introduces us to a trio of mavericks that are aiming to create one of the first IBM clones. Joe MacMillan (played by Lee Pace) is the ringleader who came up with the idea and is armed with the knowledge he has from his years working for IBM. Gordon Clark (played by Scoot McNairy) is still stinging from his failed attempt at creating a computer but is now ready to make the dream into a reality. Cameron Howe (played by Mackenzie Davis) is a bored college student lured in by the challenge and risk (and an appealing salary).
There is a lot of potential for places to go with the series, as the final scene shows an army of IBM executives arriving at the Cardiff Electric office that makes it clear the powerhouse isn't going to make the revolution easy. Of course, there is the conflict between Joe and his boss John Bosworth (played by Toby Huss), who is less than impressed with Joe manipulating things so the company is now in the clone business.
Right now, a lot of this series is hinging on the potential stories as the premiere is a pretty standard introduction to the characters and setting up the major concepts. Though premieres normally feel rushed and it's rare they present an exceptional episode right out of the gates, with Fargo and The Americans being the few exceptions that stand out in recent memory.
Feel the 1980s Groove
Speaking of The Americans, much like that series, this is one where the time period is an essential part of the storytelling rather than just being a play for nostalgia like The Goldbergs. It was the dawn of the home computer age, but also the period to define what computers would become. The episode isn't overt in its use of 1980s iconography, but rather effectively incorporating things like the music and wardrobe to help set the tone. The opening theme has appropriately 1980s synthesized beats and is complemented with some very 1980s looking graphics. Also, as a giant Star Wars geek, I appreciate the family outing to Return of the Jedi.
Anti-Hero of the Computer World
Joe looks to be tight rope walking between protagonist and antagonist. His character gets defined right from the start as he hits a slow moving armadillo with his sports car and shows little remorse for the creature now jammed against his fender. Not too long after that, he is having a sex romp with a student and not showing any regard for her possible feelings. You get a sense his character may be getting set up for a King Lear-like fall as the series progresses. The episode essentially promises a major showdown with John, who may be looking to sabotage the project.
The key moment for Joe was maneuvering both IBM and Cardiff like chess pieces. He is warned by Gordon that reverse engineering an IBM computer will likely lead to lawsuits and being fired by Cardiff. Joe goes about the bold move of ratting himself out to IBM in an attempt to force Cardiff's hand in allowing the clones. This event is not only the set-up for the entire series premise, but likely has set-up Joe's nemeses in both IBM and the company he works for. It should be intriguing to see the uneasy alliance he has with the very people he is trying to make rich.
Meet the Cast of AMC's Halt and Catch Fire >>>Second Chances
Gordon gets the most focus in the premiere as we also get a peek into his struggling family life. The finances are tight after the failed attempt to make a computer, and for most of the episode, his wife Donna (played by Kerry Bishe) warns him that another attempt at creating a computer would be disastrous. One of the most powerful scenes is when Gordon fires back at his wife that having the family wasn't enough and making the computer would be his biggest fulfillment. Donna finally gives her blessings, but hopefully we continue to get peeks into his family life as it makes the episodes far richer and layered.
Gordon for half the episode is a drunk and a man moping about opportunity lost. He even says right to his daughters the best thing he ever did was make the failed computer. One of the few moments he has energy is when he tries to reverse engineer the IBM in his garage. Of course, it changes the moment his wife opens the garage door and discovers he went against her wishes. Genius with Attitude
Cameron is by far the most interesting character. She has a Mary Stuart Masterson from Some Kind of Wonderful
type look, and is also the tomboy with an attitude. She has the least amount of scenes this episode, but Davis steals every single one. She has already been established as a bit of a genius, as she essentially predicts the rise of the Internet in her first scene (long before Al Gore). Her affection towards bending the rules is demonstrated through playing free arcade games by attaching her quarter to a string. She'll likely constantly have confrontations with her fellow worker, but also will probably turn out to be one of the more nuanced characters.
The series has the potential to be a spy thriller set in the world of computers. Likely, the trio of super computer nerds will constantly try to find IBM secrets and slay the giant. As has already become clear, IBM is ready to engage in warfare too.
Halt and Catch Fire
airs Sundays at 10pm on AMC.
(Image courtesy of AMC)