The Terminator was released on VHS and Betamax in 1985, a year after its theatrical release. My parents had the original copy, and a few years later after I was born in 1989, my dad showed me when I was merely a baby. The film stood out and remains as one of my favorites to this day. The reboot/remake/sequel, however you choose to view Terminator Genisys, opens this Wednesday, July 1st. Last night’s episode of Halt and Catch Fire revolved around the said release of the first film and maintained a timely theme that ran throughout the episode. One of AMC’s greatest strengths as a network, clearly demonstrated through Mad Men, is the nature to create engaging period dramas that maintain just a certain level of nostalgia, while also being engaging in a new, unforeseen way. Those familiar with the time and history know how certain events will play out, but are left in the dark as to the direction the characters are headed in. Similarly reflecting the theme of The Terminator series, Halt and Catch Fire continually shows us a portrait of the past building the future, but of a past not written in the stone we all occupy now. The fifth episode, “Extract and Defend”, marks the halfway mark through a stellar and superior second season. If you still haven’t started Halt and Catch Fire, there is no better time to start watching than now.
“Extract and Defend” – aired 6/28/2015 (5 stars)
Directed by Michael Morris
Written by Zack Whedon
*Spoilers for “Extract and Defend” are contained within.*
- Only two things you need to know about tonight’s new episode of [Halt and Catch Fire] 1.) It was penned by our incomparable man in Canada, [Zack Whedon]…
- 2.) “The final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight…”*
*Notes courtesy of co-creator and executive producer, Christopher C. Rogers. You could find him on Twitter @CCR, along with Zack Whedon (Joss’ brother) @ZDubDub.
The fifth episode, “Extract and Defend”, revolves around Tom Rendon (Mark O’Brien) and Cameron Howe’s (Mackenzie Davis) excitement over the release of The Terminator on VHS. It’s 1985 and Tom has a friend at Suncoast who has a copy for him. The rest of Mutiny is still at work on their game developments and Community chat rooms; suffice it to say, they are building the future. I’ve seen several people remark over the brilliance of Halt and Catch Fire and AMC’s recently finished Mad Men, especially in the that it revolves around the architects of the future of our modern day society. There’s a natural feeling of intrigue as we watch Mutiny, Gordon (Scoot McNairy), and Joe (Lee Pace) innovate while we ultimately know that none of them will offer anything of extreme value to what we take for granted today. It’s an almost Greek tragedy element to the story, overall, but one that promises much intrigue as we see our characters border on the edge of creating the future while actively taking a back seat to it. Take for example, Gordon and his mother-in-law, Susan (Annette O’ Toole) sitting on a couch while his two daughters play the Nintendo. In the history of the show, the Nintendo is set for release in the Fall, but Gary, his father-in-law, was gifted one by the Japanese (a recurring element that was previously explored in the first season.) The daughters love the game unit and are able to enjoy it early, but Gordon hasn’t really caught on to how revolutionary the Nintendo is. It helps further the footnote/stepping stone to the future element that all of the characters on Halt inhabit. The idea is further driven by a viewers keen awareness on one of the central themes of The Terminator franchise. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves or this underlying belief that no matter how hard we strive for control, we are bound to a future that we ultimately create for ourselves through that very driving ambition.
The usage of The Terminator‘s release on VHS was a great flourish to the story, and quite timely with a new Terminator film releasing this week. Another moment of great relevance was Donna (Kerry Bishe), Bos (Toby Huss), and Mutiny’s realization that game designer, Lev (August Emerson) is gay. It’s done in a cute and funny way as Lev is flirting with someone through Community; my initial response during the Live Tweeting was “#LoveWins even on #HaltandCatchFire @HaltAMC” The scene also perhaps illustrates why Lev came off as so mean spirited towards Bos when mocking his prison encounters in his final letter to Cameron during “New Coke.” The closeted gamer may have felt insecure and uneasy about his sexuality, and in an attempt to fit in with the rest of the Mutineers, resorted towards mockery.
While Tom and Cameron continue their blossoming relationship with one another, and serve as the Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese of sorts for the episode, as they are tasked with defending Mutiny, Gordon begins to contemplate his own future after a follow-up visit to the doctor near the start of the episode. He’s informed that he has chronic toxic encephalopathy, brain damage, with symptoms likely to progress and get worse. It’s essentially a death sentence for a man like Gordon and as he faces an uncertain future with the impending symptoms of his condition likely to worsen. This leads to Gordon heading to a nightclub and while the sequence is shot as a recognizable homage to the Tech Noir scene in The Terminator, it’s far more gut-wrenching as he approaches a random dancer and says “I have brain damage. I think I’m dying.”
Gordon, terrifically played by Scoot McNairy, is brought to a place similar to that of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in The Terminator, as well. She’s given the unrequested knowledge and insight into a future she doesn’t want. Sarah is burdened with an impossible look into the future and very much the same way Gordon is. Is he dying? Will he eventually no longer be able to create, build, and innovate – do the very things that keep him going? “And it will not stop, ever, until you are dead” is a line from the 1984 James Cameron film. Gordon’s brain damage, much like the titular Schwarzenegger villain, will not stop until it terminates Gordon’s future. McNairy plays Gordon’s realization in such a poignant way and is quite possibly the best part of the fifth episode. There’s a dire realization that his time is numbered and it’s driven home by his lingering stares into nothingness. It’s clear that his time is numbered and next week’s episode, “10Broad36”, will feature the debut of his brother, Hank, as he heads to California to reconnect with him.
The allusions to The Terminator were clear and deliberate in “Extract and Defend.” Leave it to a Whedon to pen a well-crafted story that not only services fans of the 1984 film, but also deliver an exceptional episode for Halt and Catch Fire.
(Interestingly, “Extract and Defend” was originally titled “Infiltrator.” Possibly to sound close to Terminator.)
“Extract and Defend” features a scene that arguably every fan and viewer has been waiting for, especially if you watched season one. Joe MacMillan finally encounters Cameron Howe since she closed the door on him in the season one finale “1984.”
Joe finally tells his fiancee’s father, Jacob Wheeler (James Cromwell), what he’s up to in Data Entry after a good three weeks of work. Gordon insists that he tell Jacob, especially since Donna and Mutiny want to meet with their “contact” at Westgroup concerning the time-sharing opportunity. Joe doesn’t feel the time is right as he has nothing to show for his vision, but ultimately goes to Jacob after Gordon wills Joe into not backing out of their backroom deal. “You’re not the reptilian son of a ***** everyone says you are. You’re a changed man.”
His words work and he, in many ways, talks Joe into being the Joe we knew from last season. He convinces Jacob of the money to be made from time-sharing by loaning the retrofitted mainframes not in use by Westgroup after hours. He convinces Jacob, but tells Joe to set up an appointment with Mutiny for the following day as he never goes into business with someone “without looking them in the eye first.”
Joe, at first, approaches Donna, but she tells him Mutiny is Cameron’s company. He’s uneasy about having Cameron at the meeting due to her unprofessional demeanor in the past, but resolves to having her meet with Jacob after he asks Donna to ensure that she shows up prepared. The following day, Joe encounters Cameron for the first time inside the waiting room at Westgroup. He attempts to speak with her, but she brushes him off. The meeting with Jacob goes very well and Cameron shows an immediate growth and maturity we haven’t seen before, especially considering how she blew Mutiny’s meeting with the Venture Capitalists in “New Coke.” Jacob asks Cameron what she thinks of his future, son-in-law and she tells him that “he’s a hell of a guy.”
Outside in the parking lot, Joe confronts Cameron and tries to reason with her that he’s changed. He asks her if she read his letter, which ties back to “SETI”, when we learn he sent Gordon a letter, as well. Cameron doesn’t trust him and his arrival back in her life truly has placed her into a tailspin. She’s visibly disconnected from Mutiny and Tom, dismissive of Bos, and is shown to be in this perpetual state of panic. Mackenzie Davis plays up Cameron’s emotions with an immediately recognizable relatability. Joe, in many ways like The Terminator, is this phantom presence that looms over everyone else and serves as the catalyst for all other actions. “Extract and Defend” was very well staged and did not disappoint in it’s finely tuned moment that finds Joe and Cameron together.
“Turn to the last page.”
During the opening of Halt and Catch Fire‘s fifth episode, Sara (Aleksa Palladino) finds an envelope containing the pre-nuptials for her, Sara Abigail Wheeler and Joseph Charles MacMillan. I believe this is the first time we find out Joe has a middle name. Immediately after finding it, she calls her father, Jacob, and we learn that he had them drawn up. She tells him on the phone that this isn’t the way she wants to do this and she wants Joe to see that she trusts him. Unfortunately, while she’s on the phone in another room, he finds them. (Joe doesn’t know that Sara wasn’t the one who had the pre-nups drawn up.)
After it comes out that he’s been at work with Gordon on the Westgroup mainframe for three weeks, is planning on working with Cameron’s company, and finally meets the young prodigy and founder of Mutiny, Sara reveals that she feels they need to slow things down and that she’s headed back to Austin. It’s an important moment as we recall that earlier Sara told Joe: “I finally thought of something I like more about Dallas than Austin. You’re in Dallas.”
It’s a crushing moment of defeat, yet again, for Joe. He shows her that he’s signed the last page of the pre-nups and most likely believes that she was the one who drew up the papers while it was, in fact, her father. Sara cites that it’s because of her and Joe that she needs “some room to figure it out”, not because of Cameron. She leaves and it looks like that is reason enough to drive Joe back to being who he was during season one – “a reptilian son of a *****.”
I’ve read a few reviews that believe Sara leaving to have been forced and a weak plot element of an otherwise great episode. I disagree. Upon watching “Extract and Defend” for a second time, it’s clear that Sara Wheeler doesn’t want there to be any secrets between the two of them. It’s clearly established that her previous marriage failed after her ex turned out to be someone initiating a relationship with her just to situate himself closer to her billionaire father. We’re informed of a history between her and Joe and that she’s aware of his past misdeeds. Throughout season two, Aleksa Palladino has played Sara with this sense of a quietly broken soul attempting to rebuild her life. She’s just as fantastic as the other new cast member, Mark O’ Brien as Tom Rendon. Easily, they fit very well into the core dynamic of Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers’ Halt and Catch Fire. Palladino as Sara has also shown this guru/therapist quality to Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan as she’s attempted to keep him centered and grounded; “a changed man” as Gordon said. We’ve seen Joe show moments that reflect back to his time at IBM and Cardiff Electric, from being a psycho that Cameron mutinied against as Lev put it. It makes sense that after enough strikes Sara just isn’t secure enough, despite her love for Joe, to stay in that relationship. It’s a crushing moment for Joe and most likely not the best decision to make as it could lead to him returning to his ways of self-punishment and self-destructiveness, but a very real one, nonetheless. I don’t see any problems with Sara temporarily leaving and it is just the kind of moment we need to usher in the later half of Halt and Catch Fire season two.
Halt and Catch Fire airs 10 PM ET Sunday nights on AMC. Check your local listings.