Also, she is totally not a dude!
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Halt and Catch Fire is an interesting way to take the temperature of our current television climate. It is a very, very good show, with all of the hallmarks of a prestige cable drama, and yet it’s nobody’s favorite. Still, we’ve been covering Halt and Catch Fire since the first season, and Marisa has always found something about it that spoke to her personally, so she decided (a little late) to write about the individual episodes as it heads into its final stretch, starting with a quick catch-up of the season so far.
So, how did we get here? The conventional wisdom is that the show got better once it stopped being a Mad Men ripoff and found its own footing. That opinion says more about the watcher than the show itself. To me, it never really bore more than a surface-level resemblance to Mad Men. Sure, it was a period drama in a business setting, and maybe Joe got a slice of the backstory pie that was out of proportion to how much his character warrants. (Joe is the way he is because of…daddy issues? Snooze.) But Joe was never really a Don Draper, because Don Draper is widely recognized as a remarkable talent in the advertising world at the start of Mad Men, and Joe can rarely catch a break. He’s not an anti-hero in the he can’t accomplish anything major, good or bad.
Neither can the rest of them, even though all of the ingredients are there for them to achieve greatness. Together, they have the vision (Joe), programming talent (Cameron), engineering and hardware know-how (Gordon), and business sense/capital (Donna) to really launch a successful tech company—and they often have the right, world-changing idea at the right time. The show keeps bringing them to the precipice of runaway success. And yet, while they’ve managed in three seasons to amass some individual accomplishments, their volatile interpersonal dynamic keeps them from getting to that next level, because they need to work together to get there. And they can’t. But they know that, if they were able to somehow work on a project together and pull it off, the benefits would be immeasurable. But, again, they can’t. But they’re still drawn to each other, until they blow each other up again, retreat to their separate corners, and start the cycle anew. That push/pull dynamic, which has been there since the first season, is the whole reason for Halt and Catch Fire’s existence, and separates it from Mad Men, where Don was affected by the other characters, but not entirely dependent on them.