Stop me if you’ve seen this episode before. Joe and Cameron start off on good terms but Joe acts like a jerk towards her causing their relationship to be on the brink of destruction and Joe either rectifies the situation or not by the end of the episode. Joe also yells at Gordon, forcing Gordon to do something he doesn’t want to do, which in turn makes Gordon bumble his way through powerlessness until he finally does something to take back some control of his situation – whether it is sane or otherwise. Something is revealed about John that adds a layer of superficial development to his character and Donna does something extremely competent but her efforts are unrewarded. If that sounded familiar to you it is because that is the description for every episode of Halt and Catch Fire – including this week’s “Giant”.
Just because the show is about building a computer, the episode should not unfold using the same multivariable equation every week. It’s not hard to picture the writers sitting around the writing room brainstorming ideas on how Joe will anger everyone this week. The storytelling is formulaic, the characters are static and uninteresting, the melodrama escalates incrementally from episode to episode, and there is little continuity between episodes. If the definition of insane is to do the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result each time perhaps it is the viewer, and not Gordon, who ultimately is insane.
On paper Halt and Catch Fire should make for an interesting show. A mysterious salesman comes out of nowhere and talks his way into changing an entire electronics company to make a personal computer. He relies on a tortured genius to build his brilliant new computer and a very young female innovator who is creating a completely new way for people to interact with the computer. All of that sounds like it could be a very interesting show.
Instead Halt and Catch Fire made a decision early on in the pilot to introduce every dramatic movie/TV trope in the book. Joe having sex with Cameron early on in the pilot sets up a useless on-again off-again relationship that somehow doesn’t effect either character’s ability to work and produce in the same company on the same job. Gordon’s genius is never fully realized because he either isn’t a genius or is too “depressed” to get out of his own way. Not only that but the whole bumbling idiot routine, where he can do nothing right and is always outshined by someone else, should make him a sympathetic character but because he is so whiny and pathetic it only makes his storylines a chore.
They all are constantly fighting for no reason but somehow the project is ahead of schedule and is seemingly coming together remarkably well. Sure, the money is about to run out but it’s more important that Joe’s former gay lover comes back to throw a wrench into Joe and Cameron’s relationship. Gordon is under so much stress, supposedly because Joe doesn’t listen to him and/or some glossed over performance issues, that he inches closer and closer to a nervous breakdown. Yet the computer remains completely on schedule.
How can the audience care about any of the characters when they are at each other’s throats constantly? At this point it might be better for the computer to fail just so these characters no longer have to interact with each other. And unfortunately the most interesting characters of the show happen to be Donna and John, the show’s secondary characters. Of course if they became featured characters who knows if they would still be interesting or not.
What it all boils down to is that Halt and Catch Fire and its latest episode “Giant” is much like the computer the characters are building on the show. There are some good ideas, offering some differences from the normal TV show structure (mainly Cameron being a “strong” female character) but it seems doomed because of the project being in the hands of the wrong people. And that is no clearer than in the very shoddy continuity from episode to episode.
On a very basic level the story is continuous. The computer is slowly reaching completion despite all the infighting. Donna does go on a business trip she was invited to the previous episode. But it seems as though there are any repercussions or even reactions from episode to episode. Sure there is escalation – Gordon breaking a window last week to having a bit of a psychotic break digging a huge hole in his back yard – but somehow it doesn’t seem to change the characters’ temperament or actions. Gordon will still show up to work next week and fight with Joe and Cameron. Joe and Cameron will still hook up and fight over Cameron’s immaturity or Joe’s teetering between business and personal actions towards Cameron. In an industry that is literally changing by the day, almost nothing changes for the characters episode to episode.
And the lack of change and growth is incredibly frustrating for the viewer. At this point the only viewers who return every week must feel the need to repent to the TV Gods through the self-flagellation that is a new hour of Halt and Catch Fire. What is there to return to? The main characters are detestable and the two interesting, ancillary characters are underserved. None of the characters seem to change, or if they do during the span of an episode the next week’s episode almost seems to completely forget what happened in the previous one. Each episode unfolds exactly the same as every other episode. The season long plot is boring and almost completely ignored.
With only three episodes left, Halt and Catch Fire cannot end soon enough. For anyone needing an AMC fix every Sunday go ahead and watch the Breaking Bad reruns the network is constantly advertising. Hopefully this show will self-destruct itself off the air, which would be a fitting end to a show of this title.