CBS’s Ghosts has more problems than you’d expect, and its premise feels dead tired.
The year is 2552, and humanity is in the middle of a civil war.
Colonists living on other planets in the galaxy seek freedom from the United Nations Space Command. They’re tired of the UNSC’s propaganda about how Marines and Spartans (an elite group of super-soldiers) are protecting them from aliens. They believe the UNSC just wants complete control of the galaxy.
Except it’s not propaganda.
Unbeknownst to (or rather, unbelieved by) colonists is a union of alien races called the Covenant. And the Covenant hates humanity. They wage war against the UNSC, slaughtering every human they find (even children) without mercy. It all has to do with their obscure religious beliefs.
The only hope humanity has of surviving is a Spartan that the Covenant knows as “Demon.”
Of course, gamers know him as Master Chief.
Kidnapped as children, brainwashed to serve and physically enhanced with technology, Spartans are the UNSC’s best and most dangerous weapons against the Covenant. They’re worth a hundred Marines in combat, and their specialized suits of armor grant them the strength and speed to fight back against Covenant forces.
So having even one of them go rogue would be just short of setting off a nuclear bomb.
Unfortunately, that’s what happens.
After coming into contact with an alien artifact that’s part of a Covenant prophecy, the Keystone, Master Chief begins having visions of Halo, a “Sacred Ring” to the Covenant that’s actually a super weapon that could end the war. But when nobody believes his warnings, Chief disobeys direct orders, removes the pellet that inhibits his emotions and allows himself to be controlled by an illegal AI called Cortana.
But worst of all—at least in the eyes of the UNSC—Chief falls in love with Makee, a woman kidnapped by the Covenant because of her own connection to Halo and the Keystone.
Eventually, the UNSC catches up to Master Chief. They remove Cortana from his head to regain control. Dr. Catherine Halsey, director of the Spartan program, is imprisoned for her unauthorized experiments on the super soldiers and the creation of Cortana. And Admiral Parangosky, the only person in the UNSC who realized the seriousness of Chief’s visions of Halo, is demoted.
What’s more is that Makee escapes the UNSC’s custody after she’s mistreated by them. She rejoins the Covenant and begins directing them toward Halo in fulfillment of the Covenant’s prophecy. And thanks to her special Keystone connection with Chief, she still exercises influence over him, clouding his judgment as he tries to save the galaxy.
So is Master Chief still humanity’s best hope? Or has he become their worst enemy?
This isn’t the Halo you know.
Or maybe you don’t know? Perhaps you thought, “Oh, I’m not really interested in the games, but maybe I can watch this show to figure out what the hype is about.”
Well, you’d be wrong.
Though the story borrows heavily from the popular video game franchise, it’s set in an alternate universe. And to be honest, there’s a lot of problems with that.
Let’s just start with the content.
One thing that never showed up in the games was nudity. In fact, Master Chief was pretty much known for never removing even as much as his helmet. Not so here. Online forums began calling Halo’s hero “Master Cheeks” after a scene revealed the characters unclothed posterior. And later episodes show him getting intimate with a woman. (Though we see the removal of clothing, critical body parts are hidden and the act itself is largely kept off-screen.)
There’s some pretty foul language, which isn’t too far off from the games. The games are pretty violent, too. People and aliens get shot, blown up and eaten. But in this TV adaptation, there’s even more bloodshed. People explode when shot with plasma guns. Limbs are torn off. Once the Covenant has what they want from a planet, they “glass” it, using high-powered plasma streams to melt the entire surface. And in a terrifying sequence, a bunker full of unarmed civilians (including children) are gunned down.
Unlike the games, you can’t just run past the corpses on the way to your next checkpoint.
But I’m guessing that purists who love the games won’t like the series much either. The CGI isn’t the best quality—like they only got 90% of the rendering completed. And showrunners made the decision to toggle between a traditional cinematic format and the helmet view from the game, which I can only describe as goofy-looking.
In short, Halo falls short of all hopes. Perhaps if this was a standalone sci-fi series, it wouldn’t feel so kitschy. But even so, parents who may have allowed their teens to play the games will find that the series seems to have borrowed a Game of Thrones level of violence and gore.
While evacuating Sanctuary, a village on a planet the UNSC believes that the Covenant plans to “glass,” Master Chief uncovers a deeper Covenant plot involving Makee.
Several villagers, including their shaman, refuse to evacuate with the UNSC due to their religious beliefs. The shaman explains that they had to evacuate a planet once before and were never able to return. They equate that act to abandoning a dying child since they believe planets can have souls. A marine is confused by this, stating that he’s Baptist.
The shaman later tells Chief that she’s foreseen his death. Someone mentions a monster older than a god.
We see male and female Spartans in their undergarments as they change clothes in a locker room. We briefly see Chief’s back as he showers. A woman wears a form-fitting outfit. Chief visits an establishment that features holographic exotic dancers. However, his hologram hostess remains clothed since Chief only wants someone to talk to.
Chief and a group of Marines are ambushed by Covenant Elite. Guns are fired, swords and knives are wielded, and Chief manages to kill one Elite by breaking its neck. All but one of the Marines are killed, and Chief narrowly escapes with the survivor.
Armed soldiers evacuate a planet before the Covenant arrive, and some villagers forcefully resist (and are ultimately left behind). Covenant ships fire plasmas beams at the planet’s surface, causing it to melt into a glass-like substance. A few of the rescue ships are also shot down, killing many people.
We see cuts and scars on several Marines and Spartans as they recover from battle. When a man grabs a woman’s arm, she punches him in the throat repeatedly before wrapping a cord around his neck and choking him briefly while pantomiming riding him like a horse. She then releases him and kicks him over.
There’s a sort of slave auction among human insurrectionists—though we hear it’s not slavery but indentured servitude. A man guilty of thievery, kidnapping and murder is the only person chosen by the self-proclaimed pirates.
The UNSC puts out propaganda about the war, reassuring people that the fight is going in their favor. However, this is false, and an admiral is forced out of her position for stating this belief. She later recruits Chief, who also believes the Covenant is advancing, into helping her find evidence of the truth and ultimately save humanity.
Someone drinks alcohol. Folks betray their comrades. People lie and threaten. There are 10 uses of the s-word and about a handful of uses of “a–,” “b–ch” and “h—.” God’s name is misused twice paired with “d–n.”
Halsey, founder of the Spartan Program, tries to run a coup when the UNSC demotes her and orders her off-planet.
Makee (a woman who was raised and brainwashed by Covenant aliens) tells Master Chief of a Covenant prophecy. It says that if the aliens can find the Halo, those who are worthy (aka the aliens) will “become like gods” and those who aren’t (aka the humans) will be “cleansed.” Makee appears to be praying in one scene. Someone says, “God rest their souls.”
Master Chief is seen shirtless in a towel. Later, he and Makee kiss and remove their clothing. It’s implied they have sex since they wake up in bed together. Two tweens kiss in a flashback.
Several Spartans in their signature heavy armor fight an unarmed Master Chief, cutting up his unprotected face. Makee removes her own fingernail, which has been implanted with a retractable knife. Another Spartan is knocked unconscious and tied up by her fellow soldiers. Makee is shoved to the ground and electrocuted with a baton-like weapon. A flashback shows a similar instance from when she was a child. Many people are thrown backward from a forcefield that emanates from an alien artifact. The UNSC learns that a city of 11 million people has been destroyed by the Covenant.
Halsey hacks into classified UNSC files by impersonating her daughter. She makes it clear she’s willing to sacrifice everything for the “advancement” of humanity, executing a plan to take down Master Chief and steal an alien artifact. A few people seem to regret their actions kidnapping children for the Spartan program, but they don’t repent. People gamble. We hear a single use of the s-word. A man calls Makee “squidhead” as an insult.
Humanity makes first contact with a violent alien nation called the Covenant.
The Covenant attacks a human colony killing 150 civilians (dozens of unarmed people, including children, are gunned down while hiding in a bunker). People get shot, blown up and stabbed in a bloody array. One man is murdered before his daughter’s eyes (and that’s after she witnessed several of her friends get blown to bits).
Four Spartans arrive to save the colony and manage to kill 20 alien “Elites,” but they are too late to save the colonists, with only one teenage girl surviving. (One man shoots at the Spartans until he realizes that the Spartans are helping him.) Later, the UNSC tries to coerce the girl into recounting the attack for a propaganda video. When she refuses—threatening to lie that the Spartans attacked, not the Covenant—they order Master Chief to kill her.
When he subsequently refuses to follow this order, they send hundreds of Marines and a few Spartans to take down Master Chief (though the woman in charge of the Spartan program supersedes these orders, telling the Spartans to protect Chief and kill the Marines if necessary).
A girl is knocked unconscious by an alien. This same girl later tells Master Chief that he was responsible for the murder of her mother (though he claims he was just following orders). Another man tells his daughter that sometimes you have to make hard decisions in war (i.e. the murder of innocent civilians) to “get good results.” The UNSC tries to disable Master Chief by depleting oxygen from his ship and suit.
People gamble, smoke and drink. A group of teenagers uses a drug.
We hear several uses of the s-word. Someone misuses God’s name.
An alien calls Master Chief “Demon.” A human working with the Covenant is called “Blessed One” and she talks about making predictions.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.
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