If you’re not watching Halt and Catch Fire, then are you really living?
I haven’t had a lot of time to catch up on new television this summer, but Halt and Catch Fire is one I’ve been fighting to find time to watch. When I do find the time, I’m enamored and amazed. This show is worth sitting down and binge watching, if you haven’t been paying attention.
What drew me in? Honestly, Lee Pace. I’ve had a thing for Lee Pace ever since Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies and my love for this tall, lanky man with strong eyebrow game has not yet ebbed or faded. The fact it is on AMC also helped, because while there are shows I’ll watch on Network television I’m finding I enjoy cable productions more. For me, the final draw was the fact it is a modern period drama. In other words, it is exploring the dynamics of relatively recent history.
So what’s this show about? Computers. It is about the 80’s, the tech boom, and the development of the laptop. On that alone I’m interested because I’m a bit of a tech nerd and I love to get a chance to see just how far we’ve come. In the series they’re struggling to produce a computer that is smaller, lighter, portable, and faster than anything anyone had seen at that point. It is weird to watch sometimes because I’m watching them struggle to break down a desktop computer into something smaller while I’m watching the show on an iPad.
The series follows the story of Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), a highly intelligent and slightly sociopathic business man with a vision. He wants to put IBM, the company he once worked for, to shame. To do it, he uses some shady business tactics and even goes so far as to break the law to get into a company called Cardiff Electric. Once he’s hired, and cements himself in as part of the company, he takes control and uses their resources to try and produce this magical PC he thinks can work.
What Joe MacMillan is not, though, is an engineer. He doesn’t know how to build the PC. He’s the guys who had to bring together the funding and market the thing, but ask him how to cool down a processor that is over-clocked and he won’t have a clue. So he enlists the help of a computer engineer by the name of Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), who is a timid, skittish kind of fellow. Next to Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan he looks absolutely microscopic, but comes into his own pretty quickly in the series as he realizes he is more capable than he thinks he is.
There is a third member of their team, a young woman named Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) who is tasked with writing the operating system. She’s the coder, Gordon’s the engineer, and Joe is the one making it all work under the watchful eye of John Bosworth (Toby Huss) who oversees everything at Cardiff Electric.
More than the history, the character dynamics are what keep me tuning in week after week. Joe is a storm unto himself. He’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a beautiful, tall, lanky body with a voice that convinces crowds to do whatever he tells them to. He flies by the seat of his pants and sometimes it leads him into trouble, but most of the time it gets him closer to his goal. Gordon is his opposite, in a lot of ways. He’s the grounding force in the trio because he’s the typical, American dream family man.
Gordon has a wife, who was also once in computer engineering, and two daughters. He has a life outside of the company and his work, while Joe does not. His family has a tendency to be a point of contention because Gordon has to struggle between meeting Joe’s expectations, being a part of something that could revolution the PC world, and being a good husband and father. If, as an audience member, I had to pick one character to relate to the most I would say Gordon is it. He’s the audience, insomuch that he’s got the relatively normal life that is being thrown off kilter by Joe’s storm.
Cameron is a storm like Joe, but of a different sort. She’s a young, counter-cultural woman of the 80’s who likes to drink, party, and do drugs. She has no family that the viewers are made aware of, no ties to the community, and she’s ultimately a drifter. Joe finds her in the pilot episode in an arcade messing with one of the machines and tries to get her to join him. Two self-destructive people usually equals a disaster and at first, they implode. However, he eventually convinces her to join the team and she brings a lot of baggage with her.
However, out of the three I think Cameron is probably the most interesting. Maybe I’m biased because I am always interested in the dynamics between men and women in past decades, but I think she’s a key character even though she’s getting some flack. She’s a perfect picture of anti-conformity. She refuses to sit back and let men rule the day. When Joe or Gordon get in her face she gets right back in theirs, and the contrast between her and the other women in the series is interesting.
She is a force to be reckoned with and I think she’s relevant to today’s continued struggle for women in the computer industry. The world thinks she should settle in and be a secretary, or do reports, or anything else other than code and she gives the world a big middle finger. I like Cameron. She’s really crazy, but you sort of have to be in order to get noticed in what was still very much a man’s world.
The cinematography on this show isn’t anything to brag about. My vision is a bit colored because of shows like Hannibal, but I don’t have anything to really say. I watch this show for the characters. The rest of the show allows the characters to shine and I think that’s important in a modern period drama. It isn’t specifically about the 80’s as much as it is about people working in computers in the 80’s and the backdrop of the show doesn’t distract from that. There are some beautiful sets, though, and it is a pleasure to watch.
In the end, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire is definitely a summer show everyone should be tuning into. It is a wild ride and I imagine it is only going to get better from here. If nothing else, watch it for Lee Pace’s eyebrows. They are worth it.