Halo season 2, episode 3 review: "The way forward is obvious: more Reach, less Rubble"

Halo
(Image: © Paramount)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

An unbalanced episode, ‘Visegrad’ sees Master Chief at his lowest point and others left at a crossroads. With Halo's first act out of the way and a war set to begin, the way forward is obvious: more Reach, less Rubble.

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The review contains some spoilers for Halo season 2, episode 3.

What happens when Master Chief loses everything? The third episode of Halo’s second season, Visegrad, explores that idea in engaging fashion while continuing to frustrate in other areas – namely, by refusing to jettison some of the narrative baggage that continues to burden the Paramount Plus series.

On Reach, Silver Team rolls out and hunts for the missing Cobalt Team. What they find, however, is little more than a strike team awaiting them and orders to return to base. 

The tense standoff is an electric start to the episode and continues the hot streak of the show’s recent run of opening acts. In one fell swoop, Chief loses the trust of Silver Team and is effectively grounded for his insubordination. 15 infractions is never good, let’s put it that way.

Joking aside, a more manic Master Chief losing his grip on reality and the situation around him is a juicy premise, and one that lives up to its potential as John rallies around possible allies and finds no one willing to listen. 

The show then asks: when the icon is gone, is the man behind the helmet able to step up? While Pablo Schreiber does ham it up a bit – the eye twitches indicating a descent into madness are a little too heavy-handed for my tastes – it all sets up a fascinating conflict that carries shades of a sci-fi Jason Bourne fighting a wider conspiracy while shadowed by the powers-that-be. 

Toil and Rubble

Halo

(Image credit: Paramount)

Because of the understandable focus on Chief, the MVP of the first two episodes, James Ackerson, is a little more sidelined this week. We discover more about his family history – he has a senile father, and a dead mother and sister – but the low-hanging fruit designed to elicit sympathy never really reaches the heights of his clash with John-117. It also hints at a show creaking under the weight of juggling multiple narratives – as clearly evidenced by Halo’s eye wandering a little too far from home for much of its runtime. Yes, we’re talking about Rubble.

On the asteroid settlement, Soren’s wife Faera attempts to flee with her child. With the help of Kwan, they eventually slip away from those who want to tie up the loose end but, try as it might, it’s comfortably the weakest part of the episode and goes on for far too long.

In truth, the Rubble scenes – in this episode and previously – are everything those who don’t watch Halo use as a stick to beat the series with: it’s dull, lifeless, and lacking any sort of redeeming quality whatsoever. The fact that the entirety of the Rubble-set events could have taken place off-screen without much consequence speaks volumes.

As a reviewer (and viewer), you should never punish a show for not being exactly what you wanted. But, in the case with Halo and Rubble, it needs to get off that rock – and fast. 

It doesn’t help matters that this week’s episode also shines a light on something that I had my suspicions about in the first two episodes: Halo doesn’t know what to do with Kwan anymore. What was once a compelling, sympathetic character has become something of a two-dimensional foil so far removed from the main story that she’s lost all sense of purpose.

Halo

(Image credit: Paramount)

At least the other B-story – Halsey being held captive – fares better. While it doesn’t match the quality of the surreal, absurdist brilliance of Adrian Veidt’s predicament in HBO’s Watchmen, the glossy, brightly-lit prison is a similarly wickedly cruel backdrop for the brains behind the Spartan program. 

Halo dropping in fresh scenarios for Halsey – such as the scorned Soren popping in for what we imagine to be a very uncomfortable chat – is the very antithesis of what takes place on Rubble: a novel, fresh concept that gets to the very heart of these characters while still maintaining narrative intrigue thanks to the mystery (what does Ackerson have planned, exactly?) at the center of it all.

Then it’s all back to Chief. The final act of ‘Visegrad’ stumbles slightly with its grand curtain pull – that Makee is real – because it's not a surprise to the viewer, only John. Still, it ends strongly regardless. 

In a church on Reach, John finds Perez and, together, they uncover a message hiding in the radio frequencies surrounding the Covenant attacks. Here, it’s revealed that the enemy is looking for a ‘Sacred Ring’ and that they have already started attacking Reach as the building shatters around them. 

It’s an explosive end that sets the show up for greater things. With the place-setting and shaking-off of season one’s stench out the way, Halo looks all primed to step up a gear in the next handful of episodes. Throw in the likely payoff to the legwork done on some of the show’s more personally affecting moments – Riz’s plight is a surprise standout – and this adaptation of the Fall of Reach is probably going to hit harder than expected. Now it’s up to John, alone and untrusted, to finish the fight.


Halo season 2 is streaming on Paramount Plus, with new episodes available weekly.

For what else is on the way, check out all of the upcoming video game adaptations to look forward to.

More info

Platform"Xbox 360","PC","Xbox"
GenreSci-fi
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Bradley Russell

I'm the Senior Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.