We’ve gone into the wild of Halt and Catch Fire and after the superb first episode it’s normal to feel a little fear, uncertainty and doubt about this new series. In fact, the show runners seem to have pre-empted the social anxiety of boarding a new television series, which is where the episode gets its name, and the narrative follows that path as well.
IBM have sent in the lawyers after discovering Joe’s plan to get his new employer Cardiff Electric in the PC building business. After a series of legal stare downs that kick off the FUD, it’s clear that Joe has found the sweet spot in the legal loophole and IBM withdraw. Joe continues to indulge in corporate warfare by proclaiming to his IBM counterpart that he’s willing to ruin to life of Cardiff Electric’s sole lawyer to get the job done. The mystery continues to swirl around Joe once again and it continues to intensify throughout the episode, it’s the prime hook of the series as you mouth to yourself, ‘who is this guy?’
In a meeting with the engineers, Gordon and Cameron, Joe writes his computer building vision on a whiteboard: 2X fast, half the price. The engineers say it can’t be done and Joe finds amusement in their bickering. Shortly after we’re introduced to ‘the clean room’ where Cameron will write the BIOS code. The Halt and Catch Fire writers have figured out how to get characters to spurt the technical jargon in a relaxed fashion to give the show authenticity, but there’s always an outsider nearby to interpret the concepts for the audience that will become a constant crutch.
In a speech similar to the preaching of Jordan Belfort in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Joe heads out to the sales floor and tells the staff of Cardiff Electric about the new personal computer division. Joe’s rules are to ‘have fun’ and ‘let’s make a lot of money’. The employees buy it but Gordon and Cameron roll their eyes at the cheap sales pitch that’s a patchwork of borrowed inspirational quotes.
On the home front Gordon gets a little loving from his wife after a Boz Scaggs Lido Suffle sing-along on the drive home. Gordon is buoyed by the financial stability the PC project allows, and nothing gets the mojo going like a beefed up bank account.
Despite playing to a few young computer whiz clichés (army clothes, punk rock, pizza, soda and insomnia) we get a bit more clarity on how Cameron spends her time outside the office. She’s a loner who shoplifts and is confrontational to anyone who crosses her path. Gordon digs through her bag to find a knife and a worn teddy bear that prompts another whisper, ‘who is this girl?’ Cameron also pushes the boundaries of her handlers to test their patience, especially to prove she is immune to Joe’s salesman charm. The conflict between sales and engineering is something that Halt and Catch Fire is slowly crafting as a microcosm within the overall plot of the tech giant battle.
After mulling around in the personal lives of the characters, the conflict finally appears when IBM starts raiding Cardiff Electric’s clients by undercutting them in price. In a scene closely resembling the client scramble in Jerry Maguire, Cardiff Electric staff are seen begging their customers on the phone to stay with the company. The effort is worthless and Cardiff Electric loses 68 per cent of their core billing in one afternoon, and without the cash flow they will go bust in two months. Looks like Gordon won’t be getting laid of awhile. They all turn to Joe for answers hoping that it was all part of the plan, but it’s not, and Joe walks out to a sales floor that’s deathly silent.
In the night Joe is visited by a former IBM employee who delivers him a cheque for backdated pay he didn’t claim when he left the company. The mystery around Joe whips into a tornado in this scene when it’s revealed that he caused $2 million worth of damage to servers at IBM; he must have been saving a lot of icons to his desktop. The IBM rep also references that ‘the old man won’t be happy’ when Joe rejects a job offer and a plane ticket back to IBM headquarters. The enigma of Joe is further antagonised when the IBM suit’s departing words are, ‘let’s see what happens when they find out who you really are’; he better not be a vampire, that’s pushing it AMC.
After not spending much time together as a trio, Joe, Gordon and Cameron converge in the company parking lot where Joe makes his final stand in a sea of paranoia. After a little push and shove (there was lots in this episode making it the pushiest show on TV) Joe’s shirt rips open to reveal his chest is covered in scars. Joe goes into monologue mode to explain that as a kid he was more into Sputnik than baseball, and on the night of a famous baseball game he was chased off a roof by his classmates and ended up in the hospital. The PC experiment is all about childhood geek rage as Joe bursts into passionate tears, “we’re all unreasonable people and progress depends on our changing the world to fit us, mot the other way around,” he says. Kindred spirits merge in the empty lot and the next day Joe arrives at work early to find Gordon and Cameron have decided to show up and continue their quest. They silently acknowledge each other until Cameron approaches Joe to tell him that his baseball game/Sputnik story doesn’t check out. Joe’s face turns to disgust, fade to black, I scream “who is this guy?” You bet I’ll be back next week.
Cameron Williams – follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW