Halt and Catch Fire: “Adventure”

(Episode 1.05)

TV Reviews Halt and Catch Fire
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Halt and Catch Fire: “Adventure”

It’s father-figure/son week on Halt & Catch Fire.

Indeed, much of “Adventure” concerns the complicated ways in which fathers, real or figurative, can influence life choices, whether it be Gordon’s relationship with his father-in-law, Gary, or Joe’s seemingly acrimonious estrangement from his own father. And while the show may not effectively explore this theme with any great sense of insight or profundity, honing in on such a specific notion does make for an episode that feels, for the most part, focused and efficient in a way past episodes have not.

Right off the bat, the show reminds us of one its better qualities: the cinematography. The first sequence juxtaposes scenes of Joe and Cameron awaking in bed. Joe is in his apartment while Cameron, we later learn, is enjoying a vacation in Cincinnati. As Cameron relishes in the luxury of her situation, Joe wanders about the area, practicing his swing with the bat his father supposedly gave him. The difference in their worlds is highlighted by the light green shading that dominates Cameron’s scenes and the cold blue that characterizes Joe’s life. Subtle? No. But fantastic to look at nonetheless.

Back at the office, Gordon and his gang have made some advances on the PC. Joe, however, pushes them to do better, saying that he’s promised a briefcase-thin computer weighing less than 12 pounds. After some brainstorming, Gordon concludes that the way to achieve this would be to employ LCD screens. Luckily, Gordon might have some access to such technology via his father-in-law’s connections.

Meanwhile, Cameron, having returned from her R&R trek to Cincinnati, returns to Cardiff only to discover that she now must report to a new, horrifically bureaucratic manager named Steve. When she complains about these tactics, she’s swiftly rebuffed. Just because they have an “arrangement” does not mean she gets special treatment, he says. Hurt, Cameron proceeds to Joe’s apartment to move her stuff out. It’s here that she comes face-to-face with Joe MacMillan, Sr., Joe’s father. Turns out, he’s a higher-up at IBM who had given Joe his opportunity at the company only to see him squander it. It doesn’t take long, for Cameron to realize that Joe’s father is just as manipulative as he is. Needless to say, there is a deep-seated resentment between father and son; ostensibly, because Joe abandoned his IBM job, but the show enigmatically suggests that there may be something deeper.

Not that it matters much. With this father plotline, the creative team continues to push this notion of Joe as the supposedly reckless raconteur with the mysterious past. Yet, despite the Halt and Catch Fire’s insistence that we should be intrigued by Joe’s story, the plotlines only work to either undermine his intelligence or show him to be little more than an obnoxious bully. This becomes all the more apparent when Joe and Gordon attend a meeting that Gordon’s father-in-law has set up with Japanese manufacturers to discuss getting the LCD screens. In a desperate bid to win over their favor, Gordon ends up insulting his father’s company, a move that, according to Joe, seems to greatly upset the Japanese and their sense of familial honor. Joe promptly visits the men in the morning to apologize for Gordon’s behavior only to discover that Gordon’s father-in-law had already spoken to them and cleared everything up.

Here, Joe is again seen to be fairly ineffectual despite his know-it-all, pompous attitude about he business. Much more effective is Gordon’s story in this plotline. After supposedly starting this venture with Joe as a partner, Gordon has been relegated to a lesser, workman status. When he risks torpedoing the deal with the Japanese, it comes from a genuine place of wanting to prove himself, as opposed to the heartless manipulations that characterize each of Joe’s business decisions.

Equally compelling is Cameron, who the writers have allowed to expand beyond her initial, limited role. For one, she now gets the chance to work alongside two new programmers, Lev and Yo-Yo, that really seem to “get” her and bring out some much needed levity (Yo-Yo squirts Big Cheese right into his mouth, which is a strange mix of disgusting and endearing). Moreover, taking a page from Joe Sr.’s bag of tricks (“You say something with the right authority, you generally get what you want”), Cameron takes charge of her office situation and declares how they can be more effective in their jobs. That is, by keeping the great programmers (i.e. the ones who could crack a code on a computer game the office has been paying) and letting all the rest go.

Like last week, “Adventure” finds the show incrementally improving, despite how thoroughly the Joe elements derailed the series in the early going. Yet while that particular character does not seem to be improving anytime soon, Halt and Catch Fire has offered up an installment that highlights the potential for its other characters, even if Donna seems doomed to be entwined in a strange subplot involving her boss/high school chum, even after a great showcase last week. Story-wise, Halt & Catch Fire seems to be telegraphing its various developments, but its unmistakable technical artistry and solid supporting cast does give it a nice edge that prevents it from being anything approaching a straight-up dud.