AMC’s ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ Still Doing Neither

Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) on AMC's Halt and Catch Fire
Halt and Catch Fire (Photo: Blake Tyers / AMC)

And yet: still, I watch.

Watching Halt and Catch Fire feels more and more like watching a movie. True, the period stylings trigger that response, and, yes, Scoot McNairy probably just reused his wardrobe from Argo. But this goes beyond the fashions and color palettes and ‘architecture'1 into shot composition and sound mixing and other things that are probably making you roll your eyes and mutter ‘Yeah, but I still can’t maintain a relationship with these characters.’

And that’s still an issue, because it’s on relationships where Halt and Catch Fire falters the most. Falters, but doesn’t fall, and is starting to succeed. People versus problems works fine – this is a MacGuffin show and we all like watching people figure things out. People versus themselves often works because of the cinematic qualities the show swirls in: There’s a scene in episode 42 that combines long shots of a main character not saying anything with a soundtrack that uses dialogue levels, music, and silences all together, and the result a) feels like something out of a movie, b) is riveting and beautiful, and c) shows us more about the character than three episodes of dialogue have told us so far.

People versus people, though? Any of the justified criticisms about Halt and Catch Fire‘s early run – boring stretches, whipsaw emotional changes, the occasional clunker of a line or three – arise from character interactions, especially about personal stuff.3 That would be cause for concern since, like Mad Men and Breaking Bad before it, Halt and Catch Fire is at its core a character drama of personalities in a setting.

Yet I’m not too concerned.4 I think we’re seeing less a fundamental flaw of the show and more a flaw in how the first five episodes have been mapped. There’s a halting (sorrynotsorry) nature to the scripting, a feel of stuff being storyboarded but not flowing together. The figuring-things-out plot elements can survive this as they’re easily recognizable. The cinematic moments are just that. So as the show (finally) puts the characters together more and more frequently, really has them interact and connect as opposed to settling into cinematic moments or individual character-defining scenes, then the relationships should start to resonate and the characters should grow on the viewer.

I realize I’m arguing that the show hasn’t done things right but hasn’t done them wrong and thus will do things right, but look at what’s happened to this point. There are four main characters – Joe, Gordon, Cameron, and Donna.5 The women have both been hamstrung – Kerry Bishe had almost nothing to do for the first three and a half episodes, and Mackenzie Davis’ inexperience is showing.6 The most effective side character, played by Toby Huss7 gets dropped in to bump plot forward instead of greasing the organic interactions. All this has left Joe and Gordon (and Joe and Cameron) to repeat their interactions for want of any alternatives.

Perfectly fine interactions. Interactions made better when contrasted with other relationships, or smooth character moments, or problem-solving. Again, it hasn’t done it quite right, but it’s not doing it wrong. Nowhere near as slow as TURN yet still drifting enough that the above description fits it and Korean sci-fi equally aptly, Halt and Catch Fire is, I believe, a show worth investing in despite the hurdles its inexperienced storytellers are placing in its path. It’s unclear if AMC is planning to invest, though.8 I hope this jumbled series of thoughts about a jumbled show is enough to get you watching; then maybe AMC will take notice and get things going on the right track.

Halt and Catch Fire can be caught Sundays at 10/9c on AMC or streaming on AMC.tv.

  1. I will work in offices; I will never work in an office that looks like the ones on this show.  
  2. The car accident, the moments leading to it and Gordon walking away after it.  
  3. The business stuff is all problem solving, and clips along like an off-brand The West Wing.  
  4. Yet.  
  5. If you don’t see Donna playing a regular role, I don’t know what haphazardly plotted show you’re watching.  
  6. But nowhere near the point of disaster. It’s making some of Cameron’s moments a touch less interesting.  
  7. Played wonderfully – look at him getting protective of the PC project just because he’s been sidelined by Cardiff, and listen to the real gentleness in his voice when he tells Cameron she can’t live at the office.  
  8. Not a peep from their press site since May, and someone should reorder their list of shows in the menu. It looks like they’re trying to forget about this. And Turn.  

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About Aaron Mucciolo 206 Articles
He does things. That's all we can say at this time. E-mail: mooch@whatelseison.tv