Warning: spoilers for Halo episode 5 ahead. Turn back now if you haven’t seen the new episode of the Paramount Plus series.
Sci-fi can be many things. It can be a gateway, a window to other worlds that go as far as our imaginations will take us. It can act as a parable, reflecting our own times through the prism of weird and wonderful technology. One thing sci-fi should never be, though, is predictable. With its uneven fifth episode, ‘Reckoning’, Halo has crossed the threshold into being second-guessed far too easily.
That tone is set early with the opening scene. Once again, the show transports us back into John’s past, filling in one of the few final gaps in Master Chief’s childhood on Eridanus Two. There, John underlines his heroic credentials by saving a child in an unsettling, Handmaid’s Tale-style school for potential Spartan recruits, all while Halsey and Jacob Keyes watch on.
If you’re keeping track, that’s now four of the five episodes that have started with a flashback, settling into the sort of humdrum rhythm that suggests the show has found a pattern that works and, sadly, is comfortable sticking to it. That’s also evident in the continual back-and-forth between Kwan Ha and Soren’s struggles on Madrigal and the artifact excavation of Eridanus.
Last week, Halo saw fit to keep the Covenant out of the episode. It resulted in the strongest instalment yet, mostly because it was entirely focused on telling one story. This week, however, the show’s eye wanders – and that’s best exemplified by Kwan Ha and Soren’s spat in the desert on Madrigal.
Having run low on fuel while heading to their transport back to Rubble, Soren handcuffs Kwan to their bike while he hunts for supplies. It may only last a few minutes, but it’s a meandering detour that feels more like – in video game parlance – a forgettable side quest that drags down everything else around it.
It also calls into question the treatment of Kwan Ha so far. She’s veered wildly from scared child to revolutionary and has often been sidelined in episodes more often than not. Giving her journey a breather this week, instead of a handful of tepid scenes, would have helped the pacing of ‘Reckoning’ immeasurably.
The first half of the episode’s events on Eridanus are no better in how telegraphed everything is. It covers much of the same ground as previous entries, with Silver Team’s Kai again questioning everything around her and Master Chief sidestepping the orders of Halsey (and Cortana) to snatch another quick vision from the artifact.
Things noticeably improve when the show becomes – yes – unpredictable and introduces some plot points from out of left field. That begins with a shuddering, jump scare of an explosion as the excavation site triggers a sonic boom from the artifact. It not only rocks ground zero, but also jolts the episode into life.
What follows is a series of scenes that interrupt the safe, on-rails narrative that ‘Reckoning’ was seemingly all too happy to head down up. John attacking Halsey, for example, is a shocking act of brutality (whether it’s deserved or not is up for debate, again adding to its quality). Chief is then Cortana before he strikes Halsey, leading to the pair awkwardly – and far too quickly – reconciling when the Covenant attack.
From there, Master Chief goes into hero mode, hijacking a Warthog and hurtling a Banshee into the Covenant ship. Chief even finds time to save a floundering Kai – though the show’s implication that Kai breaking free from her programming is a hindrance rather than a help sends some seriously mixed messages.
If you were wondering why Halo has been relatively light on action so far – especially given its source material – this sequence shows why. The set-piece is too signposted and choreographed, with explosions neatly spaced-out at a safe distance from each other. It’s no Saving Private Ryan, yet it is undoubtedly thrilling to finally see Master Chief in full flow by the episode’s end.
As John takes on the Covenant, he loses control for a split-second and pounds an Elite’s skull into the ground. In a show that has pulled its punches so far in terms of violence, it’s a surprisingly vicious moment that finally anoints John with the ‘Demon’ nickname that the Covenant have bestowed upon him.
Unfortunately for Chief, his plan is ultimately a failure: the artifact is stolen back by the Covenant and Makee hatches a plan to make it seem like she’s a human survivor that emerges from the wreckage. It’s a chaotic, frenzied final stretch that features pockets of excitement that simply weren’t present in the first half of the episode.
Makee and Master Chief finally meet – just not in the way we expected. It invites a whole host of questions that turn a middling episode into one that has some merit. Proof, then, that Halo is at its strongest when it goes off the beaten path – even if ‘Reckoning’ takes too long to get there.
New episodes of Halo stream weekly every Thursday on Paramount Plus.
3 out of 5
Despite a rollercoaster of a final act, ‘Reckoning’ is too preoccupied with keeping the status quo intact throughout.