[This is a review of Halt and Catch Fire season 2, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
The writers of AMC's Halt and Catch Fire were faced with a unique challenge following their first season: the story of a small computing company's foray into the world of 1980s computers - led by a charismatic hustler - was more or less completed. The computer was built, the team parted ways... what would come next?
The season 2 premiere answered that question in a genuinely surprising fashion, essentially dropping their cast members onto paths logically drawn from the finale, but carried forward into essentially new ground. How much that may change the identity of the show is a question worth asking, but the move is an ambitious one. Whether Halt can make the most of the potential remains to be seen.
First offering a brief glimpse of how things used to be the show leaps forward approximately a year and a half, revealing that Cameron's (Mackenzie Davis) networked-gaming venture 'Mutiny' has become a runaway success. The show is heavy-handed in its emphasis on the all out chaos of a leader-less tech experiment, but by the episode's end, establishes Cameron - and Mutiny - as a driving force of the show's plot going forward.
Having joined up with Cameron in the finale, Donna (Kerry Bishé) has now taken on the responsibilities of yet another family (this one populated by full-grown computer geeks). The butting of heads between she and Cameron didn't show either in a positive light, taking the latter's distaste for structure and formality into juvenile or oblivious territory. It is, thankfully, brushed aside once the two women find common ground, and the opportunity for Cameron to actually embrace a leadership role - with Donna behind her - has presented itself.
As Donna plays mother hen at Mutiny, it falls to Gordon (Scoot McNairy) to focus on the pair's children. As unpleasant as it is to see the Clarks still unable to find a healthy balance between careers and their marriage, the inversion of their parenting duties is grounds for some interesting scenes down the line. McNairy is only able to show certain sides of Gordon when engaged with the children, but judging by the first season, time spent re-defining what it means for him to be a 'father' seems too much to hope for.
Not to be left out of the brand new drama, it is revealed that Gordon's entrepreneurial spirit has slowly dissolved, as his time building the Cardiff Electric Giant was rewarded by the creation of a desktop counterpart (seen as a "lateral move," not an inspiring one). The revelation that he has been dealing with a cocaine addiction previously unheard of may prove compelling, or simply an added facet to his at-times manic personality.
The most startling twist, however, goes to Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), who managed to bring the Giant to market at the cost of his friends, his lover, and his brief glimpse of building something that truly mattered. Last seen torching the first shipment of said computers and leaving Cardiff behind, the premiere sees him in a seemingly happy relationship with a woman named Sara (Aleksa Palladino). It would be strange enough for Joe to find a stable bond with any woman, but nestled around a backyard campfire with neighborhood friends, smiling genuinely is downright shocking.
There are still moments hinting that Joe is making a conscious effort to keep his childhood trauma and personal problems under wraps, yet admitting that his anger and outbursts at Gordon and Cameron were simply deflections. The clearest akcnowledgment of his past sins comes when he is denied the money owed to him as part of Cardiff's sale, accepting the punishment with shame, not anger. Where that leaves Joe in relation to Gordon or Cameron is impossible to guess, but the brief reunion in the Cardiff offices shows that Joe and Gordon's changing circumstances makes their chemistry potentially more interesting than ever before. Joe now humbled, and Gordon taking agency (even if it is centered around cocaine, or his own garage).
Again, it will take some time for fans and new viewers to grasp exactly where the series is headed from here. On paper, that ambition has to be appreciated, at the very least. And for a show that has consistently been good, occasionally very good, but has failed to take a step into truly great drama, they certainly have us curious to see what's in store.
Halt and Catch Fire airs Sundays @10pm on AMC.