Halt and Catch Fire 1×09 ‘Up Helly Aa’: Into obscurity

Halt and Catch Fire 1x09 Cover

At the very least, Halt and Catch Fire feels like a coherent show now.  It may not be perfect, it may not even begin to match up to AMC giants Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but it still operates at a functional level.  It’s fascinating how the show seems almost knowledgeable of its own failings, like Joe peering at a small demo for Macintosh computers, knowing that his ideas are a copy of some other model, nothing unique to set him apart.  This isn’t to say that “Up Helly Aa” is a bad episode by any means.  But it seems that, even at its best, Halt and Catch Fire pales in comparison to the giants that came before.

Halt and Catch Fire 1x09-2

Source: AMC

It’s still as focused as ever, with the gang at COMDEX, trying to pull off the perfect demo so they can sell the Giant.  They’re set up with one obstacle after another, and while it’s certainly a simplistic way to structure the episode, it works far better than the first half of the season.  It at least makes the episode coherent and sets up the episode’s third act pretty well.  Gordon even becomes even more capable than before, really shining in how he’s able to navigate COMDEX and launch the Giant in a meaningful way (Gordon orchestrating Joe’s takedown of the nerdy printer salesmen was pretty great).  When his character works in a way where he’s allowed to fail, but also fight as hard as he can, he feels like a human being instead of a pawn being thrown around a chessboard.  However, the marital drama between him and his wife still centered around her relationship with her boss, and that was never a plot point that felt like it made much sense aside from the writers wanting it.  But, besides that, Gordon and Donna’s characterization were both a strong addition to the episode.

Halt and Catch Fire 1x09-4

Source: AMC

But the real shining facet of the episode is Joe, as he’s coming into his own quickly, becoming more human with every episode.  Sure, his relationship with Cameron never feels like it’s much more than the writers forcing two people together, but his search for relevance feels more urgent and urgent as the season goes on.  Here, he’s simply fighting for the Giant to take off, but it’s the episode’s third act, where Gordon is forced to scrap Cameron’s computer personality for speed and power, that Joe really shines.  He wants the Giant to sell, but it isn’t until he sees the Macintosh computer at the end that we see what Joe is really about.  He wants to be somebody, a man with original ideas that matter, but the problem is that he’s not.  When he calls out Donna’s boss for stealing his idea, the man simply states that Joe is as much a hack as he is.  And it’s true.  Joe doesn’t have any original ideas, just enough business savvy to sell something.  So when he sees the Macintosh computer, he sees something real, with true talent, more talent than he could ever imagine.

Halt and Catch FIre 1x09-1

Source: AMC

Because the series is about chasing it, about being relevant in a world where relevance fades faster than one can imagine.  Cameron saw the legitimate chance to be relevant, but Joe knows that her genius isn’t going to have any ripple if the product doesn’t sell at all.  There are so many computers becoming faster than the next that it’s easy to fade into obscurity, but Joe just doesn’t know how to be somebody real, to have the ideas to keep him from obscurity.  So he just sells the computer that he has in front of him, attempting to be a person that has real ideas for real innovative products.  He just knows, deep down, that the delusion he crafted for himself is a fallacy.  And he knows that he has to change that.

And so we move into the finale with the Giant working at full capacity, minus the personality that Cameron created.  It’s unclear how this is all going to wrap up, but “Up Helly Aa” does a great job making us care about what the outcome is going to be.  Halt and Catch Fire has set up a situation where there are no winners, where people have to give up things in order to create something substantial.  And it’s important to convolute the storyline here in order to make it more interesting.  But everybody wants to revolutionize the computer industry, wants to fulfill their dreams, and is simply unable to.  They don’t have the power, they don’t have the resources, even though they have Cameron, who understands how to truly innovate the game.

The question going into the finale is: Is there a way for Cardiff Electric to become relevant in a time where it’s so horribly difficult to do so?  And, at this time, it’s an interesting enough question to carry us through the end of the season.

So what did you think of the penultimate episode of Halt and Catch Fire’s first season?  Do you want to see it renewed for another season?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • likac05

    It’s a great show. It demands your full attention while watching it because it’s subtle and layered. It makes you stop and think about what you’ve seen.Too bad most people these days suffer from attention deficit disorder and anything that’s not transformers, zombies and vampires is “boring”. I believe AMC will renew it but if they don’t, I thank them all the same for a superb effort to give us something different, something stylish and thought provoking.

    • Michael St. Charles

      I really like how the show has come along. I was frustrated with it until recently, but I’d welcome a second season. I do think that they’ll renew it, simply because AMC doesn’t have much of a lineup past Mad Men next year (I think all they have by way of original content past Mad Men is Turn, Hell on Wheels, and Better Call Saul). Though its ratings certainly haven’t been great. I’m remaining hopeful, haha.