Halo: The Television Series – Why the Silver Timeline is Gold for Halo
With Halo: The Television Series reaching its explosive halfway point last week with Episode 5, “Reckoning”, it’s time to explore why the new Silver Timeline is gold for the franchise.
Halo has a vast and extensive canon through the games, novels and other ancillary media over the past 20 years. Since the announcement of the new and long-awaited television series, the creators have addressed the separate canon, dubbed the “Silver Timeline”. The canon from the past is considered “Core Canon”, which will be the basis for lore and story ideas. The “Silver Timeline” will use what it needs from the core canon to tell a linear narrative for the purpose of crafting a live action version of Halo. In their words, “these will be two parallel, VERY similar, but ultimately separate timelines whose main events and characters will intersect and align throughout their very different cadences.”
Alternate timelines, universes and canon have been a huge point of contention in many fandoms. Star Trek, Power Rangers, DCU, MCU… the list goes on, and the debates are ever ongoing. Halo is no exception, with contentious reviews and arguments raging on social media about some of the changes.
For instance, the Silver Timeline’s name comes from Silver Team, Master Chief’s team in the TV series. Silver Team is composed of Master Chief John-117 (Pablo Schreiber), Vannak-134 (Bentley Kalu), Riz-028 (Natasha Culzac) and Kai-125 (Kate Kennedy). This is different from core canon’s Blue Team – Frederic-104, Kelly-087 and Linda-058. To be fair, when the initial trailers first came out, I thought we were getting a live action Blue Team. But while watching the series, it doesn’t bother me. Fred, Kelly and Linda could still exist in the Silver Timeline, we just haven’t seen them yet.
Another major change from core canon is the inclusion of a character named Makee (Charlie Murphy), a “Blessed One” for the alien forces of the Covenant. Captured at a young age and raised by the Prophet of Mercy, Makee can sense Forerunner artifacts when they are activated. For their religion, she is a key figure on their Path to follow The Great Journey. She is a human, which is the key difference because no one like her exists in the core canon. Over the course of the series so far, the audience discovers that she shares the Covenant’s hatred of humanity and is set on achieving their goals.
Differences also extend to the look of some of the characters, with some pointing out the race differences in Jacob Keyes (Danny Sapani) and Miranda Keyes (Olive Gray). By no means should this be taken as a valid criticism of the show. Both actors are incredible in their performances – with Miranda Keyes following in her mother’s, Dr. Katherine Halsey (Natasha McElhone), footsteps in science. Much to Dr. Halsey’s indifference, Miranda is constantly trying to prove her academic worth to her mother, while also trying to live up to her father’s expectations. Jacob Keyes is a more central figure in the show than he was in the first Halo game. We learn that he is in the inner circle of UNSC’s FLEETCOM on the planet Reach, coordinating troop deployments and acting as a go-between for Halsey and Miranda.
Not everything is completely different, though. Cortana, Master Chief’s A.I. partner in the games, is fully realized in Halo: The Television Series. She is once again portrayed by Jen Taylor – and not just her voice – she performs the motion and face capture work to bring Cortana to life. Cortana’s sarcasm, wit and personality are exactly like core canon and would not be the same without her performance. The third episode of the series, “Emergence”, details her creation and pairing with the Chief. While it differs somewhat from core canon, it works for the context of the story and introduction for her character into the Silver Timeline.
Another welcome change is seeing more from the point of view of the Insurrectionists. In core canon, the Insurrectionists were outer colonies that wanted to break away from the confines of Earth and the UNSC. The Spartans were originally created to deal with the Insurrectionist threat, not the Covenant. We never saw them in the games, but for the series… it works. The Covenant are only now beginning to work their way in from the Outer Colonies, and that is demonstrated brutally in the first episode, “Contact”. In the episode, we are introduced to Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha), daughter of Jin Ha (Jeong-hwan Kong), leader of the planet Madrigal insurrectionists. Kwan’s outpost is decimated by Covenant forces after she discovers their ship at a dig site. After the events of the episode, she becomes a target of the UNSC and John-117 helps Kwan despite his orders to kill her.
One of the biggest and most controversial changes is to the Master Chief himself. In the first episode, he takes off his helmet, and we see the man underneath. Throughout the Halo franchise, especially in the games, we have never seen the face of John-117 aside from a close up on his eyes in the legendary ending of Halo 4. In the series, he is taking off his helmet constantly. Of course, this is for dramatic effect in a sci-fi drama. Not seeing his face in the games was a way to feel like you ARE the Master Chief. In fact, the marketing around the newest game Halo: Infinite revolved was titled “Become”; you are becoming the Master Chief to save the universe once again.
Removing his helmet doesn’t change how the Marines respect his legendary status. Even in civilian clothing, Marines cheer him on as the Chief tries to get some R&R. This is a stark difference from a show like The Mandalorian, which Halo has been compared with regard to the question of removing the helmet or not. Actor Pablo Schreiber does a phenomenal job conveying John’s struggles after touching a Forerunner artifact that unlocks new memories and emotions. This is quite different from the games, as John-117 has less dialogue there than the first five episodes of the TV series. When the helmet comes on, you know that John is mission-ready.
After removing an emotional suppressor on the suggestion of former Spartan Soren-066 (Bokeem Woodbine), he sees the world in a new perspective. His senses are no longer dulled, emotions are more intense, and he is starting to question Dr. Halsey’s motives as more of his memories are unlocked. He carries a heavy responsibility to lead Silver Team, and his example is followed when Kai-125 also removes her emotional suppressor. The effects of this act come to a head in last week’s episode when Kai-125 experiences emotional shock of battle and John-117 breaks orders to try and save her. Ultimately, this leads to John losing the mission.
“Reckoning” was the shortest episode so far in Halo: The Television Series, but from this fan’s opinion, one of the best. The main battle during the second half feels like it was lifted from the games. Seeing live-action Jackals, Grunts and a Brute Chieftain make the show feel complete and that the showrunners will be able to deliver on other exciting moments in the future. And that’s the point of the Silver Timeline, to recontextualize the core canon into something that’s entertaining for long-time fans and to introduce a whole new universe to new audiences. My wife knows how much of a fan of Halo I am, but has never really dived into the universe until we watched the show. Now, it’s one of our must-watches every week. I am even three weeks behind on Star Trek: Picard, but I need my Halo fix as soon as a new episode releases!
I hope that people on the fence about the TV series give it a fair chance. The creators have made it clear from the beginning that core canon will be respected, but the Silver Timeline is ultimately its own thing. Every week, I am excited to learn more about this new timeline and see what references they pull from core canon and integrate into this series. The beautiful thing is that I don’t have to use an Xbox controller to do it, and that’s EFNcool.
Halo: The Television streams on Paramount+ in North America, Latin America, the Nordic countries, Australia (Thursdays) as well as Sky in Germany and Italy and Cable in France as a Paramount+ Original Series.