Halt and Catch Fire "New Coke" Recap/Review - The Best Laid Plans... ~ What'cha Reading?

Halt and Catch Fire “New Coke” Recap/Review – The Best Laid Plans…

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Halt and Catch Fire "New Coke" Recap/Review - The Best Laid Plans...

*Spoilers for “New Coke” follow, proceed with caution.*

“New Coke” – aired 6/7/2015 (4 stars)

Directed by Phil Abraham

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Written by Jonathan Lisco

*Spoilers contained within for “New Coke”

  • Episode 202 was directed by Phil Abraham – he recently directed the first two episodes of “Daredevil” and Mad Men’s “Lost Horizon” episode. (Info courtesy of Christopher Cantwell @ifyoucantwell)

“New Coke” was the first episode that truly felt as if it exemplified the new, 2.0 spirit that most critics have referred to when speaking of season two.  It was fun, stylish, and not always as serious and grim as several episodes during the first season.  Perhaps it speaks to the strengths of writer Jonathan Lisco (he wrote season one’s “Close To The Metal”), director Phil Abraham, and editor Robert Komatsu because their blend of creativity gave us a promising insight into hopefully what the rest of this season will be like.  And of a show that more people would catch fire from if they were to only start watching!

  • The title of episode 202 is “New Coke”, which was happening Spring 1985.  While it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, it proved to be one of the biggest marketing failures and a fiasco for the Coca-Cola company.

The episode begins with Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), Sara (Aleksa Palladino), and the introduction of her father Jacob Wheeler (James Cromwell).  Inside an airplane hanger, he recounts his youth to Joe.  He tells him of his first job at his parents carpet store during his 20’s, and at age 26, he was unskilled but ready to “eat the world for breakfast.”  We begin to see a fully rounded character in Jacob Wheeler as played by the always excellent James Cromwell.  Fans should be aware of Jacob through AMC’s character bio on the “Halt and Catch Fire” site, along with the teases of him in various promos that aired.  We’ve waited for this character and now he’s arrived.  He continues on how he was fired from one of his jobs – a river caught fire after his boss had him cut corners while managing the sludge from a rubber plant.  He “worked for the guy who was working for the guy”, a line that brings to mind Joe’s “It’s the thing that gets us to the thing” line from the pilot episode “I/O.”  While Sara cuts in, saying it’s “always better to be the guy”, a belief we learn her father has said many times before, the point of the story is apparent – “We all have to take our lumps before we come into our own.”

The idea of taking lumps seems to come from this feeling that creators and executive producers Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers both are keenly aware that “Halt” season one didn’t necessarily catch fire as it should have.  Coming back, renewed with vigor, season two has given us a more assured and grounded series built on its own desire for authenticity.  Season two of “Halt” has clearly come into its own, taking the critical lumps from season one, while showing us characters who are still taking their fair share.  Case in point, Joe is stuck.  He’s trapped in a limbo of sorts only due to his own previous actions and exits from former jobs.  In a terrific scene AMC had been previewing the week leading up to last night’s airing (6/7th), Jacob explains Joe’s situation.

If one thing is clear, and the feeling is played to perfection by Lee Pace, Joe understands he doesn’t have any more options to exhaust and that Jacob Wheeler’s job offer is his last and only resort to get back on his feet.  Quite simply and effectively, Joe’s stuck.  He’s “out of options” and probably couldn’t even sell waffle irons, according to Jacob.

 

Currently at Mutiny, Donna (Kerry Bishe) unveils her side project of creating a chat room free of having to play one of their games.  “Mutiny Community” fails (admittedly, I was a little surprised by this) and we have a quick scene that plays out with Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) coming out on top.  In last week’s season premiere, “SETI”, Donna speaks of her belief in a “community to exist outside of games” and her idea is based on that gamers are paying to talk with one another well after playing.  So to see this potential plot dropped almost immediately was surprising.  Yet, I will add that if the chat community and theme of connection concerning Donna’s idea doesn’t continue in later episodes, it does give more weight to the title “New Coke.”  A seemingly great idea ultimately coming to fruition and failing.

In walks John Bosworth (Toby Huss) and the MVP of “Halt and Catch Fire.”  He’s limping and with a cane and tells the coders of how he broke both his ankles during the first prison riot during his time in the penitentiary.  It turns out to be a joke and Bos is just glad to be back.  The surprise?  Cameron didn’t just pick up the old man down the road; she’s offered him a job at Mutiny.  Donna gives her a look and…

 

 

Immediately after the into we see Gordon (Scoot McNairy) at the doctor’s office.  He’s getting checked over since his nosebleeds from last week’s season premiere.  He doesn’t immediately come out with his tugging problem with cocaine, but does eventually admit to having used it for a few months.  The doctor warns him of the potential for a heart attack and/or stroke and he reassures that he’s “not one of those people that gets addicted to stuff easily.”  It’s a real Gordon moment of not being completely honest as we know he saved the rest of cocaine he had in his office at Cardiff Electric.  The next time we see Gordon is a wonderful and fantastically whimsical scene that shows him in his garage after buying Atari, Commodore 64 and setting up this wild gaming room.  He grows stuck while setting up; he’s on the coke again, and begins to teach himself “The C Programming Language.”

  • Interestingly, Christopher Cantwell never read “The C Programming Language” by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie.

I’d like to credit the editor Robert Komatsu for delivering an off-the-wall scene set to the music of Art of Noise.  This is the song “Close to the Edit” that plays over the hilarious scene with Scoot McNairy.

 

 

Back to the theme of “New Coke”, Donna confronts Cameron over hiring Bos.  Cameron explains that after he’s caught up to speed and taught what they’re doing at Mutiny, he could take over their responsibilities.  It’s not a bad idea and shows Cameron’s sound reasoning, but it is not complete without flaws.  After all, Bos is now an ex-con, having just been released from prison after hacking Nathan Cardiff’s account and stealing his money.  (We know it was really Cameron who did this.)  Donna believes Cameron is doing this out of guilt and explains that many will be distrustful of him due to his now tainted past.  Upon my first thoughts for season two, I believed Bos would be hired at Mutiny (based on the promos) and probably become the boss as both women were caught up in their own responsibilities.  Will this prove to be a great idea, or will it flounder like Donna’s “Mutiny Community”?

Meanwhile, Joe and Sara talk about her father’s job offer to him.  We learn that Joe initially had no interest in working for her father; it’s possible that at some time during their relationship Sara may have offered to ask her father to hire Joe while he was sidelined for the past year.  It would add to the relationship and of Sara’s continual care for Joe as he attempts to better himself, but it’s of no surprise that he would not have been ready to go back to work just yet.  However, after Jacob’s job offer to Joe, he may have changed his mind.  Joe tells Sara that he could “help take Westgroup into the future”, not unlike his more Machiavellian plans for Cardiff Electric last season.  While his motives remain to be seen with any clarity or confirmation, it seems as if Joe truly does believe in paying a penance of sorts for his past misdeeds.  Sara asks Joe about his other job prospects, but he says they “didn’t pan out.”  Hmmm, is it possible he just said that and never bothered to look into anything else?  She brings up the idea that Joe may just be “tired of waiting” and it rings true.  This is the first speed bump or time in Joe’s life that his plans have been halted indefinitely.  After his exit from IBM, he traveled the country, and made his way to Silicon Prairie.  After his exit from Cardiff, everything came to a stop.  No longer could he just come speeding into town and start again.  This time, the armadillo was much bigger and he doesn’t have many options due to his past.  The Joe MacMillan we’re presented with here is much different than the Joe of last season.  He’s broken and he doesn’t have the ability to move forward in a dramatic way as he used to.  I believe, and this is my own thought, that Joe doesn’t necessarily even want or feels he belongs at Westgroup, but growing fearful of more time out of work, has decided to take it by talking himself into believing that this is his best option.  As expected, Sara supports him.  There’s a certain quality to Aleksa Palladino’s Sara that plays so well opposite Lee Pace’s Joe.  It’s a shame we don’t have more screen time with both of them, but understandable as the story has shifted it’s perspective while our characters lives continue to play out.

Who Shot First?

Image via AMC

Gordon continues his hijinks in the garage and calls Donna while she’s working at Mutiny.  She’s busy and getting ready for her venture capitalist meeting so she doesn’t have time for his call.  He continues to play Mutiny’s Tank Battle game and calls over his friend Stan (Randall P. Havens).  They play the game and it’s apparent to Stan that his friend is still using.  Gordon asks him if wants any, but Stan says he thought it was just a goof while they were finishing the Giant Pro.  During Tank Battle, Gordon notices a delay in the game, particularly with the timing, so he decides to visit Mutiny.  Leaving Stan to pick up his children, he heads out.  We’ve seen Gordon get worked up before, especially in several episodes during season one.  Scoot McNairy plays him with such mania when using coke and it plays to great effect.  The Gordon (“Gordo”) of season two is very different than the one we had in season one and is just another reminder on the new kind of show this series has become.

At Mutiny, we see Annabelle, with an army helmet, cigarette, and a striped bikini.  This mannequin has become something of an object of fascination since fans learned she will change from episode to episode.  While Bos deals with hazing courtesy of the coders (license plate and soap jokes, and an almost cringe worthy scene that finds Lev reading the last letter Bos wrote to Cameron while in prison) Gordon shows up with his notions of how to provide them all with a fix to their games.  He suggests that they time stamp the input from each modem and put them in the correct sequence so the outcome of Tank Battle is no longer random “that way, whoever shot first, wins.”  It’s a suggestion the coders take a liking to, but Gordon is then interrupted by a phone call for Donna from the school.  One of the coders yells that someone tried to kidnap her kids, but Gordon immediately knows that it was Stan, whom he sent earlier to pick them up.  He leaves, promising the coders free pizza and soda for a month.

Image via AMC

Afterwards, back at the garage, Gordon suggests to Stan that he raises the money for a new project for them to work on.  Stan tells him that the day he got his pink slip at Cardiff, he booked a flight to California.  Humbled, he tells Gordon “You don’t need a partner, Gordo.  I’m sure whatever you dream up will be incredible.”  We then see a look on Gordon’s face and it’s of pure terror.  It’s clear that Gordon is afraid of the future and of being stuck.  He’s managed to come a long way from the failure of the Symphonic, to his days as a sales engineer at Cardiff Electric.  Gordon doesn’t want to regress, but then he doesn’t know how he could possibly move forward.  To quickly shift his mind off of dreaming up something incredible, Stan and Gordon resume playing an even slower version of Tank Battle then before.  Something is definitely wrong with Mutiny.  But before we get to that, I’d like to point out how great Randall P. Havens has been in his role of Stan.  We didn’t see too much of him in season one, but for the past two episodes of season two, he’s had quite a bit to say and do.  In many ways, the character of Stan is the antithesis of Will Greenberg’s Brian from season one.  In every way that Brian held back Gordon, Stan does not.  He goes far to ensure him that he doesn’t hold selling Cardiff against him and even makes a disapproving mention towards Gordon’s continued cocaine habit.  At the very end, before we will probably see Stan this season, he encourages his friends by telling him that he’s positive he’ll dream up something incredible.  I very much liked the extended scenes Randall P. Havens had in “SETI” and in this week’s “New Coke.”  He brought a sweetness and sincerity to the character of Randall; he proved to be a much needed friend to Gordon when he most needed one.

  • Stan’s Mutiny username is Shark8MyLegs
  • Gordon’s Mutiny username is sexybeard

The issue of “who shot first” in the Mutiny game, along with other issues, prove to be the work of series newcomer Mark O’ Brien as hacker Tom Rendon.  He also is responsible for hacking and cloning Mutiny’s other games like Parallax.  (I must add that every time I hear the name Parallax, I can’t help but think of the Green Lantern villain and Hal Jordan.)  Rendon’s hacks, which essentially comes down to him creating a better version of their games and offering them for free, along with more people playing , amounts to Cameron offering him a job.  Before she does, they first approach him after the coders are able to track him to his house.  Rendon turns out to be a Mutiny subscriber and doesn’t live that far from their house.  Cameron, along with Donna, confront him and he turns out to be an extremely self-assured and brilliant young man.  His knowledge and understanding of computers surprises Cameron and he manages to even one-up her, or as the producers had said “out Cameron’s Cameron.”  This leads to Cameron returning to Tom’s house later in the night which leads to her offering him $25,000, which Donna disapproves of.  She says to lower it to $20,000 and they agree.  Donna promises Cameron that if she keeps making “unilateral decisions” that she’ll leave.

The theme of “New Coke”, figuratively and literally, play out amazingly well in the second episode of “Halt and Catch Fire.”  The creative team driving the series have shown a remarkable strength in their skills and the second season is anything but a failure such as the Coca-Cola reboot.  This second season is terrific and works in the rare way a film’s sequel is a triumph over the first.  Seeing Donna’s “Mutiny Community” game fail in the beginning was unexpected, but a smart decision as I didn’t see that coming.  It also helped create more of a sense that so many of our characters are in that sophmore slump/rut if you will.  Donna, as bright as she is, still struggles with her new job.  The start-up gaming company Mutiny is facing a major crossroads as they realize they have plateaued and unsuccessfully raise venture capitalist money.  As for Joe?

“Thank you for the opportunity.” 

Joe begins his first day at Westgroup Energy.  He walks to the front doors of the massive building.  The Paul Haslinger score builds as we expect to see a return to the Joe MacMillan of season one and the editing by Robert Komatsu gives us a feeling of impressive scale as Joe attempts to begin again.  But, Joe is shocked (as much as fans staying away from slight spoilers) that his job is that of a data-entry clerk.  “I was on 23 for orientation and HR told me to come down to B2 and I think there’s been a mistake.”  “Does Jacob know this is what I’m working on?”  These lines perfectly express Joe’s racing thoughts as he attempts to process his new lot in life.  Character actor James DuMont as Eugene Bowdich welcomes Joe to his own personal Dante’s ninth level of hell, rife with institutional lighting, color, and rules.

On a personal note, one of my early jobs was in Data Entry.  I remember my first day, paraded through the building, being introduced to the cogs-in-the-machine, only to land in the basement level of data entry, complete with micro-film and micro-fiche machines!  So to see Joe arrive in the same department and be introduced to the ins and outs of his drone job, played authentically well.  There was a sincere legitimacy to Lee Pace’s performance and I’ve even seen certain critics mention that Joe has been relegated to his own show, playing in isolation from Mackenzie Davis’ Cameron and Scoot McNairy’s Gordon.  I’d agree with this, but feel the idea of Joe’s road to recovery/penance/atonement is necessary to play out, even if it takes up most of the second season.  He’s a character that I’m fully invested in so I don’t mind seeing where this chapter takes him.

Ultimately, Joe realizes his entry-level position, paying so little is punishment and a test of mettle courtesy of Jacob.  Sara’s father, as we learn through an expository phone call near the end, was conned by her ex-husband Peter.  Apparently, Peter hooked Jacob on a few deals which weren’t real.  (Did anyone feel this was a throwback to the “all hat and no cattle” Joe of last season?)  Sara apologizes to Joe and promises to call her father, but he doesn’t want her to.  Joe understanding that Jacob is testing him and taking his measure, decides to “let this breathe a sec.”

At the very end, as Jacob is walking into the elevator, one of the secretary’s stops him.  She says something came for him, but it doesn’t say who it’s from.  All the note reads is “Thanks for the opportunity” and is taped to a wrapped waffle iron.

“I know who it’s from.”

“New Coke”

Image via AMC

It’s promising to see the eventual relationship grow between Joe and Jacob.  As for what kind of relationship it’ll be, that remains to be seen.  The story arc for Joe getting an opportunity which he believed would most likely be a high ranking position to learn that he had a low-level job?  New Coke.

Bringing Bos on board for Mutiny, only to see him part ways at the end to “work some stuff out”?  New Coke.

Episode 202 of “Halt and Catch Fire” was appropriately named and an engaging follow up to the season premiere.  There was a real sense of feeling that the show is going to continually play out just as real-life would as we see Bosworth, a changed man, sitting with Cameron outside the Mutiny house.  Unlike certain other shows that continue with little growth, “Halt” season two has evolved into an entirely different series… and has given viewers so many more reasons to watch and love.  While there was mainly one nitpick I had with this episode (Cameron’s dismissal of Lev after his mean-spirited and intrusive invasion of privacy, only to see him in a follow up scene with no regard to their previous encounter) this episode was a fantastic step in the right direction.  It will be exciting to see how the rest of season two plays out and of how Joe will eventually return to “existence” after his pilgrimage through his own personal Dante’s Inferno, which he must go through.  I could also say the same for Bos, as I believe the crew knows it would be a shame to not see him with Cameron anymore.

How was that revelation of Cameron’s true name being Katherine?  We learn, near the end before Bos decides to leave Mutiny, that Cameron signed Katherine in one of her letters to Bos.  He asks her and she tells him that Cameron is her father’s name that she used after he died in Vietnam.  Bos then responds by calling her Katherine and it serves as a reminder of the father/daughter relationship and bond the two share.  It’s a tender and almost bittersweet moment as Cameron/Katherine has to part ways with a man that’s done so much for her.

The AMC “Talked About Scene” for “New Coke” is not without reason.  Donna (Kerry Bishe) and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) are rightfully the stars of season two.  While the spotlight has shifted from Joe and Gordon to Joe’s unrequited love and Gordon’s wife, we get some of the best writing and acting courtesy of both women.  Most critics, fans, and myself included have been in full support and on the Team Donna bandwagon since season 1.  The scene in which they meet with the venture capitalists provides Kerry Bishe every opportunity to showcase her nuanced performance and play off of Mackenzie Davis’ rogue-ish attitude.  I’ll let the scene speak for itself now.

“Halt and Catch Fire” airs Sunday nights on AMC at 10 pm ET.  Check your local listings.  In the meantime, please follow Christopher Cantwell (@ifyoucantwell) & Christopher C. Rogers (@CCR) on Twitter.  Both creators have provided amazing insight into each episode and as a fan/critic I’d like to thank them for their support of their series and of the fanbase for “Halt.”

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About Author

Mild mannered reporter, Steven Biscotti, has an avid interest in all things comic books, movies, and music (especially pertaining to Coldplay.) Always ready, professional, and on the scene, those closest to him may suspect he's actually from another planet. @ReggieMantleIII

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