Warning: Spoiler Alert
Cardiff Electric’s Senior Product Manager for their personal computer division Joe MacMillan, definitely qualifies as a man of vision; unfortunately every time he reaches the destination his dreams led him to, he feels let down by the experience. Perhaps his attention span’s too short, or maybe the buzz he experiences when he reaches his goals never live up to the expectations. However if there remained any doubt about his self-destructive tendencies, they vanished in the final episode of the first season of the AMC Original Series, “Halt And Catch Fire.”
MacMillan and lead software engineer Gordon Clark meet with the company’s owner Nathan Cardiff to discuss their future with Cardiff, as well as the future of the company itself. Although Nathan’s being told by the pair, that they have built a personal computer that will give Cardiff $40 million dollars in profits, the owner’s not happy about the situation. The “Giant,” cost Cardiff his former trusted right-hand man, Sales Manager John Bosworth, whom Nathan fired and had arrested for manipulating company funds to keep the personal computer division running. The owner has watched the company his father founded, head in a way he feels less than comfortable with.
Joe attempts his silvered-tongued-smoothie routine, but the old man cuts him short, saying he should have the former IBM employee whacked and buried in a shallow-grave in the desert. However, the pair call his bluff when he contemplates coming back and running the company himself. He negotiates a deal, putting Clark and MacMillan as equal partners to run Cardiff and will give them eight percent of the company to split between them. Gordon’s reveling in the moment, but Joe looks less than satisfied as they high-five and congratulate each other.
Cameron Howe’s parted ways with Cardiff Electric and is sitting in her apartment as a telephone repairman looks at her land-line, which appeared to have lost a battle with a sledge-hammer. He tells her that he’s got to get wire-strippers from his truck, when she reaches in a drawer and hands him a pair. The man tells her the phone company’s hiring and she just smiles.
After a week of sleeping on the couch, in retaliation to Donna telling him about kissing Hunt, Gordon’s told to come back to their bed and after telling his wife he’s still very angry, he agrees to put it behind them. Donna’s back at work at Texas Instruments, the next morning and responding to a man from the personnel division about her job performance. She purposely sabotages the interview and to her delight finds herself fired, effective immediately. As Donna goes out to the parking lot, Gordon’s there to take her to lunch in an apple-red Porsche, which she laughingly calls the most ostentatious toy she’s ever seen and then tells her husband she loves it.
Back at Cardiff, Gordon starts humming the “Ride of the Valkyries,” soon joined by the rest of the software engineers in an off-key rendition, then opens a shipping carton and pulls out the first “Giant,” fresh from the factory. He triumphantly raises it over his head, to the cheers of the staff, then tells them that every one of the 100-units requires a full inspection. He then hands one to Joe’s secretary Debbie, as a gift, for putting up with his anger and frustration throughout the project.
Joe’s taken over Bosworth’s former office and Gordon walks into to see MacMillan trying to find a spot on a VHS-Tape of the NFL game he recorded the evening before, to show Clark. However, what he wants to show his new partner’s, what has become one of the most iconic TV commercials in the history of advertising. It’s the “1984 Mackintosh ad,” that turned Apple products into a household name and a major step into making the personal computer, the omnipresent item it’s become today.
When the spot ends, Joe’s beaming with inspiration, while Gordon applauds the drama that ad evokes when “the girl who looks like Cameron” throws the hammer at the screen, but he points out that they never showed a computer in the commercial and that the Mackintosh’s a toy, while they have built a real computer. Joe then makes an eleventh-hour attempt, to delay shipping the “Giant,” so they can design an awe-inspiring software application to make the Cardiff machine special.
Clark attempts to bring his partner back to reality, by telling him that they have produced the personal computer Joe envisioned at the start of the project, a machine that nobody, including Clark thought was realistic. The “Giant’s” perfect in its present form and now they can reap the rewards for their effort. As Gordon walks out of the office, Joe says more to himself than to his partner, that the girl in the commercial did look like Cameron.
Miss Howe’s at the phone company as some supervisor threatens her with legal action, because she has misused her phone company issued equipment. Cameron, however disarms the rather grumpy man, with her knowledge of equipment and he backs down. He asks her who she works for, and seemingly for the first time since she left the Clarks and Joe at Comdex, said out loud that she doesn’t work for anybody.
The elation at Cardiff, turns sour quickly as some of the software engineers have found a flaw with one of the first five machines they tested, that causes the computer to shut itself off. The computer’s the one that Gordon gave to Debbie and in his frustration, starts accusing her of dropping or mishandling the machine. MacMillan hears the commotion and walks in and inquires about the problem, one of the older engineers jumps to the conclusion that one machine out of every five’s flawed, meaning that they would have to hold off shipping until the problem’s solved. Joe takes that as a sign that they should design the software application he pitched to Gordon earlier.
Joe heads out to the main office and gathers all of Cameron’s “Coder Monkeys,” and tells them that he’s got a challenge for them all, to create a killer application for the “Giant.” All the programmers seem very enthused about the idea and pledge to have wonderful ideas when they arrive at work the next day.
Gordon arrives home to find Donna wearing one of his white shirts as pajamas and her hair in pigtails and she announces her first day as a lady of leisure was wonderful. She tells her husband that their daughters are gone for the night at a sleepover party and asks Gordon if he’d like to have one with her, then reveals the pillows and comforter on the living-room floor. As they cuddle after making love, Gordon tells Donna that he can’t trust Joe and wonders if he’s responsible for the damaged machine. Donna tells him that Gordon’s worked too hard for MacMillan to ruin their dreams.
The next morning the presentation by the programmers of their ideas for applications are incredibly lame and MacMillan makes his displeasure readily apparent. He berates them for not thinking big picture, then asks if Cameron was the only programmer among them that possessed creativity? One of the programmers shot back what ideas did Joe have and the former IBM employee just sat there with his head hanging down.
The doorbell rings at Cameron’s apartment and she opens the door to see Joe standing there and the pain is apparent in her eyes. He tells her he needs her, begs her to come back to Cardiff, then suggests she start her own company and he’ll hire her as a vendor. Finally he says they should start a company together, move to California and build a life together.
A few less broken promises and disappointments and Cameron most likely would’ve jumped into Joe’s arms and they’d pack their things and be off to destinations unknown, but those events occurred and Howe’s heart had broken too often. She told MacMillan, she thought she heard a heartbeat, but she now realized that what she heard was an echo. She told him that she fell in love with him, because he whispered her words back to her as if they were his. She then said he was the same as the boy, whose mother let go of his hand on the roof of their home causing him to fall and be impaled on a metal fence, a sad, little boy.
Gordon tells Donna that night that he’s going to get MacMillan to leave Cardiff Electric, by threatening to implicate Cameron as Bosworth’s co-conspirator in hacking the company’s bank account, although he tells his wife he would never truly turn her in. Donna says that MacMillan would call his bluff unless he had evidence implicating Howe and gives her husband a document that will fool Joe into thinking they have evidence.
Clark greets Joe sarcastically when he arrives at the office at 11:30 am and then shows his partner that all the programmers have left Cardiff except for one. He tells MacMillan that the rest of them have quit and went to work for Mutiny, which Joe inquires who is Mutiny and Gordon provides him the answer.
Mutiny, as you might expect is the brainchild of Cameron Howe and the office is her apartment. She’s got all the programmers she could ask for, but lacks an employee with any hardware knowledge, but she thinks she knows the perfect candidate. The doorbell of the Clark’s home rings and Donna answers it to find Cameron on their doorstep. She has come to try to recruit Donna to sign on with Mutiny and become the hardware guru she’ll need by her side to make the project a success.
Howe explains that Mutiny’s main purpose’s connecting people across the planet, they’ll play real games against other customers over phone lines, the customer will buy a subscription and receive a modem and software in return. Donna tells Cameron, that phone lines would lack the speed to do the job, and Howe reveals that she has created an application that will resolve that problem. Although clearly tempted to join Cameron, she’s conflicted believing Howe may want her as revenge on Gordon and thanks her, but passes on the offer.
Joe MacMillan’s a beaten and submissive creature as he walks into Gordon’s office, wearing a long face and his tail’s tucked between his legs. He admits that with the loss of their programmers, the “Giant,’ will go to market as is, when he finds out that Debbie’s unit was the only one found defective, he tells Clark they should ship immediately.
The night that Cameron, Gordon and Joe dreamed of when they started preliminary discussions about Cardiff building their own personal computer, has arrived, but it’s a far different scenario than the one they envisioned months before. John Bosworth and Cameron have departed the company and MacMillan seems less than enthused, forcing former mousey-wallflower Gordon Clark to inherit the role of fearless leader and cheerleader for the project. Gordon and Donna get dressed for the gala-event held that evening at the Cardiff offices, as they will christen the first truck filled with “Giants,” that will soon sit on retail store’s shelves. Gordon’s wearing a new suit for the occasion and complains about the cut, but his wife tells him he looks extremely handsome. He brushes his beard looking into the mirror, then pulls off his suit jacket and tells Donna he’ll need another ten minutes.
As we enter the party at the offices we join a man and woman in conversation and it slowly dawned on this viewer that the man was Gordon Clark, now clean-shaven and without his trademark aviator glasses. A few minutes later Gordon takes Donna into his office and presents her with the engagement ring he promised her nine-years earlier as soon as they sold their first computer.
Although nobody in attendance seems to notice, Joe MacMillan’s hovering over this affair like a wraith, sadness clearly showing in his eyes and a plastered-on phony grin on his face, he looks at the computer that they have spinning slowly around to showcase it at the party and we can plainly see he’s unhappy with where they are.
Clark directs all the employees out to the parking lot and he stands behind the delivery-truck filled the Cardiff computers, as the crowd stands in front of him in a semi-circle. Gordon proposes two toasts; the first to the man he states that’s the reason they have reached this moment and thanks Joe for his vision and determination and tells his partner that the “Giant’s” a testament to Joe, for realizing the seemingly impossible could become reality. His second toast of course is to Donna, then he christens the truck smacking a champagne bottle against its side.
If the evening ended at that moment, there would have been blue skies and smooth sailing for Cardiff Electric, but any viewer who has watched every episode of the first season, realized that “Halt And Catch Fire,” would not wrap up the season that smoothly and neatly. After Gordon gets his loaded wife into their new car, he walks over to Joe in the parking lot and sincerely thanks him for getting them to where they are, but fails to notice MacMillan’s demeanor. They say goodnight and each head their separate ways.
Gordon and Donna are incredibly happy as they drive home, until they stop at a red-light and get rear-ended. Clark’s saying that the other driver best have good insurance, steps out of the car and gets knocked to the ground as one of the two men in the car cracks him in the head with a blunt instrument. The duo is out to car-jack the Porsche and when the thief gets behind the wheel, it takes a bit for Donna to realize Gordon’s not the driver, he tears off and about a thousand yards later, stops and shoves Donna’s body out of the car.
Simultaneously MacMillan’s standing outside the truck, which we can see as the camera pans back is now out in the desert courtesy o Joe. His next move’s obvious, as he grabs a container of gasoline, douses the truck and it’s contents with the liquid, then sets it aflame, throwing his suit jacket into the inferno for good measure and walks away, from the truck and his career at Cardiff Electric.
A few weeks have passed and thankfully Donna only suffered a broken arm in the car-jacking incident and Gordon’s getting his daughters prepared for school. After loading them into the mini-van, he goes back into the house and tells his wife that he supports what ever career goals she has and offers her a prestigious position with Cardiff. Although Donna’s truly touched by Gordon’s offer, she tells him she got another offer a while back and she’s going to accept it. Clark embraces his wife and congratulates her, then heads off to drive the girls to school.
Mutiny’s buzzing with conversations and laughter, when Donna shows up for her first day with the startup. Cameron announces, that the company has dispensed with titles and the project’s theirs not hers. She then repeats to the staff what Bosworth told her earlier in the season, that people will fear them, because people fear the future.
Back at Cardiff, the software engineers, seated at a conference table with Gordon at the head of the table, as the older engineer reads the review of the “Giant,” by a trade journal and the evaluation’s positive and they start congratulating each other, save Clark who asks the group what’s next and gets met by silence. One of the group says that if MacMillan were still there he’d have them building a space-ship, but the haunting look in Gordon’s eyes show that he realizes he needs Joe back at his side.
MacMillan’s in Colorado stopped at a filling station out in the middle of nowhere, asking the proprietor directions to the Fiske Observatory and the man responds that the only way to reach it from there would involve a very lengthy hike up mountain roads. Joe tells the man he’s up for the hike and then asks the man about the woman who runs the observatory and the man replies, she seems nice enough but mainly keeps to herself. Joe asks him to watch his truck and when the man agrees hands the filling-station owner his keys. As he walks off, the man asks Joe if he’s a star-gazer, a question that remains unanswered as Joe starts his hike.