'Halt and Catch Fire' Recap: Season 1 'High Plains Hardware'

By Chris Baggiano,

I have been fairly critical of AMC’s fledgling show Halt and Catch Fire. And while many of the problems are still very evident, “High Plains Hardware” was an episode that actually got me intrigued in the show for the first time. “High Plains Hardware” explored Donna and John a little more while also offering up a tangible character trait for Joe.

Before “High Plains Hardware,” Joe had been portrayed as a mysterious, slick talking, idea man. None of these traits, however, were very interesting or really told the audience anything about his character. Sure, it’s great that he realized that he wanted his computer to be portable with a handle but that doesn’t really show anything more than his ability to have an epiphany (as many do in this show). Joe does not have the know-how to understand whether or not his idea is feasible, he just was able to see someone carrying a briefcase and realize that computers should be able to do that.

In “High Plains Hardware,” Joe shows an entirely different side. John turns to Lulu, a wealthy older woman who is an old friend of John’s, to invest in the company. She ends up wanting more of the project than Joe is willing to give. Clearly, Joe does not want to be in Lulu’s pocket like he was in IBM’s pocket, but the lengths he is willing to go (are they lengths at all) to make sure that doesn’t happen is what gives Joe new life. After Joe loses his cool by telling off Lulu at supper, a much more meaningful instance than last week’s stereo store incident, he goes to meet with Lulu’s boy toy while he is getting some brandy. Very quickly Joe approaches this man and starts to make out with him in a very dominant fashion. After this tryst in the study, Joe and Lulu’s boy toy return with a bottle of wine instead of brandy, which tips Lulu off and forces her to kick them out.

The question of Joe’s sexuality isn’t really the most intriguing thing at this juncture – clearly we know he also likes women as he has had sex with Cameron multiple times. With the information we currently have, the most intriguing thing about Joe is that he is willing to be his own boss so badly that he will sleep with another man in order to secure his independence. Having Joe proclaim that the best way to make the laptop is to cut the production time in half for a prototype that investors can see is all well and good, but that means next to nothing if he has little control over the matter. Joe’s hookup with Lulu’s boy toy actually saw Joe take action and control over a situation he had not planned out beforehand, which has made his character at least somewhat interesting.

The same cannot be said for Cameron. For the second week in a row, Cameron really has nothing to do except struggle with coding, so she has a series of random events happen to her, which add nothing to her character. Her party with the random antiestablishment youths made no sense and was fairly boring, offering no insight into her character. Likewise, her stealing things from fired coworkers doesn’t say much about her either, other than she’s poor and everyone already knew that. She has her eureka moment after one of the random people she meets tries to give her a tattoo, but if that was the only reason for that entire sequence, it seems misguided at best – there are other ways for her to reach a eureka moment that would be more meaningful for her character and the story. Sure, she felt out of place in a party she threw for complete strangers but other than that, what was the point?

Gordon has a little more to do in “High Plains Hardware” than Cameron, but not much. His neighbor, who he also works with, ends up buddying up to Gordon because he wants to make sure he has a job. The neighbor ends up becoming the consummate naysayer and Gordon, who is looking for a friend(?) ends up listening to his neighbor until they get in a car accident and Gordon fires him. If Gordon’s reason for listening to his neighbor was because he wanted a friend, then it would make sense, but that certainly did not seem to be the case in the episode. Gordon is a very passive character, and while there is nothing wrong with that, there needs to be some hint as to Gordon’s motivations. At first, he seemed to be a genius who had given up his dream to make ends meet, but he has yet to do anything extraordinary and, in fact, does not seem as smart as he was introduced to be. Additionally his motivations are so unclear, the audience has no idea why he does any of the things he does. Gordon’s character only gets more confusing week by week. It is time the show actually gives us something concrete about him.

After “High Plains Hardware,” Gordon’s wife, Donna, is the far more interesting member of the couple. She helps Gordon figure out how to cram all the hardware into the laptop and has dreams of her own – corporate dreams. While it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that to create more space you can stack things on top of each other, it would be an interesting turn if she was actually the brains behind Gordon, which would also completely explain his worried passiveness. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that isn’t going to happen, but it would certainly be an interesting turn for the show.

John also received some additional time in this episode, adding an extra layer to his character that had yet to be revealed. Before, he just seemed to be the angry boss who was going along because he had to, but after his conversation with Cameron in his office late at night (the office he seems to be now living out of) and his desire to learn the basics of computer coding, it has given his character more depth. Even though he and Joe continue to butt heads over who is in charge of financing, John now seems more than just a roadblock for Joe.

“High Plains Hardware” still suffers from everyone hating each other and none of the characters being likeable but it at least added some intrigue to some of the characters. The events were less random than last week’s “FUD” and the way those events unfurled also felt more polished. Halt and Catch Fire still has a way to go before it becomes a must watch, but at least “High Plains Hardware” has given a nugget of interest that was not there before.

Image for thumbnail courtesy of Tina Rowden/AMC

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