AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” returned for its second season three weeks ago with a fresh focus and newfound subtlety. The series’ sophomore run has been a remarkable step up from its promising, but uneven, first season and with “The Way In,” Season 2’s third hour, “Halt” delivered its strongest episode to date.
The catalyst for the show’s best episode yet was the biggest problem Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Mutiny have faced so far: Gordon Clarke (Scoot McNairy). Despite his constant references to Superman in the episode -- even quoting Jo-Rel’s “They can be a great people” monologue from 1978 film -- the idle engineer was not the hero. His Sonaris program cannibalized Mutiny and its users, literally, destroying games and original work, and figuratively, creating a massive rift between Cameron and Donna (Kerry Bishé). It also proved he has no place in the upstart video game company and perhaps -- as Cameron viciously suggests -- the future.
Donna may have finally realized that as well. It remains to be seen if the Sonaris disaster will have marital implications for Gordon and Donna, but it seems pretty clear that, at the very least, Donna wants Gordon far away from Mutiny. The beleaguered wife was caught between a rock and a hard place in the episode. On one hand, her husband acknowledged it was her turn to dive into her passion project yet could not help but meddle. On the other hand, Cameron chastised Donna for not being more committed to Mutiny, suggesting Gordon and her family were a distraction -- oddly echoing the “biological imperatives” shtick they got from the sexist investor in episode 2.
To be fair to Cameron, the Sonaris fallout was pretty rough for the programmer. She had her worst panic attack since Joe wiped her OS files in Season 1 and it was up to new hire Tom Rendon (Mark O’Brien) to calm her. Tom arrived at Mutiny like the second coming of Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), eviscerating the status quo -- Cameron’s new Parallax chapter -- but providing no solutions himself -- his game concept lacked a story to hook an audience. Also, like Joe, he has an uncanny ability push her buttons, both to make her angry and to bring her to her senses after the loss of the users. Could this relationship turn romantic?
Speaking of Joe, it was great to see him in a scene with some of the old gang in his brilliantly written dinner party with Donna, Gordon and Sara (Aleksa Palladino). Plus, it looks like he finally figured out what the new project will be, eschewing his plan to reform the West Group data entry department and instead hatching some fly-by-night scheme involving the dormant, off-hours computer system at the company. That seems fitting, considering Joe is never at ease unless he is disrupting the status quo and his future father in-law’s (James Cromwell) mind-game promotion never sat right. Could the recently exiled-from-Mutiny Gordon be a part of Joe’s new plan? Fans will have to wait to find out.
The punchy episode had few false moments and many knockout scenes. Joe's dinner party, where every guest entered with their own perspective and agenda, showed off the show's new subtelty, while the Sonaris crisis again proved the show's ability to turn technoloy troubleshooting into riveting drama. The future of "Halt and Catch Fire" looks bright, even if its characters immediate futures are looking pretty grim.
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