No money and motherboard problems pretty much sums up the shaky third episode of Halt and Catch Fire. It was the problem solving episode that had all the excitement of watching someone complete a Sudoku puzzle.
High Plains Hardware opens with Gordon discovering an injured bird in his yard but he’s hesitant to put it out of its misery. It was a metaphor that body-slammed you into the reveal that Gordon must fire 46 engineers at Cardiff Electric. Sitting down with his co-workers, Gordon tries to reassure them with stories about ‘unique snowflakes’ but it’s all nonsense. A co-worker bursts in Gordon’s office to demand he cut the garbage, fire him and sign a pre-prepared reference. Gordon is out of his depth and his insecurity is returning. Scoot McNairy is excellent as Gordon in these nerve racking moments.
Meanwhile, Cameron is trapped in her white room coding and getting nowhere. She types ‘not good enough on the screen’ and her character remains in this holding pattern for the entire episode despite a cool little celebration montage when she gets her first pay cheque.
On planet Joe it’s all about courting venture capitalists to fund the PC project. Joe’s storyline takes a serious dive in High Plains Hardware after the excellent ending of FUD. Lee Pace is left with nothing to do but give Joe a permanent sneer for most of the episode. Even the reveal of Joe’s bisexuality to spite a wealthy investor lacked any impact.
Shaking the dullness off proceedings was a glimpse inside Donna’s work life. The atmosphere of Donna’s office is serene compared to her husband Joe’s jittery existence at Cardiff Electric. Donna meets with her boss, an old high school acquaintance, and they talk business. During the conversation Donna’s boss mentions the exotic lifestyle he has had as an executive and alludes to Donna’s unrecognised potential when he recalls her involvement in the high school marching band by stating, ‘you were always marking time, waiting for something better’. Back at home the conversation continues when Donna meets with her mother who praises Donna and hints at a bigger world waiting for her. Donna’s engineering expertise is again showcased in a scene where she helps Joe figure out a way to fix a hardware problem with the motherboard design of the Cardiff Electric PC plan.
The absolute highlight of High Plains Hardware comes in the final chain of events that lead back to the injured bird. Gordon proposes Donna’s solution to his engineering group but his closest advisor in the group (and neighbour/car pool pal) details all the reasons why it won’t work and Joe is back to square one. On the drive home Gordon is lamenting the demise of Donna’s idea while being reassured by his engineering buddy that it was the right decision to scrap it. Suddenly, a car clips the rear bumper of their vehicle and Gordon goes into a moment of shock and clarity. Gordon realises that his neighbour is the naysayer the project doesn’t need and fires him on the spot. Gordon arrives home clearly shaken and hears the injured bird still chirping out the front. Donna tells him that it would be best to just get a shovel and end the bird’s life but he refuses. The final scene is something reminiscent of Mad Men; Donna goes into the garage, grabs the shovel and kills the bird. She grabs a glimpse of the cowardly Gordon sipping on a beer through the kitchen window before she delivers the fatal blow.
High Plains Hardware was all about Donna and Kerry Bishe’s performance made up for the weaker elements of the episode. Halt and Catch Fire has hit its first major bump and it will be interesting to see if it can bounce back next week.
Cameron Williams – follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW