What follows is easily the most impressive action sequence of the entire series, with director of photography Karl Walter Lindenlaub ("Stargate," "Independence Day," "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian") bringing an up-close-and-personal touch to the battle with a mix of handheld and sweeping establishing shots that clearly establish the geography at hand. Finally, "Halo" delivers the kind of combat that might as well be lifted directly from any of the games, a few iffy visual effects aside. More importantly than mere cosmetics, however, the MacGuffin of the episode gives both opposing forces a story-driven reason to come into conflict and the actions taken by the Chief himself end up having massive ramifications on both his arc and that of the overall season.

Making the Master Chief ultimately responsible for the failure to protect the artifact and keep it from falling into Covenant hands — choosing instead to save Kai above all else — is as bold a move as any we've seen in this show thus far. And when the smoke clears in the wake of the UNSC's defeat, the implications of double agent Makee now set to wreak havoc among humans points to an exciting final few episodes.

(Re)claim To Fame

  • Halo Watch: For the first time in the series, I'm actually not all that pressed about the lack of Halo in "Halo." Though never outright mentioned by name, the centerpiece battle sequence on Eridanus II is focused entirely on the chase to find the mysterious Halo installation and get there first. We do get Parangosky and Halsey trading insults over whether the ring is actually a "weapon" or not, so expect this question to be further explored in the remaining episodes of the season. I look forward to retiring this category for good!
  • Halo tries to do Hardhome: "Game of Thrones" exploded into popularity for various reasons, but one big one involved its penchant for staging elaborate and intense action sequences that took up most, if not the entire, episode. The eighth episode of season 5, "Hardhome," initially covered various subplots throughout the world before finally settling on the location of Hardhome and the spectacular attack of wights and White Walkers against the Wildlings. This episode of "Halo" appears to be trying to elicit a similar structure, but I argue it would've been better off focusing fully on the events on Eridanus with no other distractions. In other words, maybe they should've looked to "Battle of the Bastards" or "Blackwater" for better inspiration.
  • Stuck in the sand: On a related note, it should be telling that I almost completely forgot to mention Soren and Kwan's (mis)adventures in the Madrigal desert. Though I still enjoy Kwan as a character and Woodbine's antics, this thread has felt hopelessly adrift ever since the Chief left them on the Rubble. And however much their storyline advances here (for what it's worth, I never really bought that Kwan was even tempted to shoot Soren in the head in cold blood anyway?), it's a perfect example of scenes that could've and arguably should've been axed completely in favor of keeping the momentum alive for the episode's big set-piece.
  • The Halsey problem: Of all the big plot developments in "Reckoning," I couldn't let John giving Halsey the silent treatment early on go unnoticed. I've written in past recaps about how much of the season appears to be building to a big confrontation between the two, and that finally came into focus once Cortana had to take drastic measures to prevent the Chief from killing Halsey. I have no idea how "Halo" can maintain any sense of status quo between them, given how hard it's hammered Halsey for her many, many reprehensible actions. But that's precisely what makes this dynamic so thrilling, too.
  • Halsey and Keyes, sitting in a tree... Though I can imagine newcomers feeling somewhat at a loss over the fact that Halsey and Captain Keyes were once an item (so far neither actor has shown even a spark of chemistry together, though their material doesn't exactly lend itself to that either), the opening flashback where they both creepily scope out John's school as if they were husband and wife is adapted straight from the opening pages of "The Fall of Reach." In that book, their past romance is mostly kept as subtext. But where they both witness John saving his classmate from injury, the book sees John triumphing at several games of "King of the hill," piquing Halsey's interest and immediately leading her to the coin toss that seals his fate as a future Spartan.
  • Piss off, Grunt: No deep-dive insights or insider knowledge here. The Master Chief throwing a spent pistol at a hapless Grunt and knocking it out cold at once point in the battle might be the hardest I've laughed watching any of these episodes. 10/10, no notes.

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