Halt and Catch Fire 3×03 ‘Flipping the Switch’: The fear of irrelevance

Source: AMC
There’s a certain unique feel that runs through great television shows, almost like a pulse that makes it feel alive.  The Leftovers has this pulse, an empathy and connective nature that imbues words and action with an additional meaning.  Breaking Bad has this pulse, an urgency informed by an existential need for control over one’s existence.  And Halt and Catch Fire has the pulse as well, a need to be relevant and necessary in a world so competitive that people are routinely left behind.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

It’s this soul that makes Halt and Catch Fire feel special, like it matters.  When Joe practices Basic in his office, when Gordon speaks into his radio, when Cameron and Donna fight to buy out Swap Meet, we see this desperate need for relevance, to be the next big idea, to be the one that is able to stake a place in the fields of history.  And it’s that soul that reverberates today, reminding us of our own desire to be something that matters and out own fear that we aren’t important enough.  Not many shows echo the social pulse of the day, though shows like Mr. Robot and The Leftovers do it beautifully.  To see Halt and Catch Fire do so is undeniably riveting.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

Take Joe, for example.  He promises his users that they’ll get his anti-virus software for free, but his investors push him to charge money for it after a time.  Ryan is irritated by Joe because of his seeming desire to charge for the software, but really, Joe doesn’t want to charge for it either.  He just feels that he has to.  He has built up this cult around himself, but doesn’t feel that he has control enough to actually follow through on his vision.  It’s the reason he’s learning to code, to be able to have the skills to back up the visions he has.  So when he pulls Ryan away to find the next big idea to fund the company if he wants to distribute the anti-virus software for free, he’s looking for control and purpose again.

Source: AMC

Source: AMC

Gordon, Donna, and Cameron are all looking for purpose as well, fixated on their next big idea, trying to buy Swap Meet so they can be first to the idea of swapping items online. Gordon is nervous that he’s not part of this innovation, while Cameron takes over so much of the work from the coders that she appears nervous to give up any control over her company.  Both Donna and Cameron are nervous, as women, that they’ll be blocked out of their place as innovators by men, beaten down by the sexism of the industry.  The fixation on gender this season amplifies the fear of being left behind; Gordon is afraid that social change will render him obsolete (something that echoes vividly today), and Donna and Cameron have to worry about being women in an industry that isn’t accepting towards women.  Even more than that, Donna has to juggle her business with motherhood, something that proves difficult.

The second season of Halt and Catch Fire was something special, but this season is superb.  There’s something special about seeing all of the show’s characters fight for relevance when the show treats all of their wants and desires as completely valid and part of being human.  When I reviewed the first season of this show, I was skeptical as to whether this show was worth anything.  But now it’s clear that this show is incredibly important today, as it’s a reminder of the fight we engage in today, the need to be relevant, to be needed, to be important.  Right now, it’s the best show on television.
What did you think of the episode?  Do you think Joe and Ryan will come up with another great idea?  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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