Warning: This review contains complete spoilers Halo: Episode 8! If you need a refresher on where we left off, here it is IGN review for Halo: Episode 7.
Halo has become a true roller coaster ride in preparation for the end of Season 1. Once the series hit a new level in Episode 6 it all fell apart in the totally disappointing Episode 8. Now the series is back on the rise again in the penultimate chapter. Loyalty is an exciting prelude to the next great battle, even if it completely ignores its predecessor.
In fact, you can completely skip the Kwan Ha focused turn in Episode 7 and not miss a beat. “Loyalty” only makes that episode seem useless and unnecessary in hindsight. This episode really proved to be a killer for momentum, but at least things quickly got back on track this week.
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On paper, there’s a lot that could have gone wrong with the premise of Episode 8 and the sudden romantic entanglement between Master Chief and Makee. It’s a surprising perversion for both characters, not to mention that Halo fans aren’t really used to seeing Chief show affection for anyone other than his platonic love for Cortana. But it is a development that works in the context of the dramatic end of Episode VI. The two characters shared what amounted to a religious experience, and they are now dealing with all the hormonal effects. This episode actually does a surprisingly good job of chronicling the full ups and downs of that short-lived romance without feeling crushed by rush or compulsion.
Episode 8 also succeeds in fleshing out Maki as a character and adding more emotional weight to her mission as a covenant spy. No longer an openly hostile character, she becomes deeply torn between her loyalty to the covenant and her newfound love for the spirit consort who is John-117. This episode does a great job of getting home for all the reasons Maki doesn’t trust her people. What did humanity do but strip it of its humanity and exploit it? In the end, it’s hard to blame Maki when she chooses duty over love and activates the artifact.
Game fans can guess where things are headed at the end of the season. As suspected, the show appears to be preparing a version of Halo: Reach / The Fall of Reach as the end point for Season 1. What is interesting is how the penultimate chapter reveals several key characters who can be personally blamed for the upcoming tragedy. Master Chef himself certainly deserves some of the blame, as he insists on trusting Mackie against all rational evidence. But he’s not the only one about to get blood on his hands. It is certain that Dr Halsey’s ambivalence is responsible for the escalation of the conflict. Even Admiral Barangowski deserves its share of the blame for throwing fuel on an already dangerous fire. In the end, you can’t completely blame Mackey for deciding that humanity is beyond redemption.
This also proves to be a crucial episode for Cortana, as we see her struggle against the limits of her programming and outright rebellion against her creator for the first time. There is a beautiful symmetry to the idea that even as various UNSC personalities begin digging their metaphorical graves, Cortana proves that passion and attachment can make a person stronger. The only concern with all of this is that the series might be a little overkill in drawing Halsey as the ruthless manipulator. So far, the show has maintained this delicate balance of portraying her as a self-serving, morally questionable character with at least noble goals. But Halsey is fast becoming the villain here, and some of that nuance has faded.
While it’s not a particularly heavy episode (no doubt a lot of the visual effects budget is saved for the ending), “Loyalty” does provide a satisfying fight scene between the Chief and his fellow Spartans. It’s fun for these super soldiers unleashed and hand-to-hand combat, and it’s also a bit disappointing to see the best and smartest UNSC combat among them. The takeaway is clear – divided, these characters are absolutely no match for the looming threat. We’re probably in for a much bleaker conclusion to the season.