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Halt and Catch Fire, Ep. 1.04, “Close to the Metal” offers little hope for improvement

Halt and Catch Fire, Ep. 1.04, “Close to the Metal” offers little hope for improvement

HACF104

Halt and Catch Fire, Season 1, Episode 4: “Close to the Metal”
Directed by Johan Renck
Written by Jonathan Lisco
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on AMC

While “Close to the Metal” doesn’t contain anything as bizarre as last week’s random same sex dinner party hook-up, it continues Halt and Catch Fire’s pattern of lengthy exposition, clunky dialogue, and extreme, unmotivated emotional swings. These characters are looking increasingly out of their depth week by week, and any sane person would have little faith that Cardiff can actually produce the magical PC they promise.

Joe, who has been trading on his charm and confidence to make up for his lack of engineering knowledge, seems completely tripped up by a visit from a reporter from ‘The Wall Street Quarterly,’ a publication that the internet tells me is totally made up. He tries to charm this journalist, an odious man who speaks like he has a personality disorder and a Raymond Chandler fetish, to get him to write a puff-piece about Cardiff’s PC project. In previous episodes Joe was able to talk his way into anything, but here he is tongue-tied and borderline unintelligible, making terrible jokes about programmers (they’re just machines for turning pizzas into code!) and trying unsuccessfully to sell his company’s underdog status as a story worth writing. The reporter is about to leave, so Joe tells his secretary Debbie (the delightful Bianca Malinowski) to get Cameron out of her workstation for a few minutes. This “Joe MacMillan has a secret plan” moment is telegraphed so broadly that the bulk of the rest of the episode and all the drama that unfolds is drained of any tension.

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The series of events that follow depict Cardiff as a deeply inept company unable to deal with any setbacks without outside help. The show completely sells out Cameron, once its most promising character, by making her both a careless programmer and an emotional basket case. When her BIOS is seemingly erased, Cameron lashes out at a janitor, cries a lot, walks away without trying to fix things, and then acts completely childish to the woman who is trying to help her. Any one or two of these reactions might have added some layers to her character, continuing to puncture the bubble of “cool genius programmer prodigy” we were introduced to in the pilot. But everything together, and the fact that she never for a moment questioned the assertion that the data was actually lost, depicts her as incompetent and not deserving of her job.

While the writers drag Cameron through the mud, they are beginning to deify Donna, the other major female character on Halt and Catch Fire. It’s obvious that they are making a conscious effort to bring Donna into the main action, and not reduce her to a roadblock in Gordon’s journey. AMC’s two most famous wives, Betty Draper and Skyler White, have been less than popular with certain segments of their shows’ viewership, and have been perceived at times as shrill killjoys thwarting their husbands’ genius. But for the most part this has been a false reading of those characters, saying more about the sexism of the viewer than anything else. Skyler and Betty might not be the warmest, most nurturing women ever to be depicted on television, but they’ve always seemed like real people. Donna, though beautifully played by Kerry Bishé, is turning into a male fantasy. She constantly forgives her husband’s selfishness, encourages his pipe dreams, raises his daughters, and is “the only” data retrieval specialist who can recover Cameron’s files.

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Of course, in a last act “twist,” we learn that those files were never lost at all. Joe switched out Cameron’s disk for some blanks in order to manufacture a story for the loathsome ‘Wall Street Quarterly’ journalist. The real question is, why would Joe want an article written about Cardiff depicting them as crisis ridden amateurs that don’t know how to press ‘Control S’ every once in a while? Even after Donna – pardon me, “Susan” – “saves the day”, isn’t no publicity at all better than this type of publicity? Perhaps, but then the writers would have had to figure out a more organic way to bring Donna to Cardiff, to show Cameron’s vulnerabilities, and to once again try to prove to viewers that Joe MacMillan is the smartest guy in the room. In the last scene, Donna asks Gordon if they were “wasting my whole day with a massive fake drama”. For us at least, they’ve only wasted an hour.

Other thoughts:

Something good about this show: the opening credits.

Do not tease the prospect of Annette O’Toole and then have her “in Vegas” for an entire episode.

The weird neighbor guy who Gordon fired is not going away… Something dumb is going to happen.

How old was that sandwich when Cameron finally ate it?

I love Kerry Bishé but even she couldn’t sell the terrible “your code is like a piece of music” line.

Last week they killed a bird, this week they shot a horse. Next week I predict an entire episode of puppies drowning.

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