Halt and Catch Fire Recap: Tons of Talent, Massive Tensions. What Could Go Wrong?
"I thought we could do this precisely because we're all unreasonable people."
At the end of the first episode of AMC's new series Halt and Catch Fire, IBM's three challengers stand united, albeit terrified, as an army of IBM executives and legal advisors walk through Cardiff Electric's doors. But it's not convincing even then that their unity will last.
In the following episode "FUD" (for fear, uncertainty, and doubt), IBM walks back out the door, realizing that it can't sue Cardiff Electric--yet. Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) barely have time to breathe a collective sigh of relief before Gordon and Cameron are at each other's throats.
Cameron is disbelieving and enraged when she learns she's been employed to help Cardiff build just another PC. (Though why she didn't check that out before she dropped out of college isn't clear.)
Fortunately, for both her and Gordon's sanity, the two are legally forbidden to work together. Previously, Gordon had reverse engineered an IMB PC, giving him access to IMB's BIOS (Basic Input/Output System).
Cameron's job is to write the BIOS code for the Cardiff PC, and if she's caught looking at the original BIOS--or consulting with Gordon, who has seen it--IMB has grounds to sue. Of course, that doesn't stop Joe from encouraging her to take a peek.
This segment of the story largely focuses on the mysterious Cameron. All that Joe and Gordon know about her so far is that she's a sarcastic and combative Austin Tech dropout with questionable hygiene. Less known: whether she intends to stay loyal to the team or just look out for her own interests.
For most of the episode, there's nothing remotely likable about the spunky and brilliant Cameron. In Facebook's early days, its motto was "move fast and break things." Cameron's only into the latter. The way she treats Joe, her supervisor, would make any boss cringe. Luckily, she's talented so she can get away with it, according to her. Though Joe and Gordon actually plan to fire her as soon as she's done with the BIOS code.
The most cringe-worthy moments come when she puts "the businessman" in his place. Joe's an exasperating character in his own right, but he nonetheless deserves sympathy after enduring any interaction with Cameron. Whenever he tries to help her, he's either met with a door in the face or verbal slams like "You're just a salesman," and "Go do whatever it is that a product manager does."
On the other hand, it's easy to see why Cameron isn't impressed by Joe's veneer. Though he's been absolutely integral in getting the team to this point, in episode two, it seems the only thing he's capable of is talking big. He tells the engineering team that they're going to build a PC that's twice as fast and half the cost of what's out there. Then in a way that evokes a young Jordan Belfort--before the hookers and blow--he turns to the PC division and says there are two rules: have a lot of fun! And make a lot of money! In a wink to the viewers nerdy enough to notice, he even steals a line from Steve Jobs: "We just might put a 'ding in in the universe.'" (He later admits he pinched that quote.)
Joe and Gordon get along for most of the episode. Until they don't. Gordon, previously riding high after a promotion and the always-crucial office upgrade, is visibly shaken after IBM pursues Cardiff Electric's clients, causing Cardiff to lose at least 68 percent of its core billings. As a result, it's predicted that the company will only be able to keep its doors open for about two more months. The tone, which, for a drama, has been somewhat light-hearted up until this point, suddenly turns dire.
Apparently compelled by fear and paranoia--there were no cell phones back then! communication was hard!--Joe, Gordon and Cameron spontaneously show up at Cardiff's parking lot for a late-night meeting. Whereupon Joe and Gordon start brawling.
It only breaks up during a melodramatic, eyebrow-raising moment when Joe's shirt is ripped open, revealing some serious scars--remnants of a severe bullying episode during his childhood.
Joe's inner nerd appeals to Gordon, who is way nerdy. Joe tells Gordon he doesn't want to see him bullied for his passion and great ideas; he's too brilliant to deserve that fate.
"And you," he says to Cameron, looking bewildered. "Every thing about you threatens people."
By the end of the episode, the three are united again--somewhat. Each shows up to the office at 7:30 a.m. They work independently in separate offices, and hardly speak.
But at least they all showed up.