WIth ‘Giant’ AMC’s Halt And Catch Fire delivered its best episode yet, a riveting outing that fired on all cylinders and elegantly ducked a big television cliché many of its viewers were worried about. Right from the opening it was apparent that a large part of the entry would focus on Gordon’s downfall, but an appearance from a character we had never seen before proved just as compelling: industrial designer Simon (portrayed by D.B. Woodside) came to Cardiff to show some possible cases for the company’s product, but there proved to be a whole lot more to him than we could tell by first glance. This one-off character added another interesting dimension to Joe’s past, and certainly complicated Joe and Cameron’s relationship. Meanwhile’s Donna’s business trip was also surprisingly effective, which made ‘Giant’ an episode that never dragged but moved at a brisk pace instead.
First, let’s start with Gordon. ‘Giant’ kicked off with its own version of last week’s hurricane scene, in which Gordon found a body lying in the street, someone who had been electrocuted in a puddle of water. This episode’s spin on it: in a dream Gordon saw himself lying there, which was a successful continuation of the nightmare from ‘Landfall’, in which Gordon got zapped by the computer he had been working on, unable to reap the rewards from it. Now, in his sleep, Gordon had been screaming, which of course alarmed his wife and two daughters. After having practiced what to say at work and once again neglecting Donna who left for her trip, Gordon then snapped at the office and was at odds with Joe once again. Later, when he got home, he desperately tried to feel in control there, throwing his wife’s lasagna away, cooking for his daughters and telling them the story of the Cardiff Giant, in his mind another case in which the man behind the scenes was forgotten because of a brilliant salesman. All of it led to Gordon digging a hole in his backyard, looking for a giant, a literal descent into madness. Scoot McNairy’s acting this episode was fantastic; he portrayed the growing self-involvement and detachment from reality incredibly convincingly, which made the character’s quite realistic psychotic break hit home, especially given what the show has been telling viewers about Gordon’s past and how he had been acting since Halt And Catch Fire‘s premiere. The fact that Gordon was alone when it happened and therefor clearly unable to take care of his daughters, made all of his scenes very tense and eerie: when Donna got home and found her children on the floor, like her, we were worried about their well-being. In addition to McNairy’s acting the writing and cinematography also need to be commended: all these elements made the insanity palpable.
Gordon’s story this week, literally, was an isolated one, but his wife Donna also felt very much on her own. She’s someone who has always put her husband first, and who is used to being the woman behind the man, but on her trip with her colleague Hunt she wasn’t neglected and got the recognition she had been longing for. Kerry Bishé was terrific here, conveying how much all of this meant to her character through body language and a glimmer in her eye. While many viewers suspected that, because of the attention Hunt payed Donna, these two would hook up, that didn’t happen. Hunt proved to be a sweet stand up guy, but when he knocked on her hotel room door to hand her a fax Gordon had sent, she mistook his visit as a courtship and kissed him. Hunt turned her down, tried to be understanding about it, but Donna understandably felt ashamed and left the hotel that same night and then got home to find her children asleep on the living room floor and her husband digging a hole in the garden. Both the actress and the writers made her desperate act understandable, without condoning it. It’s a fine and tricky balance to get right, but given what the character has been going through, and because of Bishé’s performance, it all worked. It’ll be interesting to see how Donna will deal with all of this going forward.
While the Joe storyline had a lot going on on a business level, eventually it boiled down to another wonderful personal tale that added even more layers to his character. It turned out that he and Simon had had a relationship a long time ago, which was why Simon turned up at Cardiff while Joe went into their meeting with a more business-minded approach. Throughout you could tell by both performances that there was unease between the two, a history, and when the revelation about their past came it all made sense. When Simon left Cardiff, jealous of Joe’s new flame Cameron, she eventually tried to win Simon back after Joe had been honest with her and even apologized to her for being angry with her, which was certainly a side to his character we hadn’t seen before. Joe is growing and he tries to be as open and honest with Cameron as he can, who recognized this and, in turn, wanted to give something back. It was beautifully written and a realistic approach to these two characters and their relationship: even though they both try they don’t get things right immediately or all the time, which is why Cameron got drunk after Simon told her that Joe had gotten bored with him and would get bored with her. She tried to drown her insecurity and fears because, even if she tries her hardest, Cameron still has a lot of issues she has to work through. The storyline culminated in a beautiful moment: when Joe said goodbye to Simon, learned that Simon was terminally ill and that he had already decided to help Joe out not matter what, Joe tenderly took his hand to show his compassion and gratitude, which Cameron glimpsed through the window of the cab they all rode in with. Hurt, terrified and crying she told the cabby to drive away, which led to Joe running after the car and barely getting in the backseat next to Cameron. “Are you gonna get bored of me?” she asked Joe. “I don’t know,” he replied. It was a brutally honest and touching moment, and both Lee Pace and Mackenzie Davis once again delivered heartwrenching performances.
One last thing to note: Cardiff is in financial trouble and Bosworth, a true believer in the team and Cardiff’s product, tried to get some money together. In the end he seemed to have a desperate idea while looking at an article about a hacker, which could mean that, going forward, Bosworth might become entangled in some criminal activity to save his company. It’ll also be interesting to see what exactly is going on with him and his wife, who was mentioned several times during ‘Giant’. While these scenes were interesting it’s Toby Huss’ nuanced turn that makes them mesmerizing: for weeks now Huss has been doing a wonderful job bringing the character of Bosworth to life, and making him a very sympathetic man despite how the character first started out. There’s a lot you can say about Halt And Catch Fire, but the engaging layered characters and the standout performances by its cast are certainly among the first things that come to mind.
‘Giant’ was Halt And Catch Fire‘s best episode yet. Engaging storylines were made all the more compelling by truly brilliant acting. 10/10