Season 1 of “Halt and Catch Fire” had a bad habit of spending two lackluster episodes building up to one great episode. The pattern made for entertainingly high highs, but a lot underwhelming lows during the AMC series’ debut run. Season 2, which reached its halfway point with Sunday’s “Extract and Defend,” has been a different story. Episode 5 was a testament to the show’s newfound consistency as the season starts to gear up for the homestretch.
Episode 4, “Play with Friends,” ended with a lot of loose ends left open like ticking time bombs. While the “Halt and Catch Fire” of old might have brought those cliffhangers crashing down to almost reset the season, episode 5 addressed each reveal with subtlety and restraint, pushing things forward towards a more complex climax down the road.
It did not take long for Gordon (Scoot McNairy) to fess up to Donna (Kerry Bishé) about Joe (Lee Pace) being the man behind Mutiny’s new network. Though the lie did cause yet another wound in the Donna/Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) relationship, it did not seem to have an immediate impact on Gordon and Donna’s marriage.
That does not mean the couple is without problems. A distance has grown between the husband and wife and the timing could not be worse. Episode 5 also paid off Gordon’s mysterious fainting spell in episode 4 with his brain damage diagnosis. The engineer spent the rest of the episode trying to steal a moment to connect with his wife and, presumably, share the tragic news, but Donna was too busy with Mutiny to give him the time.
In lieu of Donna, Gordon went on a strange, panic-filled odyssey that included a surreal visit to an old dance club haunt that felt a bit like the heavy-handedness of Season 1. It was interesting to see Gordon equally indecisive about what to do when faced with death as he has been for a season and half before the bad news. His quest for connection lands him at his mother-in-law’s house, but he has debts to pay before he can have the relationship he desires, specifically paying back Donna’s parents for their Symphonic investments.
Gordon was the only one paying for his past in the episode. The partnership between Mutiny and Joe’s West Group servers established in episode 4 promised a long awaited reunion for Joe and Cameron and it turned out fans would not have to wait long to see the pair meet again. The scene did not disappoint either! Cameron was the most impressive she has ever been in pitching Jacob Wheeler (James Cromwell) on Mutiny and her new competency seemed to rekindle some of Joe’s feelings.
However, when Joe tried to apologize and thank Cameron afterwards, she rejected his kindness, believing that he was either playing her or Wheeler in some way. It appears that Joe has found himself in a “boy who cried wolf” situation with his old flame, finally ready to be honest and genuine, but perhaps too little too late. Furthermore, Joe’s inability to cut ties with Cameron and the Cardiff crew may have cost him his relationship with Sara (Aleksa Palladino).
Only Cameron ended the episode on a high note, sharing a tender moment with Tom (Mark O’Brien) after her strongest episode as a boss yet. In Season 1, Cameron’s emotions too often got the best of her as she struggled to fit in at Cardiff. In Season 2, Bosworth (Toby Huss) has become a father figure-like outlet for the coder’s more childish outburst, allowing her to keep her cool while dealing with Donna and Joe. Things look bright for Cameron, even as the metaphorical wave of the future seems poised to wash away the other characters.
It is ironic that “Halt and Catch Fire” seems to be punishing so many of its characters for being stuck in the past -- the episode goes out of its way to show how outdated Bosworth is as well, including a hilarious scene where he realizes Lev (August Emerson) is gay. The show has abandoned its own past in favor of a retooled version of itself. Season 2 could almost stand alone as a “Mutiny” spinoff with how different the plot and character dynamics have become this year. That is a good thing. Season 1 had its moments, but Season 2 is a show with a true future. At the halfway point, the season of Cameron is hitting all of the right notes.
What did you think of “Extract and Defend?” Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.