Meanwhile, when Kwan and Soren arrive back on Madrigal, they discover that Insurrectionist leader-slash-UNSC-puppet Vinsher Grath (Burn Gorman) has an iron grip on subjects who feel neutral-to-negative about him. Kwan is still a wanted woman, as evidenced by Vinsher dispatching an assassin, Franco, to kill her and her aunt. Soren fights Franco off, but it’s with a distinct sense of not having friends anywhere that he and Kwan set off into the desert to find “mystics” who inspired Kwan’s father’s own Insurrectionist army.
It’s a much less busy episode than last week’s, and this time it errs on the side of repeating information instead of piling too much on. We know Halsey is cold; we know Spartan training is inhumane; we know John is curious about his past. Cortana’s role in “Homecoming” is simply as a directional tool (as she often was in the games), and Kwan’s character development consists primarily of having more grief and trauma piled onto her.
I generally like John’s reaction to coming home. The show effectively layers his adult perspective on his childhood, such as when he uses a relatively militaristic term (“line of sight”) to refer to the fact that his mother was watching from above while he and his father buried his childhood drawings. His dive into his memories is both spiritual and literal, a vision-quest facilitated but not controlled by Cortana. I’m glad the script clarified that no one was entirely sure why or how this was happening, but the central emotional hook of the Master Chief trying to find out who he used to be still works.
As John learns what “anxiety” feels like, Miranda has her own learning experience working closely with Spartans for the first time. Now that I’m more used to the show’s take on armor, the weight of the Silver Team folks really works. Their physical presence is emphasized by Miranda’s slight fear around them. She effectively conveys that they can be both sneaky and looming, one after the other. I could roll my eyes at Kai’s rebellion manifesting as dying her hair, but it works for a couple reasons. First, she isn’t very good at it. Secondly, she’s effectively going through puberty, and sometimes, dying your hair during times of change is what you do. Kai could be a compelling character if she wasn’t stuck putting her personality together from the broken pieces even more than John is, but the glimmers of connection between her and Miranda promise that later on she might be.
That said, the lack of action does gall. The episode has some gorgeous shots of outer space and sci-fi trappings, but the Covenant are almost completely absent from this episode, leaving it without any classic Halo butt-kicking. Maybe it wouldn’t matter so much if there was more intrigue, too. As a Halo lore fan, this show is doing a bit of what I’ve been afraid of from the outset with regard to treating things like spoilers that were simply part of the background material of the games. We know how Halsey’s Spartan “recruitment” worked, and we know why John can activate Forerunner artifacts. There were glimmers of potential here where it looked like some of the Spartans might start actively rebelling, but neither John nor Kai follow through on that. Both actors do gamely nail weird, barely-restrained menace without saying anything.
It would still help a lot if the script didn’t feel like such a first draft. Dialogue is delivered even more coldly than usual. John’s confusion and openness — he seems to want to become a blank slate to build a personality back up from — are sometimes moving and sometimes annoyingly opaque.