Halt and Catch Fire, Ep. 1.06, ‘Landfall’ never picks up speed

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Halt and Catch Fire, Season 1, Episode 6: “Landfall”
Directed by Larysa Kondracki
Written by Zack Whedon
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on AMC

If last week’s Halt and Catch Fire built up some momentum by focusing on the show’s strengths – computer talk and over-the-top drama – this episode drains the life out of itself by keeping those things to a minimum. Instead we get lots of character exploration and symbolism. “Landfall” opens on Joe and Cameron in bed, never a good sign. She asks him about his scars, and he lies, and she knows he’s lying. Great. We already know Joe is a liar, and we still don’t learn the truth about his scars until the final scene. Apparently this story, about his mother doing drugs and letting go of him on a roof so he falls three stories into a fence, is the truthful, correct story. A sad anecdote about Joe’s childhood dragged out for six episodes, and for what?  So Joe becomes sympathetic? We don’t need Joe to be sympathetic, we need him to be brilliant and charismatic. That’s what makes a compelling television character.

What’s becoming so frustrating about this show is how neatly every plotline ties up and how convenient all the symbolism is. Every action a character takes does not need to be loaded with meaning. It’s fine that Cameron gets the idea for a “computer with soul” from her weird stuffed animal (that we’ve never seen before and will probably never seen again). But does the toy have to come with a back-story about her dead father? And I understand why Gordon needs to be late coming home from his Cabbage Patch Kid scavenger hunt; this allows Joe to be seen acting human around Donna and the kids. But the hurricane and the broken window, and especially the electrocuted dead lady, is too much metaphor with too little meaning. It would be refreshing to see some of these little character moments as just asides without having everything so drenched in theme. The writers and actors haven’t yet succeeded in making their characters compelling enough on their own, so every attempt at subtext comes across as heavy-handed and inorganic.

The one intriguing argument “Landfall” presents is pushed to the side soon after it’s introduced. Cameron has the risky but original idea to create an operating system that talks to the consumer like a human being. This plan would slow Cardiff’s computers down and drive up costs, but might compel a segment of the population who doesn’t buy computers – a pretty big percentage in the early ‘80s – to think about purchasing one. Gordon thinks that their machines will sell simply by being faster and cheaper copies of its competitors’ products, not by being innovative. Both Cameron and Gordon make valid points, and this seems like an actual conversation tech companies would have. But the writers aren’t interested in showing the characters debate. Cameron likes her idea because it “has soul” and Gordon doesn’t like it because he didn’t think of it. Their arguments are reduced to their personality traits rather than their philosophies. And after Cameron convinces Joe to go along with her plan, the storyline is dropped. Apparently, a Cabbage Patch Kid shortage is more interesting.

Another avenue Halt and Catch Fire never quite takes is exploring what it’s like to be a woman working in an industry dominated by men. Again, the premise has tons of potential. Cameron Howe is a woman who is both the most talented programmer at the company and someone who is sleeping with her boss. But so far, the only repercussions she has faced have been a few sniggers from the male programmers and a soft warning from Bosworth. Cameron seems to have no qualms about her ongoing relationship with Joe. She’s only concerned that he shows some emotion, not that they are undermining her career (not his – no one will fault a man who sleeps with a pretty coworker) by continuing to see each other.  And after a couple of episodes allowing Donna to play a major role at Cardiff, she’s again being sidelined at home. Every time Cameron interacts with Donna both characters come alive in a way they’re unable to being the only woman in the room. But Donna is either stuck with her daughters or talking to her terrible boss at Texas Instruments. Both actresses deserve much better than this show.

Other thoughts:

Don’t those toy shortages only happen around Christmas? It’s hurricane season!

How long is Joe standing around at Donna’s house before she offers to open that wonderful bottle of wine he brought?

I can’t even begin to describe how stupid Gordon is for buying a fake Cabbage Patch Kid for $80. At least that brick came in handy.

“You’re the future. Ain’t nothing scarier than that.”

Debbie, meet Lev. Lev, this is Debbie. You two would make a very cute couple.

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