Halt and Catch Fire 2×02 ‘New Coke’: Rebranding the product

Halt and Catch Fire 2x02 Cover

Halt and Catch Fire has a lot of discussion involving dreams.  Every character has a dream for their life, and each dream is, for the most part, unattainable.  They’re looking for some invention that will define their own existences, that will give them some sort of legacy to hold onto.  But the thing about legacies, about wanting to define your existence through some reverberating action, is that our definition eventually fades.  Our accomplishments eventually fade.  We eventually become nothing, and there’s no achievement big enough that time won’t destroy.  So we have to find some facet of our existence that makes us content, something that makes life worth living.

Halt and Catch Fire 2x02-1

Source: AMC

“New Coke” isn’t necessarily referring to the cocaine that Gordon was snorting when he was trying to find inspiration to move forward.  It refers to the product released in 1985, the new Coca Cola formula that the company attempted to push, only to run into extreme backlash against the product.  When we think of a new product, we think of something like the iPhone 4, 4S, 5, 5S, 5C, 6, 6+, all variations on a singular concept, all slight tweaks to a successful formula.  Try too hard for something new and people freak out, not because it’s necessarily bad, but because people use products to feel comfortable, to make their daily routine nice and peaceful.  Or maybe they use it to reinvigorate their lives.  But there’s a specific purpose given to each specific product, and rebranding a product too much changes what that purpose is.

Halt and Catch Fire 2x02-3

Source: AMC

At first glance, this concept seems like it would apply to the products that the episode discusses, such as Mutiny, but it applies more to the characters on the show.  They’ve essentially been rebranded, with Joe doing grunt work for Sara’s father, Gordon being daddy and tampering with computers in his garage, Cameron as the head of a business when she doesn’t like being a leader, and Donna being pushed to be the den mother for the company when she wants to get some real work done.  They’re all being pushed by outside forces, robbed of their control, and they’re miserable because of it.  It’s a thematic lens that makes “New Coke” an immensely rewarding episode, even though there isn’t a whole lot of forward movement with the plotting.

Halt and Catch Fire 2x02-4

Source: AMC

The Mutiny story is what continues to push the season along, and it’s more interesting than the Cardiff Giant story ever was (though the final stretch of Season 1 was done fairly well).  Cameron and Donna are trying to get more funding for Mutiny so they can move forward as a company, but they run into roadblocks.  Cameron’s inability to operate as a manager and a professional businesswoman is making it difficult to bond with potential funders, and Donna isn’t able to move far enough in the opposite direction because she can’t fully embrace the more chaotic side of herself.  The sexism in the meeting scene felt a little too forced, but it went to show that Mutiny isn’t just going to suffer because those in charge are having an identity crisis, but also because Mutiny really is the future, having two women in charge.  “New Coke” also begins to bring Gordon into the mix, as he’s searching for a place in the world now that he’s out of Cardiff.  He begins to fix up some of the issues that Mutiny has with their tank battle game, but even then he isn’t doing what he’s fully capable of.  He’s trying to find a way to direct his life and inject it with meaning, and the cocaine is more a cry for help than anything else.  The cocaine is his desperation, his begging for some sort of inspiration to create something like Mutiny.

Halt and Catch Fire 2x02-2

Source: AMC

Joe’s story is largely peripheral to Mutiny, though I assume that he’ll return to the main plot’s orbit soon enough.  When he takes a job with Sara’s father, he tries to use his charm to create some leverage and control for himself, but that doesn’t work.  He walks into his new job like he’s a charmer, a tough guy, but he walks into a boring job digitizing records, one that doesn’t pay well at all.  Joe’s charm isn’t working the way it used to, but he continues to implement it in order to believe that part of him is still worth something.  But what Joe has to do, and what he has to do in order to become some part of something better, is to figure out who he is outside of that charm.  And, at the end of the episode, even though it’s warming to see him try to schmooze his way into Sara’s father’s good graces, ultimately that isn’t going to make him whole.

Season 2 is still turning out to be an immensely entertaining experience, far better than Season 1 even hoped to be.  It’s not quite at the quality of television’s A-game, such as Hannibal or The Americans, but it’s something that I would now recommend to new viewers.  It’s taking the thematic lens that lay dormant underneath the sub-par quality of the first season and bringing it to the forefront, invigorating the proceedings with new perspectives on characters that didn’t seem to work in the first season.  And now that the show is inspecting these new perspectives and showing how they uncomfortably tilt the world of the characters, it’s a show that’s certainly worth watching.

So what did you think of “New Coke”?  I didn’t talk about Bosworth, but do you like his character in this season so far?  Do you think the show will keep getting better?  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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