Joe MacMillan has lots of secrets. Last week it was revealed that he disappeared after quitting IBM and wasn’t seen for over a year. This week scars are revealed, literal scars all over his torso, which are uncovered after Gordon tears off his shirt in the middle of a fistfight. While this revelation primarily calls into question Gordon’s unorthodox fighting technique, it also prompts Joe to improvise a story about how, as a nine-year-old, he was mercilessly bullied for being way too excited about Sputnik and was pushed/fell off a roof. Which gave him these scars. And made him miss the greatest football game of all time.
This preposterous monologue comes at the end of another fast-paced, engaging, exposition heavy episode of Halt And Catch Fire, and if it ended right there I might have switched over to the Tony Awards and conveniently forgot I ever agreed to review this garbage. But the show (or at least the characters on the show) seem to be aware of how bad a liar Joe is. Earlier in the episode Gordon catches him plagiarizing a pep talk by Steve Jobs. And the morning after his bare-chested soliloquy, Cameron calls him on his bullshit – Sputnik and that football game happened a year apart, duh – and Joe doesn’t even bother to deny it. Cameron’s immediate bursting of whatever mystique Joe’s been trying to cultivate makes it clear that Halt and Catch Fire is not trying to manufacture a Don Draper 2.0.
Mad Men learned quickly that the mysteries of Don’s past were very much not the most interesting part of their show, so I hope we can get to the bottom of Joe’s scars and IBM rumspringa quickly, preferably next week, and all move on with our lives. Because there are lots of exciting things about this show, and most of them have to do with computers and coding and that all that dorky stuff that I am deeply unqualified to write about. It’s tough, because like in the pilot, the characters are almost constantly explaining to each other (but really to the viewers) what is happening at Cardiff Electric and the tech industry in general. The dialogue is ungainly, and unlike certain premium cable fantasy shows, AMC doesn’t have the luxury of cloaking its exposition in breasts and butts. So we’re left with Cameron offhandedly clearing up what the acronym BIOS stands for, and everyone going over one more time how exactly they’re preventing IBM from suing Cardiff. It’s not graceful, but all that handholding might be necessary for the first few episodes. The three main characters are all really passionate about something very specific that the average television viewer knows nothing about. The writers need to trust that showing them doing that work is exciting enough without feeling the need to explain every detail.
All the performances continue to be impressive. The actors are taking what are still relatively broadly sketched character types and injecting them with nuance and personality beyond what’s on the page. Lee Pace and Mackenzie Davis have a great antagonistic chemistry, though their sexual relationship continues to be unconvincing. And while Gordon and Joe’s feelings toward each other seem to vacillate between cautious trust and outright loathing every ten minutes, both characters are so wounded one can almost buy scenes like that ridiculous parking lot wrestling match. Kerry Bishé is making the most of her limited screen time, and she and Scoot McNairy are doing a wonderful job conveying their loving but complicated relationship. Unlike the tedium of Joe’s mystery past, Gordon and Donna’s history is legitimately intriguing, and the hints about Gordon’s possible alcoholism and infidelity serve to deepen their relationship, rather than build a mystery for mystery’s sake. Even John Bosworth felt like a human being this week, and each of Toby Huss’s scenes was stellar and a little heartbreaking.
The biggest question about Halt and Catch Fire continues to be: what is the show actually about? They build a PC, then what? The first two episodes have been so focused on this process, and the mechanics of a small company trying to take on IBM, but this storyline would seem unable to sustain itself over the course of several seasons. Hopefully, the world of the show will continue to expand, and we’ll begin to see what type of show Halt and Catch Fire aspires to be.
Secretary Debbie is my new favorite character, and her shoulder pads are truly impressive.
Does any woman, even one as “cool” and “modern” as Cameron, like to clear her head by giving a random blowjob to a guy she doesn’t even like? (I think they need to hire a woman staff writer ASAP)
For a minute I thought nerdy accountant Alan was Vic the Dick from Orphan Black, but he is not.
If my father told me the same boring story of his favorite stupid football game every night while putting me to bed I would have called CPS on his ass.
Did the IBM guy mention something about Joe’s “old man”? Is Joe’s dad an executive at IBM? That both makes total sense and is really, really silly.
This week I’m posting from my mother’s house, and she is very pleased that Gordon is a Boz Scaggs fan.
Lee Pace’s eyebrows are almost as impressive as Debbie’s shoulder pads.