“Close To The Metal” – aired 6/22/2014
Directed by Johan Renck
Written by Jonathan Lisco
Despite Cardiff Electric’s major financial setback in the last episode, “High Plains Hardware”, they remain right on track for COMDEX. Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) walks John Bosworth (Toby Huss) through all of their latest developments. While he attempts to dumb down his explanation of what’s being accomplished at Cardiff to Bosworth, one of the coders named Stan corrects him. We see MacMillan’s excitement for the project as this is his dream, but he takes annoyance at one of the men correcting his explanation. Bosworth sees hardware in a fish tank and MacMillan describes it as a time machine of sorts. “We get to design tomorrow before its even here.” he tells the senior VP of Cardiff, but Bosworth remains unimpressed. His lack of shared excitement annoys MacMillan and he reasons it by saying to Bosworth “It’s difficult to believe in something when your knowledge is so limited.”
Before they reach the Doherty Threshold of System Response Time (if a computer reacts under 400 milliseconds, it will have your attention.), Nathan Cardiff (Graham Beckel) calls for Bosworth. The system response clocks in at 396 milliseconds and the engineers go wild. MacMillan excitedly heads down to the basement to tell Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), but she’s too transfixed on writing code. She remains sarcastic with him and he calls her on mocking him while on her “19th orange soda.” (Ranger’s orange soda yet again!) We haven’t seen Joe MacMillan this genuinely excited for something in a while. It’s possible that the last time he shared his happiness was with Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) in “I/O” when they first begin to reverse engineer the IBM PC. It’s interesting that we see MacMillan want to share his excitement for the Cardiff PC being faster and more addictive than other PC’s, especially with Bosworth. While we have no indication that MacMillan would particularly have any issues with the Senior Vice President, it becomes abundantly clear that both men soon realize that they’re locked in a perpetual power struggle as the project becomes closer to a reality. MacMillan holds one of his trademark, rousing speeches during a team meeting and lights the IBM BIOS binder on fire in a trash can for everyone to watch. “Now that’s what I call cooking the books!” MacMillan exclaims right before he locks eyes with John Bosworth for more than enough time to know that there is a serious issue between them.
Gordon and Donna (Kerry Bishe) get ready for work and after Gordon reluctantly (off-camera) flushes out one of his daughter’s toothbrush from the toilet, encounters Brian (Will Greenberg) outside. He nervously waves hello to his neighbor whom he fired at the end of “High Plains Hardware” and gets no reaction. I’ve really enjoyed Will Greenberg as Brian and while he’s not on the series a great deal, each scene of his are just so much fun to watch as he lets loose a reserved kind of energy that always seems ready to explode. Brian watches Gordon get in his car and just stays on his lawn, completely deadpan. After a second passes as Gordon begins to pull out of the driveway we hear an exclaimed “Hey, Hey Gordon! Don’t work too hard!” Greenberg as Brian is a nut and gladly, this is not the last time we see him.
Back at Cardiff, MacMillan silently watches Cameron from a far. She’s at her work station in the basement and it looks like a “pigsty.” Food, drinks, and garbage everywhere (not to mention more orange soda.) When we saw Cameron earlier with Joe, she looked awful. We understand that Cameron has been completely devoted to her work and is devoid of proper nutrition, meals, sleep, and a shower. It still has not been addressed on her homeless situation and while she may no longer be living inside the building, you get an idea that she probably is very un-clean. MacMillan, during his team meeting, announced that a writer from the Wall Street Quarterly will be visiting to do an article, and is rightfully concerned about his reaction towards Cameron if he sees her in her current state. MacMillan approaches the secretary Debbie (Bianca Malinowski) and tells her of how “unprofessional, unsanitary, and embarrassing” Cameron is. He asks her to get the janitor in there as soon as possible while also convincing her to bring Cameron back to her home so she could shower. “I can’t tell her to put a bra on, you can and please do.”
At the ranch, Nathan asks Bosworth about the current status of everything at Cardiff. He’s particularly curious over Louise “Lulu” Rutherford (Jean Smart) not funding their “PC pipe dream.” Nathan makes mention that she hasn’t returned his calls in three weeks. We get to see more of Bosworth’s internal distress as he’s contending with his senior partner and friend, Nathan Cardiff. “Who’s running things? Make clear who’s working for who.” he sternly tells Bosworth. After Bosworth is dismissed by Nathan, while he’s walking away he hears the sick horse get put down. He keeps walking, but flinches at the sound of the gunshot. I’ve taken away from this scene that the horse was going to be put down regardless, but it was a bit of a mind game Nathan was playing with Bosworth to sink the idea in his head that he’s prepared to cut his friend loose as MacMillan has been taking over the reigns of Cardiff. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor and works at setting up the drastic measures Bosworth takes at the end of “Close to the Metal.”
Ron Cane (Michael Esper) from the Wall Street Quarterly arrives. We, upon his arrival, learn that he’s only at Cardiff as a favor to a character named Matt Garrison who owed Joe a favor. Joe MacMillan begins to introduce him to the accomplishments Cardiff Electric’s engineers have made, but Cane shuts him down. “You’re not an engineer, are you?” he tells MacMillan. Cane goes on to say that when MacMillan speaks it’s almost as if he’s just reciting information that others told him. He tries to appeal to the journalist by offering a real “underdog story” approach to Cardiff Electric and Silicon Prairie, but Cane doesn’t budge. Cane later reveals that he was never going to write a story about the work being done at Cardiff. He cites that what he will speak of a company being burnt in IBM’s shadow. MacMillan begins to tell him of Cameron. He says “she’s 22, brilliant and writing a BIOS you wouldn’t believe.” They arrive at Cameron’s work station in the basement as they see several of the engineers running in that direction.
“I’m having kind of a day.”
And what a day it is at Cardiff Electric. We find out that there was a power surge at Cameron’s work station while she was gone and it burnt out her BIOS discs as she was working under very careless conditions. She almost comes to blows with the janitor when she seems him and that in turns nearly leads to a fight between her and Gordon. Lo and behold, a story falls in Ron Cane’s lap and he decides that he will now stay to write a story of “pain and dashed hopes.”
Gordon heads to his daughters school late. Donna told him to pick them up at 2:15 while they got ready at the start of the episode, but naturally, Gordon’s late. Donna’s angry with him as she had to pick up their kids and that Hunt Whitmarsh (Scott Michael Foster) has had to cover for her several times already. Gordon is more focused on the current situation unfolding at Cardiff and tells his wife that “I’m having kind of a day.” He tells her that the stakes are a little higher in his world, but she tells him that she makes his world possible. It’s true and we’ve constantly seen Donna as not only a responsible and good parent, but also a dedicated engineer at Texas Instruments. She’s been worn thin by the amount of time Gordon has spent working on the PC and has, in many ways, become that of a single parent. She’s also brilliant, an aspect we get to see in full during “Close to the Metal”, and it’s a highlight seeing an episode more heavily focused on Kerry Bishe’s performance.
Before MacMillan sees that Gordon brought Donna to Cardiff, he encounters Cane. MacMillan asks him to return at a later date, but when Cane refuses, MacMillan threatens him by saying “I’m not asking.” Cane doesn’t even react to MacMillan’s hollow words and afterwards asks “Oh wait, was that all bulls***?” It’s interesting that Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan is arguably the star of the ensemble cast. Everything in “Halt and Catch Fire” revolves around him being the catalyst. So instead of traditionally building up the protagonist, they’ve made MacMillan an antagonist/anti-hero of sorts with character interactions and moments almost designed to bring him down. Lee Pace, in an interview with Atlanta Magazine for season 2, had this to say:
“He’s not a bad guy, that’s the secret to him. There’s an idea I’ve been playing with this season—the gods hate Joe. There is a sense that no matter how hard he works, he might fail, no matter how hard he tries to be agreeable to the people he’s with, they still don’t see him. And that’s this almost Greek condition of frustration.” – See more at: http://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/lee-pace-talks-halt-and-catch-fire-season-2-filming-in-atlanta/#sthash.cpKDxNrB.dpuf
Donna meets Cameron for the second time in “Close to the Metal.” She’s brought there by Gordon because he knows she’s the only person truly skilled and smart enough to fix the issue at hand. She speaks with Cameron who’s reasonably upset with having lost all her work. It’s a place we’ve all been at some point and so we feel for Mackenzie Davis’ Cameron as we understand the anguish over what has happened. Compounded on the fact that most of the employees at Cardiff doubt her ability to write the BIOS, question her intelligence, and are definitely uneasy with a young woman with such an important task – we get why Cameron initially reacts so harshly to Donna. With that said, in typical Cameron fashion, she shows little regard and zero respect towards Donna and is appropriately called “a mess” by Gordon’s wife. Donna goes on to say “Sally Ride just went into space and here you’re screwing up at work and lashing out.” Donna handles Cameron’s inexperience and child-like anger with extreme grace and poise, but after she’s challenged just enough retorts with how she understands why she slept with the boss so she could get the job. This angers Cameron and she says “I’m still sleeping with him in case you’re wondering, b****.” She storms out. Donna replies with “You really don’t think much of yourself, do you?” Initially, you wouldn’t necessarily make much of the scene other than Cameron throwing a tantrum and Donna undeserving at the tail-end of it. However, this marks the second occasion where we see Cameron seemingly grow upset/defensive with someone mentioning Joe MacMillan. There’s a feeling that Cameron, in her own way, is protective of MacMillan and of the relationship she shares with him. In “High Plains Hardware” Bosworth asks Cameron about her “friend” Joe. He says “He’s different, huh?” but she doesn’t respond. Joe MacMillan and Cameron Howe’s relationship develops even more fascinatingly so and will be spoken of again. But for now, hopefully this is food for thought until the next episode. Why do you believe Cameron is ready to protect/defend Joe MacMillan?
Donna begins work on the recovery and Gordon apologizes to her. They don’t have anyone to watch their two children, but Cameron returns apologetically and offers to watch them. Gordon remains hesitant, but Donna recognizes that there is more to Cameron and give her the chance to watch their girls. Cameron is with the girls by the fire door and it looks like they’re having fun. We get to see a softer side to Cameron that Mackenzie Davis plays so well. It’s a convincing performance and doesn’t feel like too far of a jump in character development for Cameron. She asks them if they want to try tickle spray (it’s mouth spray that she stole in the previous episode; possibly Bosworth’s as we saw her pocket something in his office) They don’t like it so she tells them that she prefers real tickles. The children genuinely take to Cameron and say “you’re not trash.” It pulls Cameron out of the moment she’s sharing with them and she asks them where they heard that. The girls tell her that they heard Gordon tell Donna one night that she’s “just like white trash” but weren’t serious as they laughed afterwards. The nasty comment reasonably hurts Cameron so she scares the girls by pulling out her lighter and spraying the mouth spray on it to create a flame. She tells them to go back to their parents and notices that they forgot Donna’s bag. Cameron goes through it and finds Donna’s license and keys so she drives to their home and enters through the garage. She wanders through and picks up the High Plains Hardware shovel, but then drops it after she picks up a spray can. Cameron enters inside Gordon and Donna’s home and plans to graffiti, but is startled by… BRIAN! The disgruntled neighbor Brian, complete with sawed off shotgun, guesses she was fired too and equates Cardiff to a “horror movie.” He encourages her to deface the home and promises not to say anything. Oh, and he “only shoots bad guys.” Brian, tiredly, possibly drunkenly, goes on about Gordon “the artiste”, Donna, and Joe “what’s his face?” and, not surprisingly, Cameron looks at him in disgust. Possibly at the decision she was about to make, it’s re-assuring to see Cameron have a change of heart over defacing the Clark’s home. It also reaffirms just how strong her passion and belief is in the project to not see it fail.
Donna manages to successfully reassemble 93% of the drive while Ron Cane still lingers at the office. He asks what Donna’s name is, but Gordon speaks up and gives her mother’s maiden name – Donna Fairchild. He confirms that she’s one of Cardiff’s debuggers whereas he states himself as the head engineer. Another swift put down courtesy of Gordon Clark. The men leave the room and leave Donna behind. While she contemplates her whirlwind of a day, she takes notice that the basement’s floors are concrete. Why would the janitor have used a vacuum cleaner and not a mop? Donna finds the set of demagnetized disks and learns that someone placed labels over them to hide that they’re meaningless disks of reports and such. Not BIOS or code.
“She’ll get over it.”
Donna confronts MacMillan about the disks she found. She knows he is responsible for manufacturing the drama of the day and he admits to it in an apathetic way. He explains that his actions to create a story will help with publicity and force Ron Cane to write a story when he was initially planning on just a blurb. Donna, caring for Cameron, asks MacMillan what he’d think about her if she finds out that he had Debbie bring her home just to get her out of the office so he could switch the disks and lead her to believing she lost her work. “She’ll get over it” he responds, confirming that Cameron is simply collateral damage in the complicated game he’s playing. Before Donna could leave, MacMillan tells her to think twice about telling everyone what he did as it would create unnecessary strife in the work place, ultimately harmful to their project.
Outside, as Donna heads home with Gordon, she runs into Cameron in the parking lot. She tells her to get sleep and have a meal. You see that both women have an understanding and sympathy towards one another. Donna, an engineer and Berkley graduate, tells the young coder that she’s never seen anything like Cameron’s code before. She relates it to “a piece of music.” At home, Donna tells Gordon about what MacMillan did and questions the man her husband has hitched his ride to. Gordon, isn’t surprised at what MacMillan did and is more concerned with if the fake drama worked. Donna, the following day, gets scolded by Hunt as he criticizes her latest report. Citing that it’s full of errors – “I can’t keep covering for you. I’ve got my own job to worry about.” He then tells her that she’s on probation and it’s another blow to Donna Clark. In several other reviews of “Close to the Metal”, I haven’t read one negative review concerning Kerry Bishe as Donna and I have to agree. The fourth episode was Donna-centric and showed us just how smart and strong she is. In many of the ways MacMillan and Bosworth have a tenuous relationship, so does Donna with her own husband. We’ve seen him neglect his duties as a father and it’s taking it’s toll on Donna’s work. Earlier in the episode, Ron Cane asks Bosworth how he feels on having his company hijacked by Joe MacMillan and I can’t help but sense that Donna’s personal dreams and goals have been hijacked by Gordon with his inability to not put himself before his family.
We see MacMillan driving and he gets pulled over by two cops. They ask him for his license and registration and our heads immediately go back to him wrecking the stereo shop in “FUD.” He goes to get it out, but the cops say they seem him reaching for something and physically manhandle him when they pull him out. One of the officers gets his hands on the hood and the other officer exclaims that he hit him. MacMillan’s just as puzzled as we are that the police bullying him and then get him on the floor and brutalize him. While sitting on a bench at the county jail, a policeman tells MacMillan that he’s made bail and we see Bosworth socialize with one of the officer’s that beat Joe on a first name basis. Both men exchange glances with one another and MacMillan painfully walks down the hallway out of the police station. He’s bloody and bruised and not in great shape. Bosworth certainly did take a dramatic measure to remind MacMillan that he’s still running the show, but it was so harsh. While I can’t necessarily defend Bosworth’s actions and it did seem like a giant leap for his character to take, throughout “Close to the Metal” we’re reminded that Bosworth, after 22 years at Cardiff, is feeling like he’s been cornered in his own home. He even mentions that exact sentiment in “I/O.” As harsh as his actions towards Joe may have been, it seems as if he was a man pushed too far by Nathan Cardiff and Ron Cane and felt as if he had no other choice.
MacMillan arrives at work the following day and Gordon asks what happened to him. He tells him that he fell and they make nothing more of it. Meanwhile, Cameron is in the basement. She’s making back up disks for her coding just as Donna had suggested. She satisfyingly smiles and begins to eat the sandwich MacMillan brought her after she lost her work. On the roof, he approached her and asked “Hey, are you alright? I brought you something to eat.” It seemed like he was trying too hard to be sympathetic and understanding of what she was going through. And while MacMillan may have really cared in that moment, uneasy as he may be at expressing his feelings, still was the one responsible for manufacturing the entire day’s drama. Cameron, ultimately accepts MacMillan’s offering, not realizing what he had done. There’s something about the secrets no one ever know.
Suuns “Fear” plays out “Close to the Metal.”
“Halt and Catch Fire” is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Netflix. Season 2 premieres on Sunday, May 31 at 10 pm ET on AMC. Check your local listings.