Last year, at this time, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire was at a point where the Cardiff Giant was a reality, no longer a hoax. Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) was slowly unraveling and after he looted a toy store in the middle of Hurricane Alicia, he finally reached a breaking point when Donna (Kerry Bishe) discovered him in their yard, late at night, digging a giant hole. Cameron Howe had successfully written the BIOS, but was now fighting for her machine, the Giant, to have a soul; some sort of authenticity to validate the journey in creating an IBM clone/compatible. She was also involved in a relationship of sorts with Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) who had his own issues, all of which we’ve covered in depth during What’cha Reading’s “Still On Fire” series.
“Working for the Clampdown”, Halt‘s seventh episode in its second season, aired last night and mirrored the dilemmas of our characters to an even more poignant extent than last year. We’re at a place within the Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers created series where anything is possible and the idea of the future is still just a concept. Halt season two has been remarkably well done and exists in this oddity of a time that so many of us are familiar with as we lived it, but not many are aware of the actual tech wars and tech race existing as we walked aloof into our current generation where names like DELL, Apple, Google and such are at the tip of our tongues. The seventh episode, ‘Working for the Clampdown”, succeeds in so many ways and works primarily on Cantwell and Rogers script zeroing in on the specifics of what this season is all about – connection.
“Working for the Clampdown” – aired 7/12/2015 (five stars)
Written by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers
Directed by Karyn Kusama
*Spoilers are contained within.
There’s a real beauty to the entire production of the seventh episode. It’s could be credited to those involved in creating it – the writers, the director Karyn Kusama, the director of photography, Jeffrey Jur, or also the simple fact that the existence of a second season for Halt and Catch Fire is revealed in this episode. It’s not an apology for season one, the often critically beat to submission by critics season that introduced us to “The Battle for CTRL.” (Personally, S1 of Halt remains in my top 10 of shows you must watch, possibly being number 1.) This second season works so well as it flows as natural as all of our lives do in the world that exists outside of us watching television and connecting through social media. It’s a prestige reflection on the natural progression of where people are after an important time during their lives. Gordon, Cameron, and Joe created the Giant, but didn’t necessarily go down in the history books for anything revolutionary. Gordon went on to sell Cardiff Electric and collect his share, Cameron went running from the business and formed her startup, Mutiny, which was based on her mutiny from C.E. and Joe. Joe burnt down the truck containing the first shipment of the Giant, along with all his bridges, after the realization that his vision and ideas were nothing more than a finely faked forgery of those that were actually innovators and visionaries. Tossing his current skin (his business suit) into the fire, he partook in his own mimicry of Up Helly Aa, acknowledged that he didn’t win this time, and left for Fisk Observatory.
“You all right, Gordon?”
Season two of Halt and Catch Fire realizes that Gordon has finally come to peace with his failures and accomplishments. No longer resolved to squander his time, toiling away in the garage and snorting coke, he’s going to make something of himself. But sadly, his realization is on borrowed time and it’s running out. Earlier in the season, we learned he has brain damage, toxic encephalopathy. He’s now suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder and as he puts it to Donna, “a complication.” We know he views it as a death sentence and is secretly scared, but he comforts his wife that it’ll be okay. The episode finds Gordon confirming his plan to start his own, very DELL like business plan, of building computers directly for the customer based on the specifications they provide. He’ll be working at home and with his “most trusted friends”, the engineers we met during season one and last saw in “SETI.”
Donna, struggling with the stress of work and possibly selling out to Westgroup, not to mention her pregnancy and abortion, decides to take some time off from work. She tells her mother, Susan, (Annette O’ Toole) about Gordon’s brain damage. “It’s not a death sentence, it’s a complication.” she tells her mom, repeating what Gordon told her. We learn that Susan really does not like Gordon, as if we didn’t already know, but we do learn of a cute story of when Gordon asked Donna’s father’s permission to marry her. In typical Gordon fashion, he was so excited to ask her father’s permission, he got on the wrong plane.
Now, suffering from memory loss, one of the ailments of his brain damage, after finishing a speech regarding finally discovering the right idea to work on and feeling confident in following dreams, he begins to talk to his friends about walking into Joe MacMillan’s office and telling him that a portable under 15 lbs is not possible. It’s enough to puzzle his friends and remind us that Gordon isn’t alright. Early on in this second season, we saw Gordon have nose bleeds, have difficulty using his right hand, and collapse. His ailments took a break in last week’s episode, “10Broad36”, which gave Gordon a story that felt weak in servicing his overall arc, and ultimately seems like a sidestep due to the superiority of this episode’s story. But they come back in “Working for the Clampdown”, only to remind us of the impending nature of his degenerative disorder. His friends ask him if he’s alright and he shrugs it off, only to walk away. We’re left with a foggy view of the engineers in his garage while crickets chirp. It’s a powerful moment and a beautifully shot scene by Jeffrey Jur.
The silence of Gordon’s brain damage throughout most of this season has been compelling enough material that has allowed Scoot McNairy to really shine as an actor. He’s more than capable in creating Gordon as a fully realized person and it’s this very episode that reminds us why he is easily an actor to look out for. There’s a sense of tragedy and sadness to Gordon as he is that of a man that has found contentment and happiness far too late in the game. It’s a wonderful way to compliment that of Joe MacMillan’s arc, especially as both characters were such an important part of season one.
“I’m removing myself from the equation.”
Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan was sold as the star of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, but somewhere along the way, Mackenzie Davis’ Cameron and Kerry Bishe’s Donna become the real highlights. It makes sense that season two would naturally change gears and have the sophomore year on AMC revolve around the two women. It’s worked to a large extent and Bishe’s performance has been nothing short of incredible. However, for fans of Pace and Joe MacMillan, he hasn’t had that much screen time this season. With that said, MacMillan has had more of a felt presence than anything else throughout season two.
At the start of “Working for the Clampdown”, Joe calls Cameron and tells her that Westgroup is looking to buy out Mutiny. She ultimately rejects the offer, but considers it after it seems that it would be the right move to make by her group. Sadly, in the episode, we learn that Lev (August Emerson) was sent to the hospital after being beaten by a group that were posing as a man interested in meeting him through Community. Cameron heads to the hospital and is surprised to find Joe waiting. He tells her that he went to the house and was told what happened. Let’s not forget that Joe knew Lev from season one and was probably integral in having him hired. While they wait outside the hospital room, Joe says:
“It’s dangerous to try and really connect with someone. It’s so special when you find a person you can be yourself with.”
He recounts a story to Cameron that brings to mind a certain element of his sexuality. The last time this was addressed was actually in the seventh episode of season one – “Giant.” His story, which there is no hint to believe it isn’t true, revolves around his time in the sixth grade. Someone wrote a derogatory word on his locker and after trying to erase it, they came back and wrote it in permanent marker. Joe tells her that he carried his books and never returned to his locker, “I was only 11 years old, but I was already running from something.” This moment of complete honesty and authenticity in Joe is very reminiscent of the time he spoke to her about his mother dropping him off their roof.
“Working for the Clampdown.”
- First and foremost, the title of Halt and Catch Fire‘s seventh episode is borrowed from a line in the 1979 song by The Clash. This isn’t the first reference to The Clash, especially with all the posters at Mutiny. It’s worth noting, especially since the themes of the song deal with youth selling out to bigger, capitalist enterprises. (Something singer Joe Strummer urged against.)
Cameron is eventually convinced by Tom Rendon (Mark O’ Brien) and from the lack of confidence of her Mutineers in the direction their headed in to agree to signing with Westgroup. Outside of Lev’s hospital room, Joe confides in her about Jacob Wheeler (James Cromwell). He tells her that he won’t mean to ruin Mutiny, but he will through changing the course they’re headed in. Earlier we learn that Wheeler is not interested in their online gaming, but in Mutiny Community, instead. Cameron hesitates at first in believing Joe, but he assures her that he won’t bully her this time. “I’m removing myself from the equation.”
The Joe MacMillan we have at the end of “Working for the Clampdown” is a far different one than season one. It’s also a confirmation that him being a changed man this season is no charade. It was a stunning moment when Joe told Cameron not to sell Mutiny and marked a definitive change in the man from last season. Especially going back to this time last year, it’s a move he never would have made. It also adds more to his relationship with Sara (Aleksa Palladino) who returns in this episode.
The idea of connection and of how scary yet how rewarding it could be is really driven by all of the main characters in “Working for the Clampdown.” Cantwell and Rogers also create another episode that appropriately reflects the title of the episode. With three more episodes left, it’ll be interesting to see how this season concludes.
- “Working for the Clampdown” contains several references to the Marvel Comic series “Secret Wars”, particularly regarding the action figure line.
- Annabelle, the mannequin, is seen wearing an urban sombrero and a gas mask.
Halt and Catch Fire airs 10 pm ET, Sunday nights on AMC. Check your local listings.