Halt and Catch Fire 3×01 – 3×02: The drive to innovate

HaCF 3x01 Cover

I’m not sure I can think of a television series that has improved as much as Halt and Catch Fire.  The first season, or at least the first half of the first season, was not particularly great, mostly because it focused intently on the mystery of Joe’s character, exploring it in a way that took his mystery seriously instead of exploring the vacuousness behind it.  But after the show began to understand how to structure it in an ensemble fashion, after the show understood its thematic drive as a narrative about progress and innovation, it really came into its own, becoming something really worth watching.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

That hot streak, thankfully, does not end.  The first two episodes of this third season are as good as ever, exploring the fear and failure that comes from the pursuit of progress, the cult surrounding personality in Silicon Valley, and what the drive to succeed and innovate does to a person.  Even just he first episode does this to a remarkable extent (the beard that Joe now has cements him as an interesting play on Steve Jobs).  It’s certainly the best show on AMC (sorry, Better Call Saul, it was a close one), not just because of its quality, but because it’s an original show that is essentially about originality.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

Donna and Cameron are now in California, having brought Mutiny across the country.  Mutiny is doing well, but looking for the next original, inspirational idea that is going to propel them through the coming years.  With computers and computer technology becoming more widespread and mainstream, with more competition to fight with, Mutiny’s rebellious culture becomes more and more frustrating.  The stakes are getting higher, and people like Ryan who have an untapped genius within them want more out of the opportunities around them.  While Mutiny is constantly looking for innovation, it’s also a little insulated.  The big ideas come from Donna and Cameron, and they don’t really know how to deal with other people having innovative ideas as well.  When Ryan pitches his idea and is rejected by Donna and Cameron, he’s enticed by Joe, who is able to twist him with the notion that he’s some sort of monumental figure.  But underneath it all, as we saw in the second season, there’s an emptiness within Joe.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

Joe is the kind of character that was irritating when he was portrayed as an antihero.  Now, he’s better than that, a deeply flawed man who is aware that he’s a genius but also aware that he doesn’t necessarily have the innovative mind that he sees in Cameron.  It’s why he was so attached to her; he wanted to be close to vision and innovation, to some feeling of accomplishment that the future brings.  Now, he’s dealing in anti-virus software, the technology stolen from Gordon in the last season.  Like he said, he’s selling safety, the notion that people have a right to feel safe and secure.  Joe wants everybody to have that right because he has felt insecure and like a failure his entire life.  It’s really interesting that they’re using him as an exploration of the cult figure you see so often in the tech field.  Behind the god status of the tech giants is emptiness, a drive for a future that fixes everything, a future that doesn’t exist.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

Gordon is still dealing with his own emptiness, trying to find purpose in a life where he feels peripheral to everybody else. Donna and Cameron don’t treat him as an equal, and he feels like the only thing he’s good for is his money.  He can’t work for Joe, as he always feels Joe vying for control over him.  And his disorder keeps him from being able to set out on his own in the way he wants.  He loves his family, but there’s something missing in his work.  It’s why he loves hanging out with the coders, talking about the past and about Joe; there’s a sense of camaraderie there, where Gordon feels like the one in charge, the one in control.  It’s very interesting to watch him navigate two existences that are at odds with each other: Gordon the tech genius and Gordon the father.  They can’t coexist in peace, and eventually something is going to break.

Halt and Catch Fire is terrific.  It has a full understanding of its characters, its thematic drive, and what the purpose of the show is.  It makes you care about the people you see on the screen, and it makes you care about their insecurities, their failures, and their futures.  If it keeps this up, it may indeed be the best show of 2016.  I’m certainly excited to see what happens next.
What did you think of the double episode premiere?  Do you think Mutiny is going to succeed?  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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