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Halt and Catch Fire Review: This Show's Gimmicks Are Growing Tired

Elizabeth Harper | 13 Jun 2014 12:00
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Episode 2 brings more of the same... but are good performances from the lead actors enough to make up for the repetitive technobabble?

Last week on Halt and Catch Fire we saw Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) maneuvering everyone else into place so the he could push Cardiff Electric, his new employer, into building a clone of the IBM PC. He's formed his dream team of the rebellious Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) and Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy). Unfortunately, IBM's none too happy about this and they've sent in a fleet of lawyers to try to shut the project down... but Joe has a plan to outsmart them.

This week's episode features more prescient technobabble, plenty of office politics, and Joe wrecking havoc on an electronics store for no apparent reason. This latter seems to be a theme with Joe, who last episode smashed up his apartment when he was frustrated. Though some of the shine is starting to wear off of the premise - and some of the drama feels exaggerated - it's worth watching for the solid performances of the main cast... and I still have hopes that the show might be heading somewhere good in future episodes. However, it's probably not the best hour of TV you'll watch this week.

If you want to catch up before reading this review, Halt and Catch Fire airs on AMC Sundays at 10/9c and you can stream the most recent episode on AMC's website. Now, on to dismantling the episode.

The story opens where last week's left off: an army of IBM lawyers has defended on the Cardiff Electric offices, posturing and threatening. Joe, however, is confident, and in his usual smarmy fashion tells them they have nothing on Cardiff and may as well go home. (Spoiler: this does not happen.)

Once the lawyers are gone, it's time to get talking about what they're going to build - which feels a bit late considering they've already told IBM they're building it. Joe writes on a whiteboard "2 X FAST, 1/2 PRICE" and noisily recaps his pen to punctuate what he feels is clearly very important point. And here's the conflict: Gordon says it's impossible while Cameron thinks it isn't nearly audacious enough. Computers, she pronounces, should have photorealistic screens and be able to beat her at chess - and the audience knows she's on to something there, but everyone else thinks she's nuts. "So we're just building another boring beige box?" Cameron asks. But even the conflict seems to please Joe, who walks off with a self-satisfied grin. After all, they're at least actively engaged in solving the problem, even if this does mean a technobabble-filled argument.

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Once they get down to business, Cameron is separated from Gordon and the rest - the deal is she has to develop the BIOS on her own without seeing the product of Gordon's reverse-engineering. While she works, a lawyer babysits her to make sure there are no outside influences. Cameron doesn't fit here - though considering what we've seen of her so far, it's possible she wouldn't fit in anywhere. While everyone else is straight-laced and formally dressed, she wears camo pants and t-shirts and sleeps on her office floor at the end of the day. She couldn't be more out of place, which is perhaps one reason she's starting to have doubts about her new gig. IBM's lawyers taunted her by saying Cardiff only needed her to finish this project and would then let her go and considering that no one seems to trust her or even like her - even though she's crucial to the project - her position seems awfully uncertain.

Joe, meanwhile, is announced as Senior Product Manager of Cardiff's new Personal Computer Division. He hasn't been here for long, but his plans already seem to be coming together nicely. He gives a big speech about his rules for the new PC division in which he says he wants them all to have a lot of fun and make a lot of money. It's a speech that could have been cribbed entirely from Wall Street, but since that wasn't released until 1987 the words must sound new to him.... even though they seem less than revolutionary to us.

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