“Adventure” – aired 6/29/2014 (5 stars)
Directed by Ed Bianchi – Written by Dahvi Waller
Okay “coder monkeys”, we’re at the fifth episode of AMC’s first season of Halt and Catch Fire. With only five more to go, we’re beginning to see more revealed about our main group – Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis). Picking up a morning soon after Bosworth (Toby Huss) had MacMillan beat up, we see Joe and Cameron start their day. Joe painfully wakes up and showers while Cameron’s alarm goes off at 7:30 am. She’s happy and we see she’s staying at a hotel. Both of their mornings essentially reflect the opposite of one another as MacMillan has difficulty getting dressed and Cameron makes an appointment to visit Microtech Labs. MacMillan has a copy of Wall Street Quarterly with Ron Kane’s article “Cardiff Bets the Ranch on PC Market.” Filled with lines such as “mainframe-stalwart-cum-would-be-cloner Cardiff Electric” and “MacMillan’s high risk, pie-in-the-sky endeavor”, he satisfactorily gets ready to leave at 8:06 am. Before he does, he picks up the baseball bat we first saw in the pilot, “I/O”, and he takes three swings. The first swing is extremely difficult and he could hardly do it, the second is a little better, but still hurts, but the third? MacMillan completes a full swing despite the hurt. I enjoyed the opening as it was set to “Capsize” by Big Black Delta. While some of the music used to underscore certain scenes haven’t been era accurate (i.e. the band Suuns), the music does work in creating a tone. MacMillan has taken several hits, verbally and literally, as he’s journeyed to Cardiff Electric and begun his “PC vision quest” as according to Nathan Cardiff. It hasn’t been easy proving to himself that he’s not a fraud and has a real vision and despite how far Cardiff and its engineers have come, it seems with every step forward, MacMillan takes two forceful and personal steps backwards.
That same morning, Gordon excitedly tells Donna about the magazine article. It appears as if MacMillan’s antics worked during “Close To The Metal”, but for now Donna is too preoccupied with getting the family ready and preparing for her father’s birthday. Gary (Chris Mulkey) invites Gordon to play a round of golf with him at the club for his birthday, but Gordon turns him down. In the meantime, Gary and Susan (Annette O’ Toole) have a gift for their granddaughters from their catalog business, The Razor’s Edge. It’s a mini LCD watch featuring a television screen. Gary tells Gordon of the deal he has with Kazoku and that the Japanese love him.
At Cardiff Electric, Bosworth and MacMillan are having a conference with various retailers. They ask technical question after technical question that Bosworth isn’t fully equipped to answer. He looks to MacMillan for help, but he remains a fly on the wall. “I’m just a carpet bagger from New York” he says self-deprecatingly. MacMillan does step in though and begins to speak of the Cardiff PC and of how it compares to the IBM XT. “What do we put on the third shelf?” he poses to the retailers. “The question your CEO will ask you at your post-COMDEX powwow. “What do we put on our third shelf? Not the first shelf… that’s reserved for IBM. Not even the second shelf. That’s where your name brand computer goes. The ones you have manufactured in Taiwan and slap your insignia on. The third shelf. The “kludge” shelf. The shelf your stock boys detest… because the computers are so heavy… and the shelves are so low. That’s the shelf we’re talking about. That’s the shelf us schmucks are aiming for, am I right? Wrong. This isn’t an IBM compatible clone. This is the new compatible. IBM will have to clone us. Tell that to your CEO and I promise you this time next year, you’ll be sitting in his chair asking, “What do we put on our third shelf?” MacMillan tells the retailers knowing he already has caught their attention. And he’s caught our too. The crowd goes wild, all hands raise…
After being addicted and hooked by Halt and Catch Fire‘s opening, I’ve begun to think about how it shows our main characters of MacMillan, Gordon, and Cameron. We see their faces start to chip away as the PC turns on. The idea of the work on the computer, the actual PC itself, and of its power to cut through these people is massively fascinating and thought provoking. While the intro may seem like nothing more than a flashy opening with a catchy theme – it’s so much more. Around the time of the series premiere last summer, Art of The Title posted a great article/interview with director Patrick Clair and lead animator Raoul Marks. Here is a snippet:
In the opening to AMC’s new period drama Halt and Catch Fire, a spark blazes a trail through sheer red, scorching an idea into existence. Zeroes become ones. Input becomes output. The characters’ faces, nothing more than glitchy approximations, are barely recognizable in the vermillion void.
Set against the backdrop of the 1980s tech industry, the series details the conception and rise of the personal computer. The sequence is our gateway into this system, the interface through which we enter a simpler age of bytes and bauds, when fear, uncertainty, and doubt ruled and code was king. Propelled by the pulsating synths of Trentemøller, the idea is executed. It cannot be stopped.”
It’s well worth your time and a great insight into Halt and Catch Fire.
“Modern Ada Lovelace.”
Cameron returns to Cardiff only to be surprised that MacMillan has hired a whole department of new programmers. She argues with MacMillan, feeling that her trip to Cincinnati was just a ploy to get her out of the office. He doesn’t necessarily argue her point as he references the events of “Close To The Metal” and how writing the BIOS almost killed her. We also meet Steve (Matthew Burke), the new manager of the department.
Cameron heads to the kill room and see the BIOS chip she picked up. They’re about to turn it on and she tells them that she deserves to name it while they argue names among themselves. One of them mentions “KHAN!” She says it should be named Lovelace to which they scoff at believing she’s referencing the porn actress, Linda Lovelace. But the engineers are wrong as she’s actually referencing Ada Lovelace! (Ada Lovelace is widely considered to be the mathematician to have written the first instructions for the first computer.) Outside, on the main floor, Cameron meets Yo-Yo (Cooper Andrews) and Lev (August Emerson). Steve’s assigned her to the print driver which she feels is inefficient. ‘Welcome to the short bus” says Lev.
MacMillan then visits the kill room to check on their progress and tells them of the retailer meeting. Gordon tells him that he’s over promised them on what the PC will be and that it must be nice to have a job where you “say words without ever having to do anything.” Yet another strike towards MacMillan. By now, the amount of times people undermine Joe’s authority and position would probably equal the amount of times we see Ranger’s orange soda. After MacMillan leaves, Gordon begins to think about the screen they need for their PC after he yells at one of the coders using the wristwatch from The Razor’s Edge. (We also get an angered Gordon make reference to Brian. It’s great seeing the spirit of Will Greenberg’s Brian kept alive.) This also marks one of the first scenes where we see Gordon get so frustrated at work. Just like the opening, it appears as if the work on the Cardiff PC project has started to take its toll on Gordon and his cool is starting to chip away.
Gordon meets with Gary at the golf course and he thinks it’s just to play a few rounds with him. The shoe drops and Gordon tells asks him for an introduction to Kozoku as he needs an LCD screen for their project. Gary is hesitant at first, especially when he hears Joe MacMillan named. “All hat, no cattle” Gary says as he mentions that Donna told him about MacMillan. Gary agrees to make the arrangement for his son-in-law, but references the Symphonic and how he won’t let that happen to Donna again. While Gordon speaks with his father-in-law, we have a major bombshell dropped on Joe MacMillan. At the office, Debbie (Bianca Malinowski) relays MacMillan a message that his father called. He wants to see him while he has a layover in Dallas while en route to Hong Kong. This throws MacMillan off guard, but he tells her to call him back and tell his father to meet him at 1 pm. Joe heads to the hotel and watches his father from outside. It’s the first time we see Joe’s father and he appears to be a suit just like his son. MacMillan then leaves without ever speaking to him.
Joe is literally on the outside looking in. Thus begins more of the mystery surrounding him and his father.
Joe returns to Cardiff and Gordon tells him that he set up a vendor meeting with Kazoku. Joe, already annoyed with his father’s arrival, tells Gordon to cancel. Gordon is bothered by this and tells him that he keeps asking him for the moon and now he finally delivered it to him. Joe is really just annoyed with his father and took it out on Gordon unnecessarily so. He does say “nice work” as Gordon leaves.
Cameron begins to grow more comfortable with the group of coders and while playing with the graphics on the printer, and before Steve reprimands her, Yo-Yo asks her out to a KCYD car event. It’s a sweet moment and the friendship/relationship does play out over the course of the next few episodes. It’s a character moment for Cameron as we begin to see her start to relate to people in a healthier context, unlike her friendship with Judy (the punk outcast from “High Plains Hardware”).
However, the tender moment is soon ruined as Cameron fights with Steve once again. This time, she goes directly to Joe and complains about Steve.
Joe MacMillan: Let’s see… you’re not exactly a people person. You have no management experience or any job experience, really. You dropped out of college…
Cameron Howe: Because you begged me, a******.
MacMillan (con’t.): …and you lack professionalism. A manager doesn’t swear at his superior, certainly not with his office door open. Is that more professional? Look, if I’ve given you the impression that because of this thing we’ve got going on that you’re entitled to special treatment, I’m sorry.
Cameron walks over to Joe and comes up behind him. She wraps both arms around him and slips her hand into his pants pocket.
MacMillan: Cameron, what are you doing?
Cameron: I’m just taking this little thing we’ve got going off the table. Maybe that’ll wake you up. Uh, I left some stuff at your apartment, so… (keys clatter) you can tell Steve I’ll report for duty tomorrow.
Later on, Joe and Gordon meet with Hirohiko and Shuji Tekada of Kozoku. They’re able to successfully negotiate a deal thanks to Joe. He makes them an offer of a lower margin on the screens with a higher percentage on the back end. They accept and he discreetly tells Gordon to take it easy with the drinks. Of course, Gordon let’s the amount of drinks slip away from him and while in the bathroom insults Shuji. He calls his father in-law’s products “schlock” and equates schlock to being “stupid stuff.” The Tekada’s leave highly offended and pick up the tab. After they leave, Joe angrily yells at Gordon in the parking lot for failing to think of the bigger picture. Gordon, drunkenly brings up that he knows that Joe is still sleeping with Cameron whom he refers to as “cuckoo for cocoa puffs.” Joe tells him sternly to “leave her out of this.” The big moment, at least for me, is that Joe (much like Cameron) becomes defensive at the mention of them being together. Joe hasn’t shown any real feelings towards Cameron, but for some reason asks her to be left out of it signifying that he doesn’t fully regard her as collateral damage.
Cameron arrives at Joe’s apartment and finds an older man in his room. It’s Joe’s father! She asks how he got in and he tells her “You say something with the right authority, you generally get what you want.” MacMillan Sr. finds the baseball bat and tells Cameron that he spent hours teaching Joe to swing, but he “wasn’t exactly a natural.” At first, we wonder if that’s a crack at Joe’s sexuality and are somewhat confirmed of our thought when his father asks Cameron if she’s his girlfriend. She tells him no and he says that Joe is “not exactly the girlfriend type.” However, despite Joe’s sexuality, I think his father understands that his son is not so much the girlfriend type, but more so, not the relationship type.
Before Cameron leaves, MacMillan Sr. asks what her name is and she tells him Cameron. He responds “Not Cameron Howe?” as he’s already aware of who she is when IBM returned from their interviews at Caridff in “FUD.” He appeals to Cameron in telling her that IBM has been speaking about the prodigy they met at Cardiff and of how she’s the “modern Ada Lovelace.” He asks her to stay and have a drink with him before he gets on a 20 hour flight to Hong Kong with Bill Gates. MacMillan Sr. notices that Cameron has an airforce pin and asks if that’s from her father. She tells him that he was a helicopter crew chief in Vietnam. He tells her that he served as a naval officer and that IBM recruited him. They find common ground when he talks of Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist known as one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1. He makes mention of the relationship fathers and sons have, but strikes a chord when speaking of her father as he doesn’t know that her father died during Vietnam. He figures that she couldn’t have been more than 10 and she walks out of the room. After Cameron regains herself, she returns and they continue to talk. She first tells MacMillan Sr. that Joe is completely wrong about him. He tells her that his son is wrong about a lot of things and tells her a little about Joe’s history with IBM. We learn that Joe “took” all of his three promotions and on one of them convinced a man that was with IBM for over 20 years that he was about to be fired so he should resign to maintain his dignity. As they continue to talk, Cameron turns on MacMillan Sr. after she feels that he’s handling her. He asks probing questions about Cardiff and Joe’s progress and she quickly realizes that he can’t be trusted.
Before the end of the night, Gordon drives to Susan and Gary’s home. They’re celebrating Gary’s birthday when Gordon arrives at the front door. Susan tells Gary that their son-in-law is drunk and he asks if everything is okay. The following day, Joe arrives at the hotel Hirohiko and Shuji are staying at. He apologizes profusely in regards to Gordon’s behavior and tells them that he wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for his father. He gives a complete sales pitch that is devoid of any real truth (the Takeda’s don’t realize this) of how his father taught him everything and to never stop swinging for the fences. A ha! “Swing for the fences, son” was printed on the baseball bat plaque that he destroyed in “I/O.”
While Joe is falling apart slowly and his father’s arrival kept him insecure and unnerved throughout “Adventure”, Cameron shows even more growth as she essentially takes Steve’s job in a way that impresses Joe.
The next day, Joe confronts Gordon in front of the rest of the engineers and they continue their constant poking of one another. Gordon manages to humiliate Joe in front of everyone at his own expense by speaking of how he went and begged his father-in-law for a second chance with Kozoku. Joe learns that the deal was done before he ever met with Hirohiko and Shuji earlier and storms out. We continue seeing Joe feel powerless and almost as if his control over his projected image to others is falling apart. Cameron finds Joe sitting alone in a dark conference room. He seems extremely volatile and potentially dangerous. Pace oozes threat, but he doesn’t lash out at Cameron. He asks her for the Wall Street Quarterly magazine, believing that she took the copy when she cleaned out her stuff (and some of his) from the apartment. She didn’t and tells him that it was his father. He asks if she spoke with him and she tells him that it was brief. Joe then asks if she’ll be going to the KCYD car event later and she tells him that she’ll probably go. “It’s amazing what passes for culture in Dallas” he says and we get the response that out of everything bad that day to happen to him, Cameron leaving may have been what hurt him the most. We get the impression that Joe doesn’t appreciate our value Cameron while he “has” her, but once she took what they had going off the table, it really did wake him up as she suggested.
At the KCYD car event, the DJ plays the Steve Miller Band as guests pay money to smash a car. Up first is Bosworth and he looks like he’s there to genuinely have fun. Earlier in the episode, while working at night at Cardiff, he calls for the coders to get in his office. We think he’s going to yell at them for playing “Adventure” (an early text based game for the computer), but it’s really because he’s playing too! “How the hell do I get out of this God forsaken cave?” It’s the first time we see Bosworth start to fit in with the younger group and get a sense that the PC project is supported by him. It’s a hilarious scene and also a nice flourish to the character as played by Toby Huss. Up next is Joe and after paying a $100, he removes his jacket and completely obliterates the car. The crowd looks on at him, but Cameron and Bosworth are the only two to really take notice that something is not right. It raises Bosworth’s curiosity and startles (yet possibly excites) Cameron. He continues smashing the car and looks at Cameron before the episode ends. It’s another reminder of just how dangerous Joe may actually be. We still are not clear as to how he obtained all those scars.
“Halt and Catch Fire” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Season One could also be viewed on Netflix. Season 2 premiers next Sunday on May 31 at 10 pm ET, AMC. Check your local listings.