Halt and Catch Fire 2×05 ‘Extract and Defend’: Business versus creativity

Halt and Catch Fire 2x05 Cover

If there’s one thing that makes Season 2 of Halt and Catch Fire work, it’s the strain between business and creativity.  Things that are void of creativity will never sell, but too much creativity and the product won’t sell either.  There needs to be a happy medium between the status quo and progressive ideas, considering that the status quo is dull and boring while progressive ideas are scary and foreign.  Keep people pacified yet intrigued and you have a selling idea.  But this means that we need to compromise ourselves in order to succeed in the world.  Our passions have to be curbed and our creativity has to be quieted.  We have to be able to subvert and conform at the same time.  But how do we live as a bifurcated person?  How do we split ourselves into two competing persons and expect to come away whole?

Halt and Catch Fire 2x05-2

Source: AMC

“Extract and Defend” hits the halfway point in Halt and Catch Fire’s second season, and it brings us to a crossroads in the season.  It emphasizes a focus on the turmoil between characters and takes us away from some of the content that has made the first half of Season 2 not only watchable, but enjoyable.  And a lot of that has to do with plot twists that exist in Joe, Gordon, and Donna’s worlds.  Because melodramatic plot twists do have their place; just ask Game of Thrones, a show that relies on endless twist after twist to keep the viewer coming back.  But they have a tendency to take over the storytelling in a way that mutes other aspects of it.  For example, the Mutiny storyline seems to have come to a halt while the Joe/Gordon/Donna plot twists seem to be front and center.

Halt and Catch Fire 2x05-4

Source: AMC

At this point, Gordon has toxic encephalopathy, brain deterioration that is a result of his exposure to toxic chemicals during his time working with computers.  While the storyline that results from it has its perks (Gordon looking for human connection and turning up with nothing is certainly interesting), it ultimately feels melodramatic in that it popped up for the sake of amplifying the stakes.  It doesn’t really lend much to the show’s most powerful thematic concepts.  The same goes for Donna and her pregnancy, which mostly has to do with her “work vs. home” crisis, one that is interesting but not interesting enough to bring the same thematic engagement as the Mutiny storyline.  A lot of this has to do with its lack of forward movement, as Donna’s pregnancy has just been a source of stress all episode.  At some point, both of these twists will converge in a way that is meaningful, but as of right now, neither is moving fast enough to be riveting.

Halt and Catch Fire 2x05-1

Source: AMC

Joe’s storyline is also somewhat shaky, if only because the “old Joe” seems to be resurfacing in a way that edges away from the great character development we saw in the season’s first couple episodes.  When Joe talks to Sara’s father about leasing the mainframes, gambling with the hopes that he likes the idea, he’s forced to bring Cameron to a meeting with the man in order to secure the lease.  The scene between Cameron and Joe works well, if only because it highlights the paranoia within her and the genuine desire for repentance within him, but it also goes to show how hard it is to shed the confines of the past.  Cameron hates him for the work at Cardiff, and Sara pushes away from him because she fears that he’s making some sort of play.  Joe wants to move forward, but he doesn’t know how to erase his past mistakes.

Halt and Catch Fire 2x05-3

Source: AMC

Cameron’s story is the only one right now that is worth much, and it’s because it’s connected to Mutiny.  She’s hitting it off with Tom, though his connection to Mutiny brings into question the genuine nature of the connection.  Cameron is absolutely obsessed with Mutiny, not just because she wants it to be good, but also because she wants it to be hers.  Not to mention that she doesn’t have anything else in her life.  Cameron refuses to find some sense of self outside of her passions, and she refuses to acknowledge the reality that her passions need to be compromised in order to really work at all in the real world.  When she lies under the covers with Tom, she lives in her own world, the world of Mutiny and fun and excitement.  But that world isn’t profitable unless it is compromised in some manner, and when Donna and Bosworth’s attempt to make it a feasible reality, she lashes back with all of her might.  Her story is, by far, the most interesting, and the one that the other stories need to eventually revolve around.

Halt and Catch Fire is still producing some great television, but it needs to keep the focus where it works.  The Mutiny storyline is the heart of the season, not Joe’s schemes or Gordon’s illness or Donna’s pregnancy.  That storyline carries with it the thematic resonance that makes Halt and Catch Fire the great show that it can be.  It’s the soul of the show, the OS that Cameron held in her hands like a fragile child.  And without it, the show will lose what gives it its life, reverting to the likes of Turn and Low Winter Sun.  Though I’m confident that even though “Extract and Defend” was the season’s worst episode to date, it’ll get better as we move into the third act.

So what did you think of “Extract and Defend”?  Are you more interested in the twists than I am?  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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