Warning: this review contains full spoilers for Halo: The TV Series Episode 2! If you need a refresher on where we left off, here’s IGN’s review for the Halo series premiere.
Now that we’re two episodes deep into Paramount+’s long-awaited Halo series, the differences between the show and the source material are becoming even more apparent. Where the games are basically massive, atmospheric set pieces strung together by a thin narrative, the series is a much more character- and story-driven affair. It may not be what every Halo fan was expecting or even hoping for in an adaptation, but it’s an approach that continues to pay off in Episode 2.
“Unbound” really flaunts the show’s most significant deviation from the games, as we see a whole bunch of Pablo Schreiber’s unmasked face over the course of this episode. Not only is Master Chief revealing his sweaty mug, he apparently has little compunction about walking around in public in nothing but a padded rubber undersuit. The Mandalorian this isn’t.
But, to the series’ credit, this seems like a necessary change. With Mando, there’s always room for Pedro Pascal and/or his stunt doubles to rely on body language in place of facial expressions. But with something as clunky as Master Chief’s Mjolnir VI armor, there’s not a lot of room for genuine acting. This episode seems tasked with ripping off the Band-Aid and getting us all used to seeing an unmasked Chief. It’s tough to imagine how this would have played out if he had kept the helmet on the entire time.
Schreiber’s performance certainly benefits from having so much more face time. He successfully tiptoes that narrow line with his character, portraying Chief as a man whose emotions have been suppressed for decades and is only barely waking up to the world around him. It should be very interesting to watch that performance evolve over the course of the series as John recovers his lost memories and (presumably) undergoes the same transformation as his old friend Soren-066.
Speaking of which, Episode 2 also introduces Bokeem Woodbine, who plays a former Spartan who fled for a life of freedom on the fringes of human civilization. That, obviously, fits right in with Chief’s current predicament. It also tees up an intriguing flashback scene showing younger versions of John and Soren on the night they parted ways. Hopefully those flashbacks will be a recurring element over the course of the season, and we learn more about how these ordinary children are forged into superhuman killing machines.
Woodbine’s performance is a little over-the-top, unfortunately. For whatever reason, he spends most of this episode shouting at the top of his lungs in an almost comically low register. Does that make him the Carl Weathers to Schreiber’s Pedro Pascal? There’s also some concern about how Soren and Kwan Ha will factor into the plot going forward. Do we have any real reason to care about Kwan once her story diverges from John’s? Why does it matter to the bigger picture what’s happening on Madrigal now?
Episode 2 also makes it clear we’ll continue to see scenes of the Covenant and Charlie Murphy’s Makee sprinkled in between Chief’s story. While the show doesn’t quite have the budget and scope needed to truly bring this interstellar empire to life, Makee is quickly becoming a fascinating addition to the mythos. In a series all about indoctrination and the suppression of free will, it makes sense to have a major antagonist who mirrors John and has been raised to hate humanity. And again, there’s a lot of potential for Murphy’s performance to grow as Makee goes into deep cover and infiltrates the UNSC. Can someone who views her own body as alien truly pass herself off as human?
In some ways, it’s disappointing to see “Unbound” end essentially where “Contact” did last week, with Master Chief returning to Reach and turning himself in. You have to wonder if there was a more efficient way of getting from point A to B and back to A. But regardless, the scene between John and Natascha McElhone’s Dr. Halsey is easily the highlight of the entire episode. Theirs is a very complex, even toxic dynamic, and you really get a feel for that with the way Halsey interacts with and looks at John. There’s a mix of motherly affection and sinister opportunism. As much as this series has already done to flesh out Master Chief as a protagonist, Halsey may well be the real star of the show.