Halt and Catch Fire: FUD (1×02)

“Progress depends on changing the world to fit us, not the other way around. I want to believe that. I must believe that.” – Joe MacMillan

Continuing right where we left off last episode, our trio faces the giant team of IBM suits in an interrogation that is woefully short (where are the slow-cuts of 80s suits and shoulder pads?) before we get bogged down in some slow-paced character development. But the second half of the episode picks up as the show hits what I think will be its sweet spot, watching Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan go completely unhinged.

Our trio of Gordon, Cameron and Joe sell their story (of lies) to IBM, and get away unscathed (for the moment). Joe’s former boss Dale later meets with Joe in private, asking what Joe’s been doing the past year and a half that he’s been missing, but we don’t get that answer. Instead Joe threatens that IBM can do absolutely nothing, which will bite him in the ass later. But Joe is correct, as long as the source code is just different enough from IBM, it’s perfectly legal.

Joe then unveils his brilliant plan for their PC: 2.5 times as fast at half the cost. Gordon says this is impossible, but then starts thinking about it and brainstorming how they can do this. Cameron says this is completely boring, and she’s right. But this is pretty much every annual smartphone upgrade nowadays… so right on, Joe. Then Cameron goes into another one of her prescient rants where she says computers need to be photorealistic and be smart enough to defeat a human at chess. Yes, we get it, Cameron is a futurist. Still waiting for her to predict social media.

Things are looking good for Gordon, who gets his own office with windows and a real desk. Joe gets promoted to Senior Product Manager and gives a rousing and smarmy inspirational speech that he partially rips from Steve Jobs. Cameron gets… a tiny “clean” room where she has to be supervised at all times by the company lawyer Barry. But she gets to draw balls on his face later, so win-win.

At home, things are also great for Gordon. He’s all helpful with clearing the dishes, and then gets some loving from Donna while the kids are out. Then he oddly leaves out the fact that Cameron is a woman because… he thinks Donna will get jealous? Pretty sure this was just a plot device to get Donna to get mad at him when she finds out, which she does, after we get a gratuitous shot of Cameron changing clothes in the bathroom at the same moment that Donna visits Gordon in his new office. So they meet, Cameron gives her name, and Donna gets annoyed when she realizes. But Gordon later admits the fact to Donna without being prompted, so thankfully this is short-lived.

Cameron, on the other hand, sleeps in the office and out of her army bag. We get a Pretty Woman-inspired shopping trip for her at the mall later, which is disappointingly not 80s enough. Then, to up the quota for her in skimpy clothing this episode, we get to watch her try on shirts like she’s never tried on a shirt with sleeves before. Then frustrated that she can’t find anything without ruffles or bows, she shoplifts a bunch of clothes. At this point, this character is a collection of male fantasy, female hacker stereotypes. She tries to have sex with Joe, Gordon finds a switchblade in her bag. But at least she’s actually smart, I guess? She gets chased at the mall down by men who turn out to be IBM suits who offer her a higher-paying job.

“You may like it out here now, but let’s see what happens when they find out what you really are.” – Dale

Joe, meanwhile, is starting to derail, annoyed when he can’t convince Cameron that cheaper, faster computers means people will spend more time on computers, and will mean a bigger overall audience. Then he starts panicking when Cameron doesn’t stay in her clean room and throws the IBM BIOS book at her face, saying IBM knows she’s going to look at it so copy it just enough not to get sued.

And then stuff hits the fan. IBM can’t sue Cardiff but starts undercutting and stealing all of Cardiff’s clients. And Joe really starts freaking out because he didn’t predict this and pretty much took down the company by himself. So he does the rational thing and runs out, goes into a stereo store going out of business, and then vicariously yells and shoves the salesman for not seeing this coming. Back at this apartment, Dale pays him one final visit and offers him a job back at IBM. We get 2 key pieces of information about Joe in this conversation: his father has some influence there, and Joe did $2 million worth of damage to the data center before he left. Joe rejects his offer and then gazes at Dale’s briefcase when he leaves.

And that’s his new plan he announces to Gordon and Cameron. Portability. Adding a handle to a laptop. Gordon is so excited about his he physically fights Joe, and their scuffle results in a gratuitous shirtless Lee Pace. Joe’s chest is covered in scars, and he explains that he was more interested in Sputnik than the ‘greatest game’ of ’58 as a kid, which resulted in them pushing him off the roof. Then he appeals to both of them, saying he saw their potential and knows they need this as much as he does.

They buy his story, although later Cameron reveals to him that she knows he lied, because Sputnik landed almost a year before that ‘greatest game.’ Joe just smiles and asks, “Did it?” So Joe’s a flat-out liar who will manipulate people to get what he wants, and will go off-the-rails crazy when he doesn’t. Color me intrigued.

“Fear, uncertainty and doubt – a tactic IBM used to intimidate their smaller competitors”

 

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