Halo season 2, episode 5 review: "Improves upon the divisive – and downright bad – parts of the series"

A review and recap of Halo season 2, episode 5 'Aleria'

Halo season 2, episode 5
(Image: © Paramount)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Despite ‘Aleria’ facing an uphill battle, it overcomes the long shadow of ‘Reach’ by delivering a grief-fuelled episode that changes the path of several of its key players.

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The review contains spoilers for Halo season 2, episode 5.

There are so many things working against Halo’s latest episode ‘Aleria’ that I went in almost expecting it to fail. It didn’t. The high bar set by last week is an obvious shadow looming large across the follow-up, while the 60-minute runtime in a series that often focuses its attention in all the wrong places had me fearing the worst. 

Happily, I can report that Halo exceeded my expectations, delivering a grief-fuelled hour that put several of its major players on new paths, while improving upon some of the more divisive – and downright bad – elements of the series.

‘Aleria’ is an episode teeming with loss. Set on – in Soren’s words – a “busted mining outpost”, the fifth episode takes the survivors from Reach and has them coming to terms with their fresh, raw wounds.

For Soren, it’s the disappearance of his son; Riz is slowly healing from her injuries; Chief is dealing with the death of fellow Spartan Vannak, and Reach’s fate is sealed off-screen. The planet is no more. Each thread is intriguingly pulled on to reveal more of their characters and that yields compelling results – none more so than with Soren and Faera’s search for Kessler.

There are several factors that save the previously-dreary dynamic from the sort of monotony usually reserved for the hallway hell of Halo’s infamous level in The Library. That’s partially down to Soren actor Bokeem Woodbine – in series-best form here – really selling the devastating sorrow of his childhood and the fear of what might happen to his own son with little more than a pair of heavy eyes and a few stern words. Faera’s Negan-shaped piece of retribution with a barbed-wire baseball bat was also a rare win in an episode that spent so long walking us through just how badly everyone has lost.

The killer twist of the episode – that of Kessler being taken in by the UNSC, sparking Soren’s fears of a new Spartan program – offers up the sort of shades-of-gray storytelling that has been conspicuously absent this season as Chief hunted for the Covenant.

Lethal weapon

Halo season 2, episode 5

(Image credit: Paramount)

Speaking of Chief, he’s taking Vannak’s death and Riz’s plight badly. Really badly. It’s a small moment, but John taking in all the UNSC/Master Chief propaganda on the outpost really lights a fire under him. Where, before, he asks Halsey if Riz was a “woman or a weapon”, he later transforms into the icon the UNSC wants him to be and is the polar opposite to Riz, who decided to walk away at the episode’s end.

“I will be your weapon now,” he says at Vannak’s burial. Fans wanted Master Chief, the video game icon. It looks like they’re going to get him – just not in the way they expected. Instead, it’s a delicious flipping of the script that allows us to see both sides of John. The struggle to see which one emerges – and if he gets a happy ending – should be the catalyst for a promising home stretch of the season.

‘Aleria’ is not all perfect, though. For one thing, one of my fears wasn’t exactly unfounded: the episode is too long. I’ve always been a stickler for TV shows operating within the confines and boundaries of a tight 42 minutes (years of Breaking Bad and Mad Men has almost ruined television for me, in that respect) and it remains tiring to see hour-long episodes stretching out the runtime all for the pretence of seeming epic.

In hindsight, it would have been better if the runtimes of last week’s episode and this week’s were swapped; the shape of an overflowing 60-minute epic better suited last week compared to the short, sharp, heartbreak of ‘Aleria’.

It’s potentially an unpopular opinion, but I’m still not sold on Kwan Ha’s place in the grand scheme of the Halo universe right now. A vision of The Mother describing her as a mystical ‘protector’ does nicely invert the dynamics between her softer approach and the blood-and-revenge tactics of where Master Chief’s head is at right now, but I get the impression it’s either going to be a rushed affair or something that keeps Kwan pacified on the sidelines until a possible step up in the third season.

Still, Halo season 2 now has more good episodes than bad ones. It may not trouble any end-of-year lists but we’re slowly seeing a show – much like Chief outside of the armor – becoming more and more comfortable in its own skin.

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.

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Platform"Xbox 360","PC","Xbox"
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.