Halt And Catch Fire‘s penultimate episode was all about team Cardiff’s efforts to put the Giant in the spotlight at COMDEX, but some unforeseen hurdles had to be overcome first. As a result ‘Up Helly Aa’ was very much an action-oriented episode that whizzed by, but the actions taken during this outing still proved to be great jumping-off points for character interaction and development. Essentially ‘Up Helly Aa’ was a riveting underdog story in a season-wide underdog story arc, and its outcome, both satisfying and bittersweet, was a great note to end the episode on while it also effectively set up next week’s finale ‘1984’. It all worked so well because ‘Up Helly Aa’ decidedly took everything the show had built up over the course of its prior ten episodes, then combined and twisted it, to deliver some very emotional moments and some genuine surprises.
After having cheated two naive printer guys out of their hotel room, after having improvised to gather a crowd at the Giant party, and after having fixed the Giant itself just in time for its big moment at COMDEX, the episode delivered a shocker: at the exact same time Joe, Cameron, Gordon and Donna found out, we learned that Hunt and Brian had been conspiring together and had actually built a Giant of their own, called the Slingshot. This machine, constructed with the sole purpose to defeat the Giant (hence its metaphorical name), was cheaper and faster than Cardiff’s invention and, for a moment, we were led to believe that this was it, that there was not happy ending to efforts of the people we had been rooting for since AMC’s show started airing. It was a big moment that not only shook the show’s characters to their core, but also took Halt And Catch Fire‘s viewers by surprise: Brian, for the longest time, had seemed like an effective but strictly supporting character and Hunt had actually seemed like a well-intentioned good guy. The way in which Halt And Catch Fire flipped all these preformed notions on their head to deliver a gut puch, was brilliantly done and it really upped the ante for the remainder of the episode; not only because our underdogs had to come up with a solution to this significant problem, but also because this event left a tremendous impact on our four leading characters and their relationships.
Because of the fact Donna had attacked Hunt on stage, Gordon knew something had been going on between the two, which is why he asked Donna if she had been sleeping with Hunt. This led to a brutally honest and painful conversation between husband and wife, after which Donna stormed out and Gordon got back to work on the Giant in an attempt to save whatever there was left to save. Gordon made a last-ditch effort and removed Cameron’s operating system from the computer, which made the Giant less unique, but faster and, as Joe later argued, more functional. Cameron was of course mad because of this decision and subsequently hurt when Joe didn’t take her side on this, but Gordon’s. This all led to the amazing tail end of ‘Up Helly Aa’: Joe and Gordon managed to impress COMDEX attendees with their new version of the giant, the fastest PC of its kind, but Joe realized that, for this success, they had sacrificed the machine’s soul and the single element that distinguished it from the other hardware on the market. They wouldn’t be remembered for this version of the Giant, for what’s basically nothing more than just another model, and Joe was confronted with this harsh truth when he stumbled upon a crowd gathered around the Macintosh. “Hello, I’m Macintosh,” the machine said when it was booted up, enchanting the crowd, and finally, after a long period of silence, the stunned Joe uttered: “It speaks.” Cameron had been right all along.
‘Up Helly Aa’ was a tremendous penultimate episode. It cracked the story wide open and now, after all this turmoil, one wonders what next week’s finale has in store for Halt And Catch Fire‘s viewers. 9/10