Season 1 of AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” centered on the creation of a computer -- the Cardiff Giant -- that was the compromised product of its creators competing visions, insecurities and faults. That’s an apt metaphor for the debut season of the show in which it exists, a series clearly aspiring to greatness, but often falling frustratingly short. Well, Season 2, which premiered Sunday, proves the newer model can indeed be better. “SETI” brought fans a vastly improved show and set the table for a season that may actually live up to the series’ promise.
Though many critics had written it off, “Halt and Catch Fire” showed signs it had Emmy-caliber potential, especially in the season’s homestretch Comdex episodes. In Sunday’s premiere, the show doubled down on one of the strength’s of Season 1’s latter episodes, putting the show’s female leads, Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna (Kerry Bishé), center stage.
The main storyline in “SETI” followed the pair battling -- sometimes outside forces and sometimes each other -- to keep the struggling mutiny afloat. Power problems and network lags presented major problems to the rebellious startup and Donna was again in the position of babysitter, except this time picking up after Cameron, not Gordon (Scoot McNairy). Cameron, on the other hand, seemed more concerned with bucking authority -- “trickle down electricity!” -- than being a boss.
Davis and Bishé’s chemistry was an underrated and underused element of Season 1 and it was refreshing to see it drive an episode here. In a great, alcohol-fueled scene, Donna demanded the time to pursue her own creative vision -- a social media-precursor chat room -- while Cameron promised to take more responsibility on the managerial side of things, but Mutiny is still in need of a proper boss.
Cue the return of John Bosworth (Toby Huss)! The episode’s big cliffhanger was Cameron picking up the former Cardiff boss from prison with a big hug. Bosworth was one of the surprising gems of the first season and to see him back will be a welcome surprise for fans, but what will the Texan bring to the show this time around? The character always represented the past giving way to the future, embodied in his father/daughter relationship with Cameron. Does he have a place at Mutiny?
Meanwhile, Gordon, now cashed out of Cardiff, had plenty of time to reflect on the two computers he built for the now-defunct company. The problem, though, is that reflection is difficult for him, having spent the last year hopped up on cocaine to meet deadlines for the Pro. Despite selling two computers and near millionaire status, the engineer is still a substance abusing -- Gordon’s alcohol abuse was a subtle presence throughout Season 1 -- underachiever wondering, “What’s next?” In a welcome role reversal, he is now the one stuck at home while Donna ditches family responsibilities chasing her own passion project.
And then there is Joe (Lee Pace). As Nathan Cardiff (Graham Beckel) reminded the former sales vice president when shutting him out of his shares at the company’s sale, Joe destroyed lives with his Cardiff makeover and the guilt of that seems to weigh on him. However, his new romantic interest, Sara (Aleksa Palladino), the woman he was searching for at Fiske Observatory, insisted he focus on the future and be proud of what he built in Texas. That’s enough to inspire Joe to propose!
Has he genuinely changed or is this relationship a Don Draper-esque stand-in solution until he figures out what he wants next? Fans will have to wait to find out, but the fact that he seeks out Cameron at the end of the episode, signing on to Mutiny to anonymously play her in a game, is telling.
With every character at a crossroads, the stage is set for Season 2. Will Gordon, all money and no purpose, team back up with Joe and his plans for a new company? Will Donna and Cameron make good on their pact to take more control of Mutiny? Will Cameron bring Bosworth into the company?
At any rate, “Halt and Catch Fire” seems to have largely ditched the burdensome heavy handedness of Season 1 -- with the exception of the comically one-dimensional fence who attempts to rip off Donna and Cameron -- in favor of much subtler character drama, focusing on its most interesting relationships and taking a big step toward becoming one of TV’s premiere shows. Perhaps Season 1 was just “the thing that gets us to the thing.”
Check back here Monday for a premiere debriefing with “Halt and Catch Fire” Showrunner Jonathan Lisco exploring why Joe proposed to Sara, what Bosworth’s return will bring to the show, and the future of Mutiny.
What did you think of “SETI?” Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.