There have certainly been more perfect episodes of "Halt and Catch Fire" during the tech drama's second season. However, Sunday's "10Broad36" paid off much of the groundwork the AMC series has been laying throughout the first five episodes. After a half season spent in character limbo, Joe (Lee Pace) came back into the fold in a big way in episode 6, leaving fans with a lot of questions after the season's most tense and dramatic hour.
Let's start with the not-so-great though. With Joe jumping into the fray over at Mutiny, apparently another character needed to fill the "man is an island" role and Gordon (Scoot McNairy) was just the guy for the job. Gordon took the kids to California to visit his brother, Henry (Kevin Rankin), and shared his brain diagnosis news. However, the friendly-on-its-face visit went south after Gordon discovered Henry’s alcohol problems and slept with his brother’s ex-girlfriend, Jules (Erin Cummings) – an affair plot that will feel needless if not addressed in future episodes.
While everything that happens to Gordon and the way he acts in each scene makes sense considering what the character is going through, a series of clichéd and predictable scenes led to this very detached storyline feeling a bit stale. The long, slow scenes dragged in comparison to tension present elsewhere in the episode.
Things were far from slow back at Mutiny. Joe’s arrival, bearing a rate hike in Mutiny’s timesharing deal with West Group, brought many of the show’s subtly mapped out storylines to a head. With Sara (Aleksa Palladino) out of the picture, the Joe MacMillan of Season 1 returned to trigger the best scene of the series so far when Cameron (Mackenzie), Donna (Kerry Bishé) and Joe squared off in their negotiation meeting. Joe’s vintage businessman shrewdness was an entertaining, if uncomfortable, bit of déjà vu and neither viewers nor the characters expected a blow-up from Donna to be the thing to cut the tension between Joe and Cameron.
The scene was the perfect avenue to insert Donna into an episode that was otherwise the Joe and Cameron show. It was a rough episode for Donna as she struggled with deciding whether or not to terminate her unexpected pregnancy. After an hour that saw her desperately fighting for her professional baby – at one point framed in a Kubrickian shot between West Group’s server cabinets during a conversation with Joe that emphasized her helplessness – she decided to forego a real baby in pursuit of leading the life she wants to lead. It was an unconventional victory for the character that also saw her relationship with Cameron take a big step forward during their episode ending car ride to Planned Parenthood.
Cameron had a busy episode as well. There were more beats between Bosworth (Toby Huss) and her in which the old school boss helped Cameron see that Donna and she are not so different – Bosworth has settled into an effective role as a conduit for Cameron’s more emotional outbursts.
Bosworth also points out the folly in the lengths Cameron goes to in order to outsmart Joe. In her quest to get the best of her ex, she foregoes the improvements to Mutiny that Joe mandates and instead focuses an extraordinary amount of effort into faking them to try and secure a preferred timeshare rate. Mutiny will have to eventually shift towards more business savvy decisions, whether Joe is the one suggesting them or not, if the company wants to stand a chance at surviving.
Episode 6, though, belonged to Joe. It was maddeningly difficult to tell which Joe fans were seeing throughout the episode. Has Sara’s absence triggered a return of the Machiavellian con artist fans met in Season 1? On one hand, Joe’s subtle moves to gain more control over Mutiny felt like the Joe of old and an unwelcome insertion into Cameron’s life after seeing her for the first time this season in episode 5. On the other hand, perhaps Cameron and viewers are unfairly viewing his justifiable, if cold, business decisions through the lens of his past deceits – he seemed genuinely hurt after learning that she tried to make a fool out of him during Mutiny’s Commodore demo.
Joe’s plan at the end of the episode to acquire Mutiny teases a storm cloud of issues. Where the season goes from here very much depends on which Joe comes to the table.
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