Before the eighth installment of Still On Fire, What’cha Reading’s recap/review series for AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire”, I’d like to point out a key aspect of the previous episode – “Giant.” During Gordon’s (Scoot McNairy) first and only encounter with Simon Church (D.B. Woodside), he grows flustered with Joe (Lee Pace) naming their PC the “Contrail.” He walks out of the conference room and suggests that they might as well name the IBM clone “The Cardiff Giant.”
For those that may not know (admittedly I did not know until I did some research) “The Cardiff Giant” is Gordon’s attempt at calling their whole project a giant hoax. Why? Well, there was an actual Cardiff Giant and it was/is considered to be one of the greatest cons in American history. George Hull, an atheist from New York, created the giant after an argument regarding the belief that giants once walked the earth. Almost a year after, in October of 1869, Hull’s cousin claimed to have unearthed it on his farm with the help of two additional men he had hired. Some time after its discovery, Hull had the giant flown to New York to be placed on exhibit and it drew the attention of, yes, you guessed it – P.T. Barnum. The famous showman offered to buy it, but when his offer was declined, he had one created and claimed that his was the real one and Hull’s was fake. David Hannum, one of the men belonging to the syndicate that bought the giant from Hull, said “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Of course, Hannum was referring to all those that paid to see P.T. Barnum’s giant as he knew it was a hoax.
In respect to the story, that was an extremely clever reference to use and adds more to the story that Gordon tells his daughters.
I’d also like to acknowledge the work of Kevin D. Ross, the film editor on “Halt and Catch Fire.” The Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers created series showcases some of the best talent in the industry and Kevin D. Ross does an exceptional job in creating an intense and engaging hour that goes beyond being just television. He is serving as the editor for several episodes of Season Two and I can’t wait to see the style of storytelling he brings to Halt 2.0
If there are any more references or moments that you feel I may have failed to notice, I welcome you to flood our comments section below this article and/or tweet me at @reggiemantleIII
“The 214s” – aired 7/20/2014 (5 stars)
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer & Written by Dahvi Waller and Zack Whedon
In many ways, “The 214s” is an episode about getting the band back together. It’s a crucial plot to any team based story and as contrived as it may sound, writers Dahvi Waller and Zack Whedon deliver a strong eighth episode. Picking up about a week later after Gordon’s break from reality “I’m looking for the giant.”, we open to a close up of a meditating Gordon Clark. Scoot McNairy appears to finally be in control of his emotions and the volcano of stress seems to have finally simmered down.
“Everything that you conceive of yourself as being is an illusion. There is no self. Take a deep breath in. Allow yourself to experience everythingness and nothingness. As you breathe out, let go of fear. You can choose to leave the familiar or stay in the safe oblivion – of pain, ignorance and a blank page.”
The time is 7:02 am and Gordon leaves for work after reassuring his wife, Donna (Kerry Bishe) that he’s fine. At Cardiff, Gordon excitedly speaks about his experiences at COMDEX. The company is preparing their itinerary and business trip as this is the final push to attract retailers for the Giant. Gordon, staying on his “familiar path” of living in the past, speaks of the best hotels and the highlights of the Las Vegas convention. Joe (Lee Pace) secures their spot and their right next to Commodore and Tandy. “That is huge, that is huge. It’s so big, I’m telling you. I’ve been there.” Gordon says, and his excitement is tangible. Gordon’s continuing talk of COMDEX actually reminds me of myself when I attended NY Toy Fair this past February and spoke about if for weeks. There’s a real sense of pride that Scoot McNairy brings to Gordon and we could only imagine the pride he feels in knowing that he’s finally been vindicated on his past failure with the Symphonic. But, it’s this very failure that keeps Joe from securing a spot on the trip for Gordon. While Gordon’s still going on about COMDEX, Debbie (Bianca Malinowski) asks if he’s going as well since Joe booked only one room in Vegas.
Joe and Cameron are in the basement having sex after he successfully secures Cardiff a spot at COMDEX and his dreams of building a PC have come true. We see more of how their relationship has blossomed into an openness between them and he asks her if she’s alright with staying behind when he leaves. Joe tells Cameron that he’ll miss her and she says “Yeah, me too.” It just plays well and we get a sense that they’re relationship this time around may actually work, especially in light of the Giant’s completion.
Afterwards, Joe is confronted by Gordon (angry yet again) after learning that Joe isn’t planning on bringing him to the trade show. “You’re going to COMDEX without me?!?” he yells at Joe. He’s told that the trip was planned the week he was out sick (a definite reference towards Gordon digging for the Giant), but he doesn’t believe Joe one bit. Joe then opens to him about people not forgetting about the Symphonic and of his role not being essential to the selling of the Giant.
Gordon storms out of Joe’s office and marches to his office. He looks like he’s ready to explode so he puts on his relaxation tape, but only after a second he tosses the head phones at the wall and smashes his cassette player.
That night, Donna sees Hunt (Scott Michael Foster) is outside her home. She heads outside and he seems like he wasn’t prepared to see her. We surmise that feelings have come up after she kissed him in “Giant” while away on business. Hunt asks Donna to “forget you ever saw me” and leaves. Brian (Will Greenberg & one our favorite recurring characters) is having a smoke outside. He seems much calmer since we last saw him as a laid off, gun totting gonzo in “Close To The Metal.”
Back inside the Clark home, Gordon tells Donna that he placed a $455 charge on their card to get him to COMDEX as he says “I have to be there.” Donna seems like she’s fine with his expense, even though it’s over the $50 limit she likes to maintain. We do understand the place Gordon is in and I believe because of Scoot McNairy’s everyman quality that he brings to the role, we relate to his journey. He needs to be there. It’s a trip he needs to make for himself as after all he’s been through and all he’s done, the Giant belongs to him as much as it does to Joe. Possibly one could argue that the Cardiff Giant is more so a baby of Gordon and Donna’s (even Cameron and Bosworth’s) than it is Joe. But like I said, “possibly one could argue…”
The next morning Bosworth (Toby Huss) has an extremely uncomfortable meeting with Nathan Cardiff (Graham Beckel). Cardiff doesn’t immediately get to the point as to why he’s there, but it certainly makes Bos uneasy. Cameron walks into the office, but is immediately reprimanded by her father-figure and friend, Bos. She’s hurt by his sudden turn and quickly leaves. Bos goes after her while she’s in a meeting. She’s talking with someone about the press concerns for the Giant, but falters as she’s still in shock over how Bos spoke to her. With a sort of wink to the audience and to Cameron, he essentially apologizes to her as he gets to tell the woman who instead of focusing on the machine, she should be focusing on the people who made it. “They bled for this. The future’s coming whether we like it or not, but it ain’t written anywhere that it includes any of us. And getting there ain’t free. There’s a cost. People who put up the money, they like to take the credit, but the credit belongs to them that built it. This machine is the future. Make them see that.” The F.B.I. soon raid the office building and state that they are their to arrest John Bosworth! He asks if they could do it outside, but they disregard his request. The F.B.I. tell the staff that they are shutting Cardiff Electric down and after they search and clear the building, everyone can leave. Later on, we learn that the F.B.I. are looking for evidence of hacking. Joe quietly confronts Cameron about this and she tells him of her involvement. She’s honest with Joe and tells him about the 414s as previously referenced throughout “Giant.” She helped Bos take money from Cardiff’s account to keep their PC program afloat until COMDEX. Their plan was to return the money after the trade show as soon as they made sales.
As Cardiff property is being seized, Gordon makes a quick decision to take apart the Giant so the agents won’t be able to take the lifeline of Cardiff and all their futures, if you will. He later returns at night and breaks into the building to steal the Giant back. It’s a big power move on Gordon’s part and we’re beginning to see an immediate change in him from when we last saw him smash his tapes.
At Texas Instruments, Donna learns that Hunt resigned with no mention as to where he’s headed. His secretary had observed that both Hunt and Donna “seemed so close”, but it’s obvious the dynamics of their relationship changed after she kissed him. Hunt’s appearance outside her home is starting to seem like more of a clear final goodbye than it did before.
Gordon, Joe, and Cameron meet to devise a plan and how they could move forward in light of the scandal. Cameron admits to Gordon that she was behind the hacking after he accuses Joe. Yet again, we see Cameron come to Joe’s defense. But in the heat of their bickering, Gordon reveals to Cameron that Joe engineered the debacle of her losing the BIOS in “Close To The Metal.” He finally admits that he did it for publicity and that incurs both Gordon and Cameron’s anger. In agreement they rally against Joe and tell him “You only destroy things. You’ve never created anything.” Joe tells them that he created both of them and Cameron punches him in the face and leaves.
Gordon is in disbelief over how everything is turning out and calls Donna to tell her the news that it’s over. Donna, already stunned over Hunt’s departure, is now in shock that their both in the midst of another failure. “I can’t believe this is happening again.” she says and we feel her pain. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back and it looks as if Donna is preparing to leave Gordon. It’s a tightrope walk of a situation and I can see why Donna is starting to feel like her marriage is headed in that direction. She tells her mom, Susan (Annette O’ Toole), about Hunt. She thinks that they may have had an affair, but Donna assures her that it was just a kiss. She feels like she may be trapped and isn’t sure what to do, but her mother tells her that her and her father support her fully. Later on, Donna sees Gordon at 1:47 in the morning with the Giant. He tries reasoning with her and agreeing that he too would be thinking “here we go again”, but that this time isn’t like when they failed with the Symphonic. Gordon finally agrees with his wife that the Symphonic was a mistake – no longer believing that it was the best he ever did as he states in “I/O.” He ends up smashing the Symphonic and it turns out to be the machine Donna was playing a few episodes back in the garage. Gordon then tries to assure her of his plan to sell the Giant at COMDEX. He asks her for her support and while it’s unclear to Gordon if she’ll support him, we see that she calls back her mom and plans on staying with her parents for a while.
“Do I remind you of her? Is that why you hate me?”
Joe, in an attempt to start drumming up business, calls an acquaintance (not a friend) and asks if he’d be interested in placing a small order for the Giant before COMDEX. The man on the line, Jim, tells him he’s going to stick with IBM, especially as talk is surrounding that they’ll be releasing a portable PC. Joe immediately believes he’s been had by his father and breaks the bat over his knee. Joe heads to New York to speak with his father (John Getz) and asks him about IBM’s development of a portable unit. They argue over the Giant and IBM’s portable, along with dropping a major revelation about Joe’s past. With only two more episodes left, the mystery of Joe MacMillan is almost completely gone. While he’s still very much an enigmatic figure, largely in part due to Lee Pace’s mesmerizing performance), we now learn that he drove across the country after leaving IBM. Joe, after being told by his father that his mother died 23 years before she actually did, went across the country in hopes of finding anyone that she may have known. Tragically, he wanted to know if he was more like his mother or father.
We understand more about Joe MacMillan Sr. and he doesn’t seem as bad as Cameron made him out to be. Granted, we only have a small understanding of him, but it would seem that it was out of genuine love for his son that he sent Joe’s mom away. He tells Joe that it was to protect him, especially as it was her being high and letting go of his hand that led him to falling off the roof and being hospitalized. Joe, having only been a child, remembers his mother as a dreamer and believes she would take him to the roof to look at the stars to instill that quality in him. Joe’s father argues that she wasn’t a dreamer. He tells his son that “A real dreamer, someone that matters, makes something out of nothing. And that only happens with hard work.” Pieces of Joe’s puzzle start coming together as we realize how he’s just as lost as his mom was. In struggling to learn his identity, in which many ways was robbed from him, he’s become trapped in between wanting to be his father and wanting to be what he remembers of his mother.
Joe MacMillan Sr. offers to bring Joe back home and to get him back on track soon enough. Joe, almost admitting to himself that he has to “come back down to earth”, agrees to return under two particular conditions – 1) He needs to be the primary on the IBM portable and 2) He needs to run the whole thing.
“Find my way back.”
Gordon finds Cameron at the arcade from “I/O.” He takes flak for not always being in support of her, but sells her on the plan to bring the Giant to COMDEX. “We’re the talent, not Joe.”
They head off to Joe’s apartment and Gordon believes he’s already cleaned out since there is nothing there. Cameron tells him “This is just how he lives” and Gordon realizes that they know nothing about him (at least he doesn’t.) Cameron finds the broken baseball bat and recognizes that Joe is going through something personal. While they spend the night at Joe’s apartment, Gordon and Cameron finally share a little about themselves. Gordon tells Cameron of how when he was 23, Donna pawned a decoder ring that he made special for her so she could buy him the Altair computer kit he had wanted. Donna told him to buy her a ring after they sold their first computer together. What he doesn’t know is that while Donna was planning on leaving him, she begins to play with the Giant. Their interactive, PC with a soul, asks her what she’d like to do and she types “Find my way back.” After a quick exchange of the PC not being able to locate such a program, it tells her she has good manners. The effectiveness of Cameron’s OS has a massive effect on Donna and proves that giving it a personality would make people fall in love with it. Cameron, unfortunately, doesn’t realize that in many ways her design helped save Gordon and Donna’s marriage.
Joe finally arrives and tells them of his plan to return to IBM. Gordon calls him on his decision and tells him that he’s going back on everything he stood for. He makes a solid point that for Joe everything is about control, but when faced with a real opportunity he backs out. Gordon now has to sell Joe and tells him how eight months ago he “was a miserable sales engineer whose favorite part of the day was clocking out. Yesterday, I broke into a crime scene to steal the state-of-the-art computer that I helped create. Cameron, the brilliant programmer, months away from a college degree and a promising career in software, she dropped out, ended up hacking into the computers of a national bank. John Bosworth, Texas good ol’ boy, president of the “I Hate Joe MacMillan” fan club. John Bosworth hatched a plan to embezzle thousands and thousands of dollars just to keep this project alive. You… you made us all crazy.” Gordon then makes an appeal for Joe’s money and another bombshell is dropped – Joe doesn’t have any. “I guess someone was buying my act after all.” Joe finally admits that other than his car and clothes, he doesn’t have anything. Joe MacMillan isn’t a Don Draper. He’s exactly what most of us expected from the start – a fraud. However, he sells his porsche so they could travel to COMDEX and decides to go. I was truly surprised in this moment when I originally viewed it last summer. I suspected Joe was not all that he projected, but to learn that he doesn’t have any money was a well-plotted surprise. It’s another development and flourish to his character that brings to mind the idea of authenticity.
Before they head off on their road trip, they return to Gordon’s home and we see that Donna has changed her mind. In looking for her way back, she found Gordon’s decoder ring (he had it remade and was planning on surprising her with it), and decided that she needs to go with her husband. It’s a very touching moment and clear sign that Donna and Gordon will be in full support of one another as they begin their rogue operation to sell the Giant. Cameron, makes a stop of her own to visit Bossworth. He’s staying with Barry (Mike Pniewski), who put up his bail before he even thought to ask. It’s evident that Bosworth will be going to jail as he took the fall for their 414s esque hacking crime. (Hence the title – “The 214s”, it’s an area code in Texas.) Bos assures Cameron that he’ll be okay and they part ways.
Our group, comprised of Joe, Gordon, Cameron, and Donna get in the Clark’s station wagon, and head off to COMDEX. The band is back together.
“Halt and Catch Fire” is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Netflix. Season Two premiers on AMC, May 31 at 10 pm ET. Check your local listings.