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August 6th 2014 4:03 pm

Halt and Catch Fire S1E10: Running up that hill

There's still no news about the fate of the show, which floundered in the ratings with this finale episode -- 574,000 viewers, down from the 1.2 million that watched the premiere. In contrast, AMC's Turn has already been renewed for a second season, but that drew 1.6 million viewers for its own action-packed season finale. Hopefully AMC will put HACF on Netflix (or another streaming service) and wait to see how it performs before making a final decision, given that previous low-performing shows of theirs ::coughBreakingBadcough:: picked up a lot of popularity via streaming/binge-watching. HACF definitely seems like one of those shows that works best when viewed as a whole, but I'm not sure how well the series' time jumps work in a binge context.

The final episode starts with such a jump here -- it's been a few months since COMDEX and things are looking decidedly good for Cardiff. 100,000 units have been pre-sold to Computer Land, netting a profit of $40 million dollars. The first batch are on their way from the factory now, to be in stores in March. Joe and Gordon are now in charge and own 8% of the company. On the other hand, the expression "money can't buy happiness" is certainly apt for Joe, given that Cameron's jumped ship (to the phone company of all places) and he's become obsessed with making the Giant just a little bit better in order to compete with the Macintosh he saw at COMDEX. The infamous "1984" commercial isn't helping matters much.


"The girl that looked like Cameron threw the sledgehammer through the screen and freed the weird slave people."


Gordon explains to him that they can't delay the Giant any further, and they built exactly what Joe originally proposed: an IBM-compatible PC. Of course, Joe's never really been honest or consistent about what he wants, and over the course of the season we've learned that Joe could have been making "portable" computers at IBM and earning plenty of money in the process. What he really wants is to be great and make his mark on the world (which is why Cameron's words to him later in the episode hit their mark so well).

Meanwhile, Donna completely tanks a self-assessment at work and gets herself fired. It's pretty hilarious, and absolutely not a problem, because Gordon's flush with cash and even bought a shiny new car. They're going to fancy parties, having good sex and he finally gives her that decoder ring she found in the garage two episodes ago. Things are awesome for the Clarks!


Except... one of the test machines (the one given to Debbie, the secretary) isn't working right. The engineers can't figure out what's wrong, and Joe is strangely excited by it, seeing it as an opportunity to write a "killer app" for the Giant and put them back "on top" again. He puts the coders to work almost immediately, causing Gordon to become suspicious of Joe. The coders come back with nothing (well, nothing except a beekeeping simulator and moon calendar), while Donna actually comes up with a plan to blackmail Joe using Cameron. Neither of them really want to turn Cameron in for the bank hacking, they just want Joe to believe it so he'll go away.

With the coders producing nothing, Joe tries to get Cameron back, if only to get them working together again, but it's to no avail. She chews him out, calling him a "footnote." By the next day, she hires away all the coders to work at her own company, Mutiny. Joe gives up on the "killer app" idea, and Gordon gives up on the blackmail plot.

Halt and Catch Fire has drawn comparisons to Mad Men, but what was interesting about this episode was how much it felt more like Game of Thrones. In each season of Game of Thrones, episode 9 is the one "where all the crazy shit happens," like (spoilers) Ned's execution, the Battle of Blackwater and the Red Wedding. The action peaks in episode 9 and episode 10 is just tying up some loose ends and putting the pieces in play for the next season. For HACF, COMDEX was their big battle and now we're just burying the bodies.

Not that there are any literal bodies to bury here: Joe burns the first shipment of Giant computers, while Donna and Gordon are carjacked but mostly unhurt in the incident (goodbye Porsche, though). Donna is starting to feel the emptiness one gets from being unemployed. But she eventually finds direction, in the form of a rather unlikely savior: Cameron. Cameron hires her to work at Mutiny, fulfilling audience expectations (OTP, ahoy!) and guaranteeing that I'll be able to check off the "pass" box on the Bechdel Test for episodes to come, if they come. Back at Cardiff, Joe asks "what's next?" and no one has an answer, because the person who can answer that has literally taken a hike.


I can't help but feel that the shot of Joe climbing the hill at the end was a parallel to Arya on the Bravosi ship at the end of Game of Thrones Season 4, promising new adventures. The problem of course, is that without a renewal this could be the end of Halt and Catch Fire, with the promises made in the finale unfulfilled. It's not the worst "unintentional last episode" they could have had, given that the show saw through its main story line and brought it to completion: to build an IBM-compatible. The product was shipped. The show has aired. But both promised more, and ultimately end up unsatisfying.

With the season finished, how do you feel about the show? If you haven't checked it out yet, were you waiting for the entire series to be available to binge? Let me know how that goes. The episodes will be available on amctv.com for the next month, but only to cable subscribers: www.amctv.com­/shows­/halt­-and­-catch­-fire/


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Take the classic computers quiz while you're there: blogs.amctv.com­/halt­-and­-catch­-fire­/2014­/07­/know­-a...

(I got 8/10)
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