Halt and Catch Fire Review: The Supporting Cast Gets Some of the Limelight

halt and catch fire ep3 donna

Donna, John, and other supporting cast members steal the show from the main characters this week.

Halt and Catch Fire reminds me of nothing so much as the line in The Avengers where Bruce Banner tells everyone “We’re not a team, we’re a time bomb.” I just can’t shake that line from my head when watching Joe’s dysfunctional team trying — without much success, so far — to put together their own clone of an IBM PC. Who would have thought to put these characters in a room together, much less task them with working collaboratively to accomplish a goal?

The only saving grace the HCF team has is that at least if they fail the whole world’s not on the line… and we can enjoy marveling at their drama in the meanwhile. Last week, we saw everyone take their first steps towards working together, which involved a lot of seemingly unnecessary shouting — but building a PC clone is high-stakes business, and with their jobs on the line, everyone’s under a lot of stress. The result was a muddle of an episode where characters seemed to bounce from one extreme to another, reality TV style.

Fortunately, this week’s offering was better — due in large part to strong performances by the show’s supporting cast, who helped round out the craziness of the Joe/Gordon/Cameron triumvirate. The conflict between the main characters is minimized this episode, as they hardly interact — Cameron’s isolating himself, Joe’s busy trying to line up new funding, and Gordon’s hard at work on the PC hardware — which means we get to see all of them interacting with secondary characters we haven’t seen much of before. Taking a moment to step back from Joe’s plan to spend some time with Donna in the kitchen or some time with John in his office gives the show some breathing room that it doesn’t have when it runs the entire duration at the breakneck pace of Joe’s maneuvering. This week’s episode was solidly good television and sets the stage for more participation by the show’s ensemble cast… which, as much as I enjoy watching Lee Pace monopolize the camera, is a good thing.

If you haven’t caught this week’s episode, you can watch it online at AMC’s website — or tune in to AMC on Sunday at 10/9c to catch the latest live. Now, on to talk about episode 3 in depth.

We’re greeted by each of our main characters going through their morning routine. Gordon is carpooling into the office with a coworker, Cameron is woken up by janitors vacuuming, and Joe is… naked in his apartment, looking over several computers to a decidedly 80s soundtrack. Why is Joe naked? It’s probably better not to ask, just to take what limited enjoyment can be had from Lee Pace’s darkened silhouette.

At the office, corners are starting to be cut: the day starts out with Gordon attempting to fire a soon-to-be-former co-worker. “It’s not your fault. It’s no one’s fault,” he explains. But we know — and Gordon knows, too — that it’s kind of his fault. Meanwhile, Joe is berating the remaining engineers by complaining that a 28-pound computer isn’t portable enough. In this episode’s dose of Joe randomly destroying things, he kicks a bulky computer off a table. Maybe this proves his point that computers are too large: if it were smaller, it would have been harder to kick. Or maybe Joe just likes breaking things, which is becoming a strong possibility.

halt and catch fire ep3 donna and gordon

Joe waves a briefcase in front of the assembled workers, explaining they’re aiming for no more than 15 pounds — which everyone says is impossible. “It’s ambitious,” he counters. No one in the room is happy and bickering about their recently-fired coworkers ensues. They do eventually start working together in space they dub “the kill room,” figuring they’re either going to wind up killing themselves or killing one another in order to make this work. They work into the night, with Gordon and his carpooling buddy calling it a day well after dark. Gordon’s coworker is the team’s negative Nancy, suggesting they can’t make this work with the time and resources they have — and Gordon finally agrees.

However, at home Gordon continues working on the problem while sitting at the kitchen table with his wife, Donna. Though Donna hasn’t gotten much attention so far, she’s not just another clueless woman, as all of the women at the Cardiff offices seem to be — she worked with Gordon on his last computer project and is currently working at Texas Instruments. And she proves instrumental here when she looks over Gordon’s designs and, attacking them with a pen, comes up with a solution. Hey, maybe if they’d let a woman into their design room they could have figured this out earlier instead of declaring it impossible!

Though when Gordon presents the idea to the team the following morning, Donna gets no credit — Gordon says he came up with it at his kitchen table. But still, this bit of brilliance on Donna’s part opens the door for her to be a more central character as the show moves forward. However, despite this breakthrough, the resident negative Nancy rears his head again, saying there’s no way they’ll be able to mass produce a completely unique type of board. Gordon, who seems to have nothing in the way of a backbone, agrees and says he’ll talk to Joe. But when he goes to Joe’s office he only lingers outside before turning around and marching back… the first sign that Gordon is maybe, just maybe coming into his own.

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At the end of the day Gordon is on his way home, carpooling with that same negative Nancy who’s talking incessantly while Gordon stares out the window in thought. Surprise: our driver is spending his time talking when he should be watching the road. Remember to drive safe, kids. They’re sideswiped by an oncoming car, sending them spinning. Gordon, with blood dripping down his face, looks dazed while his coworker starts laying blame on the trees that reduce nearby visibility. Though it’s apparently taken a car wreck to help Gordon find a backbone, he tells his coworker that he’s fired and gets out of the car and walks away — it’s the best (and definitely the most confident) management decision he’s made so far.

While Gordon’s busy with hardware, Joe’s spending his day trying to line up new money for the ailing Cardiff with a New York venture capitalist. Joe’s boss, John, unhappy at being cut out of the prospect sinks the deal by cutting into Joe’s practiced sales pitch by laying on some over-the-top southern charm, explaining that Cardiff might not have the financials but it has heart and can-do Texas spirit — which may be true, but doesn’t sell the VC. Head honcho Nathan Cardiff has to break up this turf war, asserting that while Joe is the vision guy, John makes the financial decisions… and both Nathan and John want to talk to a local investor, Lulu.

halt and catch fire ep3 lulu

Lulu, it turns out, is not willing to give them what they want. At a dinner party, she offers terms that are poor enough Joe tells John they’d be better off going to a bank or selling to Tandy — but John is still keen on the deal and, after Joe tells Lulu off, saying she’s a “bored poisonous dilettante with time on her hands and no taste,” John makes the deal anyway. But, of course, Joe has to get his way… which, in an unexpected move, he does by seducing Lulu’s boyfriend. We see the two of them kissing enthusiastically before Joe tugs off his jacket, sending us to a commercial break. You can use your imagination to guess where the scene went from there… which is just what Lulu did when Joe and her boy-toy returned together.

No surprise: the deal is off… which, coincidentally, is just what Joe wanted. Yep, Joe is just that cold and calculating. He argues about the bombed deal with John — who hasn’t the faintest idea as to what’s just happened — while his very recent lover looks on from the house window behind. Could Joe get any scummier? Surely the show will find a way.

Meanwhile, Cameron, who’s spent most of the episode hiding in her self-made office and avoiding everyone makes a brief appearance after everyone’s fired to liberate supplies — including a pair of bowling shoes — from people’s now-abandoned desks. Though we see her working away, she’s clearly frustrated. Joe calls her and asks if she needs help and, when she tries to brush him off, he says “Do I need to come down there?” It’s unclear whether this is a threat or an offer, but since Cameron turns him down we’ll never know.

When Cameron does emerge long after the rest of the office is gone, she runs into John while picking through his office thinking it was empty. “Are those Lloyd’s shoes?” he asks. “I heard money’s tight around here, I thought I’d switch off your light.” John, for his part, doesn’t buy it – but the two of them spend some time talking about work, and while it’s not exactly the friendliest conversation, John’s lack of outright hostility is very different from how we’ve seen anyone else interacting with Cameron. As she makes her escape, he notes she can work here as late as she likes, but can’t live here… I’m not sure if that’s meant to be a kindness or not, but it rather sounds like it. Maybe getting out of the office would do her some good?

halt and catch fire ep3 cameron

When Cameron finds her first paycheck on her desk in the morning, she heads out to buy junk food… and promptly makes some new friends. Or maybe “friends.” as they pestered her about whether she had any cash, I was momentarily worried they were going to mug her and the next hurdle our heroes would face would be finding Cameron dead behind a grocery store near the office. But it’s not that kind of show. Instead we find that Cameron has invited them to her new place, where they drink, dance, enjoy room service, and spend Cameron’s money. Though this might not have been the nudge Cameron needed, she scribbles on the bathroom mirror in lipstick, clearly taken by an idea… though she scratches it out again before leaving, her newly-made friends still enjoying themselves inside.

She arrives at Joe’s apartment, babbling tech talk. She’s stuck, she says, when Joe asks her why she’s here. She walks into the bedroom while peeling her shirt off, leaving Joe behind her staring. Though Joe’s getting a lot of action this episode, he wouldn’t know a healthy relationship if it hit him in the face. Sleeping with your co-workers, whom you’re manipulating into doing your bidding is pretty high on the list of creeper things that creepers do… but at least Cameron knows what she’s getting into.

So what’s coming up next? If the preview is to believed, more fighting, more drama, and more Donna — and that last one I’m definitely looking forward to.

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