'Halt and Catch Fire' Recap: Season 1 'Up Helly Aa'

By Chris Baggiano,

Last week’s Halt and Catch Fire love fest was too good to be true. With the troops rallied it was only a matter of time until the friendly fire casualties began to rack up and “Up Helly Aa” did so very quickly. Let the fireworks begin.

Despite Cardiff’s credit cards being declined at the convention and hotel it was actually somewhat surprising and exciting to see Joe, Gordon, Cameron, and Donna all working together towards one goal without being at each other’s throats. This is actually the first time in which the three main characters actually felt like a team. Unfortunately it was shortlived.

Halt and Catch Fire’s desire for ever increasing drama and tension has certainly held the show back in its first season and nothing typifies this more than the morning after Cardiff’s big launch party. After a quarter of the episode had played out with our “plucky underdogs” somehow conniving their way into another company’s hotel suite, throwing a party that was meant to feature a demo of the Giant that was not operational and somehow Joe and Cameron making all the attendees not even care about the demo, and finally fixing the Giant, the show decided to quickly ruin everyone’s, including the viewers’, fun. Now in the cold light of morning sun it apparently dawned on Donna to pick that very moment to bring up the lack of respect Gordon has shown her throughout the project. Luckily, in the other room, things were just as chipper as Joe told Cameron that she should go to California to program for no reason other than jealousy. Neither of these beats made any sense to what had happened previously in the plot of the episode.

While there had been a season-long subplot regarding Donna not getting the credit she’s due, it makes no sense as to why she would bring it up at the moment after Cardiff’s huge success. At the very least it seems as though she could have hinted at her displeasure with it and then have it come out during her and Gordon’s fight twenty minutes later. At least Joe’s idiocy made some sense after he kept an eye on Cameron the entire night while she chatted up a programmer from California. Still, the show didn’t need to bring that point up at that specific time but it made sense within the story. Aside from poor story structuring there are only a couple reasons the show would choose to inject some unneeded melodrama into the show at that particular time; either the show’s goal is to hate the characters and watch them get punished as much as possible or the writers are tension junkies that just can’t get enough. Either way it becomes tiresome and feels completely tacked on.

After this moment a nice snowball effect begins as one thing after another brings everything crashing down. First the gang witnesses a presentation by none other than Gordon’s neighbor and Donna’s former boss for a laptop that is an exact copy of theirs without Cameron’s OS and is being sold cheaper. Donna flips out on her former boss, which then transitions into Gordon immediately accusing her of sleeping with him – quite the Gordonian leap. The two then have a pretty bad fight. Joe tries to kind of patch things up with Cameron but you know how that goes. Gordon then starts drinking and makes the executive decisions to take out Cameron’s OS and the extra memory it required and replace it with MS-DOS. This causes Joe to choose between the ability to sell Gordon’s new, stripped down machine or Cameron’s unique machine. Surprise, he chooses Gordon.

Joe then makes a sales pitch on the fly while presenting it at the conference making people think of it as a cold-hearted machine to only do its user’s bidding. It impresses a national computer chain representative but Joe is certainly not pleased with what he is forced to do. Gordon sort of apologizes to his wife by giving her the credit during the presentation and those two crazy kids are probably on the road to reconciliation while Joe tells the national computer chain representative that neither of his initial offers to sell the Giant in his stores are good enough.

At the end of the episode, Joe goes to retrieve ice so that he, Gordon, and Donna may continue their celebratory wallowing without Cameron when Joe stumbles upon an open hotel door. When he investigates, lo and behold, he sees the future right in front of his eyes – a Macintosh computer, replete with a mouse and an OS that speaks. Simultaneously making the Giant obsolete and proving Cameron to be right about the future bringing more personality into personal computing.

Unlike the revolutionary Macintosh, however, “Up Helly Aa” reminded the audience of how unimaginative Halt and Catch Fire is. The petty infighting between the main characters, the loathsome characters in general, the very episodic nature for a show that really should be more focused on the complete experience, and so forth and so on are all ways that Halt and Catch Fire is more like the Giant and less like the Macintosh. There are some good ideas that could have been more fleshed out but, unfortunately, what the first season has shown is that Halt and Catch Fire will not be another Mad Men or Breaking Bad, no matter how familiar it tries to be.

Thumbnail image photo credit: Tina Rowden/AMC

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