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Halt and Catch Fire has a very interesting conundrum on its hands. After consecutive weeks in which Donna and John have proven to be more interesting than the show’s main characters the show’s equilibrium is certainly skewed. On the one hand, it offers the audience something to be excited to return to but on the other hand it makes the audience question why they should even care about the main Joe, Gordon, Cameron drama. At the very least, Halt and Catch Fire must continue to utilize John and Cameron even more as the rest of the show flounders without them in it.
“Close to the Metal” was all about Joe getting some media coverage in The Wall Street Review for his groundbreaking computer. As the episode goes on, it is revealed that Joe only got this review because a friend of his owed him a favor and that the reporter didn’t care one iota until Cameron’s BIOS code was lost due to some unfortunate mishaps. This forces Donna to come in and save the day, despite Joe’s initial protestation.
Unlike the ultra-flawed main characters, Donna comes in and recovers the code with no muss or fuss. Donna brought some much-needed fresh air to an office situation, which had become incredibly stale. Her genius is on full display as she is solely responsible for recovering the code from a fried hard drive and, if doing it herself wasn’t enough, there were some consummate dorky Cardiff engineer naysayers that she also got to prove wrong.
Kerry Bishé plays Donna perfectly, showing a fully range of emotion from jealous cattiness when she tells off Cameron to humbly accepting punishment by her actual boss at Texas Instruments. Her confidence while recovering the BIOS code and her surprised frustration when she reveals to Gordon that it was Joe’s plan all along for Cameron’s code to “go missing” adds layers to Donna’s character that no other character has. Donna is the most complete and interesting character on Halt and Catch Fire and hopefully she continues to get more of the show devoted to her.
The contrast between her and Gordon is vast and, unfortunately for the show’s construction, puts Donna in a spot to receive less screen time than her counterpart. Where any little thing immediately flusters Gordon, Donna calmly takes everything in stride without whining. Gordon’s character is completely unlikable as it has become abundantly clear that his misfortune is at his own hands.
“Close to the Metal” only reinforces this as he gets caught up at work because of the lost BIOS, which causes him to be late to pick up his kids. If this wasn’t bad enough he then needs his wife to come in and save the day while he sits idly by waxing romantic about a night when the two of them hooked up in the computer lab back when they were both still students. Combined with Donna coming up with the layered motherboard and you have to ask yourself, what does Gordon actually contribute to both the company and the show?
Perhaps it is by design that Gordon is really just the figurehead where Donna is the brains, but that would only make sense of Gordon had any aspirations of his own. Aside from taking the credit from his wife when talking to the reporter it doesn’t seem as though Gordon wants anything more than to be a depressed sod who careens between anger at Cameron and being overwhelmed when things don’t go exactly his way. Hopefully Donna has earned some of Joe’s respect after she succeeded so that Joe considers hiring her, as it seems Donna is not long for the world of Texas Instruments. However, the show must certainly backslide on Donna’s hypersensitivity when dealing with Gordon now that it has become clear she is much stronger than that annoying pettiness.
John also shines in this episode, despite the fact he received little screen time. John’s allegiances are hard to define. While the owner of the company wants John to be in power of the day-to-day operations, and not Joe, it does seem like John has actually become invested in Joe’s project – more so than just to save his own job. John’s threatening of the reporter could be construed as a business maneuver but it certainly seemed like John now believes in the project.
When coupled with John trying to learn programming basics and living out of his office in last week’s episode, John’s allegiances could be tested if Joe ever stops antagonizing him. Perhaps John’s retaliation by getting his friend, who happens to be a Dallas police officer, to pull Joe over and beat him up at John’s request may stop the fighting between the two... It won’t, but it would be interesting to see the two of them become allies as opposed to enemies and John’s seemingly newfound interest in the project could be just the ticket.
Cameron also had something more to do than rage at a computer or screw Joe this week. Sure, Cameron was thrust into another random plot as Gordon told her to watch over his kids while he and Donna worked to save her code but at least this made much more sense than Cameron throwing a random party for people she didn’t know. And Cameron actually acquitted herself well under the circumstances as she actually seemed to bond with the two girls. It was good to see her thrust into something she wasn’t completely comfortable with but had to deal with, unlike her previous instances of shopping for clothes or the aforementioned party. Having Cameron run into Gordon’s neighbor, who he recently fired, before she vandalized Gordon’s house was also a smart move as it brought Cameron’s character out of her rebellious teen mentality and actually made her stop and think of the consequences of her actions. There was also a hint of a possible mother-daughter type relationship between her and Donna somewhere down the line.
“Close to the Metal” was just another reminder of how weak the show’s main characters are but that there are reasons to continue to watching. Whether there will be repercussions for Joe toying with Cameron and the entire company remains to be seen (John doesn’t know that it was all Joe’s plan so Joe getting beat up don’t count as repercussions) but if it results in Joe hiring Donna then “Close to the Metal” is definitely the most important episode to date.
image courtesy of ACE/INFphoto.com