‘Halt and Catch Fire’ Series Premiere Review

Published 11 months ago by

halt and catch fire joe gordon Halt and Catch Fire Series Premiere Review

[This is a review of Halt and Catch Fire season 1, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]

It’s unfair to compare any series premiere to some of AMC’s past All-Stars, but in both Breaking Bad and Mad Men, we learn early on about the protagonist’s motivation – the desperation that fuels Walter White’s journey into a life of crime, and how Don Draper is striving to live two lives. We understand the flaws that push these conflicted characters, but while Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) is unmistakably driven to create something in Halt and Catch Fire - AMC’s new PC revolution period drama – we’re not entirely sure why, after watching the premiere episode.

Slick, impeccably attired, and supremely confident, Joe shows no real vulnerabilities (save for his recklessness) in the series premiere as Pace glides through a performance that is approximately 85% swagger, cutting through the first hour like a too hot knife through butter as he speeds into the Texas tech sector with a bloody armadillo under the front bumper of his Porsche. Joe has a plan and a target: get hired by Cardiff Electric and recruit Gordon Clark to his cause, antagonizing the wrinkled and lapsed innovator before taking him out on a sales call where Joe criticizes and seeks to inspire Gordon to action under the guise of a pitch to customers – a method that seems like sloppy, shortcut storytelling, but which nonetheless fits in with Joe’s unrelenting style.

The contrast between these two men is obvious, from their respective appearances and attitudes, on down to their living arrangements and cars. Gordon is secure but tortured as he wastes away in a cluttered and conservative home with a wife and kids (in his eyes, paying the penalty for a dream he once had), while Joe sits in a chair surrounded by emptiness in an apartment with only his gnawing dream to keep him company.

halt and catch fire gordon Halt and Catch Fire Series Premiere Review

Gordon is, quite frankly, the most interesting part of this series from the outset, played perfectly by Scoot McNairy in sleepwalk mode until a light goes on in Gordon’s head after Joe presents him with an idea – “reverse engineer an IBM PC with me” – that eventually lights his journey past good reason and fear – after an appropriate 1980s music montage, that is.

Here, once again, we feel the contrast between these two characters as Joe throws a “cool guy” tantrum, playing ball inside the house because he’s above the rules, while Gordon slowly comes around to the idea while tinkering in his garage out of the sight of his family, after telling his kids that his past computer, “The Symphonic”, was the best thing that he had ever done. Once more, it is effective, but that trick won’t last forever; these two characters share a journey to either oblivion or nirvana.

Gordon’s wife is another solid character, and one that could have been reduced to a bundle of eye rolling stereotypes while standing in the way of Gordon’s dreams because of a trivial thing like mounting debt and fears about keeping a roof over her head, but Donna (Kerry Bishé) has her own frustrations (she co-created “The Symphonic”) and a mature approach to Gordon’s somewhat immature fixation (immature in its value to him above his family, not the actual fixation). As Gordon works with Joe in this endeavor, it will be interesting to see Donna and Gordon’s relationship develop as the future unravels.

halt and catch fire meeting Halt and Catch Fire Series Premiere Review

As for the other member of the main cast, Mackenzie Davis’ Cameron Howe comes onto the screen early as a rebellious college student with big ideas, who leaves Joe in the midst of a backroom tryst after he offends her. Later, she joins the team when Joe outs his and Gordon’s IBM reverse engineering effort to push Cardiff into developing a competing product, but the character feels thinly developed and too reliant on style and personality – just like Joe.

Style over substance, this is the battle at play for Halt and Catch Fire‘s soul. Is this a slick looking (and sounding) drama that plans on mugging its way into our hearts while it tells us the story of “the crazy ones” – a comeback story about a man who rises up from the ashes of his dreams – or something in between? Right now, we aren’t quite sure where Halt and Catch Fire is going, but there is certainly enough here to keep us interested.


Halt and Catch Fire airs on AMC Sunday nights @ 10PM ET.

Follow Jason Tabrys on Twitter @jtabrys
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  1. I enjoyed it.

  2. A pretty good start for the series. Just not sure if enough people will be interested to keep the show going.

  3. Solid start. Maybe a bit too much on the Rubicon side, one of aMC’s failings, in terms of keeping it all a bit too secretive – which could have it end up more boring than intriguing.

    The fact that this all supposedly happened in the early eighties, puts a lot of restrictions on the writing. In Mad Men, Don Draper could’ve turned out to be the best ad guy in the business. We wouldn’t know if he’d still be alive today anyway. The world of advertising and everyone behind it isn’t commonly known. There are a lot more liberties to take.
    But Halt & Catch Fire is about computers. We know how that turned out. We know the main players (Jobs, Gates). And it’s not the sixties, it’s the eighties. A much younger decade. So the show should focus less on operating systems, all that technical stuff, because it’d be impossible for them to achieve anything – because we would’ve known – and therefor the suspense will never be really there. They should focus more, even more than Mad Men, on the personal, emotional side of the story.

    Anyway. Good look. Good feel. Good performances.

  4. I thought it was really good. I’m a big computer geek who was born in 1980 – so I went through my fair share of what would be considered primitive computers by todays standards. It’s cool to see a show about the gold rush days of early computing.

    I will definitely be watching. :)

  5. Enjoyed it but share a concern stated here. Will it draw a large enough audience? The Killing did,for awhile.

  6. Lee Pace channeled his inner Kevin Spacey the entire episode – and it was great. I’ll keep tuning in just for that, honestly. The show is good though, if we’re judging on this one episode.

  7. It didn’t draw me in at all. I had high expectations, in the range of Breaking Bad and Fargo, or to a lesser extent the Bridge, but aside from Gordon the acting of two of ‘the three’ is just not very good. Regardless of the story, you can tell right away if a character is interesting enough to care about or not. A character doesn’t go from two to three-dimensional. He or she either grabs you right away, or not. So I would venture to guess this will be a short series.

  8. 1. I never heard of the HCF command. And there was a time when I knew EVERY command in Assembler, DOS, CP/M, and Unix.
    a. Here’s the “background”… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halt_and_Catch_Fire Meh… Learned something today!
    2. WHY did they read out and copy 65535 Hextets of data…. AND THEN SIMPLY PRINTED IT OUT?
    3. WHY did they show him using a GINORMOUS soldering iron (which would destroy an IC) and then showed him pulling the CMOS out of a SOCKET(Socket = not soldered in)
    4. The CMOS has always been easy to identify, from day 1… NEVER “One of these 4 chips”…

    I could go on, but you get the idea… watch for the drama, NOT for the science

    • I just love this comment with my whole heart. I honestly mean that.