“Halt and Catch Fire” is heating up. Season 2 of the AMC series continued Sunday and episode 2, “New Coke,” did nothing to suggest that the newfound subtlety and strength the show displayed in the season premiere was a fluke. In fact, the computer drama delivered one the series’ most entertaining, if slightly disjointed, hours yet.
For starters, the show hit all of the right notes with the return of Bosworth (Toby Huss), one of the big cliffhangers from episode 1. The old school salesman was one of the surprise highlights of the first season, a character who could easily have been a one-dimensional foil to the forward thinking Joe (Lee Pace), but instead received a fully fleshed out arc.
Similarly, it would have been easy to have the Texas good ol’ boy return and resume his spot as the beloved, regular-guy manager, doling out the occasional bit of father-daughter wisdom to Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) like a Bert Cooper (Robert Morse, “Mad Men”) rip-off. However, the “Halt and Catch Fire” writers did not ignore the fact that they sent this once-respected businessman to prison for the sake of the Cardiff Giant. Bosworth’s inability to totally fit in with the immature coders and his eventual conclusion he needed some time before working for Mutiny shows the series plans on continuing to treat him as a substantial, developed character with as many wounds from the first season as the core four.
As for the other premiere bombshell -- Joe’ proposal -- the former Cardiff product manager spent the episode starting a new job at Sara’s father’s (James Cromwell) oil company doing monotonous data entry. It seems clear enough where this storyline is headed, setting up another quasi-father-son conflict for Joe and using his job dissatisfaction to drive him back toward a partnership with Gordon (Scoot McNairy) or Cameron. However, after finally placing Joe in a complex, healthy relationship with a true intellectual equal, it would have been nice to see the show more closely explore his relationship with Sara, instead of banishing Joe to the (literal) basement. Joe’s relative isolation made his storyline feel jarringly separate from the rest of the episode’s action. His return to the core Cardiff group -- whenever that may be -- will be a welcome sight for fans.
The meat of the episode came from Gordon, Cameron, and Donna (Kerry Bishe), whose storylines weaved together rather seamlessly as the pair of Donna and Cameron struggled to keep Mutiny afloat and Gordon began meddling in the upstart video game company.
Gordon’s cocaine use was a much more overt issue here after its introduction in the premiere. The rich and idle engineer turned to cocaine when simply buying himself the dream computer lab did not provide instant inspiration. However, all his drug use led to was him binging on Mutiny’s games and then hatching ideas to fix them, ideas to which he became so committed, a friend had to pick up his kids from school so he could go to the Mutiny house to suggest a solution to a Tank Battle glitch. At the end of the episode, Gordon became obsessed with figuring out how to map all of Mutiny’s
Speaking of Donna, an episode later, Cameron and Donna are no closer to an effective working partnership, disagreeing on everything from how to present themselves in a meeting with investors to letting Bosworth work at the company. The biggest problem the pair faced, though, was a skilled hacker, Tom Rendon (Mark O’Brien), who spent the episode forging a copycat of Parallax and altering Mutiny’s code to allow users to piggyback on the same phone line.
Watching Mutiny deal with its cyber assaults was one of the most natural and exciting depictions of intercomputer drama thus far in any television show or movie. Unlike other ill-advised attempts -- “Blackhat” anyone? -- at dramatizing hacking, “Halt and Catch Fire” succeeded in keeping it simple, digestible and real.
However, in the end it was all about character, as it should be, and Cameron’s unilateral decision to hire Tom heightens the tension in the already fragile partnership.
Is Donna serious about her threat to leave? Fans will have to wait to find out. Unlike last season though, it will not be hard to convince viewers to stay tuned.
What did you think of “New Coke?” Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.