Thursday, March 24, 2022

REVIEW: 'Halo' - Master Chief's Devotion to the Mission Comes Into Question After Contact With an Alien Artifact in 'Contact'

Paramount+'s Halo - Episode 1.01 "Contact"

In the year 2552, humans on the planet Madrigal have been fighting for independence from Earth, but a fatal encounter with the Alien Covenant complicates things. Master Chief John 117 and his super-soldier Spartans join the fight. After the battle, Master Chief heads to his home planet of Reach with a Madrigal survivor and a mysterious object he discovered on the planet. But a controversial order has John questioning his mission, and himself.

"Contact" was written by Kyle Killen & Steven Kane and directed by Otto Bathurst

The casual viewer doesn't need some larger awareness of the Halo video game mythology in order to understand all that is happening in the television adaptation. However, it's unclear why anyone beyond a hardcore fan of the game would stick with the series after such a lackluster premiere. This series has been in development for years. The video game revolutionized the format. Its unique first-person shooter play brought it to the forefront of an entire medium. At times, this premiere hopes to copy that appeal. It doesn't play as purposeful though. Those first-person glimpses of the world as Master Chief experiences it play as a shoutout to the fans instead of gripping the audience with his specific perspective. The purpose of this premiere centers around his changing behavior. A fascinating story can be told of how his view of the world shifts. Instead, it feels fairly typical. Master Chief has had his humanity stripped away from him entirely. That must happen in order to turn him into a super soldier. Spartans are necessary to protect the galaxy from the Covenant as well as the various factions of human rebels. The UNSC provides him with orders. He carries them out without question. That's how his life is structured. Touching a Covenant artifact awakens humanity inside him once more. At first, it's simply the presence of visions. He doesn't connect them to his own past. And then, he actually starts talking with Kwan Ha. She was the only survivor from the assault on Madrigal. He is delivering her to Reach for the sole purpose of using her to create propaganda. That's the only purpose she serves. Otherwise, she is just another rebel striving for independence. The UNSC aspires to crush out all dissent. It makes them appear as the totalitarian society that fires first regardless of any nuances found in a situation. Kwan's mother died because she was a threat to the empire. Her words carried that power. Master Chief can't even remember her. And so, he believes he is saving Kwan's life after a kill order comes in. He has to go rogue to protect a person who doesn't deserve to die. He doesn't know why he is making that choice though. Because it's a foreign concept to him, it then comes across as a foreign concept to the viewer as well. Sure, those observing this story can see the connection to empathy and his ongoing struggle to discover it within the rigidity of his life of service. The show has to be pronounced with these themes while also exploring it as something meaningful. In execution, it's just plot beats that must happen to drive the story forward.

The world feels rather small despite the many facets of human and alien lives. The first half of this premiere is devoted to an extended action sequence. It's the event that wipes out Kwan's community. The Spartans arriving are suppose to offer salvation. They can defeat the Covenant when the average citizen's weapons aren't good enough. The people on Madrigal can be protected by those who share similar ideals and morals. The entire colony still ends up dead. That's not a good endorsement of the experiments Dr. Halsey has been running. She can program these soldiers so they have no discernible lives whatsoever. They do whatever is ordered of them. That makes whomever wields them even more powerful and cruel. The loss of human life essentially becomes meaningless. It's all just epic displays of death on a battlefield with no emotional attachment. Kwan is followed throughout that sequence. She notifies her friends to the danger coming. She warns her father about this being a new threat altogether. That doesn't make a difference whatsoever. All the Covenant soldiers are killed. Well, one still gets away after noticing the effect Master Chief has on the artifact they came on this planet to retrieve. That one piece of mystery unlocks Master Chief's inner life. That can then be channeled as a weapon outward. Master Chef and Kwan are headed into a certain fate upon landing on Reach. They have no control over what's happening to them. All it takes to gain that is simply awakening to a greater perspective. It's a convenient way to link the internal discovery with external conflict and consequences. But again, it's a bunch of mystical things happen in a drama that is more intrigued by the epic scope and illustrious visuals than the people in the midst of the story. Plus, so much of the visuals come across as computer generated without offering any sense of reason or scale. It can be daunting and impressive at times. It can be very insular and inhumane at others. That makes this a somewhat alienating format. It doesn't even offer much of a tease of what's to come. It's simply two heroes going rogue in the middle of this extreme conflict with warring sides who offer no dimension or rationalization to their perspectives. It's war and brutality for the sake of those concepts instead of revealing new depths of the human experience in the television format.