WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
If there were any doubts that Cardiff Electric’s Senior Product Manager Joe MacMillan would do anything to see his vision of his company building a revolutionary personal computer on his terms, they were laid to rest in episode three of “Halt And Catch Fire.” The former IBM employee, first attempted to arrange for a revenue infusion through his own connections, then proceeded to sabotage a deal that he disapproved of. Fans of the series, that have hoped that beneath his slick exterior exists a good and righteous man heading into this episode witnessed that MacMillan will cross any barriers to attain what he wants.
The episode began in front of the home of Donna and Gordon Clark as their daughters departure to school hit a snag when the family found a badly hurt bird in their front bushes. Our first image is a close-up of Gordon’s concerned face as he examines the bird, he wants to take the creature to a veterinarian, but Donna reminds her husband that they have just one car at their disposal, as the mechanics have his car in the shop for repair. With their daughters running late for school, Gordon’s neighbor and fellow engineer at Cardiff, Brian offers to give him a ride to work.
Clark’s empathy for the wounded bird may have something to do with the mission he faces when he arrives at work. Gordon’s promotion and new office, also comes with responsibility that he is not particularly suited for. His job is to pare down the company’s staff of software engineers, from the current roster of 48 employees down to 12, meaning he has to break the news to 36 of his fellow engineers they are no longer employed.
We move on to find Cameron Howe asleep on the couch of her basement office, until woken by a janitor vacuuming. After getting dressed she goes upstairs to the main offices and starts collecting possessions of the still exiting former employees. One guy who did not take the news that well, looked at Cameron as if she were a grave-robber indignant that she had already started collecting her new stash before they had cleared the building. Howe with her omnipresent headphones affixed atop her head was rather oblivious to what the guy even said to her.
MacMillan and Sales Manager John Bosworth have a meeting with the 12 remaining engineers, however every concept that Joe comes up with, the engineers quickly plug it full of holes. Joe asks Gordon to step out into the hallway with him and expresses shock that these were the 12 men that Clark had picked to save from all the former employees. Gordon counters that their skill-sets make them by far the best they could have retained and Joe is going to have to show some patience if he wants the crew to see things his way.
We next see MacMillan talk with a well dressed man in the company’s lobby lounge. Bosworth sees the pair and Joe, goes over to him before John can reach them. MacMillan explains to Bosworth that the man is an old associate of his and a Venture Capitalist, looking to make a mark in the “Silicon Prairie” and they believe that Cardiff can be the avenue with which they get what they are looking for.
Bosworth tells Joe, that no decisions can be made unless he clears it with Cardiff’s owner Nathan, but MacMillan tells John, that he informed him early in the week. Bosworth brings Joe’s connection into his office and soon shows his disdain when he realizes this company would be heavily involved in Cardiff’s day-to-day operations. When the executive proposes that his company put an employee at Cardiff to oversee things, Bosworth reached his breaking point. He puts on his “Good Old Boy” persona and makes Cardiff sound like a Mom and Pop operation. Seeing his vision rebuffed, the Venture Capitalist shakes Bosworth’s and MacMillan’s hands and ends the negotiation.
The pair join Cardiff Electric’s owner at a steakhouse and Nathan makes it clear to Joe, that Bosworth is in charge of all financial decisions and he will not tolerate MacMillan trying to attempt a deal without John’s knowledge and approval. Joe plays the good soldier and readily agrees to play things Nathan’s way. The company owner then tells the pair that he has contacted an old friend named Lulu, who has the resources and might have the desire to bankroll the project. John and Joe will meet her the next evening at a dinner party at her house.
Later that evening Cameron goes back upstairs to the office floor to confiscate more items for her working quarters. She enters Bosworth’s office and gets startled when she finds him still there. John tells Cameron that if not for her friend Joe, he would be home by now. He then tells Cameron she can work as late as she wants at Cardiff’s headquarters, but she can not use the offices as her home.
We finally get a chance to see Donna Clark at work, as she discusses a business proposal with a fellow employee at Texas Instruments. We learn from the conversation that Donna and the man were friends in high school and judging by the uneasiness that Donna projects, they may have been more than just friends. The man asks Donna if she could have a report that she projected would take a few days to finish, by the next day and she tells him she will get it done.
Things are not running as smoothly for the software engineers over at Cardiff, as the remaining staff take over a conference room to work together as a team. Gordon and Brian are trying to come up with a design for the 15 pound portable personal computer that MacMillan has envisioned. Every time Clark comes up with a plan, Brian is the voice of doom, pointing out the difficulties they would encounter. Brian tells Gordon, that he has to talk to Joe the next day and tell him that his vision is unrealistic. Gordon begrudgingly agrees to talk with the Senior Product Manager the next day. They do accomplish one thing however, christening their new work area as the “KILL-ROOM.”
Cameron is back down in her basement dwelling and starts going through some mail on her desk. Her mood brightens drastically when she opens a check made out to her for over $382.00, she quickly leaves her office and goes out grocery shopping. Leaving the store with her arms loaded with bags filled of groceries, she comes across two guys and a woman about her age hanging out in an alley. Her momentary fear that the trio will accost her and take her stuff, vanishes when she starts talking with them. They tell her they have plans for later that day, but presently they are just hanging around in hopes of being able to get some vodka. When Cameron asks the threesome if that is the best plan they can come up with, the woman asks Howe if she has a better idea. After a pause, she smiles and says she does.
We shift to the Clark’s home and we encounter both Donna and Gordon working on their respective assignments. Gordon’s stuck and asks Donna for some advice, but she tells him she has to finish her own project. Curiosity gets the better of her seconds later and she theorizes that if the computer’s design has the circuits “piggy-backing” each other, it could solve the design problems that her husband is encountering. Gordon thinks the idea is brilliant and presents the proposal the next day at the office.
Clark shows Donna’s design to a couple of his fellow engineers the next morning, who become very excited about the prospects of the configuration. As they start to brain-storm, Brian walks into the office and immediately shoots the idea down, because it would be far too costly to build the new configuration. One can almost see the black cloud forming over Clark’s head, as he allows his neighbor’s words to convince him the plan is not practical.
Bosworth and MacMillan arrive at Lulu’s estate for dinner and Lulu greets them at the door (guest star Jean Smart) with her escort, a much younger man whose function apparently is to provide her with accompaniment for social functions. Lulu is a still attractive woman, although the years are catching up with her and the red dye she colors her hair with is not flattering. She is a rather loud and abrasive woman, a person used to calling the shots and getting her way, and she wastes little time with social niceties, as she informs MacMillan that her offer is to acquire 80% of the personal computer venture for by investing ten million dollars. Revolted by the offer, Joe turns it down without hesitation. Lulu praises his bravado, but she realizes it is false, as at this point Cardiff has nowhere else to turn. Bosworth stepped into the middle of the fray, smoothing out the ruffled feathers and suggesting they go sit down to dinner.
Turns out Cameron’s plan was to rent a hotel room, where she, the trio and some other young people are dancing and imbibing. Howe refuses an offer for some vodka, choosing to dance instead. Apparently the music and dancing are not enough to get Cameron out of her funk, so she starts chugging the vodka. A few minutes later she awakes from her drunken haze to find one of the original trio trying to tattoo her upper arm with what look like circuits. Howe throws him off her and storms into the bathroom, attempting to clean herself. As she stares at her arm we realize she has an idea for her computer. After trying to write a couple of equations on the bathroom mirror with lipstick, only to cross them out immediately, she leaves the hotel room without anyone noticing.
Back at Lulu’s party, there is polite banter going on, until she presses Joe on the subject of her offer. MacMillan proceeds to turn down the offer and tear Lulu apart verbally. After his tirade she turns to Bosworth and asks whether the deal is good enough for him, to which he replies that he will have the paper work completed the next morning. Lulu then turns to Joe and tells him, that he just needs to realize on which side of the saddle he belongs on. Lulu then asks her escort to fetch the guests some brandy for a celebration. Moments after the escort exits the room, MacMillan does the same. He finds the escort amidst a decanter collection and the man admits he does not know what brandy looks like. Joe silently puts the moves on the guy and the two of them kiss, the other man being receptive to the overture before the camera fades to black.
By the time the two men make it back to the dining room, all the other guests have left and it is just Bosworth and Lulu waiting for them. She then asks her escort what took him so long and states that it is now too late for brandy. The man replies that he and Joe chose another wine and by his newly assertive manner realizes that he and MacMillan had relations and the revelation is immediately telegraphed by the expression on her face. She’s crushed by the realization that MacMillan now has the upper hand in the situation.
Outside the home, a clueless Bosworth can’t comprehend why Lulu suddenly withdrew her offer, when they had a deal in principle, until he realizes that Joe’s poker face probably means that he was somehow responsible for the action. As MacMillan gets into his car and drives away, John asks and then screams what Joe said to Lulu.
We shift to Brian’s car as he is giving Gordon a ride home from the office. Brian is rambling on about some game of bridge he recently played in and the expression on Clark’s face tells us, he wishes Brian would just shut-up. Eventually Brian realizes that Gordon is in a funk and asks him what’s wrong. A second later Brian’s car is T-boned by another vehicle and Clark cuts his head on the dashboard. Brian, tries to put the blame for the accident on the hedges being too high, until he sees Gordon is bleeding. When he asks his neighbor if he is alright, Gordon replies that Brian’s fired. Unsure he really heard what he did, Brian asks him what he said and Clark repeats that he’s fired, gets out of the car and starts to walk home.
When Gordon gets to his front door, he hears the chirps from the injured bird and that knowledge seems to make Clark believe that there is hope to build the personal computer that Joe has envisioned. He walks in through his front door in a haze and when Donna sees him, her first concern is that her husband has a head gash. However, that is not important to Clark right then, he wanted Donna to hear the bird still chirping. His wife not realizing the symbolism that the bird still being alive has for Gordon, tells him that Animal Control told her earlier in the day that the most humane thing they could do is to kill the bird, to stop its suffering. Clark refuses to do it, telling his wife that he will not go back outside after going through the day he had. Donna goes out to the garage and grabs a shovel to help her do the deed. She looks at the bird lying there chirping with his eyes open, but his feathers are infested with flies. She looks inside the window and sees Gordon drinking a beer, she has the shovel raised when the camera fades to black.
Joe back in his office late that night gets a visit by Cameron, who tells her she’s stuck and proceeds to disrobe, ending the episode with MacMillan apparently having his second sexual encounter of the evening. Lets keep one thing in mind, the time-period that “Halt And Catch Fire” takes place in, was right at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Could MacMillan’s ruthlessness lead to both he and Cameron contracting the deadly disease? One more question that we will find the answers to in the coming weeks.
The story will pick up again next Sunday night on “AMC“