We don't wanna jinx it, but…has Halt and Catch Fire started to become an interesting show?
"Interesting show" is about as far as it goes, mind you. If each episode weren't still stuffed with predictable plotting, semi-cringeworthy dialogue, endless hostility, and scenes as joylessly functional as the boring beige box containing Cardiff's portable PC, "good show" might roll more easily off the tongue. But there's enough in tonight's wildly emotional episode — "Giant" — to indicate that last week's stormy spectacle wasn't a one-off fluke. The performances are improving. The relationships are deepening. And the likelihood that Halt will show us something we haven't seen before is growing.
What have we seen before? Too much, even now. Until its final moments, there wasn't a second of Donna's business trip with her hunky boss/ex-boyfriend you couldn't see coming a mile away. All that work, and all that screentime, to get us to the point where one makes a move on the other – a destination inevitable from the moment the dude first showed up on screen half a season ago? You can get away with covering familiar ground if you do something interesting along the way: a memorable shot, a sparkling conversation, convincingly hot sexual chemistry, something. None of that was on offer here. The whole storyline was a business trip to the Get On With It convention.
Rather than rehashing bog-standard drama tropes, Joe's arc this episode had problems that were more unique to Halt. He and Cameron appear to be truly connecting at last, giggling like kids at the beginning of the episode and crying in each other's arms at the end of it? Great. Joe's hotshot industrial designer Simon is actually an ex-boyfriend — proving that this alpha male's bisexuality isn't just a matter of predatory opportunism, complicating his budding relationship with Cameron, and forcing him to use his ballyhooed salesmanship techniques on someone he once hurt deeply? Even better.
But then the constant, uncalled-for bickering that's marred the show from the start rears its ugly head. Follow this emotional trajectory, if you can: Joe and Cameron's newfound intimacy lasts about five total minutes of screentime split between this episode and the last before he's literally closing the door on her. Furious, Cameron torpedoes Joe and Simon's initial reunion. Joe and Cameron yell at each other. Cameron tracks down Simon to make amends on Joe's behalf, only to be patronized by the designer. "I know that you think what you have with him is different," he scoffs.
But why would she think that, based on what the show has shown us? With the exception of literally two scenes, Joe has been unceasingly beastly to her, and vice versa. "Are you gonna get bored of me?" she tearfully asks Joe at the end of the episode – while just one episode earlier, she began the hour by telling him how bored she was. Maybe the idea is that things got really good between them during the time spent off-screen between the two episodes. Hey, given this episode's wonky time frame, in which each character appeared to squeeze multiple days' worth of meetings (and phone calls, and gallery visits, and awkward dinners, and...) between the end of the business day and the bedtime for Gordon's kids, that's entirely possible. Just don't expect us to buy it.
Simon and Joe's back-and-forth careens just as wildly. It culminates with Simon's revelation that he began working on his proposed designs for Joe's computer before he even flew to Texas for their meeting, as a farewell gift to his former flame. So…what was the point of making Joe and Cameron jump through hoops, other than manufacturing empty drama?
Yet for all that, "Giant" left a big impression, and as usual the strongest stuff centered on John Bosworth. In revealing to company founder Nathan Cardiff that he's become a true believer in the PC project – "You have no idea what these kids are making!" "I'm thinking of putting up my home." – he made the single most surprising move of any character on the series so far. In cold-cocking the creepy second-choice designer for calling Joe a "queer" (and for being gross about Bosworth's wife; the slur was the straw that broke the camel's back), he made the single most delightful move as well. Actor/MVP Toby Huss gives Bosworth an air of utter confidence in the rectitude of that punch that will have viewers chuckling out loud. You hope that Halt realizes what it has in Huss, and beefs his role up accordingly in the event of a second season. It's not hard to imagine a Halt with Bosworth every bit as much a lead character as the Joe/Cameron/Gordon trinity. It'd be a better show for it.
Scoot McNairy handed in strong work of his own as the ever more exasperated Gordon, who we learn, way too late, is way more than just cranky – he's cracking. Maybe his instability is the elephant in the room (Donna worries whether this will be "like last time"). Whatever the case, McNairy builds on that rewardingly weird hurricane/Cabbage Patch Kid/electrocution sequence from last week to portray a man losing touch because he cares too much. His breakdown back at the house begins by just trying way too hard to make his kids dinner, tell them a story, fix a leak faucet, calm their late-night worries.
The chaos Donna comes home to after her rote office affair takes its one genuinely unexpected twist – she makes a move; he rejects her – is conveyed through careful, compelling set dressing. While she wasn't there to pay attention, Gordon tried a million things and failed at all of them, leaving trails of blood , piles of debris and sleeping kids everywhere. Like Cameron and Joe embracing in that cab, it's both a memorable visual and an unnerving note of narrative uncertainty, one that speaks to a side of the characters we hadn't yet seen. For the first time, Halt and Catch Fire has given you enough to make you utter those magic words: I wonder what will happen next week?
Previously: Rising Storm