Halo Episode 7 Puts The Master Chief On The Backburner For A Detour Into The Desert

I'll admit, I had a bad feeling about this episode right when the first-look images dropped, featuring a glaring absence of the Master Chief, Dr. Halsey, or anyone else that the overarching storyline of "Halo" has focused on up to this point. Those concerns only increased as early as the "Previously on 'Halo'" segment, which took us all the way back to the opening minutes of the premiere to remind us of the situation taking place on the planet of Madrigal in the aftermath of the Covenant invasion. Though we've ever-so-briefly checked in on the subjugated inhabitants of Madrigal and their brutal overlord Vinsher Grath (Burn Gorman) a few times since, that's essentially how long it's been since this subplot ever really mattered to the main thrust of the series. 

And now, after two back-to-back episodes that suddenly gave the plot a much-needed kick into gear, "Halo" decides that this is the moment to pull back and venture off into its own tiny corner of the universe, coming entirely at the cost of the forward momentum of the story. All this to play catch-up with a disappointingly underserved character — one who should've received this attention weeks ago, back when she still felt relevant.

I've gone on record in the past with my bemused respect for how much this series has refused (almost militantly so!) to slip into the easy and conventional path of a "Halo" adaptation. Those expecting reams of action, deep explorations of the Covenant hierarchy, and beat-by-beat recreations of gameplay footage in live-action instead had to grapple with the murky ethics of Dr. Halsey's cloning technology and penchant for child kidnappings, the blood that the UNSC has on its hands for brutally suppressing rebellions and installing puppet dictators, and the deeply internalized conflict eroding John 117 from within. In that vein, following Kwan on her mystical journey into the heart of the Madrigal desert and into her own family's past should've felt like a natural evolution of that focus.

But where previous episodes at least found ways to commit to the weirdness while still remaining distinctly "Halo," last night's episode (titled "Inheritance") dispenses with the sci-fi of it all and leaves viewers with a derivative, predictable, and largely uninteresting narrative dead-end. Let's unpack this below.

Arc of the Covenant

Never before has Kwan Ha, once such a promising character at the beginning of the series, felt more like an afterthought — ironic, given that this episode was clearly meant as her moment to shine. To Yerin Ha's credit, the actor is tasked with carrying the vast majority of the hour with very little in the way of worthy material, and she acquits herself just as well as ever. It's a shame that the script, written by Steven Kane, hardly gives her more to do than oscillate between extremes of rage, brokenness, and ultimately tearful self-realization, but Ha at least tries her best to add subtle layers of interiority to help make those wild emotional shifts feel a little more grounded.

Other facets of "Inheritance," however, don't fare quite as well. On the face of it, it's actually surprisingly difficult to question any of the good intentions prevalent throughout episode 7, directed by Jessica Lowrey ("Fear the Walking Dead," "Doom Patrol," the upcoming season 2 of "Perry Mason"). Only a few weeks ago, I myself challenged the creators of "Halo" to do away with the sprawling and unfocused structure of each episode and double down on just one major storyline for a week. That's exactly what they did here ... but, unfortunately, the choice comes just a few weeks too late. Worse still, the characters and their particular arcs here perhaps weren't best served by such an approach at this stage of the season.

After beginning with a flashback to 2 years in the past (a plot device that this season repeatedly defaults to at the start of several episodes, with this one ranking as perhaps one of the least effective), which mostly just reiterates Kwan's pragmatism and single-minded need to fight at all costs, the episode picks up with Kwan in the wilderness after she's ditched Soren. Heading off into the heart of the desert to find the mysterious people who she holds responsible for her father Jin Ha's death, the episode very obviously leans on as many "Mad Max" and "Dune" vibes as it possibly can. This only increases once Kwan plunges into a dust storm and immediately (read: conveniently) encounters the precise inhabitants she'd been looking for: a desert-dwelling settlement of women, one of whom holds the key to Kwan's family lineage and her overwhelming need to protect Madrigal.

A journey to nowhere

Here, we meet Desiderata (Josette Simon), the leader of this tribe and the one who first told Kwan's father Jin Ha (Jeong-hwan Kong) about the fate that motivated him to lay down his life in defense of Madrigal. When "Halo" first teased this subplot during the fourth episode, the idea of the rebel leader taking advice from mysterious "mystics" in the desert at least held some potential. That potential fizzles out here once we finally get a look at them, all of whom mostly just resemble Renaissance Fair LARPers or cosplay convention attendees. Apparently, Kwan isn't yet "ready" to know the secrets imparted to her father once upon a time, because her rage blinds her to the truth.

With Vinsher vowing to hunt her down to the ends of the Earth (er, Madrigal), we return to Kwan getting a full family history lesson from Desiderata (which she is ready for, I guess?). Kwan's ancestor once traveled the desert in search of water, ultimately digging a well (which is revealed to be a "portal" of some kind?) and discovering the precious fuel resources hidden beneath the surface. "A visitor from another time, perhaps from another existence" conveniently popped up to explain his true purpose and responsibility, Desiderata says, which was eventually passed down to Kwan's father as well. If all this sounds rote and uninvolved when laid out like this, that captures the exact same energy of Desiderata expositing all this to Kwan, before performing a neat little fire trick (similar to one Kwan does in the flashback, though the connection seems merely circumstantial?) that turns flames into water. Once ingested by Kwan, things get marginally more interesting as she embarks on a sort of vision quest that brings in the Master Chief ... sort of.

When tasked to fight him to the death, Kwan's repeated failures to defeat the armor-encased super-soldier in this abstract dream finally puts a crack in her own armor (the emotional kind, naturally), preparing her to come face-to-face with her ancestors. A vision of her deceased father informs her of how far she's come, labeling her a "Protector" and decreeing her as "ready" — although based on what, exactly, is never made clear. Once instructed to "go back to where it all began," Kwan returns to the outpost where Jin Ha died in the valiant fight against the Covenant in the first episode. Here, she reunites with Soren and the pair make ready to fight against the overwhelming forces of Vinsher's goons.

At the very least, the action here is competently staged ... even if it lacks tension and makes Vinsher's superior forces look like utter fools in order to give the outgunned Kwan and Soren a chance. After a few close calls, our heroes manage to completely dispatch their foes in a blaze of hydrogen-fueled glory, seemingly closing the book altogether on Vinsher's threat and making me wonder what the purpose of all this was in the first place. By the end, Madrigal has been freed and the "portal" obviously stands ready to play some sort of role in the remaining episodes, especially as Kwan's visions promised that she'd see the Chief again to "show him the way."

Maybe we'll look back on this episode in retrospect as an important table-setter for the conclusion to come, but in the moment this simply can't escape the feeling of "Too little, too late" as we belatedly get a muddled, hackneyed exploration into Kwan's place in all this.

(Re)claim to fame

  • Halo Watch: Oh, you just had to know that there'd be some serious course correction to make up for all the Halo progress we made last week, right? To state the obvious, no, there isn't a single allusion to Halo in this episode of "Halo." I still can't believe that this is the episode that follows up our first actual glimpse of the ringworld, but with that said, I wouldn't be surprised if this whole vague "portal" business becomes the key to transporting the Master Chief to the actual Halo installation. There's still the mystery of why that MacGuffin-y artifact from the premiere was located on Madrigal in the first place, remember, which hints at deeper connections to be revealed.
  • RIP Vinsher? Let's light a candle for arguably the most entertaining performer on this entire show. No, whatever Burn Gorman was doing never felt like it took place in the same show as anyone else in this cast (with the possible exception of Fiona O'Shaughnessy as Laera, Soren's wife, although she's disappointingly subdued in this episode). Vinsher's fate is left just in question enough for him to plausibly return as some sort of half-melted psychopath, I suppose, but if that's truly the end of the line for the absurdly over-the-top villain, then I'm sad to see Gorman go. I'm still not sure what role he was supposed to play in this series, but at least the man got his paycheck and had fun while he did so!
  • Let's talk about Soren: So, uh, anyone else wondering what the deal with Soren was here? We cut away from Kwan early in the episode to catch up with him after he's retreated back to the Rubble, entirely off-screen and in seemingly no time at all (I know this is a series based on video games, but the fast-travel he does here repeatedly feels a little ridiculous to me). We kill some time with a weird B-story about his struggle to rein in a dissatisfied business partner who we hardly had any inkling of before, the ill-tempered Squirrel (Gábor Nagypál). What does any of this have to do with anything and why should we care? Beats me, but their attempt to reach an uneasy peace and pull off a heist of a UNSC cargo ship ultimately just serves the purpose of putting poor Squirrel in his place. I could picture a thrilling heist like this forming the backbone of an entire episode, but instead, it's done away within about 5 minutes of screen time. Much like the material that Soren's saddled with throughout this episode, all of this feels like a tremendous waste.