“10Broad36” – aired 7/5/2015 – (4 stars)
Written by Jamie Pachino and Directed by Larysa Kondracki
*Spoilers are contained within.
Sunday night’s episode of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire began the later part of Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers second season. It’s hard to believe that Halt is already beginning to wind down, but when all is finished, season two is a very special accomplishment for all those involved with the series. When season one ended last August, it seemed uncertain if the freshman series would return for a sophomore year on the prestige network known for series such as Mad Men. But it did, and with season two came a more assured, confident, and stronger offering bound to attract more people who gave it a chance. “10Broad36” was a well directed and beautifully shot episode that reminds us that Halt is a unique offering on television right now; something far removed from the superheroes and zombies of t.v., yet it borders on a similar concept of something so undeniably pop-culture. Halt and Catch Fire season two is primarily about the building of our future, of everything we take for granted today.
Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) is finally back in the picture in a significant way and while his screentime isn’t nearly as much as it was during season one, he still manages to capture this Wizard of Oz, Master of the Universe presence in which everyone else most assuredly will have to go through to make it out of their own personal “colossal cave adventure.” He’s secured a higher and more authoritative position at his fiancee Sara’s (Aleksa Palladino) father’s business, Westgroup. While he no longer is damned to his low-level entry job as a data entry drone, he’s almost back to being the MacMillan we all knew (and most of us hated, but a few of us loved) from season one. Yet there is one major difference; there’s a sort of evolution Joe MacMillan has gone through.
The start of the episode finds Joe reviewing the Westgroup/Mutiny contract for the time-sharing agreement that will take both companies to the next big thing. He’s somewhat distracted as he notices an empty bottle and later remarks of clothes having gone missing. Joe calls Sara, who left him last week to sort out her feelings for him, and leaves a message. He tells her that he loves her and to call him back. We learn that it’s been a whole week that Sara has been gone and Joe believes that she’ll leave things like the empty bottle and take clothes from the house for him to notice. His “I love you” to her is a much different kind of sentiment from the ‘I need you” to Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) last season, at least, it comes off that way. We recognize that Joe is legitimately heartbroken over the loss of Sara and, for now, he has nothing other than his work to dive into.
After one of the mutineers, Lev (August Emerson) leads them to prank Cameron and Tom (Mark O’ Brien), to watch Tom sneak out Cameron’s bed room window, Joe arrives in the empty house, sunglasses on like The Terminator, and is brought back into Cameron’s life with a jarring immediacy…
“So this is Mutiny?”
Joe, at Mutiny, meets with Cameron and Donna (Kerry Bishe), and renegotiates their agreement. While Jacob Wheeler (James Cromwell) has allowed him to sign them at $3.50, he insists that he wants them at $5 an hour for using their time share. “You’re my building manager, Joe. And I only want the tenants who pay the highest rent.”
Joe, earlier on, informs Jacob that Mutiny is “raw, needs shaping, guidance.” It’s not that far from who Cameron was last season. She still exhibits a rawness, but when their meeting makes an unexpected turn when Joe won’t settle for the $4 an hour terms Donna wants, it’s Gordon’s (Scoot McNairy) wife that blows the deal. Afterwards, Bos (Toby Huss) calls Cameron on her yelling at Donna. The scene plays remarkably well, as Toby Huss is easily one of the series naturals, just like Kerry Bishe. “Can’t you see that that woman is going through something? She could use a friend right now.” He reasons with Cameron in a way that no one else can. She is initially surprised that Bos would speak against her behavior, but soon understands that he is just looking out for her best interests. We know that Donna told Bos that she was pregnant and it’s another small character flourish in having him not betray her trust by telling Cameron.
Donna meets with Joe at Westgroup and apologizes for her earlier outburst. This time, he sets up new parameters for their agreement, ones that include “strategic benchmarks” that will benefit Westgroup and, ultimately, Mutiny. Upon learning of the benchmarks he has set for them, Tom suggests that they deceive Joe by tricking him into thinking they’re using the UNIX instead of running their programs on a Commodore 64. It’s a plan set in motion more so to preserve their vision for Mutiny, and not let Joe dictate what it should be. They manage to pull it off and at first it seems as if they have him fooled when he’s invited over to demo their machine, but Joe catches on after three chess games result in the same move being made, along with the computer melting to the table. He realizes he’s been duped and leaves. Cameron heads out after him, but he gets in his truck telling her “What kills me about it is you’re so much better than this.”
While Mutiny’s ruse appears as if they soured any sort of work relationship with Joe and Westgroup, their creativity and rebellion has actually done much more for them. Joe becomes intrigued with their rigging to fool him, particularly 10Broad36, and the Ethernet code to stream data. He formulates his vision anew with Jacob and tells him how Broadband will most likely replace modems in the next 10 years.
“10Broad36” is another strong episode for Kerry Bishe as her character Donna has easily had some of the strongest material for the season. Many remarked that her plot lines for season one were weak for such a great actress and it’s noticeable that this has been remedied. However, the two weakest moments of the seventh episode happen to revolve around the two cast members that I’ve greatly enjoyed this season – Donna and Gordon. Two episodes ago, “Play With Friends”, we learn that Donna is pregnant. During “10Broad36”, her pregnancy is still a secret with only Bos knowing. Annette O’ Toole guest stars as Donna’s mother, Susan, and there’s a hint that she suspects her daughter is lying when she speaks of a miscarriage. It’s in this scene that we get a sense that Donna might be contemplating an abortion and it becomes clear after she finally opens up to Cameron and she drives her to Planned Parenthood. We’re left uncertain about Donna’s ultimate decision, but it would seem as if she might not have gone through with it after she sings her daughters to sleep over the phone.
I’ve greatly enjoyed Donna’s arc throughout season two and have found Kerry Bishe one of the most natural of performers on the series, right next to Toby Huss. It’s for this very reason that I have to point out that her arc regarding the baby and Planned Parenthood clinic to appear as one of the weaker moments in the seventh episode. I have to point out that if it wasn’t for USA’s Graceland using a similar plot in last week’s episode, I may have thought more of Halt using the idea of a pregnancy and possible abortion as a more weighty theme. But Graceland just used this and by the time we get to this on Halt, it feels as if it was added more for the sake of drama, then to actually push the characters in the next logical direction. With that said, Kerry Bishe was wonderfully nuanced as a working woman, mother, and wife dealing with an insurmountable level of pressure on her shoulders. I’ve remarked that Lee Pace has said that he views Joe as a mythological character whom the gods hate and it would also seem that this could be true for Bishe’s Donna, as well.
A second, if almost squandered opportunity in “10Broad36”, was the usage of Gordon’s brother and his own infidelity as a way to further his torment over his brain damage diagnosis. He heads off with his daughters to visit his brother and he also reconnects with Jules Duffy (Erin Cummings). It’s easy to call what will happen as soon as he meets his brother and Jules (his brother has an issue and Gordon’s going to cheat on Donna with Jules) so after we learn that Henry Clark (Kevin Rankin) is an alcoholic and Gordon “It feels so good to just sit here and do the wrong thing with you” Clark has sex with Jules in the back of the truck, it feels like the writers could have done something much better with this plot line. Ultimately, the alcoholism and affair seem contrived, HOWEVER, I’d like to point out something important. There were many critics of Donna’s one-second affair with her boss, Hunt Whitmarsh, last season, but that story line played an important part in the grand scheme of season one’s climax. It is not without reason to believe that Gordon’s brother, Henry, and ex-girlfriend, Jules, may come back into the season. I remain doubtful of that as we only have four more episodes left, but I’d hate to discount a potential breadcrumb.
“I think we should acquire them.”
“10Broad36”, like so many other episodes of Halt and Catch Fire, work on feeding off of the audiences understanding of where we are today in relation to our tech. The idea of chat rooms, instant communication, gaming, and now broadband, are all terms we very much understand. There’s a bit of a tragic element playing to all this as we know the series is populated with fictitious people like Joe MacMillan, not Steve Jobs, and Cameron How, not Ada Lovelace. It begs the question about how far will these people’s ingenuity take them until their ultimately playing second fiddle to those that truly reshaped the future. It’s vastly exciting to have the episode end with Joe telling Jacob that Westgroup should acquire Mutiny, and should be seen as remarkable validation for all the Mutineers hard work over the past year at their startup that such a group would want to buy them out. With four more episodes left, it will be interesting to see where the rest of this seasons heads.
Next week’s episode, “Working for the Clampdown” (a Clash song) airs on Sunday, July 12 at 10 PM ET. On AMC. Check your local listings.