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by Ben Travers
June 8, 2014 11:00 PM
6 Comments
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Review: 'Halt and Catch Fire' Tells a Fascinating Lie in Episode 2, But What Will Be Left When the Truth Comes Out?

Tina Rowden/AMC Lee Pace in "Halt and Catch Fire" on AMC

Three months (to the day) is a long time to wait for a show's second episode, but that's exactly what anyone who caught the SXSW screening of "Halt and Catch Fire" had to endure before Sunday night's episode, entitled "FUD." Plenty others had to wait weeks to catch the show's online preview, and even a seven day wait couldn't have been easy with so many questions thrown up in the air during our first introduction to Joe MacMillan, Cameron Howe, and co. Not many were answered during the anticipated episode two, but for now, it's a decision most certainly benefitting a show still waiting to define itself. 

Last week's (or March's) episode was focused on the Clark couple, reenergizing their marriage and their life. While it was easy to discuss MacMillan -- as it seems like it always will be -- Gordon and Donna went through the most change and made the most drastic decision of their lives to work with Joe on this new PC. This week, though, the couple takes a backseat to the will they/won't they drama of Joe and Cameron. Unlike most other male/female TV relationships, this isn't about whether or not they'll hook up. They've done that and discussed it again this week (did they have sex? Joe's temperament post-offer makes it unclear). Their drama lies in the workplace. Will they build something together, or tear each other apart?

For a moment, it certainly looked like the latter. Cameron continues to have trouble adjusting to her workplace, challenging it on every level from her outlandish wardrobe (the montage of of her trying on ridiculous '80s "work appropriate" outfits was amazing) to blasting rock music and drawing a dick and balls on the company attorney ("Barry. You've got balls on your face."). It doesn't help Joe has no idea what she's working on or if she's helping them at all. Separating her from Gordon may be a legal necessity -- and a romantic one, at least from Donna's point of view -- but seeing the engineer's 180 degree turnaround after viewing the young rebel's wall of brilliant gibberish makes you think they'll need to work together somehow.

Why Cameron is working there remains questionable. An offer for three times as much money from IBM has to be as alluring as Joe is alienating, especially when considering her negotiation in episode one. Yes, she wants to do something new. No, she doesn't want to work as a cog in a cubicle. But finding that happy balance has to be tricky, and the risks associated with Joe make her decision to stick around all the more interesting. It can't be as simple as "she's lost, confused, and too young to grasp the situation." She's proven herself as the brightest of the group, at least for now.

Tina Rowden/AMC Mackenzie Davis in "Halt and Catch Fire" on AMC

She's also the only one immune to Joe's charms, despite already sleeping with him (albeit so very briefly). While "FUD" featured a few key scenes -- the raid not being least among them -- Joe's sly reveal that his impassioned personal speech the night before was all a lie took the cake. In an episode with seemingly loads of exposition including the surprise that Joe's father works for IBM -- after the speech, it felt like too much -- creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers put the rug back under our feet after removing it without us noticing. It created mysterious strands missing from the episode until those last shocking seconds. What's the real story behind his scars? Why did Cameron stick around if she knew he was lying? How will Gordon react when he finds out?

These are the basic, immediate questions we'll wait for answers next week -- along with how Cardiff Electric plans to stay in business long enough for Joe and his team to build a PC -- but it's the questions behind these questions that are truly telling. Joe lied to keep his team in line, but how much was a lie and how much was him slipping out of character? We saw this week with the raid that not everything has been planned by the man painting himself as a mastermind. He couldn't have had that whole speech ready to go. He couldn't have made it all up on the spot...could he? 

Attentive viewers may have known something was up when Joe used his story of being chased off the roof as a direct metaphor for Gordon's early career misstep. It was too easy, but it doesn't mean the entirety of his speech was false. Call me an optimist, but I believed and still believe his final words, and I think Cameron does, too. "I thought that maybe we could do this precisely because we’re all unreasonable people and because progress depends on changing the world to fit us, not the other way around. I want to believe that. I must believe that."

Joe MacMillan is quickly becoming the most fascinating new character of 2014 (Vanessa Ives on "Penny Dreadful" is the only real rival), but will he continue to be once his secrets are exposed? The allusions to Don Draper continue as many were first hooked by "Mad Men" when wondering who Dick Whitman was, only to still stick around once we and everyone in the story found out. There was more to him than his secrets. So far, MacMillan hasn't proven the same, but his magnificently devious demeanor makes me willing to wait and find out. 

Grade: B+

6 Comments

  • Scott | June 11, 2014 3:44 PMReply

    @Art, when you do a clean room rewrite of something, you need very accurate specs of what the original did. Thus you have to have an engineer extract and analyze the BIOS and create a specification document exactly describing its behavior, but not its implementation details. This document is then "thrown over the wall" to an engineer or team who has never seen the original, and they build a new system that duplicates the specified behavior of the original, without having seen the original. This is a method, supported by case law, that gets around copyright issues. The entire thing will fall apart badly though if any engineer on the implementation team ever saw the original. Anything in their new system that is very similar to the old will be interpreted by the courts as a copyright violation. If they haven't ever seen the original though, and are working from a spec without low level implementation details, copyright violation is not presumed if code looks similar since it is instead a case of stumbling into the most obvious way to do something.

    When these cases go to court, and they often do, it is absolutely critical that the company can prove that their clean room team had absolutely no access to the original design, or even conversations with those who have, and was only working from specs and nothing else.

  • Art Carnage | June 10, 2014 9:02 PMReply

    Why has no one questioned the very existence of the Binder Of Doom? Why did they bother to hand-decode the BIOS, transcribe it (twice! first to paper and then into digital form), and print it out, so that the only person it could help, can never look at? It's completely insane and illogical.

  • lurkercel | June 10, 2014 7:41 PMReply

    i love the show. .

  • Pen | June 10, 2014 12:11 AMReply

    The protagonist looks too much like Alan Partidge to be taken seriously. Sorry.

  • Chaws | June 9, 2014 11:42 AMReply

    While I enjoyed the episode immensely, I'm hoping I don't clearly see any more sound people's arms and wires in the frames of shots moving forward. I don't know how that slipped by in editing.

  • Ronnie D. | June 8, 2014 11:39 PMReply

    Never heard of this show.