The third episode of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire aired last night (Sunday, June 14th) and presented an even stronger offering than last week’s entertaining, but sometimes flawed “New Coke.” Which we reviewed. Episode 203, “The Way In”, directed by Jeff Freilich and written by Jason Cahill presented those watching with a revealing look at human connection, a running theme through the second season of the period drama. Excellent in every way, if AMC’s Halt continues this way, fans have every reason to keep supporting the Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers created series and newcomers have every right to question why they haven’t been watching Halt and Catch Fire from the start.
“The Way In” – aired 6/14/2015 (5 stars)
Directed by Jeff Freilich & Written By Jason Cahill
*Spoilers for “The Way In” are contained within
“The Way In” begins with a very on-the-nose scene of Gordon (Scoot McNairy) writing a program to map out all of Mutiny’s network and identify all of their users. He’s searching for a way in to help his wife Donna (Kerry Bishe), while also trying to find his own “way in” to creating and building. After the Cardiff payout, Gordon continued his coke habit and was lost in every way, nothing more than a slave to Mutiny’s Tank Battle game. He’s been at work for two weeks and Donna has hardly seen him. It’s great seeing Gordon enjoying what he does and focused on his program “Sonaris”, while hoped up on the orange blast flavor of Jolt Cola. Bringing another fun layer to the scene is of Gordon asking Donna “Who’s your Superman?”, to then continue with his references by name-dropping “Lois Lane”, “phone booth”, “cape”, and “glasses.”
Gordon then goes for his next Jolt Cola can, but has trouble opening it. He looks at his right hand and it seems as if he has no strength. He then opens Jolt with the aid of a knife. “Puny earthling.” There’s a sense of foreboding in this scene, but we’ll get to that later.
Tom Rendon, series newcomer played by Mark O’ Brien, arrives for his day of work at Mutiny. He arrives by bike, which leads to Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) poking fun at him. She asks him if it comes with a horn and he replies “Must’ve left it at home with my clown nose.” The sarcastic quip throws Cameron off guard and after she walks away, Tom shakes his head and sighs. Rendon, as played by Mark O’ Brien, has already shown that he’s interesting addition to the cast as he, in many ways, is a Cameron-ish character. He’s highly intelligent, not very good with people, but has a sort of awareness and closeted empathy that Cameron had never shown in Season One (outside of certain scenes with Joe.) Rendon’s “clown nose” remark is just the kind of line Cameron would have used in season one, signifying her inability to communicate with people. It’s an interesting choice, creatively speaking, for Halt and Catch Fire to revisit this quality in someone else to mirror Cameron.
Right after we’re introduced to Tom Rendon arriving at Mutiny, we see Bosworth (Toby Huss) with Barry (Mike Pniewski) from season one. It’s nice to see Bos with a close friend and to see him happy. As he’s still trying to figure his next steps in life out after being released from prison, we learn that his ex-wife Ginny got the house and that the F.B.I. got everything else, everything except Louise – his car! Barry saved it for him and now it’s Bos’ time to “get in that tank and drive it like a man.”
Back at Westgroup Energy, Joe (Lee Pace) continues to drone away at Data Entry. He brings up an idea to Eugene Bowdich (James DuMont) about the work they’re doing. Bowdich, his supervisor, shuts down Joe’s idea as their job is “shovel sand, not count the grains.” We could see that Joe is no longer Master of the Universe as he was in season one, despite not even really being master. He walks out of the work station area and into the mainframe section of Data Entry. He sighs and then sits on the floor with his back against the mainframe wall. He’s paying penance and has relegated himself to low-level position. He knows he has to pay his dues, especially since he’s aware Jacob Wheeler (James Cromwell) is testing him. But for how long does Joe have to wait until he finds “The Way In”?
Throughout “The Way In”, we get various scenes designed to further the story arcs of Cameron, Donna, Gordon, and Joe. Let’s not forget Bos, as well. Writer Jason Cahill, having previously written season one episodes “High Plains Hardware” and “Up Helly Aa”, shows remarkable skill in creating an exceptional episode. Cahill explores each character searching for their “way in” through broken relationships, new ideas, and the spirit of connectivity. “The Way In” is nearly perfect in its examination on the ideas of connectivity and the early days that built the future, our present. While season one of Halt and Catch Fire focused more on the ideas of authenticity, and the line between vision and delusion, we don’t see a series as focused on that aspect anymore. That’s quite alright as season 2 further develops the characters stories in a way that is as natural as the growth in real lives.
Nightmare on Nerd Street
Mutiny currently struggles between staying “above water” and “not drowning so fast.” While they attempt to come up with new ideas for games (and face a similar struggle to that of Joe in season one when attempting to excite the coders to create a “killer app.”), Tom Rendon is working on “sprite scaling for immersive environments.” Cameron, annoyed that he isn’t playing with the rest of the group or contributing to the game ideas such as Lev’s (August Emerson) game called “Jiggles.” (You play as orange Jell-O attempting to avoid the hands of a hungry family), she fails to realize his attempt to make a technical breakthrough which would significantly advance Mutiny. Cameron doesn’t see the full spectrum of what Rendon is working on and instead tells the Coder Monkeys a.k.a. Mutineers to take a few days playing Chapter 22 of “Parallax”, then to debug and load onto their network.
- It would appear as if the term “Mutineers” has caught on. Coder monkey Bodie, played by Josuha Hoover, had this to say during last night’s live tweet during Halt and Catch Fire.
Later on, Mutiny faces another gigantic problem as they notice a program overwriting Mutiny and users data. It’s a major setback as Mutiny was slowly regaining itself after Tom Rendon’s hacks from “New Coke.” Even Donna’s ideas for “Mutiny Community” are going well as earlier in the episode she speaks of their numbers being up 50 people on a week to week basis. But, the program overwriting their data has them sliced at the throats. Cameron, insisting against Tom’s ideas to quarantine all the uninfected machines, tries to reach Donna. She’s able to finally dial a forwarding number provided and reaches – Joe? Unbeknownst to Cameron, Joe invited Gordon and Donna to dinner with his fiancee Sara (Aleksa Palladino). To hear Joe’s voice on the phone and to know her business partner Donna is having dinner with him is so shocking that she orders Mutiny to shut the whole network down.
Before Donna and Gordon arrive at the Mutiny house, Rendon tells Cameron of the severity of the program that ate through their data and potentially destroyed the users software – “total data extinction.” The Clarks arrive and Gordon is told that a program named “Sonaris” is what ate their drives. Gordon and Donna immediately realize that it’s Gordon’s program that’s responsible. He does feel bad for loading it, which happened earlier and showcased another set of Superman and Superman II references. Gordon places the Sonaris floppy disk in the computer and says “Kneel before Zod.” Afterwards, he recites Jor-El’s line from the first film with a new spin – “They can be a great people, Kal-El; they wish to be.” They only lack the program to show them the way.” The importance of taking note of this is the question of whether or not Scoot McNairy ad-libbed these lines or this was apart of the Jason Cahill script. McNairy can be seen in the March 2016 film, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. As of this writing, it is unclear who he will be portraying.
Outside the Mutiny house, Cameron accuses Gordon of being a sell-out and being on the outside looking in. Again, it’s the idea of one of our character’s searching for his “way in.” However, it does spotlight Cameron’s immaturity and inexperience as she doesn’t realize that Gordon has secretly been paying the bills for Mutiny all this time. Before he leaves, we see Donna pitted between her husband and work yet again. Ultimately, she chooses Mutiny and tells Gordon to go home. Before he leaves, Gordon shouts “You call this a company? This is more like ‘Nightmare on Nerd Street’!”
Rock Island Line
Bos, driving in his car and singing along to the Johnny Cash song “Rock Island Line”, heads to a motel to meet with a woman. We’re unclear at first over who the woman is, but we soon learn it’s his ex-wife Ginny (Andrea Powell). It’s the first time we see Ginny as she was only referenced in season one. It’s revealed that she was initially ashamed over he husband, but moved on. Sadly, Ginny tells Bos that “We’re not your satellites.” It’s a line that, perhaps throughout the entire episode, reminds us the most of the themes of season 2’s premiere episode “SETI.” Bos, after parting ways with Cameron and Mutiny at the end of “New Coke”, has begun searching for a direction in his life post incarceration. Bos, as we see, is trying to find “the way in” with his family. While there does not appear to be any signs of reparations with his ex-wife, the relationship with his son James (Ross Philips) appears to have more hope. James, outside of his wedding rehearsal dinner, meets with his father. Bos reads the speech he wrote for his son and Toby Huss’ performance reminds us of the certain kind of man John Bosworth is, and of the special kind of actor Huss is. Once again, we see that Toby Huss as John Bosworth is one of the MVP’s of Halt and Catch Fire. James tells his father to “Take care of this old thing” which leads to Bos ultimately leaving his car to his son at the close of “The Way In.” The handling of the scenes between Bosworth and his son James are possibly the best moments of the third episode. They’re clearly written, well-acted, and beautifully present the themes of the episode.
It’s interesting to see Bos’ current situation end with him riding on a bus. While I believe more time could have been spent with Bos trying to find a way back to his family, it’s a better choice to have him return to Mutiny, ready to help with their marketing and public image. We still have 7 episodes left for the second season, but the season will be over before we know it. Too much time spent on a given story arc could result in precious time wasted. I’m glad to see Bos return in the preview for next week and hope to see him have his own comeback.
“Seat opens on a crowded train…”
We’ve established Joe MacMillan as a lost soul, a punished soul. and as Lee Pace said “the gods hate Joe. There is a sense that no matter how hard he works, he might fail, no matter how hard he tries to be agreeable to the people he’s with, they still don’t see him. And that’s this almost Greek condition of frustration.” While he’s stuck at the Data Entry level of Westgroup Energy, we do get a sense that he appreciates the job opportunity from his fiancee’s father, Jacob Wheeler. But, the Master of the Universe Joe MacMillan is visibly absent, for now. He knows he doesn’t have many options and has to accept this sort of cosmic punishment for all the damage he’s done in the past. Searching for his “way in” or way back to his original self, but one filled with more legitimate success – Joe calls Jacob Wheeler and sets an appointment in front of Eugene.
Earlier in the third episode, Joe is politely reprimanded for making a personal phone call to Sara. While on the phone with her, they bring up the idea of having a dinner party together. Sara suggests that Joe invites his “friends from Dallas”, to which he agrees despite the discomfort he feels over that thought. He meets with Wheeler and tells him of the issues he’s noticed at Data Entry. To his surprise, Wheeler tells him to fire Eugene and to build his own department. He catches Joe off guard as he wasn’t expecting to get such an opportunity, especially since he felts those days of taking a promotion are over. The last we’ve heard of Joe being in a situation like this was only through references made to his time at IBM. “Seat opens up on a crowded train. It’s okay to hesitate. Maybe you’re the next stop. Maybe you’re a good Samaritan. Or maybe you think you don’t deserve it.” Wheeler tells Joe.
Gordon and Donna are shocked at Joe’s message on their answering machine, along with having their curiosity piqued at his invitation. They thoroughly speculate over his fiancee and over his dinner invitation. Interestingly, Donna says “Mysteriously, my interest in tall, dark mannequins with delusions of grandeur has dwindled.” when asked by Gordon if she’s curious enough to have dinner with Joe and Sara. For savvy fans, her “tall, dark mannequins with delusions of grandeur” line is most likely a reference to Hunt Whitmarsh, her T.I. boss from last season.
Over the dinner, Joe slips back to his old ways when conversing with Gordon and Donna. At first, he pridefully mentions his promotion at Westgroup, then apologizes for their current home as it’s “just a pied-à-terre for my auteur.” Sara tells the group she’s trying to start an article on the Jarvik artificial heart. It’s easy to overlook her work as it doesn’t come back at all in “The Way In”, but just like the “Neuromancer” reference in “SETI”, it seems like it’s too big to serve as a throwaway. We know that Gordon has abused cocaine and he’s already seen the doctor who’s warned him of the risk of a heart attack and/or stroke. During “The Way In” we have two particular moments that reveal Gordon has no strength in his right hand, which suggests at some further health issue he’ll have to contend with later on in season two. With the last three episodes entitled “Limbo”, “Kali”, and “Heaven Is a Place” could we be looking at Gordon mulling over or being convinced of the need for an artificial heart? During the 80’s, the press led many to believe that the Jarvik artificial heart would be commonplace and a dentist named Dr. Clark was one of the first to receive one. Dr. Clark. Gordon Clark. Am I making too much of this? Do you have any thoughts on Sara’s work possibly connecting to Gordon’s health? Please sound off in the comments!
Off to the side, Sara asks Joe “Who are you right now?” It’s the first legitimate time we see Joe begin to regress back to his old self. When referring to Sara’s academic friends, he says “lovely people, total flakes.” His dismissal of them brings to mind his dismissal of Dallas culture in “Adventure.” We get a sense through Lee Pace’s performance that Joe believes he needs to play a particular person in order to garner respect from his friends. Season 2 has brought us a more grounded Joe, one trying to do better by himself with help from Sara. I’ve greatly enjoyed Aleksa Palladino as Sara and this episode was easily one of her best performances. While she wasn’t in the episode of whole lot, it was important to see her with Scoot McNairy’s Gordon and Kerry Bishe’s Donna. We’re finally starting to see the group begin to reform after they had splintered at the end of season one – “1984.”
Joe confesses that he didn’t get a cent from Nathan Cardiff and Gordon is naturally surprised. Outside, both Joe and Gordon contemplate where they are in their lives and Joe tells him that he’d choose Sara and this life over any pay out or alternative to where he is now. Pace plays the scene with such an ironic authenticity that it’s hard to establish a line between fact and fiction. As the audience, I believe we are genuinely rooting for Joe and believe in his content and happiness, however, with one quick glance after Gordon says “enjoy the Sancerre” it’s up in the air as to whether or not he truly means what he says.
During the closing moments of “The Way In”, Joe returns to Data Entry in full Master of the Universe mode and clocks in. He barges through the door, tells Eugene to meet him in the mainframe room, and then prepares himself to fire his supervisor. While Joe readies himself, as he is uneasy over returning to his old self and the question of Can I still be that person? the machines all turn on. It’s 9 am. The mainframe begins to whir, make noise, and rumble to life. Eugene meets him in the mainframe, but instead of firing him as he had planned, he asks him about the machines. Eugene tells him that they work the same shift as they do – 9 AM to 5 PM. Joe, realizing that the machines sit unused for 16 hours a day, formulates a plan – “A way in.“
The final moments of “The Way In” provide a perfect crescendo to what I’m positive will be a nearly perfect second season. Director Jeff Freilich stylish fills the final scene with such a flurry of realization, that we almost feel as knocked out by the machines powering on as Joe feels. Paul Haslinger provides a terrific build of score that reminds us that Joe is back. We get a smile on his face at the realization that the plan has changed, and almost as if the hand of God stamped the paperwork on the machines “Cardiff Electric.” Lee Pace is an amazing actor. His performance, notably in the concluding moments, fills the scene with a sense that Joe has finished his sentence and has paid his karmic dues for all that he’s done. The machines at Westgroup, the only place of business that would hire him, can’t surely just happen to utilize Cardiff equipment. It can’t just be some sort of coincidence. It has to be fate, right? These are the thoughts racing through Joe’s head. Now all we’re left to wonder is whether or not Sara’s presence in his life will keep him grounded or if he’ll further regress back to Joe MacMillan 1.0.
“The Way In” was a fantastic third episode and an even stronger offering than the third episode “High Plains Hardware” of Halt and Catch Fire season one. The way writer Jason Cahill connected the stories, despite Bos and Joe playing in a more disconnected way from the rest of the group, worked terrifically well for this episode. The beautifully illustrated themes of connection and of how we choose to connect came to life through the performances. I’d like to especially point out the work of Mark O’ Brien as Tom Rendon. There’s a scene in “The Way In” that finds Cameron having an anxiety attack over seeing zero users and subscribers logged onto Mutiny. He disarms her by talking her through one of the earlier chapters of their game, Parallax. “Every trap had a reward; every exit was actually an entrance.” Rendon demonstrates a real ability to get through to Cameron and an ability to communicate and connect without being sarcastic or arrogant. It’s a quality that Cameron still needs to work on. His “every exit was actually an entrance” represents the experience our characters are going through, most notably Joe and Bos.
Halt and Catch Fire is a series you should be watching. With HBO’s Game of Thrones now over, make some time to log in, connect, and find your way in to one of the finest dramas on television.
Halt and Catch Fire airs on AMC, Sunday nights at 10 PM. ET. Check your local listings.