Halo TV Series – Episode 1 Recap – ‘Contact’

The first episode of the Halo TV show, 'Contact', kicks off a solid start to the video game series.
Halo TV show recap episode 1

The Halo TV show adaptation from Paramount and Amblin Entertainment has been in the making since 2013. In 2022, it’s finally made it out of development hell. With each episode reportedly costing US $10 million apiece to make – US $90 million on the first season in total – and the show having already received an order for a second season, it’s bound to be great.


As someone who certainly enjoys a game of Halo, has a low threshold for bad television, and is morbidly curious about how this show is going to go, I’ve decided to put myself through potential trauma/elation by committing to watch this very expensive video game adaptation to recap and log my thoughts on each episode.

If you’re not fortunate enough to have access to Paramount+, the service where Halo is being released on a weekly basis, I hope these recaps give you a good indication of how the series is going, and whether you would enjoy watching this show yourself or not.

If you’re watching as well, I hope these articles will help you work through your own thoughts – feel free to tell me how wrong I am on Twitter.


Halo TV Show – Episode 1 Recap – ‘Contact’

Halo opens with a birds-eye shot of the Planet Madrigal – and immediately, as someone whose household has been listening to the Encanto soundtrack non-stop, I realise I am not going to be able to hear anything other than that song for a little while.

Madrigal is a desert planet, which we learn later is used to extract ‘heavy water’ for its hydrogen content, which is then used to fuel all manner of space machines. We’re introduced to a rag-tag group of dirty-looking individuals with cool, deviant haircuts, and who are basically all ethnic and people of colour. These people, I say to myself, are probably all going to die soon.

Halo TV show recap
Image: Paramount

We learn that Madrigal is currently an independent planet filled with precious natural resources, and these folks are rebels at war with the United Nations Space Command (the UNSC, basically Earth’s space military and science force), who presumably want that sweet spaceship juice.

It’s interesting to see the UNSC framed as the bad guys here, as they continue to be through the episode. We’re also introduced to the idea that the UNSC has these things called ‘Spartans’, brutal super soldiers worth ‘a hundred marines’ – a cocky youth scoffs at the idea of Spartans, and proceeds to get schooled by a grizzled war veteran as they play space poker.

We cut to Kwan, the rebellious daughter of the rebel General of Madrigal, who is seemingly the audience foil for this episode, and is out with her friends searching for space drugs. As her friends get high, Kwan spots something in the distance, and catches a glimpse of a Covenant Phantom ship, as well as some activity in a cave.

She runs back to her friends to try and get them to flee, but they’re too strung out! One heads towards the cave making a ruckus and gets absolutely eviscerated by energy weapon fire – their whole upper body gets blown to pieces. I was not expecting Halo to be this gory. Don’t do drugs, folks.

Halo TV show recap
Image: Paramount

As the teenagers flee, we see more limbs and torsos blown off, and Kwan sets off a flare to warn the base of an attack. They all gear up with absolutely ancient weapons and equipment – we’re talking rifles and vehicles that would be in use today. Halo continues to dig deep on the primitive ethnic tribe trope here, and I cringe because I know a 6-foot white guy is going to jump in and save them all.

Thinking that they’re protecting their base against UNSC forces, everyone in the tribe gets a surprise when the doors are blown open and the giant alien Covenant soldiers are revealed for the first time. The Covenant immediately begin mowing people down with their pulse pistols and energy swords. One proceeds to break into the bunker the women and children are hiding in, and annihilates everyone in the room – just in case you had any sympathy for these grotesque monsters.

Before that same Covenant soldier can murder the General, a UNSC dropship arrives and everyone’s favourite space man, Master Chief, drops down and makes a very clunky, robotic run towards the General.

Despite his imminent death, the General bafflingly opens fire on Master Chief, which Chief ignores, and instead proceeds to do an an extreme flip over him, shooting the Covenant soldier dead while in mid-air. We get a brief, tasteful shot of Chief’s in-helmet view, which depicts a compass, weapon and grenade selections, and a mini-map. Just in case anyone wasn’t aware that Master Chief is the incredibly competent hero of this show based on a first-person shooter video game.

Halo TV show recap
Image: Paramount

The General and Chief establish a truce via manly nods, and the rest of Chief’s squad, Silver Team, drop into the base to absolutely wreck shop in some enjoyable action sequences that show off the various combat styles of the team – albeit with more egregious first-person sequences. One member of Silver team goes nuts with a pipe, impaling a Covenant soldier gratuitously, one of the female Spartans does some wild martial arts, and one saves Kwan from certain death by sniping a Covenant soldier from a distance.

We also get a few more nods to the representation of Chief in the Halo games – one Covenant refers to Master Chief as the ‘Demon’ and there’s a moment where he takes a large degree of damage to his armor’s built-in shield, and takes cover to let it regenerate, making all the familiar video game sound effects. It’s certainly a fun and entertaining sequence that puts the action in plain view, and establishes the dominance of the Spartans nicely, albeit at the expense of making the rebels look absolutely pathetic – the General appears to be the only person to get a single kill in, but ends up getting painfully executed in front of his daughter.

Halo TV show recap
Image: Paramount

Master Chief and Silver Team investigate the Covenant landing site and discover an artefact, which Chief touches. It subsequently awakens something in him – flashbacks to a boy’s childhood flood his head, but he’s pulled out of his daze quickly.

As Silver Team gets ready to head back home, Master Chief decides to head back alone with Kwan and the object which, as one of the team notes, is breaking protocol. The unravelling of Master Chief as an unthinking killing machine begins.

The show changes scenes to the UNSC headquarters, where Dr. Halsey, the scientist responsible for the Spartan soldier program is introduced. She’s observing Master Chief’s interaction with the object before having an interaction with Admiral Parangosky (portrayed by Bollywood veteran Shabana Azmi). They discuss the Admiral’s work on the Spartan project, and while it’s clear that Halsey is responsible for the UNSC’s most useful advancements, she’s also a bit of a rebel, something the Admiral is getting tired of. Halsey is also working on an unapproved mystery project, revealed to be a clone of herself.

The Halo TV show has now passed the Bechdel test. Just.

Those familiar with the Halo games will know that this is the Cortana project; Cortana being the AI that eventually becomes Master Chief’s companion, though the show appears to be taking a different spin on things.

We cut to the Covenant home planet, where we meet a Covenant Elder. In the games, this is the Prophet of Mercy, a member of the High Council. It’s a pretty accurate depiction of him. He’s chatting to a human woman referred to as the ‘blessed one’, who appears to have the upper hand in the power dynamic, having supposedly predicted the location of the object Master Chief seized from the Covenant. She also likes to read books, but we’re not quite sure what her deal is just yet.

Image: Paramount

Here’s where things start to get interesting. We’re back on Master Chief’s ship as he stares longingly at the object, and Kwan lays on the floor with blood still splattered on her face.

Miranda Keyes, a UNSC scientist, beams in via hologram in an effort to chat to Kwan and convince her to record a message explaining what happened on Madrigal to inform the rest of the galaxy that the Covenant are very real, very bad, and that the UNSC are definitely the good guys.

Kwan, still shattered from seeing her friends and family slaughtered in front of her, surprisingly turns the tide and threatens to fabricate a tale about how the UNSC took over Madrigal with force. The UNSC is trying to unite the outer world colonies, but all her father ever wanted, she says, is for Madrigal to be independent.

Image: Paramount

Miranda Keyes later speaks to her father, a UNSC general, about the whole ordeal, and we learn that Dr. Halsey is also her mother – another detail accurate to the games. They have a poor relationship, however. We learn that they’re planning on killing Kwan, and Miranda is absolutely devastated – ‘What’s the point in saving humanity if we’re going to give up our own’?

It’s a heavy handed moment, but one that clearly outlines where this series is going to head, given what’s happening to Master Chief.

Speaking of humanity, Kwan and Master Chief begin to form a bond back on the ship. Master Chief even tells a joke about him eating nuts and bolts. A joke! Chief has clearly been compromised by the object – what a wild ride this show is.

Kwan describes a moment where she and Chief met before – when he attacked a meeting of different colonists and killed everyone, under the supposed guise of a bomb threat. Before Kwan can say as much, Chief expresses that none of the orders he received made any sense.

Image: Paramount

Master Chief, the ever-diligent soldier, is now starting to question everything he’s ever been led to believe, thanks to a bit of space magic and the help of a wily young teenager. At that very moment, Chief gets the orders to execute Kwan, and immediately walks right out of the room, sabotaging the ship’s surveillance feeds in the process. What a great guy.

The UNSC see him do just that and freak out. Halsey explains the situation to Admiral Azmi, that Chief has been having memories of his parents, and wants to engage the Cortana project to keep him in check – the project she was working on in secret. The Admiral is having none of it, and makes moves to dispatch Master Chief with force as he comes back to base.

The Spartan Silver Team gear up along with about a hundred marines – though Halsey gets to the Spartans first in order to get them on her side.

Halo TV show recap
Image: Paramount

As the ship comes into the base, Kwan pulls a rifle on Master Chief – they’d both just been knocked out due the UNSC reducing oxygen levels on the ship, only Master Chief somehow powered through it and fixed things. Chief tries to reason at first, and then threatens, saying that the bullets wouldn’t even make a dent on his armor.

And then, in an effort to really establish a trusting emotional connection with Kwan, Master Chief takes off his helmet, and we see his face. Given that we have never see Master Chief’s face in the video games, this is a significant moment.

His voice instantly changes from the breathy Batman impersonation he’d been doing up to that point, to something far more regular and calming. He explains the fact that the UNSC wants them both dead. Kwan is perplexed as to why a Spartan would go out of their way to help a civilian, something which Master Chief is equally baffled by.

Halo TV show recap
Image: Paramount

The UNSC folks see everything that’s happening, and as Master Chief and Kwan attempt to take manual control of the ship, it gets disabled complete with an EMP shot. But before the marines and Spartans can breach the interior, Chief is once again inexplicably drawn to the object, and touches it. He experiences a more vivid flashback of his childhood family, and the object creates its own EMP effect, disabling the entire base while drawing power back into the ship.

The episode ends with a helmet-less Master Chief and Kwan blasting off into space, and a very pleased Dr. Halsey.

Cue the iconic Halo theme song.

Critical Take

I thought this was a pretty solid start to the Halo TV show. It establishes who Master Chief is, and quickly topples all of that, presumably with an aim to make him a much more relatable and human character. The first episode also gets straight to the heart of what this series is likely going to be about thematically, which I appreciate.

The fact that it doesn’t appear to be a straightforward UNSC vs Covenant tale like the video games is also a bit of a blessing in disguise. There’s a central mystery about who Master Chief – or rather John-117 – actually is, and we also have a good audience foil in Kwan.

And I’m glad Master Chief took off his helmet early on – I’m not sure I could’ve handled another version of The Mandalorian.

If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m definitely not a fan of the whole ‘ethnic rebels being super primitive and warmongering’ thing. Despite that setup being used to frame the UNSC as manipulative and the Real Villains, as well as to position the Spartans as incredibly good at what they do, it definitely could have been handled better. Here’s hoping there’s some depth to Kwan coming in the future.

See you next week!

Stray observations

  • There’s a bizzare, but very obvious shoutout to Mass Effect in this episode. After Keyes finishes speaking to Kwan, you can very clearly hear an announcement that says ‘Commander Shepherd, you are requested at the Skyllian Response Center’.

    Commander Shepard is of course, the protagonist of the Mass Effect series, and ‘Skyllian’ is a shoutout to the Skyllian Verge, a piece of space that is significant in Mass Effect lore.

    A Mass Effect show is currently in production at Amazon.

You can find recaps on the following episodes below:

Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran