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Halt and Catch Fire, Ep. 1.07, “Giant” gets strange and livens things up

Halt and Catch Fire, Ep. 1.07, “Giant” gets strange and livens things up

HACF 107

Halt and Catch Fire, Season 1, Episode 7: “Giant”
Directed by Jon Amiel
Written by Jamie Pachino
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on AMC

On this episode of Halt and Catch Fire we get the return of Susan Fairchild, Donna’s kick-ass alter ego. Not only can Susan recover (allegedly) lost programming code, her talents include some professional level piano playing and a glorious misread of flirty signals from her boss. Susan is fun, spontaneous, and intelligent without taking herself too seriously. She isn’t afraid to make mistakes or too proud to learn from them. At its very best, Halt and Catch Fire is a little like Ms. Fairchild. It tells a story about computer programmers and software engineers swiftly and confidently, adding humor, some melodrama, and more than a little weirdness to a potentially dry subject. This good version of Halt and Catch Fire, the Susan version, has only been seen sporadically over the past seven weeks. Too often the show is bogged down by misplaced ambitions, trying to manufacture meaning and depth that just isn’t there. But slowly, tentatively, the ratio of Susan to Donna seems to be on the upswing.

First I’d like to congratulate Halt and Catch Fire on not making Joe’s tactical gay hookup several episodes ago a one-off shocker never to be mentioned again. In ‘Giant’, Joe’s male ex-lover Simon, a product designer, comes to Dallas to pitch Cardiff on a sleek look for its nascent PC. Cameron senses sexual tension between the two men, and Joe opens up to her about their former relationship. Of course it takes some suspension of disbelief to buy that a self-identified straight man in 1980s Texas – particularly someone as guarded and secretive as Joe McMillan – would so casually admit to a homosexual relationship, especially to his co-worker/almost girlfriend. But it’s heartening that the show is making Joe’s bisexuality part of his character rather than a symptom of his coldness or ambition. Too often on TV and in film male sexual fluidity is shorthand for untrustworthiness, depravity, and even sociopathy. A man who has sex with both men and women must not be able to feel real love for anybody. If the gender of his partners is so unimportant his desires must be purely physical. But the introduction of Simon, clunky though some of his scenes are, allows Lee Pace his first chance to demonstrate that Joe does have feelings for someone. And it is refreshing, though not entirely believable, that Joe’s inability to form serious relationships stems from a general fear of commitment rather than the typical gay self –loathing.

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It’s just too bad that the revelation about Joe’s past does nothing to make his current relationship with Cameron any more interesting. Cameron started off the series an unapologetically sexual woman unconcerned with finding a boyfriend. And though the male fantasy of the “girl who just wants to screw” is itself problematic, it’s preferable to the Cameron of late, crying alone in a taxi and nervously asking Joe if “you’re going to get bored of me.” If the writers had spent some more time laying the groundwork of Cameron’s developing feelings for Joe, and if Mackenzie Davis and Pace had even a little bit of chemistry, the arc of two jaded, relationship averse people falling in love despite themselves could be compelling. But right now it’s the weakest element of the show and needs to end.

Gordon is at his house for much of this episode, drinking too much beer and telling his daughters mind-numbing bedtime stories about giants and PT Barnum. Gordon has been the least predictable character throughout the series. At times he’s been the voice of the status quo, battling Joe and Cameron’s more radical ideas at work, and thwarting Donna’s attempts to share the chores and childrearing responsibilities at home. He’s Halt and Catch Fire’s most conservative element but also its most unhinged. There have been hints of mental instability all season: his drunken night in jail in the pilot and his Cabbage Patch Kid fiasco last week indicate a man who’s on the precipice of a nervous breakdown. Tonight he really loses it, manically digging a hole in his backyard in the middle of the night muttering about giants and contrails. Scoot McNairy is an actor with great nervous intensity and the look Gordon gives Donna when she finds him outside is legitimately unsettling. There are only three episodes left. Let’s hope things stay freaky.

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Other thoughts:

Yes, we all know what “I’m sick” means when coming out of the mouth of a gay man in 1983, but would Joe (or anybody outside the gay community) have even heard of AIDS at this point?

The electrocution foreplay scene was totally absurd and not a bit sexy. And yet this show needs to be doing more weird stuff like that.

I apologize for my previous loathing of all things Hunt. Tonight he acted like a complete gentleman.

Was anyone else psyched to see the return of Cameron’s gutter punk friend, truckstop Carey Mulligan?

This John Bosworth getting divorced subplot is coming out of nowhere, right?

There’s nowhere like a gallery opening in Dallas, Texas to have a good old-fashioned champagne meltdown. Bravo Cameron.