Warning: Spoiler Alert
Perhaps the best analogy for the eighth episode of AMC summer sensation “Halt And Catch Fire,” would be the juggler who keeps multiple plates spinning on sticks, forcing him to constantly move, ensuring that none of the plates ever hit the ground. There were so many individual brush fires burning within Cardiff Electric and in the lives of some characters, that one false move could have led to an inferno. Each of the show’s main characters were severely tested during the episode and the team behind the Cardiff Electric personal computer, dubbed the “Giant” almost led each member running to a different destination.
The episode opened on a productive morning at the Cardiff office-complex, as Sales Manager John Bosworth, programmer Cameron Howe, software engineer Gordon Clark and Senior Product Manager Joe MacMillan, planned out their itinerary for the company’s appearance at Comdex to introduce their revolutionary machine. Clark and MacMillan talk to Bosworth about all the money that the company will need to payout to make the right impression and they finish arrangements on getting a booth in prime retail space on the trade-show’s floor.
The camaraderie among the team disappears quickly when Gordon finds out that only MacMillan will represent the company at Comdex, as he naturally assumed that he was in on the trip and presentation. He ridicules Joe, telling him that although he’s great in sales, he knows nothing about the computer and he’ll be stuck if the machine glitches. MacMillan hits Clark below the belt, reminding the engineer of the disaster he and his wife Donna went through two-years earlier when they tried introducing their own personal computer the Symphonic.
Gordon goes back to his office and freaks out that he’s being left home after envisioning himself rubbing elbows, with industry visionaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. He tries listening to a stress-relieving cassette on his Walkman but seconds later chucks the machine against his office wall.
Donna’s back at their house, watering the back lawn, repaired from Gordon’s excavation mission in search of a Giant in the previous episode, when she realizes someone’s on her property. She heads out front to find her boss at Texas Instruments, Hunt about to get back into his car. She stops him and asks why he’s there and he becomes flustered and asks her to forget he was there. He seems interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with Donna, one she initiated in the previous episode by misreading his intentions and kissing him. She tells him that he can’t just show up at her house, he tells her she’s a fantastic woman and drives away.
She enters the house to find a very solemn Gordon and we can see that she believes that her husband’s aware of her indiscretion. However, she sighs with relief when he tells her that he broke their rule about consulting each other about purchases over fifty dollars, by spend 450 dollars for a hotel room for Comdex. She smiles blankly and tells him that’s fine.
Next morning Bosworth’s about to enter his office with a coffee cup in hand when his secretary tries to intercept him, but he brushes her off, walks into his office and sees a very angry Nathan Cardiff standing in front of his desk. John tries using his “Good Ol Boy Charm” on the owner of the company, but it fails miserably. Nathan brings up an earlier conversation between them, when Bosworth approached him to pony up the money that the personal computer division needed, but the owner denied the request and told his employee that when the division ran out of funds to shut it down.
John starts to exhibit his discomfort with the conversation, just as we realize that something’s amiss. How could the team make this giant presentation without any funds left in the budget? Bosworth tries to say that he was able to cut some unnecessary expenses and divert it to the division, but we can see by the look in Nathan’s eyes that he’s aware that his Sales Manager has done far more manipulation than what he stated.
We move to the outer office to see a group of FBI agents entering the building and we soon learn they are there for two purposes, to arrest Bosworth for hacking into the company’s bank account and diverting funds into the computer division and to shut Cardiff down and to seize all the computers on the premises. Clark walks into the office minutes after the agents arrived and heads straight to the “Kill Room” and proceeds to disassemble the Giant prototype. By the time the agents enter the room the prototype is now in pieces and arousing no suspicion from the agents, who take a computer from the office but leave all the components of the Giant behind.
Nobody can spot a scam quicker than a scam-artist, a role MacMillan has found himself in several times over the years and he grabs Cameron and pull her into an office, closing the door behind him. Joe realizes that Bosworth doesn’t have the skill-set to have hacked into the bank’s computer system and it’s unlikely anyone in his circle of friends have that knowledge either. He asks Cameron if she’s involved and the programmer tells him that she and John would have replenished the diverted funds with sales from the Giant. He leaves the office and runs into Gordon in the hallway and they make plans to meet back at the Clark’s house.
Cameron, Joe and Gordon sit down in the Clark’s garage and Gordon mistakenly believes that there’s no truth to the accusations, but MacMillan quickly makes him aware that’s incorrect. He tells Clark that Howe’s involved and the three start throwing barbs and accusations at each other and all three head their separate ways. Gordon calls Donna at her office and starts to unload all his problems, but she can’t handle it and tells him she has to attend a meeting. She brings some reports to Hunt’s office, but his secretary tells her he’s not in the office, then asks if Donna would like to sign the going-away card for Hunt, who handed in his resignation unexpectedly. Donna’s rocked by the news that he’s leaving and tries unsuccessfully to get further details from the secretary.
Gordon grabs a pair of bolt-cutters from his garage and heads into his car. We next see him in the Cardiff offices and he gathers up all the components for the Giant and carries them into his car and takes off quickly. Donna has no idea where he could be and goes to bed, but wakes up at 1:50 am and sees her husband has yet to come to bed. She finds him in the garage finishing reassembling the Giant and she screams at him that he’s tampering with evidence in a criminal case, but he corrects her as by leaving it behind during the raid, the FBI did not consider it evidence.
He tells his wife he’s crazy and she once was too, but she felt she had to mature and take on the role of the grown-up in the relationship. Gordon begs for her to remember who she was and believe in him and Donna tells him she supports him fully. He tells her that he’s driving to Austin as that’s where Cameron reportedly is, kisses his wife and takes off into the night. She heads into the house, calls her mother and tells her that she and her two daughters need to stay with them for a while. She asks her mother to pick up the girls in the morning and she plans to talk to Joe the next evening.
Howe’s playing video games at an arcade as Clark walks over to her and says he’s got next and the shock registers in her eyes. She develops a new-found respect for the engineer when he reveals he broke into Cardiff and stole the Giant, which now’s in his garage. He starts talking to her about her heading to Comdex along with him and Joe, but she’s against the idea at first, but Gordon shows some salesmanship by getting her to agree to join them.
MacMillan’s working his own angles, calling a potential customer about placing an order for some of the Cardiff computers before Comdex, but the man says he’s going to buy the IBM model. Joe counters that IBM doesn’t produce a personal computer, but the man informs him that word on the street says that “Big Blue” will have a model in production the following year. Joe decides to get the information straight from the horse’s mouth and catches a flight to New York to hear it from his estranged father. John Getz who’s cast as MacMillan Senior’s an actor that I remember as a very young man from the seventies. The characters that he played did not have the angst of either of the MacMillan men, but he’s done a great job in the role now making two appearances.
Father asks son why he’s in his office and the son responds to find out whether IBM is going into the personal computer market. MacMillan Senior replies they are and Joe takes it as an overt act by his father to crush him. The father tells his son that he has delusions of grandeur, that even if Joe Senior, wanted to accomplish that IBM would never allow it. He then says that if it’s any consolation the machine won’t start production for at least a year.
The son getting the information he came for, gets ready to depart and fly back to Dallas, but his father convinces him to have a drink and clear the air between them. We quickly get to the source of the problem between them and what led to his meltdown at IBM. Joe’ father told him, that his mother was dead for 23-years, only to find out shortly before his scary performance at IBM that she got committed to an institution for all those years and his dad told him the truth when his mother actually passed.
We learned a few episodes back Mrs. MacMillan had some severe mental problems and was abusing drugs when Joe was in grade school. One night she took him up to their roof to look at the stars and without paying attention, let go of his hand and the boy immediately lost his balance and impaled throughout his torso as he landed on a metal fence with each post topped with a point. Joe asked if his father hates him because he reminds him of his late wife and MacMillan Senior replies he loves his son and he loved his wife. He then asks his son to return to IBM and Joe replies he will if he’s in charge of the personal computer division, his father says he’ll make it happen and it looks like MacMillan is going to leave his teammates floating down the river on their own.
Donna’s waiting for her soon-to-be estranged husband at the house and she walks into the garage and heads over to the Giant and boots it up. At first we can tell she’s impressed, soon she starts to enjoy and then a broad smile covers her face as she realizes Gordon encoded an encryption that they are the only two people that can read it She sees their original computer broken on the garage floor and attempts to fix it, but as she heads into the drawer she stumbles across a red ring box, smiles and then starts to cry, moments before she’s scared that he was losing his mind, those fears vanish upon discovering the box.
Back from Austin the pair head to Joe’s and he doesn’t answer the door, however Cameron has a key and lets them both in. Not as ostentatious as Gordon imagined. After the pair get some beer and a pizza, and while are eating and drinking on MacMillan’s floor the two open enough to each other to talk about their histories. Now we get the information that so effected Donna. He tells Howe, that he and Donna met while was in college and he really wanted this kit to build your own computer, but he was deep in debt and couldn’t get everything he wanted. As she knocks on his door he is frantically searching the ring. After watching his effort in futility, she told him to stop looking for the ring, she found it and pawned it, and she got him the Computer Kit telling him that when he sells his first computer, she then would gladly take the ring back. He told Cameron that the original guy who designed their first ring duplicated it completely and he has it hidden in the garage.
Joe finds Gordon and Cameron at his apartment and questions why they are there, Gordon tells him the three of them are going to Comdex and MacMillan once again ridicules his statement. However Clark then tells Joe that he has the Giant in his garage and the three of them can go there, take orders from customers and with the sad financial strength of Cardiff Electric, Nathan’s not going to refuse to get the added revenue. They have just one problem, they need funds so Cameron convinces Joe to sell his Porsche and although totally bummed, they now have the money to show off the Giant at Comdex. They head back to Clark’s house and Donna tells her husband she’s joining him for trip to Comdex and it appears that the marriage’s back on steady ground.
The story will pick up again next Sunday night on “AMC“