“Giant” – aired 7/13/2014 – (5 stars)
Directed by Jon Amiel & Written by Jamie Pachino
We see Gordon (Scoot McNairy) on the same rain-soaked street that he was on in “Landfall.” Still holding on to the two Cabbage Patch Dolls he stole from the window, he walks up to the dead man in the street. But the man isn’t just some nondescript individual – it’s Gordon! He wakes up and Donna (Kerry Bishe) asks him if he’s okay. Gordon was having a nightmare and his screaming woke the kids and probably the whole neighborhood. We never hear the screams, though. It’s starting to become very clear, as with Gordon’s previous dream in “Landfall” of the flower, that the building of the Cardiff PC is slowly leaving him unraveled. Scoot McNairy’s Gordon has truly come to life over the past few episodes and he brings a certain kind of energy to the stressed Gordon that makes him a perfect way to set off each episode.
Donna has her business trip with Hunt Whitmarsh (Scott Michael Foster) and needs to prepare her analysis report. Once again, Gordon somehow interrupts his wife’s schedule and now she has to comfort their children back to sleep.
Currently, Joe (Lee Pace) is working late at Cardiff Electric. It’s 2:30 in the morning and Debbie (Bianca Malinowski) checks in on him. He tells her he’s fine and after she leaves Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) shows up. She mimics Debbie’s bubbly personality and then tells him that “all work and no play make Joe a dull boy.” It looks like she brought him a t.v. dinner and alcohol. While Joe and Cameron are together, we see Bos (Toby Huss) is also there. Unlike the frivolous early morning for Joe and Cameron, Bos is getting very dire news. Cardiff’s accountant tells him that they’re operating at massive deficit and by the close of business next week, “the hole will be so deep, it will take the entire company with it.” There’s nothing Bos could do to save the company and so he asks to keep the financial information between the both of them. He walks the accountant out of the office and sees Joe and Cameron together. Bos gives a disapproving look and Toby Huss sells it. I like that over the course of the past few episodes, Bos has become a sort of father figure for Cameron and has been shown to genuinely care for her. In “Landfall” he asks her to share a drink with him in his office and he uses the opportunity to warn her of her theatrics. Bos goes on to speak with her about the future and assures her that she is it. In some ways in the earlier episodes, and after learning of her father’s passing in “Adventure”, there’s a possibility that Cameron looks to Joe as a father figure, but that he betrays that longing in her as they initiate their “thing.” Bos, on the other hand, has only grown closer with Cameron and the coders. He’s never used Cameron or has been shown to manipulate her in any way (even Joe MacMillan Sr. attempted that) so it’s a nice flourish to their characters to see him looking out for her.
Back where Joe and Cameron are, the kill room, she tells him that she just likes looking at the computer. Cameron tells him that “it kinda turns me on” and he gets up, grabs hold of a live current and it startles her. As the volts go through him (he tells her it’s only a few), Joe says “I’m turning you on” when she asks him what he’s doing. The idea excites her and she takes his hand with the volts coursing through her body. This is another moment where we’re reminded of Joe’s dangerous side and while he’s not destroying a car or an electronics shop, he definitely has a penchant for danger and risk. This aspect of him is what seemingly keeps drawing Cameron back to him and it’s alluded they have sex.
Some time after high voltage tryst, Joe gets a phone call and takes it in his office. He seems excited and caught by surprise with who he’s speaking with. Cameron attempts to eavesdrop out of curiosity as to who has her man’s attention in a way we haven’t seen anyone capture yet, but Joe quietly, without any thought, closes the door.
The next day at Cardiff, the engineers go over certain issues with the computer (speed, weight…) while Gordon tells them he needs suggestions for the computer’s name. While suggestions are thrown around, Joe and Bos discuss the design of the computer. One of their designers, Kenny (Ricky Wayne), needs to be cancelled abruptly as Joe believes he’s found someone better; a true artist. He tells Bos that he wasn’t even sure if his guy would do it as he is temperamental, but that he just spoke with him (the phone call from earlier) and with him being in Texas, he knows he’ll design their PC. Joe heads to his office and finds Cameron sitting behind his desk. She tells him about a Newsweek cover story about “a bunch of teenagers [breaking]into Los Alamos National Lab’s computers.” Joe is then surprised to see Simon Church*, his designer, already waiting for him in his office. Simon’s presence makes him uneasy and he asks him to wait in the conference room. *Simon Church is played by guest-star D.B. Woodside (24, Suits, FOX’s upcoming Lucifer based on the DC/Vertigo comic) After Simon leaves, Joe grows angry with Cameron and asks “You think today maybe we could be adults? Just for a few hours?” and she replies with a snide “Yes sir, Mr. MacMillan, sir.” We learn through Joe that Simon Church is one of the top industrial designer’s and if he agrees to make the case for their PC, “it puts us on a whole new level.” Cameron apologizes, citing what she did to be a joke, and leaves.
The scene between Joe, Cameron, and the surprise of Simon in the room plays magnificently well. It also goes on to remind us of Cameron’s youth and inexperience. For her, she just sees Joe and their relationship. Cameron doesn’t separate the Joe at work from the Joe she has her thing with. The scene also provides Mackenzie Davis an opportunity to show a relatable sweetness to Cameron, that despite her independence and self-confidence, she falls in love just like everybody else. And we’ve all been there where we allow our feelings to blind our judgement in particular moments. I’ve read a few issues with incongruities in character for Cameron in this episode, but I feel it helps service the overall arc of her and Joe’s character which comes to a close in three episodes.
In the conference room, Joe and Gordon go over the specs of Simon’s design. Joe tells Simon that has work is exactly what they wanted and more. He’s ready to go with the design, but Gordon doesn’t agree. The new design, while it will magnetically draw people to it, may pose a new set of problems for Gordon. He refers to Simon’s work on Countach and Delorean and that “both are in the shop every hundred miles.” Simon doesn’t agree with Gordon’s problems and makes a point that “Your consumers will soon have more than a dozen choices that look identical to what you’d build, so what will capture their attention?” It’s a great remark and another hint at what’s to come for Cardiff Electric before season one ends. As both men go one, Joe begins to speak of unveiling the computer and that its name will be the “Contrail.”
Gordon: The Contrail? You’re naming it after the exhaust that comes out of the back of a plane?
Joe: It’s about soaring, leaving the competition in the dust, which is exactly what this design can accomplish.
Gordon (con’t.): No, Joe, contrail is the dust.
Gordon leaves, dejected and annoyed over Joe’s steadfast resolve over the name and not even bothering to leave it to a discussion. “Why don’t you just call it the “Cardiff Giant”?”
Simon, already uneasy about Cardiff Electric, believes his time is being wasted and decides to leave. Joe tries to persuade him to stay, but Simon annoyed asks “What’s with the girl?” and gets in the elevator. Joe, angry over Simon leaving, confronts Gordon and settles on calling their computer “The Giant.” The constant rivalry and bickering between Gordon and Joe apparently has not settled down. Joe does have a tendency to steam roll over Gordon’s ideas and the frustration is understandable on his part. They’ve worked on the project for a long time and the actual fulfillment of their project together has taken them a far way from the pilot episode “I/O.”
After the antics that led to Simon Church leaving Cardiff Electric, Joe goes to Bos and requests that they find a way to bring Ken Burke back on board. Burke, was dismissed earlier, in favor of Church. We learn they have six weeks until COMDEX and the stakes are even higher now as they need a design for the Giant. They agree to meet Burke at a strip club named “Strokers” which Joe remarks sarcastically on. Cameron asks Joe is he slept with Simon and he asks if that’d be a problem for her. She says that she doesn’t care and he tells her about their history. We learn that 10 years prior, Joe was in Europe for a conference and heard Simon speak. He wanted to be him and spent a month with him until Simon left. “That guy just messes me up.”
At Strokers, Ken raises his price on Joe and Bos. He knows that they’re settling on someone who wasn’t their first choice so he has his fun. The evening is every stressful and the only person enjoying himself seems to be Ken. During their meeting, Ken asks Bos about his wife to which we know he’s divorcing. Earlier in “Giant”, right before Joe asks him to get back Ken, we see a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.” Adding further insult, Ken remarks that Joe didn’t glance at any of the women at the strip club and asks if he’s queer. Bos decks the insulting and snide designer and they walk out. Bos asks Joe if he could get Simon to come back and he tells him he’ll try.
“Giant” is filled with so many terrific moments and I don’t understand why certain reviews felt this may have been the weakest. AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” is a highly entertaining and engaging series that doesn’t try to be any other show than itself. While there are moments that could remind fans and viewers of “Mad Men” or other prestige dramas, AMC’s thriller/period drama has all the makings of a great series. “Giant”, being the 7th episode, has to cover very important material and prepare us for the final three episodes. It’s not an easy task, but episode writer Jamie Pachino and director Jon Amiel do an excellent job at providing an episode that rewards those that have stuck with it since the pilot.
The moment where Bos punches Ken is so rewarding for different reasons. Not only on a basic level of Ken being annoying, but the man didn’t respect the professionalism of both men nor did he respect their business. I like that Bos doesn’t immediately hit him; it takes the homophobic comment for him to deck him. In many ways, it brings the relationship Bos has with Joe full circle. While they aren’t necessarily friends, they are allies in completing the project of the Giant. Long gone are the days of Bos guessing on wine for Joe and being president of the “I hate Joe MacMillan fan club.” It’s a moment of sincere growth for both men and Joe even recognizes it as he smiles at Bos after Ken is decked.
Ultimately, the moment doesn’t play out as well as Nathan Cardiff (Graham Beckel) is waiting for Bos in his office. He found out about the altercation at Strokers since Ken had called him directly “madder’n hell.” Bos tells him that “innovation is a risk” and personally asks for a bridge loan as their PC program is out of money. Cardiff grows angered and tells Bos that he’s “gone native.” Cardiff, for many reasons, does have a right to be upset. As we’ve seen since the pilot, most of their bridges have burned due to Joe’s reverse engineering of the IBM PC. Cardiff makes mention of this and believes that Bos is no longer level-headed so he tells him to shut it down [the PC program]after they have no more money for it.
The bombshell news of Cardiff Electric running out of money and their lack of support from Nathan Cardiff essentially backs Bos against a wall. We’ve seen how he reacts when feeling cornered such as when he has the police men beat Joe at the end of “Close To The Metal.” At the end of “Giant” we see Bos sign his divorce papers and begin to read the Newsweek article on the “414 hackers.” Where are you headed with this one, Bos?
“That guy just messes me up.”
Joe and Cameron’s volatile, dangerous, and high charged relationship continues to grow in a way that the both of them never expected. It’s interesting to think back on her comment to Joe in “I/O” – “You mean we’re not in love?” Their relationship wasn’t about love when they first met, but somewhere along the way it happened. Joe, not being the relationship type, throws her off guard when she comes to realize his feelings and past with Simon Church. Cameron, doesn’t necessarily register her jealousy of what Joe and Simon share/shared in their relationship until the very end.
Wanting to truly help Joe, whom she’s in love with, heads to the art gallery that he wasn’t able to make it to due to his meeting with Ken at Strokers. It’s here that she attempts to salvage the fallout between Simon, Joe, and Gordon from earlier, but learns more about Joe than she realized. Simon reveals to her that they did spend a month together, but that he left Joe after he told him that he loved him. Simon knew that their relationship was over as soon as he told him about his love for him and believes that Joe “just got bored.” He warns Cameron about her feelings for Joe and what will keep him from doing the same to her as he did to him. This, as you may recall from “FUD”, also brings to mind the conversations Joe had with Dale Butler (David Wilson Barnes). There’s a slight tone of a possible relationship/friendship Joe may have shared with him, especially that it’s Dale who travels to Cardiff to see Joe and visits him at his apartment later on. I haven’t seen this idea explored anywhere else so I feel it’s worth throwing out there. Does anyone have any thoughts? Is there a possibility that Joe had a “thing” with Dale and eventually left without saying goodbye, as we know he did.
Joe arrives later and speaks with Simon at the gallery. He tells him that he doesn’t care if he designs the case and leaves with a drunken Cameron. She says to him “That guy just messes me up” which is exactly what he told her early on. While I think it’s mainly said to remind us of Cameron’s rebellion against those around her, along with her penchant for trying to get back at others when she feels hurt, may also suggest that Simon did in fact mess her up. I believe he did as we see Cameron filled with insecurity over her present relationship with doubt. While she was jealous of what the men shared earlier on, there was never a suggestion that she’d be afraid of losing Joe, as we’ve seen him grow angry over feeling that he was losing her.
Outside, Joe places Cameron in a cab and goes back to speak with Simon. Cameron watches as the two men hold hands and embrace one another. It’s a heart breaking moment as she believes she’s losing Joe without knowing the context of why Joe and Simon are embracing. As Cameron cries inside the cab and asks for the driver to leave, we learn that Simon is ill (it’s not said, but we’re left to infer it’s Aids.) He tells Joe that he came to say goodbye, but knows that Joe is immediately thinking of what that means for his PC. Simon, touchingly tells Joe that he already designed the case and has it ready. It’s such a wonderful moment and Lee Pace and D.B. Woodside bring to life a history of two men that, while we haven’t seen presented until now, almost feels as if we’ve known them for a long time.
Joe chases after the cab, gets in, and shares a tender and genuinely authentic moment with her. He places his arm around her and she tearfully asks “Are you going to get bored of me?” to which he responds – “I don’t know.” There’s a real honesty and truth to the scene and it’s the second time since telling Cameron about his mother that we believe Joe is being honest. He’d have no reason to lie to her and there’s a real bittersweet feeling we’re left with as they drive away.
“Are you tough?”
While Gordon is with his daughters, he throws out the lasagna Donna left for them, and decides to make his great-grandma Iris’s stew. He delivers this elaborate story with the theme focused on being tough. He asks Joanie and Hayley “Are you tough?” and eventually says, almost to reassure himself, “We’re all tough.” After the stew, he tells the girls to get their pj’s on and soon notices the leaky faucet in the kitchen. He’s drinking and we have a feeling that we know where this is headed. Donna, away on her business trip, calls home and Gordon speaks to her, but ends up cutting his hand while trying to fix the faucet with a knife. Once again, Scoot McNairy delivers a grossly under appreciated performance and Gordon’s constant sinking starts to play like a strange comedy as you can’t help but laugh at his run of misfortune.
But perhaps the most key scene in “Giant” is when Gordon tells his daughters a bed time story of a farmer and PT Barnum:
“Um… a long time ago, way back in the 1800s, there was a farmer in Cardiff, New York. And this farmer, he wanted to feel special, so he built a 10-foot-tall giant and buried it out in his field. And he waited, and a year went by. And then he and some of his workers dug it up. And the men who worked for him were convinced that the giant was real. And the people told him to show it to the world, and he did. And people came from all around. And he felt very, very special. He was so special that somebody offered to partner with him. P.T. Barnum, an expert salesman. And they fought and they argued day and night because the salesman wanted the giant all to himself. P.T. Barnum built his own giant. And he made it part of his circus and he claimed that it was real. And he was such an expert salesman that everyone forgot about the farmer… and he was left in the dust, in the contrail.”
Gordon, weaving his own experience with the Symphonic, Cardiff Electric, Joe MacMillan, and the Giant begins to fall more into a maddening experience as he’s worked himself up into believing that he’ll be forgotten after all the work he’s done in bringing the Cardiff Giant to life. He later sees his daughters in the yard, digging as they search for the Giant. Gordon tells them that there is no Giant and to go to bed.
His wife, Donna, proves that she isn’t tough enough to resist what seems like signals from Hunt. At their business meeting, Donna speaks up in regards to Texas Instruments leaving behind the PC market to which they agree. It’s a win for Donna and she has Hunt’s full support which is a nice change of pace as he’s had issues with the quality of her work as evidenced in the past few episodes. They have dinner together and share a close moment in the elevator later in the evening. He tells her that she should “be bold” more often. Hunt shows up at her room later on and Donna kisses him, but Hunt stops her and says that “these things happen.” He hands her a fax that Gordon sent to her, but was accidentally brought to his room instead.
Donna immediately returns home and arrives to blood on the kitchen floor. She, naturally responding, runs to the girls to see if their okay. They’re fine and she’s relieved, but then asks where Gordon is. Donna heads outside and we see Gordon digging a huge hole. After the following exchange between him and his wife, it’s clear that Gordon’s mental state is gone.
“Gordon, what are you doing?”
“I’m looking for the giant.”
Complete with Scoot McNairy’s gone off the reservation performance, Paul Haslinger’s wonderfully haunting score, and the almost horror-movie shot scene by season one DP, Nelson Cragg, the final scene leaves us immediately wanting to boot up the eighth episode – “The 214s.”
“Halt and Catch Fire” season one is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Netflix. Season Two premiers on Sunday, May 31 at 10 pm on AMC. Check your local listings.