Halt And Catch Fire: A Desperate Search For That Next Big Thing

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Episode recaps

Photo Courtesy Of AMC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

The first season of the AMC Original Series “Halt And Catch Fire,” revolved around three core characters, that designed and produced a portable personal computer for Cardiff Electric. The final product however destroyed the creative team, as the woman who designed the software for the computer Cameron Howe, left the company after her vision was severely compromised. Joe MacMillan, the man that got Cardiff Electric to build a personal computer, burned the truck containing the first shipment of the machines.

One year later, Cardiff Electric coming off the success of their two computers, the Giant and the Giant Pro, got bought by a European conglomerate, leaving the former President of Cardiff Electric Gordon Clark, with a large payout but without a job. His wife Donna has become partners with Howe in their start-up company Mutiny, a company that transmits video-games over the phone lines, for multiple users.

MacMillan used the past year to study at the Fisk Observatory, where he met and fell in love with a reporter named Sara Wheeler, whom he proposed to last week in the season premiere. Sarah said yes without hesitation and this episode opens in the hangar of Sarah’s father Jacob Wheeler. Wheeler struck it big in the oil-industry, this private hangar’s just a tiny part of his vast holdings. One wall’s dedicated to pictures and the mounted heads of deer and elk he killed while hunting.

Wheeler’s portrayed by James Cromwell, an actor that’s left behind roles such as the farmer in “Babe” and the inventor of Warp-Drive in the “Star-Trek” universe, to concentrate on playing wealthy men of great intellect. Those characters usually are adversaries for the protagonists and Jacob Wheeler falls into that category quite comfortably.

He cuts off the small-talk quickly, then says to MacMillan he understands Joe loves his daughter, Sarah wanting the ground to open-up and swallow her father, due to his bluntness. She quickly says she’s going to talk to one of the employees, but she stays long enough to hear Joe tell her father that he loves her very much. One of the qualities that he loves about her, is she shares her father’s skepticism.

As soon as she’s out of ear-shot, Wheeler asks Joe how he proposes to support the two of them, stating that her salary’s not enough for the two of them. MacMillan says he has a few prospects he’s chasing, but Wheeler sees through the bluster and asks him about Joe working for him. MacMillan says thinks the oil-industry’s stuck in the past and he wants to be involved in tech. Jacob says with Joe’s spotty resume, he’d be fortunate to sell waffle-irons and says the offer’s there if he changes his mind.

Donna and Lev get their chat-room up and running, but their first user quickly bails when they realize there’s no game involved. There’s some ruckus at the front of the house, as John Bosworth limps in with the use of a cane and quickly asks for a chair. Seconds later he admits he’s faking and the coder-monkeys welcome him back and get pumped when they’re told he’s joining Mutiny. Donna doesn’t have the same reaction and her face reveals her dissatisfaction to Cameron immediately.

Gordon gets examined by his family doctor about his nose-bleeding episodes, the physician takes blood and starts asking Clark a series of questions. However when the nurse leaves the room Gordon admits that he was using cocaine about three or four months previously, to help him get through a series of all-nighters at work. His doctor tells him that irritating his nasal membranes, is just the minor stuff. He could have a heart-attack, or his lungs could seize up on him. Gordon says he hasn’t done it in months and then thanks his doctor.

Donna tells Cameron that if she keeps making unilateral decisions, she’ll leave. Cameron says that Donna wanted somebody to take charge and Clark responds Bosworth knows nothing about what they’re doing and he’s an ex-con which could hurt them acquiring financial backers. Cameron apologizes for not discussing it with Donna first, but she says that John Bosworth stays.

Gordon heads to the local electronics store and buys a bunch of Atari game units and Commodore personal computers, he sets them all up in his garage. He arranges everything perfectly, but he shows little desire to play with any of his toys. So he goes into his workbench and snorts a line of coke from the vial he has hidden there.

Joe and Sarah are sitting on a bench in the middle of a city-square and MacMillan tells her that Jacob offered him a job that afternoon. Sarah’s shocked that he’d even consider it, asking him about the other situations he’d been waiting on and he says they fell through. He says he did some digging over the last few hours and talks about advances in tech for the oil-industry, such as three-dimensional viewing. MacMillan says he thinks he can lead her father’s company into the future. Sarah says if that’s what Joe wants, she won’t stand in his way.

Gordon’s buzzing heavily and calls Donna at Mutiny and tells her he put in a second phone-line so they’d have a line dedicated to a modem. Donna says that’s great, but she needs to get ready for her meeting with potential financiers. Clark then connects to the game on Mutiny and realizes there’s something wrong with the game he’s playing, so he calls one of his former engineer’s Stan to come over and help him figure this out.

Donna and Cameron meet with the potential investors, but the meeting doesn’t go well. The man behind the desk how they can ascertain that there’s a large enough audience for Mutiny to make a profit, the women respond that they just know, causing the investor to roll his eyes. He then asks them about kids, saying he wants to make sure they’re fully committed and won’t give up their jobs to raise families. That basically ended the session.

In a scene that may harken Joe MacMillan’s maturation, Joe’s greeted by his new boss and he’s welcomed to his new position as a data-entry clerk, in a department that’s archaic by 1985-standards. MacMillan’s informed that he’s now an hourly employee and to make sure he punches in and out for each shift. Joe asks if Jacob’s aware of his position and the supervisor asks Jacob Wheeler, with the reverence usually reserved for Kings and God. Clearly he’s never met his employer.

Even at my age, I still have a temper, when I was Joe MacMillan’s age it ran quite-hot. Not destroying a truckload of computers, or flooding the server room of IBM hot. However, I’m not sure I could have handled myself as smoothly as Joe did given the circumstances. He simply sat at his desk and went to work.

Gordon and Stan keep playing the Mutiny game and they realize that the game’s results are random, despite whom ever actually shoots first. Gordon offers Stan some more nose-candy and he refuses, concerned that Clark’s got a substance-abuse problem. Clark says he found a vial, what was he going to do throw it out? He then says he’s going to Mutiny and asks Stan to pick up Gordon’s daughters at school, a move that was certain to go horribly wrong.

Clark heads over to Mutiny while Donna and Cameron are over meeting with the possible investors and gives Lev and Yo-Yo a patch to make the game work properly. As he’s getting pats on the back from the Coder-Monkeys, somebody picks up the phone and says Donna’s kids were almost kidnapped. Gordon speaks with Principal Hawkins and apologizes for not alerting the school he sent a friend to pick-up his daughters and says he’ll be right there. He bribes the Coder-Monkeys into silence with free pizza delivery for a month.

Donna and Cameron return to the house to find Bosworth throwing a license plate into the trash, a prank from the Coder-Monkeys. Lev calls out the front door to Cameron that she needs to see this. When she gets inside, she sees that somebody hacked their site and came up with a counterfeit copy of their top-game Parallax, but with far better graphics. The hacker identified himself on his counterfeit game as Thomas Renton, he’s one of their subscribers and they have his address, so Clark and Howe pay him a visit.

They drive to Renton’s house and he says that he meant to get caught, that’s why he identified himself on the game. He says they won’t sue him as he can help them make Mutiny far better than the current product and then starts talking code to Cameron, whose pretty amazed. Donna says they’ll drop the matter if he promises not to do it again. He says to make them happy he’ll end his subscription.

Lev gets the mail and he sees the last letter Bosworth sent Cameron from prison and he starts reading it to the Coder Monkeys in a Texas drawl. But soon the letter gets personal and sad and the guys tell Lev to stop reading it. However John walks in and he tells Lev to finish reading it, with a look of menace in his eye. Lev reads the rest of it in a quavering voice, just as Howe walks in to the kitchen. She tells him to leave and when he says he lives there, she replies he best stay out of her sight for a long time.

Just as Cameron stops shouting at Lev, she’s informed about the incredible lag-time in the game Gordon gave them the patch for. Suddenly she realizes that Renton’s hacked into their network and he’s jammed the lines with users, far more than their system can handle.

Cameron heads over to Renton’s and asked him what he did this time, he said he built a PBX that can handle a dozen users on one phone-line. Howe says that would cut her overhead by a third and he says he’ll give it to her and he doesn’t want a job. He says he loves his job and he makes good money, but Cameron realizes he’s obsessed with Mutiny, he’s logged the fourth most time spent on the site.

Cameron heads back to the office and says she thinks they should hire Renton and tells her about the PBX. Donna tells her she realizes she hired him already and if she makes another move like that, she’ll walk out the door. Cameron says she understands.

Joe calls Sarah and tells her about his new job. She immediately says that’s demeaning and that her father’s punishing MacMillan for the sins of her ex-husband Peter, who bilked her father for millions, before their divorce. Joe says that Jacob’s testing him and he’d do the same thing, in her father’s position. He tells her to hold off on calling her father.

John and Cameron talk outside of the house on some lawn-chairs and we find out that Howe’s actual first name’s Catherine. Cameron was her father’s name, she took it as her own after he died in Vietnam. She tells Bosworth that she wants him to take charge of Mutiny, he replies that it’s beautiful she’s given him this job, but he needs to take care of some personal stuff, before he can take it. He says he doesn’t know how long it will take.

Donna comes home and tells Gordon that all the Coder Monkeys think he’s the greatest because of his patch for their game. He tells Donna about the lag-time and she says that’s gotten solved as Cameron hired a guy who built a PBX that can handle ten-users on a single phone line. Clark’s amazed at this concept and tells Donna he’s going to determine their potential-user base.

Jacob Wheeler heads into the elevator to his office, when his secretary says he just received a gift, he asks if a note’s attached. She reads it to him, “Thanks for the opportunity.” She then says it’s unsigned and the gift appears to be a waffle-iron. Wheeler says he knows who sent it and the elevator doors close.

Gordon’s found himself a new project. He gets so involved with his research, that he takes the vial and throws it in the garbage can.

The Story Continues Next Sunday Night at 10:00 pm on AMC.

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