Monday, October 20, 2014

Halt and Catch Fire Season 1 Catch Up: "FUD"

"Son this is about relationships. This isn't something you'd understand."
I don't think the writers have any idea what to do with Joe.

On one hand, the reveal that Joe is completely full of shit is certainly a refreshing twist on the white male anti-hero trope. Where most anti-hero shows reveal the hollowness of the protagonist's goals, Halt and Catch Fire has essentially just revealed that Joe is a con-artist dressed up as visionary. It certainly explains why his speeches rung false in the last episode. The boardroom scene where Gordan says, "Tell me you have a plan Joe," and Joe silently looks at him with guilt definitely was a power to it that suggests the show has an awareness of the usual cliches of the antihero trope.

Yet on the other hand, the move serves to deflate Joe's storyline to the point where I simply have no interest in seeing Joe's storyline develop any further. It may be an interesting idea to have Joe be this pathetic loser, but its executed in the most boring manner possible. Whether it be Joe frantically throwing stuff around in search of the BIOS binder, a freakout in a speaker shop, hints at a bad childhood, or a terribly miscalculated shirt ripping scene, Joe's character has so far proven itself to be a toxic element in this series.

Before we go into all of that though, let's talk some good stuff.

The episode picks up immediately after the first episode, with Joe and company completely taking down the IBM legal team through their pre-rehearsed answers. With IBM sent running, Joe reveals to Gordan and Cameron what he wants from them: a personal computer that can run twice as fast at half the speed. Gordan thinks such an idea to be difficult, but possible, while Cameron outright rejects the idea, believing that they should strive to be more creative. This entire situation sets up what is sure to be the major conflict of the series: creativity versus practicality. Gordon believes in progress moving in increments, while Cameron believes in revolutionizing technology. The scene also does a good job of giving an indication of what the season is going to look like, a job which the pilot simply didn't accomplish.

The episodes high watermark definitely is the scene where Cardiff Electric gets raided, IBM swooping in to take all clients. One great sign from Halt and Catch Fire is that it effectively knows how to dramatize people going on phones panicking over a rival business, showing that Halt will have little to know trouble making the PC business interesting. It's a bonus that the writer's were able to imbue the scene with character moments in order to create scenes which are both dramatic and purposeful. "Son this is about relationships. This isn't something you'd understand," Yells Toby Huss's John Bosworth at Joe, a line that smartly showcases the differences in business expertise between John and Joe, while additionally allowing John to call Joe a sociopath. Moments like this prove that Halt and Catch Fire isn't just a mere Mad Men clone here. There's some real craft and ideas at play here that have the potential to make for some fantastic television

Yet Joe, who is unfortunately the central character of the show, is a black hole. Lee Pace attempts to do his best with the script he's given, yet its hard to really give much depth to a character so thinly conceived. The pilot set Joe up as a mystery man with a grand plan; only for this episode to reveal that he may not have thought up his plan thoroughly enough. It's certainly an interesting twist on the anti-hero archetype and definitely superior to Joe being some omniscient mystery man who's plans work out perfectly.

But there has to be better material for Lee Pace to work with than screaming at people he's angry with, throwing weird temper tantrums in basements, and spinning terrible yarns about how he was abused as a child for being a nerd. Take the scene near the end of the episode, where Joe gets into a fight with Gordan, only to have his shirt randomly tear off, revealing a bunch of scars on his chest. "To this day, I don't blame them. I don't think they meant to chase me off the roof." Says Joe to a shocked Mackenzie and Gordan. It's a pretty terrible scene for a number of reasons, chief among them being that its a hilariously unbelievable scene in an otherwise believable TV show. The reveal that Joe made up the story on the fly only serves to concern me even more that the writer's have no idea what the hell they're doing with Joe.

Which isn't to say this was a terrible episode. It's an hour that displays Halt and Catch Fire is at least self aware of the genre pitfalls and is actively writing around them. Nowhere is this most obvious than in the relationship between Gordan and Donna, where the writer's pretend to set up a very contrived conflict between the two, only to knock it down immediately to prove that this isn't that type of show. Again, the raid scene was great, Toby Huss as John Bosworth is pretty spectacular, and Cameron has been put in a great position for future episodes. Yet even with all that, the problems the show has been having with the character of Joe MacMillan only serve to worry me. It's entirely possible that the writer's are able to figure out Joe in future episodes. Yet rather than looking at Joe's future on the show with anticipation, I must admit that the prospect of spending more time with Joe MacMillan only serves to bore me.

Rating: 3/5


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