Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Halt and Catch Fire 3x01 & 3x02 Reviews: “Valley of the Heart’s Delight” & “One Way or Another” (Welcome to the Jungle) [Guest Poster: Amir]

“Valley of the Heart’s Delight” & “One Way or Another” 
Original Airdate: August 23, 2016

At some point in the two-hour season three premiere of AMC’s criminally underwatched series Halt and Catch Fire, something snapped in me and made me smile. This happened relatively early on in the episode, as Donna and Cameron are seated together discussing their latest creation at Munity. They never look at each other, just at the screens, speaking and typing without missing a beat, as if the rocky road to them being business partners has led them to this. It was refreshing, and for some reason filled a hole that had been missing for a while. It’s nice to see Munity again, and better than ever. Following the journey of Munity, Cameron and Donna’s little tech outfit, throughout season two was rife with excitement, anxiousness, heartbreak, and revitalized energy. It was a dynamic change for the series, that initially started with its hyper focus on mysterious main player Joe MacMillan. The problem wasn’t that AMC couldn’t tell a great story about computers and the people who have a hand in them in the 80s. But with Mad Men on the way out at the time, much pressure was placed on Halt and Catch Fire to fill the gaping void that would be left in Mad Men's absence. Then something amazing happened; they pulled focus from Joe to Cameron and Donna, who — during season one — seemed to only revolve around Joe and Gordon as opposed to being in their world. Now we’re in Cameron and Donna’s world, and what a wonderful world it is.

Still, it wouldn’t be Munity unless something was going haywire at an inopportune time. That’s where we pick up on our merry band of misfits, commemorating their 100,000 users and their newfound independence. Munity has come a long way from a large group of people occupying a house that was seemingly falling apart and barely able to handle the most minor set of issues. The new Munity has gotten an upgrade, and with it, also gained some new faces. But no worries — all the familiar faces you grew to love in season two return as well.

One of those new faces happens to be Ryan, a very intelligent, yet socially awkward member who, after the very first moments of meeting him, we can already tell will cross his paths with Joe MacMillan. His ideas are great, but he’s been relegated to sprite duties and is hungry to do bigger and better things. What’s interesting about this dynamic is that not only does it mirror Joe’s desire to do bigger and better things, but it also mirrors Cameron’s desire to expand and exact new and innovative ideas. When Ryan does meet Joe for the first time later on in the episode, one can see Joe looking unto him as his next protégé, but also as someone full of youth that Joe doesn’t have anymore. Maybe it’d be a possible passing of the torch, but it certainly opens up an interesting dynamic. It doesn’t help that upon Ryan leaving Mutiny, he tells Gordon to his face that he’s leaving to work for Joe. That has got to sting.

Mutiny not only gets an upgrade this season, but the dynamics between characters are much more fluid and less stiff. Season two was a great step in building this world of computers and tech geeks, and season three progresses this further by showing our coders and creators having a strong sense of unity. They goof off, make the occasional fart joke, and by the end of the first episode, seem to have taken in Gordon as an easy to mock, but easy to respect, authority figure. After a long overnight session of coding, Gordon gives a speech about the true nature of Joe MacMillan, and how evil he really can be. Props to Scoot McNairy for delivering one of the most powerful scenes in the series, and in the first episode no less!

In a scene between Gordon and Bosworth, the latter drops what may be the most essential line of this new season; in reference to Cameron and Donna, “I find it wise not to interfere with the brain trust. They run the place; I just work here.” A rather telling statement considering how far Bosworth has come from owning his own business to now just being a part of another. This season really pushes Cameron and Donna so far into the forefront that the first time we even get a glimpse of Joe is from a phone call with Bosworth about his new grandchild. Joe always has been an omnipotent character in Halt and Catch Fire, and this season decides to prove no different. When we finally see Joe, he’s giving his own press conference for his own business, alone in a small theatre. He makes a surprise appearance during Gordon’s deposition to offer him a portion of his company, asking him to be his partner again. It’s no surprise that Joe has already jumped ahead in making his own business plans, but what’s so surprising is how singular it all feels. He, at times, feels away from the cast, and yet a part of it at the same time. I imagine that’s how Joe should have been during season, and yet it’s here where the writers of the show finally manage to make it all work out. No longer the focus of the show, he’s allowed more freedom to drift in and out of the lives of those he’s seemingly ruined, and we see Joe moving right along as if nothing’s happened.

By the time we get to the second hour of the premiere, we’ve already been reacquainted with Mutiny, so now it’s time to follow Cameron and Donna on their quest for investors. This is where the episode shines the most. Watching Cameron and Donna working together as business partners was akin to watching The Odd Couple back in season two. Now, Cameron seems way more comfortable, less abrasive, less a sore thumb at these conferences than before, and it’s a testament to the chemistry of Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishe. They play off of each other so well, taking in what the other has to offer and how different they are, while at the same time respecting them all the same. Last season, we got to see how much pushback these two ladies got just trying to get anything done, and this season raises the stakes even higher by making their gender more pointed.

In arguably the best scene in the episode (and of the week, maybe even month) Cameron and Donna are seated at a dinner with potential investors. It starts out benign enough, but as the conversation continues, it becomes more lecherous to the point of being downright uncomfortable. It becomes apparent that these men only invited these women out to have a good time and once that realization hits Cam and Donna, the fear comes out. “This is how we do things out here,” says one of them, while the other drops this: “But nobody wears that shade of lipstick unless they’ve come to play.” It’s a remarkable scene, well directed, and most of all impeccably acted by Davis and Bishe. Where Donna is more vocal about their outrage, it’s Cameron’s facial expressions that sell it. When Cameron, who usually is the hothead of the two, has to pull Donna away from a fight, that’s when you’ve got something great.

At one point during the episode, Donna runs into Diane, a character introduced to us when her daughter has a fight with Donna’s daughter. She’s getting dressed up in soccer gear, a brief exchange is had, and then Diane says this, “I like it, that we’re both raising girls who are fighters, don’t you?” Donna doesn’t really have much of a response to that. But in her own way, Donna is raising fighters. Her evolution from dutiful housewife to company owner fighting to keep it afloat would make her a fighter, and in a meta sense, any girl that would come across this series while growing up could find themselves inspired by these characters. Halt and Catch Fire has a lot of weight to carry with a lot to say, but with these episodes, I don’t think it’ll be a problem here on out.


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