“Landfall” – aired 7/6/2014 (5 stars)
Directed by Larysa Kondracki & Written by Zack Whedon
As I’ve been returning to AMC’s first season of “Halt and Catch Fire” on a daily basis, I’ve rediscovered a few things. Chief among what I’ve learned is just how much the show still excites and captivates with its characters and mystery. The concept and writing all comes together; ultimately paying off in a thrilling weekly episodic adventure that feels cinematic in every way. Second, just about every episode is a five-star one. When I had originally watched “High Plains Hardware”, I felt that it was the weakest episode, especially coming off of the high of “FUD.” But upon re-watching countless times, I’ve grown to appreciate the third episode. Third, outside of the obvious love for the cast (who didn’t enjoy Lee Pace on “Pushing Daisies”?), an aspect many have overlooked about Halt is that a Whedon is behind it! Yes, one of those famous Whedon’s we know from “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”, “Southland”, and “The Red Road.” Zack Whedon, Joss’s brother, has served as a co-producer on AMC’s Halt and “Landfall” marks the first episode of the season that he’s written. And, trust me, it’s good.
We open to Gordon (Scoot McNairy) at work in the kill room. He sees a small flower on the computer board and tries to pull it out. It’s so small and so he continues to struggle to reach it. It looks as if the flower has started to take root in the computer and when he finally manages to reach it, we see that Gordon is dreaming. His hand flinches and he gets shocked awake and falls out of his chair. Gordon awakes to a news report that Alicia is coming. It’s a 75 mile per hour storm, expected to exceed that, before reaching shore sometime late the next day. It’s a great setup for “Landfall” and we recognize that the title alludes to hurricane Alicia. The title also alludes to other aspects throughout the episode which we’ll get to later. But for now, Whedon lays the groundwork for Gordon for the final four episodes that McNairy gets to go wild with. For the most part, we’ve seen Gordon as the more lackadaisical, forgetful, and neglectful husband/father. He’s been consumed with building the PC, as he cites that his family is not enough in the pilot episode “I/O.” But, starting in “Adventure” and continuing through “Landfall” and the rest of the season, we start to see Gordon become even more unraveled as the Cardiff PC project comes closer to reality.
We see Joe and Cameron having sex (their “thing” is apparently back on the table after the KCYD car smashing), but Cameron asks him to wait as she wants to know how he got the scars on his chest. He begins to tell her that he had saved money when he was in high school for a ’64 yellow Chevy Nova. One night, he took some friends out on an icy road that no one should have been on and…
“Hold on. Is this true?”
So Joe admits that she caught him in a lie and then tells her that the real story is embarrassing. Joe begins to say tell Cameron of a rusted mill on a farm road to which she stops him. Cameron immediately knows that he’s making up another story and tells him to stop handling her. Joe asks why she cares so much and she tells him that he’s “too screwed up for words.” He tells her that he doesn’t want to tell sad stories in bed with her and asks “When did this become that?” suggesting at their purely mechanical relationship to satisfy one another when Cameron gets stuck turning into an actual relationship. That upsets Cameron and she tells Joe that the routine he says she designed has gotten boring along with him. Before she leaves a seemingly apathetic Joe in bed she gives him advice: “Your whole thing, it attracts people, but it won’t keep them around. Authenticity is what inspires people. If you want to lead people, you have to show them who you really are. Otherwise, you’re just a thousand-dollar suit with nothing inside. No one gives a s***.”
The following morning, Joe begins his day with the same ritualistic attention we previously glimpsed in “Adventure.” He picks out his suit for the day and the scene plays like a deleted scene from “American Psycho.” Adding to Joe’s emptiness is the Sin Cos Tan song “Sooner Than Now.” It’s another example of a modern song being used to underscore a scene which works perfectly. While not being period accurate, the 2012 song by Sin Cos Tan is perfectly used to accentuate the mechanical nature of Lee Pace’s performance.
Joe MacMillan – The Visionary
“The truth is, I just want to do something great.”
The morning of the hurricane, Joe wakes up and does his same routine. But this time we see a look of dissatisfaction grow across his face. He makes it to the Clark’s home and brings a 1966 bottle of Bordeaux that he says is “really interesting.” You could see the awkwardness of Joe being in their home without Gordon and after the girls, Joanie and Hayley, sit on his shoe, he tells them that it comes all the way from Italy. Inquisitively, the girls ask him where Italy is and Joe tells them “far away from here.” It’s not so much that Joe doesn’t want to be in their home, he doesn’t know how to interact with them and wishes he were anywhere else. Bringing Joe into a social setting where he isn’t in control makes him feel uneasy and reminds him of the image he needs to maintain so nobody sees what he really is. In several ways it brings you back to Dale Butler (David Wilson Barnes) telling him that in “FUD.”
As they wait for Gordon (Donna knows he’s out looking for a Cabbage Patch Doll as he promised he’d get the kids), they both start to open up to one another after the ice is cracked by him making a fort for the girls. We learn that Joe is 35 years old and that he just wants to do something great. Donna and Joe talk about the updates to the computer that may be made and she asks how torturing Cameron came into that. “I regret that, but it was about getting the world’s attention. I guess I also want to do something successful.” They speak about Gordon, ingenuity, and sticking with his original vision as he was successful in building the machine he wanted. Donna makes an interesting comment in regards to the PC that also may represent the issue at hand with Cameron. “It’s easy to lose sight of what’s great when it’s right in front of you. You get used to it.” Cameron, like the challenge of building the computer, was an opportunity for Joe, an opportunity to be more. Naturally, as their computer became a reality and a relationship started to grow out of their regular trysts (which becomes public knowledge after Gordon spills the beans), Joe becomes bored with the regularity and prospects of an actual relationship. He’s just not built for it. At least, not yet.
As the hurricane grows more intense with wind, lightning, and thunder, Joe tells Donna that his mother used to take him to the roof of their Old Victorian to look at the stars. She then tells him that when she was younger, her father used to take her outside to watch the storms, but after a kid in their neighborhood was pinned under a tree, he stopped taking her out.
Joanie and Hayley grow scared by the hurricane, but just reassures them that they’re safe because they have “hurricane zappers.” They’re really flashlights, but he tells them that you just need to point them at the storm and it won’t hurt you. Later on, the girls tell Joe that they named the hurricane zappers Anastasia and Sharkie. It surprises him that they’ve already named his creations and given them an identity as they tell him they’re his friends. He tells them that sometimes storms are too strong and that you have to go outside so he heads out into the hurricane and pretends to fight the storm. It might be the best scene in the entire episode as Lee Pace brings to life the imaginative dreamer in Joe that we haven’t seen yet. The ability Joe has to create something for Joanie and Hayley and his openness about his mother marks a real turning point in who he is. Or so we believe.
After the storm clears up, Gordon finally makes it back home. Joe seems finally comfortable in their home as opposed to when he first got there. He leaves, but then shows up at the home Cameron is staying at. “Do you have anybody? If you got stuck in a hurricane, do you have anybody you would call?” he asks her. “I don’t.” It’s a particularly revealing moment as he tells her he is alone, especially after just coming from his evening with Donna and the girls. We see that while Joe knows people, he doesn’t specifically have friends. Except, strangely, for Cameron. She wants him to be authentic and to be open with her as we believe she’s starting to fall in love with him. Lee Pace, once again, brings to life every aspect of Joe MacMillan and presents us with a sad portrait of a haunted man. He asks Cameron to show him what she’s been working on and he finally gets to see her idea at play.
The computer asks “Who are you?” Joe types in his full name, but the computer doesn’t respond. It happens twice and it slightly unsettles him. He immediately believes Cameron to be playing a joke on him, but she tells him the interface only recognizes first names. The computer asking “Who are you?” and it’s lack of recognition of Joe only serves as another depiction of the idea of identity and authenticity at play. Joe’s struggling to find himself and create an image that will not only work, but create something great and successful. This identity will allow him to be more than his father whom he wants to be, as seen in the last episode “Adventure.”
The connection with Cameron’s interface, coupled with his time with Donna and the girls, realizing that he doesn’t have anyone leads him to open up to Cameron about his mother. He begins to tell her, as his eyes well up, that his mom was wild and experimented with drugs. One night, while she was high, let go of his hand and he fell three stories and landed on a fence. He spent the following two years in a hospital bed after the night he fell off the roof. It’s such a genuine moment and there’s no indication that this is another fabrication of his. Cameron, moved by his openness to her and the sadness of the story, kisses Joe on the forehead and holds him. Joe tells her “this is really good” and we end on the both of them together. When Joe says “this is really good”, we immediately realize that he isn’t just referring to the computer. He’s, in fact, enjoying a meaningful connection based on honesty. Somehow, Cameron has figured the coding language for Joe and has finally found a way to connect with him. But for how long will this authenticity last? Or is this just another suit for Joe to try on?
Gordon Clark – The Engineer
“Did I get cabbage?”
At the start of “Landfall”, Gordon drunkenly promises Donna that he’ll pick up a Cabbage Patch Doll, but quickly forgets as he grows consumed with the near completion of the as-of-yet unnamed Cardiff PC. He’s later reminded by Donna of the doll when asked at home if he got the you-know-what. He asks what that is and Donna tells him “The Cabbage” to which he absent-mindedly asks “Did I get the cabbage?” The line rings with such humor and Scoot McNairy plays up that Gordon is completely aloof despite how bright he really is. Gordon tells her that he left it at the office (he didn’t) and begins a night that takes him through the hurricane as it makes landfall. First, he’s conned at Playworld Toy Store by a scam artist who tells him that the store won’t allow him to return it. He gives the man $80, but soon realizes the wrapped package is nothing more than an empty box with a brick inside. The scammer takes off in his car and Playworld remains closed due to the impending storm.
Gordon then finds a toy store that has the Cabbage Patch Dolls in stock and asks them to put one aside. But by the time he arrives, Hurricane Alicia has hit and the shop is closed. Gordon, getting walloped by his own personal storm of searching for the doll and fighting for the computer he built, reaches a breaking point and throws a rock through the shop’s window. He steals two dolls out of the window, but is then stopped in his tracks when he finds a man laying dead in the road due to a downed power line. We’re not clear if this was the manager of the store or just a random person.
After his night out, Gordon finally makes it home. In the end, he misses out on an opportunity to bond with his daughters and begins the next part of his character arc as we see the cracks in his personality. Just like the opening credits, the depiction of an idea as a computer starting, being a force that cannot be stopped, is seen cutting through Gordon as a husband and father and chipping away at the man who has seemingly come along way from the pilot episode, “I/O.”
Donna Clark – SHIFT
“I guess you’re everyone’s secret weapon.”
During the marketing campaign for the first season of AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire”, a clever poster was released featuring Lee Pace, Mackenzie Davis, Scoot McNairy, and Kerry Bishe. Joe MacMillan is represented as “CTRL”, Cameron Howe is “ALT”, Gordon Clark is “ESC”, and his wife Donna is “SHIFT.” It’s a rather perfect way to capture the heart and identifying aspects of our four main characters through computer terminology. Donna, as seen in “I/O” and continuing into “Landfall”, has shifted to a lesser role in both her marriage to Gordon and engineering position at Texas Instruments. In “Adventure”, her boss and high school friend, Hunt Whitmarsh (Scott Michael Foster), reprimands her for her failure analysis report. Her supplemental page in actuality was reshuffled and he later apologizes over the phone. For the past few episodes, it has seemed as if Hunt has had a problem with Donna, as she’s grown more involved with her husband’s PC development at Cardiff Electric. While there were hints that their work relationship could develop into something else, it seemed almost as if that was a dead story-line, especially after Hunt puts Donna on probation at the end of “Close to the Metal.” But after his late night call to the house and talk about how his grandmother used to add a shot of vodka to her peach pie recipe, it would seem as if the possibility of an affair between the two isn’t entirely off the table. While I’ve read a few reviews that have argued that an affair story line would be contrived and undermine the strength of Kerry Bishe’s characterization of Donna Clark, I can’t fully agree. An affair, while it may be far off for the character, seems as if it would be organic to the story and natural for Kerry Bishe to convincingly pull off.
During “Landfall”, Donna and Hunt seem to be back on friendly terms as they enjoy lunch together. She tells him about Gordon’s work on the computer, which Hunt refers to as the “super secret project.” Donna candidly reveals how Gordon solved the real estate problem by placing chips on both side and he tells her that she’s “everyone’s secret weapon” as she helps him go over the briefs for his business meeting. Hunt invites Donna to accompany him on the trip as he reasons that he needs her to help explain aspects that he may get caught up on.
Again, it’s a possible set up for Donna and Hunt, but for now, she’s just a super secret for her husband, Gordon, and boss, Hunt.
“Halt and Catch Fire” is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix. Season Two premiers Sunday, May 31 at 10 PM ET on AMC. Check your local listings.