Halt and Catch Fire 2×01 ‘SETI’: Welcome to Mutiny

Halt and Catch Fire 2x01 Cover

Before I watched “SETI”, the Season 2 premiere of Halt and Catch Fire, I thought back on my opinion of Season 1.  I remember it being somewhat mediocre for the first half of the season, but it improved enough in the second half to be a memorable watch, even if the second half existed in the shadow of the first.  I didn’t think it had even a chance to make it to a second season.  But with Mad Men gone and Breaking Bad gone and The Walking Dead entering its sixth season, AMC granted Better Call Saul, Turn, and Halt and Catch Fire all second seasons, hoping one of them would be big enough to create some sort of legacy and bring some new attention to the network.

Out of those three, even if Better Call Saul is a quality show, Halt and Catch Fire has the most potential to be something great.  Better Call Saul will always live in the shadow of Breaking Bad, but Halt and Catch Fire is new, not only in terms of its characters, but in terms of its ideas.  Better Call Saul works with themes of degradation, of characters devolving into darker versions of themselves, but Halt and Catch Fire explores the fear of the future, of becoming obsolete and fading away into mediocrity.  It intently explores what people want out of life.  Do they want something that’s bigger, better, faster?  Or do they want something new and exciting, true innovation, something that promises a legacy?

Halt and Catch Fire 2x01-2

Source: AMC

“SETI” is an extremely promising episode of television, not only because it skips a year and a half into the future, far enough to escape Season 1’s grasp, but also because it works off of some entirely new ideas.  Sure, there are a lot of storylines and character ideas tied in from Season 1, but the majority of the focus is on Donna and Cameron at Mutiny and how they plan to deal with the demands of Mutiny’s growth.  It’s a great way to reboot the series, switching the focus from the male characters to the female characters.  Season 1 always had the female characters orbiting the male, existing in a reactionary capacity, where now they’re allowed to be more than just a reaction.  The Mutiny storyline is, by far, the most fascinating part of the season premiere, and part of that is because Donna and Cameron feel more lively than they ever did in Season 1.

Halt and Catch Fire 2x01-4

Source: AMC

“SETI” also works because the stakes at Mutiny are set up quickly.  The company has grown to the point that operating out of a house is becoming a burden, where they’re overloading the circuits and experiencing a great deal of lag on their networks.  They have one game, Parallax, but user subscribers are plateauing and further growth just isn’t happening.  They don’t have a system of leadership, which creates tension between Donna and Cameron because neither wants to run the company.  “SETI” doesn’t offer much by way of answers to these problems, but it brilliantly shows us exactly how pressing these problems are becoming.  If Mutiny is ever going to become something more than a cool idea, they need to find a way to integrate with the way that business is run in the world.  Since Cameron is a dreamer that just wants to upend the system and Donna wants no part of being stuffy and authoritative, they go to pick up Bosworth from prison, who Cameron has a strong relationship with from Season 1.  It’s a neat way to integrate his character from Season 1 in a way that gives him more room to be a fully-fledged character.

Halt and Catch Fire 2x01-1

Source: AMC

This doesn’t mean that the Joe and Gordon content is boring.  It’s the juxtaposition to the Mutiny content.  While the Mutiny content is the birth of a company, the Cardiff content is the death of a company.  One lends the other the overarching shadow of rebirth; where one idea dies, another is born.  Joe and Gordon are meant to do something more after losing everything, while Mutiny will probably one day become just like Cardiff.  Gordon collects his check as he thinks about the legacy he made with the Giant, which hasn’t amounted to much more than a couple computers that were a little better than the rest.  Like the ad from the Giant Pro, it’s faster and better, but it’s only that way for a short period of time until it’s trash like the rest of the old computers.  There wasn’t anything particularly inspired about it.  When he’s back at home with the kids, there’s a certain happiness to his freedom.  He wants to build things and work on innovation like he used to, but the peace he feels at home is soothing to him.

Halt and Catch Fire 2x01-3

Source: AMC

Joe, on the other hand, is struggling.  He’s in a new relationship with Sara, who is helping him try to figure out what he wants out of life.  They largely skip the “Joe goes off into the wilderness” concept that they introduced in the finale, which was a smart move, as it underlines just how desperate he is now for something more in his life.  It’s apparent that he came back from his excursion without any new revelations, just the same old person who’s still searching.  His scene at Cardiff was especially great, as his speech to Nathan Cardiff (after he found out he was getting no money for the sale of the company) essentially meant nothing.  Lee Pace’s blank stare in the elevator was haunting, as it conveyed just how empty he was after all of his delusions came crashing down.  When Joe asks Sara to marry him, he’s desperately clinging to any new horizon that he might have.  Only desperate clinging always does more to destroy what’s left.

“SETI” is an invigorating episode of television in that it offers the high level of quality that we saw near the end of Season 1, but elevates it in a way that takes the periphery characters and brings them front and center.  In doing so, it really makes the entire show feel more alive.  The plot feels more urgent and intense, the characters feel more rich and fascinating, and the themes feel more intently woven into the story.  If the quality of “SETI” says anything for the rest of the season, then Halt and Catch Fire might have a chance at becoming the next great AMC show.

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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