This week in Halt and Catch Fire: Everything is irreparably fucked up, forever! An AMC protagonist gets caught in a lie to his spouse! Mysterious past information is meted out in doses so controlled you'd swear someone ran TV drama sabermetrics to determine them! And everyone's angry at everyone, when they're not totally disgusted by them!
"FUD" picks up right where the pilot left off, with dozens of IBM lawyers redundantly standing around and glowering while our Mötley Crüe (80's reference!) more or less nail their monologues. Stymied by legality, IBM backs off, giving Joe the opportunity to reveal his plan for competing with IBM's PC: "2X FAST, 1/2 PRICE," a revelation kind of lowballed across the plate by cutting to credits immediately before its reveal (I wracked my brains to pin down what the goofiness of that reveal reminded me of, and it's a Goosebumps chapter cliffhanger).
Gordon's stunned, then intrigued by the challenge, but Cameron's disgusted: this isn't the lightning and thunder she was promised, and she believes in computers too damn much to just crank out another beige box. So there's an philosophical rift there about what computers are and could be and what they're meant to be and how we get them there, ostensibly one of the cornerstones of HACF, and it's so interesting to hear Gordon and Cameron go at each other about it with actual ideas instead of just empty rhetoric that I can finally ignore Joe grinning like a mask from The Purge for a little while.
(It just occurred to me that "2X FAST, 1/2 PRICE" might also be AMC's business model for Halt and Catch Fire. Or a really terrible Fast and Furious franchise entry.)
And of course, that's the moment Cameron is whisked away to her legally mandated, dubiously secured cleanroom, where, as a strong, independent woman, she don't need no man to build computer BIOS or draw balls on a lawyer's face. For those playing along at home, this episode brings Joe's total references to balls up to three. Is it too much to ask for a little more time with the assembled Avengers, though? When Joe, Gordon, and Cameron are in a room together, the yelling is at least dynamic; in pairs, it goes back to mostly just yelling.
Topside, things at Cardiff are hunky(ish)-dory(ish). As part of their new PC division, Gordon gets an office and a Boz Scaggs jam session in his car and sex with his wife (because in prestige dramas, achievement is always rewarded with marital sex), Joe gets to give a shitty (but inexplicably well-received) speech cribbing Steve Jobsisms and get used for stress-relieving sex with Cameron, whose repeated dressings-down and grade-A bullshit detector seem to finally be putting Joe on edge. Once the BIOS are written, he assures a similarly anxious Gordon, she's gone.
Of course, there's a tipping point. Friendly advice: If you're a protagonist in a prestige drama, never cap off a meal by telling your wife, "That was great." Bad things start to happen (though I really have no more sense of why Gordon didn't tell his wife that Cameron is a girl than he does, even though I so appreciate how forthright he is about it). Lo and behold, IBM goes a'raiding, pulling 15 accounts and 68% of core billings out from under Cardiff as casually as popping a pimple. But Joe has a plan, right? That's his character trait, right? It's either that, or he's "one of those guys who read Catcher in the Rye one too many times and goes out and shoot a Beatle." You know, one of those multiple guys.
Joe's crisis plan turns out to be letting his brows do as they please, knocking over filing cabinets, driving his Porsche far too slowly to hit an armadillo, and terrorizing a going-out-of-business stereo store in search of answers. In his darkest hour, IBM offers a way out: Dale Butler shows up at Joe's apartment with a plane ticket, a clean slate, a dollop of backstory (who's Joe's "old man"? How did he do $2 million in damage to IBM's data center? What is he really are?) and a briefcase, inspiring another Shitty Don Draper moment as Joe pitches Gordon a portable computer... with a handle. Somehow that fails to ignite a desperate Gordon's imagination, so they tussle, as boys do.
Everyone's mad at everyone all the time on Halt and Catch Fire, and it's fucking wearying. It's all the pressure cooker bitchiness of a Ryan Murphy joint, but without the juiciness. Sometimes it's a low simmer, sometimes it's all-out shouting, but there's such a dearth of good feelings here that I found myself craving any inkling of a human connection. So I thrilled when Gordon looks over Cameron's whiteboard scrawlings and recognizes there's genius there, even if that's barely addressed this week, and when Joe's monologue about his scars, his love of Sputnik, and his obsession with Gordon and Cameron's work hits home, even knowing such a relentless sociopath would feed them exactly what they wanted to hear, I let myself be hopeful. They need this just as much as he does! Unless he's really just a total sociopath!
Next week we'll hopefully find out how many degrees of contingency Joe's planned for himself and his Threatening Three, whether he's a Batman or just a consummate improviser (who is it who's famous for lying about how he got his scars?). Mostly I just want to know if he wore a breakaway shirt for his parking lot brawl, but that may have to wait to the season finale.
[Image via AMC]