Halt And Catch Fire is AMC’s big new television show, a character drama set in the 1980s against the backdrop of the personal computing boom in Texas’ Silicon Prairie. The series’ title refers to a computer command that, as the show explains, “sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all constructions to compete for superiority at once,” which caused the computer to stop functioning. It’s to be expected that, with such a title, the meaning of the term will also come into play thematically, especially given the mix of characters premier ‘I/O’ introduced viewers to.
Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan is our flawed protagonist, a troubled visionary shrouded in mystery, and a brilliant and slick sales hotshot to boot. He arrives in Dallas to work at computer software distributor Cardiff but soon proves to have ulterior motives, the first of which is to reverse-engineer an IBM PC to make a name for himself and, eventually, “build a machine that no one else has the balls to build.” In order to do so he needs help though, which leads Joe to Scoot McNairy’s quiet and intense engineer Gordon Clark, a man who has left his glory days building computers behind him in order to play it safe and provide for his family. It took its toll though: we’re told Gordon struggled with alcoholism and it’s abundantly clear that he’s a man that aspires to be more than just another office drone and that, because of it, he is fed up with his current job. Despite his wife’s qualms he eventually falls for Joe’s plan and successfully reverse-engineers the IBM PC, quite a feat but an illegal one at that. Which is why Joe tells IBM Cardiff has got the same information required to build a PC, effectively backing Cardiff into a corner: their only way out of a lawsuit is by pretending they have been studying computer building all along and manufacturing their own PC clone, a job for which Joe and Gordon approach another engineer: the rebellious and spunky Cameron Howe, portrayed by Mackenzie Davis. The end of ‘I/O’ saw Joe Gordon and Cameron together, faced with IBM’s legal team, no doubt a small hurdle on their envisioned road to greatness.
With ‘I/O’ Halt And Catch Fire is off to a great start. It’s a beautifully shot show set in an interesting period with a fictional story that resonates and evokes the real-life rise of a company like Apple. But most of all its creators have put an outstanding cast together: Pace is impressive as the charismatic, elusive and fanatical MacMillan, a cross between Mad Men‘s Don Draper and American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman, and McNairy does a great job conveying the pent-up rage of his character Gordon. Davis does equally engrossing work but both her and Kerry Bishé, who plays Gordon’s wife, got sidelined in Halt And Catch Fire‘s first episode, simply because, for story purposes, it made more sense to focus on Joe and Gordon’s reverse-engineering plan. It’ll be interesting to see how all the characters will get fleshed out in the coming weeks and how their dynamics will develop. What gave ‘I/O’ gave us was exciting though: a team coming together and the beginning of something that has the makings of a compelling underdog story.
Halt And Catch Fire‘s first episode gave us a great idea of what the show’s going for: a slow-burn drama with interesting characters and a unique setting. This could very well become the series that AMC desperately needs to fill the hole left by Breaking Bad and to counter the imminent ending of Mad Men next year. 8/10