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Halt and Catch Fire Essays + 2/8/22

Season 1 Episode 3

Analysis of Halt and Catch Fire S1:E3. Why do we keep the company we keep? Who would you choose to surround yourself with?

As a parent, I can relate that one thing that gives me the most anxiety is contemplating that who my children associate with in High School will set the course for the rest of their life. Who we surround ourselves sets the context for our life and our work.

In the third episode of Halt and Catch Fire, each of our characters contemplates the company they have chosen. In an interesting structure, the writers have given all five of the leads their own distinct storyline with which to explore this theme.

For the first two episodes, the show has focused mostly on Joe and Gordon, but in this third episode, the writers draw back enough to let us get close to all five of the characters we will spend the next few seasons with.

Donna, who until now has been used to constrain Gordon's ambitions, is given attention and depth. She is revealed to be a highly competent electrical engineer, but also a frustrated mother and professional. Just as Gordon was challenged earlier in the season with 'You want to be more, you can be more', Donna is challenged with knowing she is underutilized at TI. Her boss, Hunt, advises Donna to focus on the work that is within her purview and drop her solutions for the other problems in the TI product line. Later, at home, Donna's mother asks how Hunt is doing. When Donna replies that Hunt's career is doing well and he is likely moving to Europe, Donna's mother falls into a spell whispering 'Oh Hunt, in Vienna or Old Rome...' hinting that Hunt was likely once a suitor for Donna. She is, again, reminded of the consequences of marrying Gordon and no doubt wondering if she chose the right man.

Cameron has been cast as a loner and in this episode we see her leave the walls of Cardiff to be herself and find friends. So far, we have been hit over the head with montage after montage reminding us that Cameron is punk. She listens to loud punk; she dresses punk; she doesn't respect authority, and she doesn't care what you think. So clearly her friends must all be punks too? Cameron runs across a troupe of street kids hanging out in an alley and we soon learn that the commonalities are only surface level. As the whole crew party in a hotel room (financed with Cam's first paycheck), we see Cameron looking not out of place but entirely uncomfortable. They look the same, they listen to the same music, but nothing else registers. Escaping to the bathroom to be alone, Cameron rubs at the start of a horrible tattoo and then catches herself in the mirror. She is ashamed at what she sees. This isn't who she is and these aren't her tribe. Then, in that moment, the inspiration that has eluded her all episode arrives, and she uses lipstick to write computer code over her reflection. In this moment, the writers establish Cameron's authenticity: Cameron doesn't look like punk, punk looks like Cameron.

Boz. In a previous article, I wrote that all the characters in this show appear to have been fleshed out far before the first scene. That statement needed an asterisk, and the asterisk would be for John Bosworth. The character arc of Bosworth seems to hint that the writer's, mid-season, realized that there was gold in Toby Huss's character. Hard-nosed and artificial, Bos is softened in this episode as we discover he is sleeping in his office with a framed photo of his family on his nightstand. It's hard to not feel a turn in your heart for someone who misses his family. It's perhaps this pain that puts Bosworth in the headspace to remember that he is a father--and this role subtly influences his late night conversation with Cameron. It's the seed of a wonderful relationship that builds over the remainder of the show.

Joe and Gordon must fight to decide who they want to keep close to them professionally. Joe literally states this in the episode: "We don't want money, we want smart money who will build our team". As the episode continues, we see that the money he wants is not the money that he is being pushed towards and, per the Joe playbook, he sabotages that relationship before it can be formed. Gordon also must decide who he wants close to him and he also realizes that it's certainly not who is at hand. Brian, a constant foil for any technical inspiration, nearly brings Gordon to settle for mediocrity. We see Gordon heading to Joe's office, ready to argue that the Cardiff computer needs to be bulky beige box, but Gordon can't bring himself to do it. Finally, after suffering a head injury in a car accident, Gordon has the gumption to free himself from Brian. He fires the persistent naysayer, aligning his technical vision with Joe's.

In closing, let me first acknowledge that I arrived at this interpretation by watching the show with an online TV group. One of the group members described the episode as each character being given a mirror to see themselves in -- and right in that moment, we found Cameron literally looking into a mirror and not seeing something she liked. Despite having watched this show a few times, it was the first time I had internalized the theme of the episode. I want to highlight that this interpretation of the episode could be wildly wrong. Who knows? The point is, by watching this show surrounded by other fellow fans, I found new enjoyment in something I've already seen five times. I hope that this series of articles gives you a similar sense of enjoyment.

See you next week.