The second episode of AMC’s new Halt and Catch Fire is all about taking a step back from the slick personas laid down last week and evaluating their repercussions. After things came together a little too easily in the pilot, after we were introduced to transparent characters and borderline eye-rolling plot developments, we’re now taking a look at what’s really going on at Cardiff Electric. The golden trio has to come to grips with the reality that their games affect other people – including themselves.
It didn’t take long for Joe MacMillan’s smooth façade to give way, and nearly everyone at the office gets a taste of that comedown. Far from the cringe-worthy “has it all” businessman of “I/O,” this Joe throws temper tantrums and offers sob stories and kicks over a lot of machinery. “You were just pretending,” Gordon tells him after things start going sour at Cardiff Electric. “You’re like one of those guys who goes out and reads The Catcher in the Rye too many times and then decides to shoot a Beatle — only in this story, I’m the Beatle.”
Everything that’s going downhill for the company – the loss of clients, the legal woes, the webs of lies – it’s all because of Joe and his cocky naiveté. This week, he needs more than just flashy speeches to make up for it. These are cold, hard problems that an “idea person” like Joe can’t solve with rehearsed monologues and drama, and he doesn’t do very well with shouldering that kind of blame. And if that’s not enough trouble for our leading man, he’s got some more coming. A briefcase-toting IBM exec shows up at Joe’s doorstep and delivers the classic threat: just wait until they find out what you really are. It’s such a tired threat that I’m finding it difficult to even care what Joe’s deep, dark secret is – can’t we just move on with the parts of the story that we haven’t ripped from decades of television?
For all of the scuffles and outbursts in “FUD,” Joe’s last is the one that’s supposed to make the biggest impact. After he and Gordon tackle each other in the parking lot, Joe’s shirt is conveniently ripped straight down the middle to reveal a badly scarred torso. With tearful melodrama, Joe explains to Gordon and Cameron that he was chased off a roof as a 9-year-old for being too wrapped up in Sputnik to care about the Giants vs. Colts game. Gordon eats it up without much question, but Cameron notes later that the game occurred a full year after Sputnik went up. So, the sob story is a load of crap, just like the rest of Joe’s act. He probably got those scars pushing over a stereo.
Halt and Catch Fire’s second episode is somewhat more self-aware than the pilot, and the actors’ performances are still solid as ever. The script remains incredible trite at times and there are too many characters whose trajectories are still utterly dull (Gordon’s wife, John Bosworth, etc.) but the show genuinely seems like it’s getting on its feet rather than slumping downwards.
Photo Credit: AMC