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Review: Did ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ Go Too Far? 5 Questions for Joe MacMillan after a Baffling Third Episode

Review: Did 'Halt and Catch Fire' Go Too Far? 5 Questions for Joe MacMillan after a Baffling Third Episode

Metaphors seemed to be the dominate trait in week three of “Halt and Catch Fire” — that is, until the now-traditional twist ending shifted focus back to the mysterious Joe MacMillan. Yes, “High Plains Hardware” was bookended by the overly blunt preservation and destruction of a wounded bird — really, the metaphors are reaching “Mad Men”-during-“The Monolith” levels of on-the-nose — but it’s doubtful many will remember it after becoming even more befuddled by Joe [spoilers to follow]. There’s nothing wrong with mounting mysteries, a practice creators Christopher C. Rogers and Christopher Cantwell seem pretty comfortable with by now. This week’s bafflement, though, leaves too many questions on the table, inducing eye rolls rather than gasps.

1) Is Joe gay?

It’s a blunt question for a man who’s shown a proclivity towards avoiding them. We really don’t want to get into another Bob Benson-esque conspiracy wormhole, so to be clear, Joe’s sexuality is only in question because it tells us about his motivations. It matters to the story, but frankly, right now it’s just getting in the way of it. His seduction of a financial asset’s boy toy was quick, direct, and carefully considered. It took nothing more than timing and a look to convey what had happened in the liquor room, and it nixed the deal immediately after. 

It’s smart business, sure, but is that all it is? Given his seduction of Cameron in episode one and repeated sexual forays with the eager ex-college student, we were given no reason to question Joe’s sexuality until this very episode (more on his dealings with Cameron later). Its lack of a lead-in makes it feel like a cheap ploy for reaction rather than true development.

That being said, a moment from episode two might have been foreshadowing this very event, though far too vaguely. Last week, Joe’s former IBM executive asked him if his new colleagues would stick around when they found out “what he really was.” Is he a convict? An asshole? A liar? Many thoughts came to mind — “gay” not being one of them. But in “Halt and Catch Fire”‘s 1980s Texas, you were probably better off as an ex-con than as an openly gay man.

2) If he’s not gay, what’s his motivation for doing literally everything he’s done so far?

I hope Joe is gay, if only because that character hiding those secrets for that reason is a fascinating man to follow. But it’s too hard to tell right now, one way or the other. A mystery is all well and good — “Mad Men” coasted on it for some time — but Joe MacMillan is not Don Draper, and now for the wrong reasons. He’s too loose, too unpredictable, and too ill-defined.

Joe could have been hiding this secret the whole time, conducting his actions out of vehement revenge for a lifetime of being treated as a freak — but the key word is “could.” Sleeping with Travis was a sly move from a man who’s so far shown no limits to what he’s willing to do. He’s given up mind and body to get this PC built, but so far, we really don’t know why, other than some unidentified daddy issues. We can guess, but if this most recent transaction was only to protect the business, Joe would become borderline inhuman. He needs limits so we can understand him on the most basic human level: empathy. Right now, he’s a ruthless loose cannon, seemingly ready to drag everyone down with him. 

3) If he’s bisexual, why is he so bummed out by having to sleep with Cameron again (and again and again…)?

The easy answer for all of this would be labeling Joe as bisexual. It’s a simple concept for an audience to understand, but one that would undercut much of the drama instilled by his actions. After all, in “High Plains Hardware” he asks Cameron if he “has to come down there,” when she complains about being stuck. He doesn’t want to sleep with her then, and he definitely doesn’t want to when she shows up at his apartment later for a booty call. Slapping a label on him provides an easy answer for a show intent on not providing any, at least so far. Don’t expect this to be one of the first. 

4) What’s the real story behind those scars?

It’s starting to seem likely the scars on Joe’s chest aren’t from any accident. Again, the problem remains any theory put forth at this point is pure conjecture, but odds have to increased for a homophobic assault on our lead character. If the wrong person found out, Joe could have been in for a world of hurt in a culture completely against his lifestyle. This would also explain his year-long disappearance (he needed time to recover) and why the lackey sent from IBM was willing to offer him his job back (his papa still loves him enough to employ him, though I’m guessing under unappealing conditions). Some details need to be ironed out still, but the scars are suddenly the least of our worries .

5) When and how will he ever provide answers to these questions?

It’s gotten to the point where we don’t just want to know more about Joe, we need to know more about Joe. The central figure’s mysteries are distracting from other elements of the show worth looking at — Donna made a return to prominence this week, with some not-so-subtle hints at eclipsing her husband as Joe’s head engineer, and Toby Huss continues to excel as the Texas salesman triggering Joe and Cameron’s collective conscience — those mysteries are simply too many, too soon. It’s time to study the character without worrying whether whatever he says or does is all part of the plan; until then, “Halt and Catch Fire” will be stuck in a vicious cycle Joe can’t screw his way out of.

Grade: C

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Comments

Curious

I definitively don’t understand why he couldn’t be bisexual… "Not to put a label on him"? But gay or hetero are labels too. You say why would he be "so bummed by having sex with Cameron". I say why would he have slept with her in the first place when he had absolutely no incitation in doing so.

Anna

Those were the worst 5 questions ever. Do we really care? No. Amazing brillint show with diverse characters. Its 2015 who cares about this FICTIONAL character’s sexuality.

bi-the-way

Not all nerds in silicon valley were/are straight. I think they’re among the most progressive in thinking about sexuality and orientation, open to all the possibilities. Go crawl back under a rock and tune in next week for One Life to Live… wait, that’s gay too now…

Whadda Buncha Bigots

What it says on the tin. Bisexuality, it’s a real orientation. Joe isn’t Frank Underwood who SAYS that sex is about power. Joe strikes me as impulsive.

Amanda

Wait… so making the character gay would add to viewer’s empathy, but making him bisexual is "slapping a label" on the character and undercutting the seriousness of the series? Bisexuality IS a legitimate orientation you know. I would argue it isn’t a "simple concept" for an audience to understand in a world that is still so deeply ignorant and phobic about that community.

Randy1949

Well, all the questions have been answered, and boy were you ever wrong. He’s bisexual, and judging by the enthusiasm he shows for banging Cameron in the later episodes, he’s into her. I initially didn’t believe him when he told Cameron he’d fallen from a roof as a child, but sure enough — it was true. Too bad he’d conditioned everyone not to trust him by the end.

No Interest seeing dudes kiss

No ‘Tired of Morons’, you get bent. Hate to break it to you bro but most heterosexual males, and a very large portion of females, find it disgusting to see two guys kissing. It has absolutely nothing to do with being homophobic or anything else, it naturally just makes a lot of people sick to their stomach. That being said, people should be able to go into a show like HACF without having something like that thrown in their faces. I don’t wanna see a guy and a girl playing tonsle hockey up close like that either. It simply has no place in the show

Billie

I for one think it’s hilarious when a TV show shows a woman as possibly not straight, and everyone goes, "Oh okay, at least we’ll get a lesbian scene." But as soon as a man’s sexuality is questioned, people go "Nope. Bye." Y’all are weak, if it’s a good show, it’s a good show, regardless of any character’s sexuality.

Tired of morons

You guys are all effing morons. Complaining because a guy kissed another guy…

Get bent

George King III

Joe MacMillan is the Ultimate Wild Duck. Look up the term.

Jay

Why must we impute politically fashionable causes onto the past? Of the 3 shows about nascent computer companies, Silicon Valley has it the most right – almost all of these companies are founded by super weird heterosexual nerds. Further, the business and human dynamics were much more interesting in the first episode than all this useless focus on Joe's sexual proclivities.

Don

That is it for us. I deleted the 3 remaining episodes on the DVR and cancelled the series recording. Enough is enough, AMC you lost us on this move, will not be returning.

Emily

I'm so sick of men making out in TV shows. It really does feel like an agenda by the producers to me. Like they won't be satisfied until all of America thinks two men making out is "beautiful" or something.

If it turns out Joe is gay and that's a huge secret for him then that could be a compelling story line, if they handle it well and don't use it as an excuse to portray homosexual sex kissing in most episodes. But if it turns out he truly just had sex with another guy to kill a business deal, I don't buy that and it definitely seems agenda driven. that would be jumping the shark for me.

I've found Joe's ruthlessness intriguing up to this point but I'm looking for something deeper in him. I have to be able to care about a character a little to want to watch their story unfold.

Papa Linus

It was a shocking and unnecessary departure from a good story line. There are a million other ways that Joe could have 'sabotaged the deal.' This scene was chosen because the writers have an agenda, and comments that justify this as the only way this could have happened also appear to have an agenda. You who say I have a 'problem' because I don't like to see men kissing on TV can kiss my grits. I don't have to like seeing that kind of stuff just because gay people and the PC Police say that, suddenly, anyone who doesn't like to see man-on-man sex 'has a problem.' Ridiculous.

But even if I was neutral on homosexual behavior, I would still question why that was chosen as the way to sour the deal rather than the 999,999 other ways it could have been soured. The sad thing is that the writing is damn good, so people want to watch, then this gets thrown in their face (so to speak). If that doesn't spell G-A-Y A-G-E-N-D-A O-V-E-R-K-I-L-L I don't know what does.

Catherine

Jeez, Dude. Take off your caps lock.

Catherine

You are missing the point completely — Joe is not gay. He seduced Lulu's husband as a last-ditch way to sabotage the deal. This shows how ruthless Joe is, that he will stop at nothing to win.
I love this show. Very smartly written and well acted.

ABC123

I agree with Hikers. 96.3 % of the American population is heterosexual and AMC's marketing dept. should have known better to cater to the masses. I won't be watching and AMC's advertisers will respond by pulling out after they see the Nielsen viewer ratings plummet.

Hikers

This show just lost me last night. I turned it off after the gay scene and will not return. Sorry, but two guys making out is not my type of entertainment. This show started out great until last night, then turned 180. Bad move AMC…

LUKE

Joe is too ambitious, will do what it takes to get what he wants. It's ain't much a question of his sexuality rather a question of his underlying drives. A pervasive pattern of self-inflation, pseudo-confidence, exhibitionism, and strivings to pan out, that compensates for his feelings of inadequacy and overtly narcissistic behaviors [that] derive from an underlying sense of insecurity and weakness.

jay

Ben, you're completely off-base. He wanted to sleep with Cameron both times, but it wasn't enough for him until she practically begged for it. He wanted to screw Travis, too, but his reasons for both were for one purpose: control. He knew it would kill Lou Lou to take him away from her so easily. And he knows that Cameron needs him, probably more as a father figure than anything else. His appetites are secondary to his singular focus on getting what he wants. Which, I'm going to call as vengeance against his IBM daddy.

Demarcus

I loved this episode. And btw, there's a subtle, yet present homophobia in this review.

John

Absolutely loved the show until that "GAY" turn of events; now Absolutely DONE with the show; will never watch another episode…….AMC screwed the pooch big time with that kind of "cheap trick"….

Tris

Why can't the writers be creative without resorting to such drivel. Wanted to like this show. Did like this show. What a waste of talent. Blah.

Chris

Dude, Joe had sex with the blonde girl in the second scene in the very first episode.

SAGE

Enjoyed at first, had potential, turned me off, and I turned it off, I am outta there.

Curtis

I work in the high tech industry for over 30 years and I have been a student of its history. I have read much of Robert X. Cringely's material including his infoworld articles. It got to the point where that was the only item I read in infoworld was when I opened to the back of the publication, read his article, and then threw the thing away. So I started watching this series and somewhat enjoyed it, but wondered how long it would be good. So while watching "High Plains Hardware", when Joe starts picking up on the guy getting the drinks, I thought, "does every show out there think they have to have some kind of a gay message?". I am sure that many points in society where this happens, but do not plan on inviting this into my home. The series just ended as far as I am concerned. I will not return to it. The "Turn" series made a reference to the same thing, except in this case they just referenced a British officer having a gay relationship with another British soldier. It was not a pronounced, so I am still watching it. I am sure that relationships like this existed centuries ago, but call me a prude, I don't want to watch it or have anything to do with it, so I will not be watching this show any longer.

claudia

After all, in "High Plains Hardware" he asks Cameron if he "has to come down there," when she complains about being stuck. He doesn't want to sleep with her then, and he definitely doesn't want to when she shows up at his apartment later for a booty call. <- to me, it looked like he DID want to sleep with her, at least on the phone. If the whole mystery is just about him being gay I'll be very disappointed. I'm hoping for something more extreme. It seems he's bisexual but more in the sense that he'll sleep with anyone he has to, more then anyone he wants to. That seduction of Travis was just business as usual, but then again, I´m pretty sure it wasn't his 1st time with a man.

Jax Teller

Yeah, I think the writer of the article above is really imagining things when the situation is very clear like Tyler said. You see the situation with that woman who has this sort of strong exterior & respect that she probably took some time cultivating, and her boy toy is part of that. Joe is repulsed by the idea of being financial partners with this woman, and just to spite her, he makes out with the boy toy (who was obviously gay) and all of that is conveyed in that look when Joe returns to the room.

Brilliant stuff.

Bob

These questions and many others will be answered on the next episode of Soap.

BYPASS

I'll give this show a few more episodes, but it feels a bit like a sales pitch for a product that doesn't exist. Of course, in a way, that could be what the plot turns out to be. If so, then I'll consider it to be brilliant.

Fred

Funny how quickly all your interest in a show can dry up and blow away. See ya….

Tyler

I thought it was pretty obvious that he just did this to gain leverage over the invested to make her back out of the deal. Joe is the type of guy willing to do whatever it takes to get his way and this showed that. His sexuality matters zero in this case.

james

well, i thought it was outstanding, best TV i've seen in ages

W Pratt

Not watching the show again.

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